Displaced by Cristina Sanders. Pub. Walker Books, 2021

May 14, 2021 Comments off

I really enjoyed this historical novel of New Zealand in the 1870’s when settlers were being encouraged to come to New Zealand and establish farms. The Land Wars with the Maori were essentially over in terms of an armed struggle and new Zealand was open to settlers from all over the World.

This novel concentrates on an English gentry family named Sansonnet headed by Robert and his family whose farm in England is sold from underneath them by Robert’s brother who encourages them to join him on a farm in New Zealand. Well all is not as it seems.

Robert and Penelope and their three sons and two daughters book passage to Napier in New Zealand and set sail but all does not go well. Robert is a bully of a father and it is way or the highway for his family. This cause some conflict. On the journey all three sons come to grief in different ways and only one makes to Napier.

On arrival there is no brother waiting, no farm and a very rough and ready colonial settlement. Robert takes off to Thames to meet his brother and the family are left to make it on their own headed by 18 year old Eloise who is a superb character, her 16 year old sister Martha and mother Penelope who has lost it after the fate that befell her sons.

With the help of a preachers daughter the family settle in, but Eloise has fallen for a Norwegian woodcutter named Lars and Martha has taken with Hemi, a half cast Maori boy. To find out any more you are going to have to read it yourself and believe me it is worth it.

The clash of values of Victorian manners of the Sansonnets and those of the settler communities is stunning. The women cope very well but the men are left flabbergasted and found to be hypocritical.

Well written, the descriptions of early New Zealand are superb and there is a nice bit of scandal at the end. One of the best novels about early New Zealand that I have read. Could be read by Intermediate school readers and above but aimed at senior audiences.

Winner of The Storylines Tessa Duder Award for 2021.

I te Timotanga. In the Beginning Retold and Illus. by Peter Gossage. Maori translation Na Katerina Te Heikoko Mataira. Pub. Scholastic

May 9, 2021 Comments off

In the beginning there was Ranginui the father and Papatuanuku the mother. They had many children but they lived in a dark world. Tangaroa, Tane, Rongo and the other children tried to part their parents and bring light into the World. Read this excellent Maori creation legend and see how they did it.

This legend was first written 20 years ago and the author has since died but his work lives on, as does the legend. The written text is simple and easy to read with the Maori text coming first and the English translation next to it.

Peter Gossage’s “stained glass technique” illustrations always impressed me and give enhancement to the written text.

The overall result is that the creation myth is more accessible to young and older readers. Check it out it is good.

Oli and Basil. The Dashing Frogs of Travel by Megan Hess. Pub. Hardie Grant, 2021.

May 7, 2021 Comments off

This is a very classy picture book about difference and cooperation. Oli and Basil are as different as chalk and cheese and neither knows that meeting the other will change their lives completely.

Both frogs live in stately homes in Paris but they have never met. Oli is an inventor who likes to pull things apart and to create things that move. he is working on a jetpack. Basil is totally different but does have an interest in balloons and flying things. Both are frustrated with their lives.

Then they enter a contest to make a Pig Fly. There is a lot of competition and both lose out to a hedgehog but they meet and decide to work together as a team. Check this superbly illustrated picture book and see how they get on.

Basil and Oli are excellently portrayed and the illustrations are full of ideas and things to look closely at. See if the pig ever does fly.

This is the first in a series titled The World of Claris. Oli and Boris do meet Claris she is a rather chic French mouse, see how they get on.

Fourteen Wolves by Catherine Barr, illus. Jenni Desmond. Pub. Bloomsbury, 2021.

May 6, 2021 Comments off

This is positively the best non fiction picture book I have read for many a year and it is about wolves an animal that features heavily in literature and myth and mythology of human beings. It is also a success story for humankind who are so often, in fact nearly always responsible for habitat destruction and the cause of species disappearing.

In the 1930’s the wolves disappeared from Yellowstone national park due to human beings and the ecosystem of the park started to collapse. Elks started to thrive as they were the food of the wolves. Elks ate all the shrubbery and grassland and started on the trees. Subsequently the whole cycle of life disappeared from the park including birds fish insects, everything.

In 1995 14 wolves were transferred from Canada as a first shipment of wolves back to Yellowstone and the fate of each of these wolves is monitored in this book. The wolves formed into breeding packs and scattered throughout the park along with other wolves who were brought in later.

As a result of this the life cycle habitat and environment of Yellowstone changed back to the way it was before.

The book is divided into three parts – Coming Home in which the wolves are transplanted back and how they adapt to their new environment. A New Yellowstone which tells how the park changed, and Understanding How Nature Works shows the food chain of the park and how all the living things there are connected.

