Archive for the ‘Intermediate Fiction’ Category

Lopini the legend by Feana Tu’akoi. Pub. Scholastic 2023.

June 8, 2023 Comments off

Reading should be about fun and enjoyment and this short novel for primary and Intermediate pupils fits the bill.

It is often said that success breeds success but is the reverse true that failure breeds failure? This is one of the themes of this entertaining Tongan-Palangi novel.

Lopini is a year 8 student and is a legend in his school. He has a good friend in Fi and he is successful in everything he does until he is replaced in the kapa haka group by a Maori boy who speaks Maori and by Lopini’s own admission is better qualified for the job.

Lopini doesn’t handle it very well and feels a failure which he is not used to. His friend Fi tries to bring him round but Lopini decides it is because he is not used to failure ‘I need to get better at failing and the only way to get better is to practice”.

He gets Fi to suggest things for him to do that he hasn’t got a chance to succeed at like asking a germ conscious girl to change lunches with him, to dance in public and in front of the school etc etc. Surprise surprise he becomes a success and enhances his reputation and gets involved in community projects. But is he neglecting his best friend? Read it and find out.

Very easy to read with chapter numbers in Tongan and English. There is a dour school Principle Mrs Pepper to contend with and some cool stuff that Pasifika and Maori students in particular will enjoy. I enjoyed it so it is not exclusive.

After reading it I thought gee I wish school was as cool as this when I went.

The winner of the Tom Fitzgibbon Award for 2022.

The Sparrow by Tessa Duder. Pub. Penguin Books, 2023

May 11, 2023 Comments off

This historical fiction novel is the best I have read about the European settlement of New Zealand aimed at any level.

It is well researched and stresses a fact that is often overlooked by historians – that without the Maori early New Zealand settlement would have been impossible. The Maori provided the settlers with food and shelter without which they would surely have starved.

This novel concentrates on the Auckland settlement in the 1840’s with many of the characters who are associated with Auckland’s and New Zealand’s history such as Governor Willian Hobson, John Logan Campbell, and interpreter Edward Williams featuring.

It also shows that the early settlers brought with them the prejudices of the English class system that is to be a feature of the relationships between the Maori and the settlers and indeed be a feature of the chances of lower status settlers to get a fair chance especially when it came to buying land. Then as now the price of land in Auckland is outrageous.

The central character in the story is Harriet/Harry who is 10 years old when she is wrongly convicted of stealing an apple and transported to Australia in horrific circumstances that would have killed many. Harriet is a survivor and an admirable role model for any you human being. She is strong, resourceful, caring and inciteful and the reader is with her all the way.

Harriet decides that it would be easier to survive as a boy than it would be as a girl because of the male attitudes at the time and this helps her escape the cruel and barbaric conditions at the Cascades prison in Tasmania. She escapes on the immigrant ship Platina to New Zealand and ends up in Waitemata Harbour in a pristine New Zealand.

From the beginning the settlement follows class lines. The poor are at Mechanics Bay next door to the Maori Pa at Orakei. Government is at Official Bay and business at Commercial Bay. Nothing is done for the settlers at Mechanics Bay but the Maori are commandeered to build raupo huts and bring vegetables and food to Commercial bay.

The lot of Harriet and her friend Tillie and family is miserable indeed. The funeral of a young child is moving because the Maori come to pay their respects and are rejected as natives. Even at this early stage all classes treat the Maori as savages but Harriet is different and pays the price. She decides after being a girl that it is safer to be a boy and resumes as Harry until the end of the book which is nerve wracking and exciting.

Harriet’s early days from age 10 to 14 are covered in a segment at the end of each chapter from 1836 to the settlement in 1840 and it shows the reasons why people chose to immigrate rather than live in England but you will have to find these things out by reading this superb novel.

Harriet at one stage looks back to when she landed and observes “those three pretty bays, three unspoiled beaches” and “over the spring we’ve turned them into dirty squabbling villages of too many frightened, suspicious and greedy people with something to hide and nowhere to go”. Is it any better now I asked myself.

The best book I have read this year and Tessa Duder’s first novel in 20 years. Keep writing Tessa.

Edge of Light Series Bk1 New Dawning by A.M. Dixon. Pub. OneTree House 2023.

May 1, 2023 Comments off

This highly descriptive dystopian fiction novel about the most drastic results of climate change is a must read.

It is set in what is left of New Zealand, on the Port Hills above Christchurch which has now been completely flooded due to the rise in sea levels after the Poles have melted away. Names like Littleton, Sugarloaf and the Summit Road are all mentioned mainly I think because the author is from Christchurch as am I.

There has been a great flood followed by a Crisis in which millions died and the survivors now live in a very controlled world where food is in short supply and massive covers in the sky shield the planet and people from a fierce hot sun.

The people that live in the small community live in a state of fearmongering which gets in the way of solid science as it did when new Zealand was in lockdown because of Covid. Every decision made by those in control is politicised and to show dissent is dangerous. The children are so brainwashed that they can’t conceive of the idea that giraffes, polar bears and elephants could possibly be true.

Population control is a feature of this society although the people don’t realise this. The old and some who dissent are sent away never to be seen again, but where do they go?. Every 7 years a 10 year old child is chosen to be the Voice of the Child and at their inauguration they are allowed to tell a truth from their history and this story begins with the appointment of a new Voice of the Child.

The story centres around 16 year old Merel her brother Bexley and their scientist parents. Merel observes trees and specialises in birds. She has a pet Corvus or white crow who she communicates with and it follows her everywhere. Into the story come two other main characters – Ren a 17 year old boy who is interested in Merel and she in him. Also a sensitive and inciteful 10 year old Estelle who is elected the new Voice of the Child.

On the appointment of Estelle those in command decide to open the covers that protect the earth for a short time to see what will happen and Estelle at her inauguration tells the community that Merel is the one who will save them all. In a word all hell breaks lose.

If you want to know more read the novel yourself.

A.M. Dixon spends much time describing the world and community that has resulted from ignoring climate change signals by previous world leaders, and is clearly concerned about the difference between historical truth and prophecies which are whispered between people. Not unlike the fake news, conspiracy theories and lies that trouble the world today.

How will Merel, Ren, Bexley, Estelle and Corvus combat this? Well there will be two other parts coming to develop the scenario further. I for one will be reading them. In some ways it reminded me of an old favourite Lois lowry’s The Giver.

The Bad Smell Hotel by Leela Chakraborti & Rajorshi Chakraborti. Pub. Cuba Press, 2023.

March 23, 2023 Comments off

This father and daughter creation sets out to make you laugh and it succeeds. It is aimed at primary and Intermediate readers particularly reluctant readers who want something short and funny.

Set in the year 2050 when some people cannot stop farting and society takes up the challenge and confines them all to bad smell hotels where the inmates all wear breathing apparatus to fend off the evil smells. Why has this come to pass?

The World that humans have created is ruled by robots who do everything. Humans do not need to leave the couch, they can send their avatars out to do all the enquiring and socialising they need. We have turned into slobs.

Aina who is a gifted dancer and Jerry live in the bad smell hotel and become friends. Then there is Mrs Knickerbocker who touches on an answer. When Jerry goes to see Aina dance he makes a startling discovery that is going to change the World. I wonder what it is?

Can the problem of non stop farting be solved?

Read this very funny book and find out. It is launched on 6th April.

Between the Flags by Rachel Fenton. Pub. Cuba Press, 2022.

November 24, 2022 Comments off

Winner of the Laura Solomon Cuba Press prize for YA literature this three part novel captures the problems faced by young people when a crisis takes over their lives.

The following quotation from the book tells it better than I could so I have printed it intact:- “You can’t get rid of grief. Its like plastic. Once it’s there it’s always there. It just gets broken down into smaller and smaller pieces until you hardly notice it”

Mandy came out to NZ from England with her mother and elder brother and settled into the kiwi way of life. Her mother formed a relationship with a decent man, Geoff, and they had a son Casey who became Mandy’s younger brother and Geoff her father.

Mandy joins a surf lifesaving group and has serious rivalry with other girls in this group who bully her because she is over weight and different. When her mother is seen flirting with a well known local celebrity Mandy’s life starts to come undone. Then tragedy hits with the drowning of 6 year old casey and the demise of her mother’s relationship with Geoff.

Mandy copes by writing a comic book about a girl called Mako who is a lifesaver but it is not enough. She takes counselling, her school work falls away and her relationships fall apart. She needs help and a break. She gets it and the comic book is the key.

Two main parts to this novel with the comic book the third part. Read it and find out what happens. The comic illustrations are superb.

Very good teacher role models in this book. I wish I had teachers as good as this when I was at school. All the adults in this novel are worthy although the same cannot be said of some of the school girls. Female bullying is so personal.

Spaceboy by David Walliams. Illus. Adam Stower. Pub. HarperCollins children’s books, 2022

November 21, 2022 Comments off

Another amazing novel for children from the incredible David Walliams.

This time it is set in America in the early 1960’s when the space race between USA and the USSR was in full force. In the back is a timeline of important events in this race from 1957 with Sputnik 1 to 1969 moon landing.

Main character is Ruth an orphan (what else) who lives with her aunt Dorothy in the mid west, probably Kansas, on a dilapidated Ostrich farm. Aunt Dorothy is like a crocodile and treats Ruth badly and calls her Roof. Ruth has a three legged dog called Yuri after the first man in space Yuri Gargarin and she looks at the heavens every night from her bed in the attic of the farm house. and wishes her life were better.