Magnificently illustrated by Jenni Desmond which enhances Catherine Barr’s storytelling. A first class package that is essential for school libraries and for the home. Science and human behaviour at it’s best. A rewilding story.

Shackletons Endurance. An Antarctic Survival story by Joanna Grochowicz. Pub. Allen & Unwin, 2012.

May 3, 2021 Comments off

I knew and had read about this famous explorer and his heroic voyage in an open boat and trek across South Georgia to save his men, after their ship the Endurance was trapped and ultimately crushed in sea ice in the Weddell Sea. So how is this story different from those that went before? Ultimately it is because the emphasis that she puts on the nature of Shackleton and his men. Joanna Grochowicz makes it personal and boy is it good. You will not read a better account of this story than this one.

I can’t for the life of me understand why Shackleton and his men were obsessed with the polar region. Freezing cold and an environment which makes it man verse nature and you know nature is always going to win. Robert Falcon Scott was obsessed as was Roald Amundsen and Shackleton was in this league but what made him greater than the other two was his superior leadership and people skills.

Shackleton and his family moved from Dublin in 1888 and his parents went to great lengths to get rid of his Irish lilt. Not a lot of people know that and his wife found it baffling that somebody so bruised by Antarctica could go back for more of a thrashing after the 1902 and 1907 failures.

Shackleton’s attitude in the hardships that he and his men endured was that “no man must think that their situation is anything other than a temporary inconvenience”. Every man, even the stowaway Perce Blackborow, who lost several toes to frostbite, was treated equally and got the same rations as the captain and Shackleton himself. His men had faith in him and times got pretty grim. You can read the details of the journey yourself.

Not only is it a portrait of Shackleton but of all who were on this journey. At the beginning of the book are portraits of everybody by ships artist George “Putty’ Marston with every member including the cat Mr Chippy, is mentioned and profiled to the context of the action that takes place. Not everybody is likeable.

The story is gritty and well told and contains stunning photographs by Frank Hurley, two with a view over a long distance at The Endurance being crushed by ice. Grochowicz descriptions of the Antarctic environment and the men’s struggle for survival are superb.

If you miss this one you will kick yourself. Suitable for readers intermediate and above.

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The NZ Series book4 First Encounters New Zealand 1642-1840 by Gordon and Sarah Ell. Pub. Oratia, 2021.

April 30, 2021 Comments off

If you haven’t caught up with this excellent series on New Zealand’s history then start with this one. From diaries and log books starting with Abel Tasman in 1642, it tells of early encounters with the Maori that are very enlightening and basically predict future problems.

Tasman’s entry concerns conflict with Maori in Golden bay which Tasman called Murderers Bay and then a remarkably similar encounter 125 years later in Tologa Bay between Captain Cook’s men and the Maori. In the latter incident Cook had a Hawaiian speaker with him who could understand and be understood by the Maori.

Further entries deal with Samuel Marsden and the first Xmas, the timber trade, Whalers and Sealers, the first Maori to visit England, the tattooed sailor who returned home after living amongst the Maori for some years and other very interesting stories.

It concludes with John Logan Campbell the father of Auckland, landing on the isthmis that was to become Auckland, standing on the hill that was Mt Remuera and gazing across the Waitemata Harbour in awe. It is a lyrical story telling of the purchase of land for development.

This is the best series on early NZ that I have read and would be a valuable asset to any school library. Others in this series are also reviewed on this blog.

Each entry is well illustrated with explanation of terms used and of historical and cultural facts and figures.

Categories: Non Fiction Tags:

Dunkirk. The History Behind the major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine. Pub. William Collins, 2017.

April 25, 2021 Comments off

It is appropriate that I review this excellent historical account of the Dunkirk evacuation, on ANZAC Day because this evacuation meant as much to the British as Gallipoli does to New Zealanders and Australians. If the British Expeditionary Force had been captured or destroyed at Dunkirk it is almost certain that Britain would have been forced to surrender and the world would have been a different place.

Reading this book also meant much to me because my father was at Dunkirk and wore a bullet for his troubles. He never talked about it except to say that it was a complete shambles and terrifying. This book confirms that.

The book begins with an interview of Christopher Nolan who made the motion picture which I saw and astonishingly he made it without putting any Germans in it. Read it and find out why, it’s not important but an interesting position. Joshua Levine then looks at the social history of Britain since WW1 and the Depression and concludes that there was vast change. There was a strong sense by the working class that they had been let down after being promised a land fit for heroes after WW1. There was a growth of a youth culture reflected in the music, clothes and the way youth spent their money. There was also the growth of Mosely and his Hitler supporters who didn’t want a confrontation with him. Dunkirk changed all this.

Dunkirk was a military defeat brought about by the twin German tactics of Blitzkrieg from the air by Stuka bombers who had Jericho sirens on their wing struts and on their bombs. This terrified both civilian and military personal. Secondly the swiftness of the Panzer tanks so swift were they that Hitler couldn’t believe it had worked so well.

The quick capitulation by Belgium and the rapid movement of panzers without opposition into France stunned everybody. Should the British Army have left Britain in the first place and were they ready for war? The fall of the Maginot Line completely demoralised the French and allowed the Germans to get in behind the British Army and squeeze it from both sides. There was fighting and opposition of course and the beauty of this book is that tunes into live and documented accounts of the skirmishes from men on the ground.

It was chaos, nobody knew what was going on, many soldiers didn’t know where Dunkirk was, they thought it was a place in Scotland. Discipline broke down and survival took over. Rank lost its influence with meritocracy and natural leadership won over rank.

The fact that more than 300,000 men were evacuated off the beach and off the mole that went almost a mile around the port of Dunkirk was a miracle of course and the small boats astonishingly brave. Some 15,000 Frenchmen were also evacuated in a desperate struggle on the ground. Meanwhile politically Churchill came to the fore in spite of have little faith in him from both sides of the House of Commons.

Joshua Levine pieces it all together in a quite compelling account of what went on. As the soldiers returned many felt they had failed and were astonished that the British public treated them like heroes. Britain had changed thanks to the Dunkirk spirit and it was that that began the real opposition to Hitler.

An outstanding book, if you miss this you will kick yourself.

Categories: Non Fiction Tags: ,

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston. Pub. Hardy Grant, 2021.

April 16, 2021 Comments off

Amari is a black girl from the housing projects who has a destiny that she doesn’t understand. She is used to living the hard way but has good attitudes and is loyal and brave. Her older brother Quinton has gone missing in a magical world and she is determined to find him.

Quinton is a magician which nobody knows about and he sends her a package in which is a pair of glasses that give Amari a virtual reality show telling her about the dangerous world Quinton has got caught up in and a plea to not try to find him.

Amari follows clues from the glasses and is led to a magical world that exists in the same space as the real world but only few people can see it. A bit like J.K. Rowlings world of Magical Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Amari enters the world of the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs an organisation that ensures that supernaturals have a safe place to meet. Amira is tested for her suitability to work for the department and surprisingly learns that she is a magician and related to magicians that have caused havoc in the past. She learns too that her brother Quinton was also a magician and has disappeared while looking for and elusive and dangerous group called the Night Brothers.

Amari applies to become a member of the Dept of Supernatural Investigations run by the van Helsings relatives of the Van Helsings that trapped Dracula. How will she get on? Will she find Quinton? and who are the Night Brothers.

Exciting fantasy for lovers of this genre.

My Cat Can See Ghosts by Emily Joe. Pub, Beatnik, 2021.

April 11, 2021 Comments off

I read this delightful and insightful picture book about cats and ghosts to my granddaughters who both have a cat. They loved it and said immediately it was just like their cats.

Cat behaviour is always intriguing, they are an aristocratic animal who have staff and know how to get what they want. My granddaughters are the same.

The text is poetic “Sometimes my cat appears to stare, At something more than just thin air.” You will have to read it yourself to see what happens next.

The illustrations by the author are superb. The ghosts in the cat’s eyes, the relaxed way a cats stretches out and the sudden burst of energy that a cat shows with hairs puffed up tall. All there in dark pastel colours with yellow shades prominent.

Lovely ending. A must buy for any school library and a home with cats.

Categories: Picture book Tags: ,

Space Detectives by Mark Powers, illus. Dapo Adeola. Pub. Bloomsbury, 2021.

April 8, 2021 Comments off

This is a short easy to read chapter book for newly confidant readers and reluctant boy readers. It is introductory Sc/Fi with a load of laughs and lots of weird creatures.

Ten year old Ethan and Mark are good friends and they run an ice cream parlour on the manmade planet of Starville. It is a glass bubble in space with all the elements of Planet Earth except that it is populated by both humans and creatures from other planets.

Both boys are detectives and want to start an agency up on Starville but there is a lack of work. The boys witness a crime in which a Tufted Grotsnobbler from Venus steals the handbag off the daughter of the Supreme Governor of Starville. They attempt to get the handbag back and are invited to a party at the Governors house for their efforts.

Then things get worse as Starvillians learn that their planet is heading for a collision with the moon. Can Ethan and Mark find out who is behind this dastardly scheme? Read it and find out.