One night a UFO crashes to the Earth and on board is a Spaceboy who talks English. Suddenly the farm is swamped with helicopters and moon buggies chasing the Spaceboy and Ruth with the help of Yuri the dog with an egg wisk as one hind leg, try to escape but without luck.

What secrets does Spaceboy have and how will it all end? There is a sort of David Bowie aspect to the novel with the four parts being named Life On Mars, Space Oddity, Loving the Alien and finally Heroes.

We meet some traditional American characters like the doughnut eating overweight sheriff, Major Majors the hollywood aging star like space boss, the incredibly vain President who wants it to be all about him, half mahcine half mad scientist Dr Schock and of course Spaceboy himself.

Loads of laughs enhanced by Adam Stower’s illustrations.

Just in time for Xmas this would make a great present for reluctant readers and David Walliam’s fans. Easy to read, I finished in under two hours and so will you if you want to but I would dwell on it if I were you. Savour it

Duck’s Backyard by Ulrich Hub, Illus. Jorg Muhle. translated by Helena Kirkby. Pub. Gecko Press, 2022.

November 18, 2022 Comments off

This is a brilliant story about a lame duck who is cared to fly and a blind chicken who has energy to burn and a desire to have his big secret come true.

They meet in Ducks backyard where he and his crutch have stayed for years and chicken persuades Duck to go on a journey of discovery. So they do

On the way they go through a dark forest, cross a deep ravine and discuss the philosophy of life. Will duck learn to fly and will chicken find his big secret. The journey is brilliant and the ending even better still.

Jorg Muhle’s illustrations of Duck with his crutch and chicken with his sunglasses are superb. he captures the fun and seriousness of their journey to a T.

A great read-a-loud for juniors and something to savour for intermediate readers and seniors. Adults will love this too. If you do not like this story then you are sick of life. Travel changes everyone.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Bk17. Diper Overlode by Jeff Kinney. Pub. Puffin Books, 2022.

November 15, 2022 Comments off

This book is a laugh from start to finish and it took me just two sittings of one hour each to finish it.

Wimpy Kid Greg Heffley yearns to be rich and famous but things are not going his way. He decides that the best way of achieving this is to be friends with or know someone who is famous or going to be famous

He decides he will tag along with his older brother Rodericks heavy metal band, Diper Overlode and try to help them get famous to achieve his own desires.

Diper Overlode have modelled themselves on a once famous band called Metallichihuahua and so they set out to make a record and get name recognition.

Not as easy as it sounds as the boys explore the rock’n roll lifestyles with hilarious results. Every diper joke in the book is exploited as is every rock’n roll cliche. Adults will get a big laugh out of this as well as it mimics some well known antics by real bands.

Excellent for reluctant readers especially boys and for fans of the wimpy kid.

The Candle Trees by Anthony Holcroft. Pub. Quentin Wilson Pubs. 2022

November 12, 2022 Comments off

13 year old Julian meets his great grandma, who is well into her 90’s, when she comes to stay for her last days and takes over Julian’s bedroom. He is miffed of course but soon changes his mind when he finds a journal that Julia had written when she was 15 years old and lost in the forests and jungle on the Argentine/Paraquay border.

Enthralled by a story told to her by her uncle while staying at his house, Villa Rosa, in Gaucho country in Northern Argentina, in which he describes a magical Candle tree which has magical healing properties. Julia knows that north of the matto grosso where she is staying there is a forest and she persuades her maid servant to ride to the edge of the forest where she hopes to find the candle trees.

Of course she gets lost, finds an Indian girl Taina to assist her find her way back but gets deeper into the forest where she meets a brute of a man called Andreas and together they cross rivers, meet a jaguar, face starvation but will they find the candle trees. Read it and find out.

Old fashioned writing and story telling at it’s best. You don’t get novels written like this any more and it is a delight. I had the fortune to travel through Northern Argentina, into Parquay and along the Rio Parana in the early 1970’s so this story was totally enthralling to me and it will be for you as well.

One of the best NZ novels this year.


The Crate. A ghost Story by James Norcliffe. Pub. Quentin Wilson Publishing, 2022

November 4, 2022 Comments off

A supernatural story set in a West Coast New Zealand lake called Tunamoana which is really a character in the novel with its deep dark moods.

Siblings Danny and Amy with their cousin Jack go on holiday to their grandfather’s cottage Bide-a-wee with their father. On arrival an old truck driven by a cloth capped old geezer delivers a heavy crate addressed to bide-a-wee cottage and tells them not to open it.

Of course they do and there is nothing inside except a damp patch and a piece of lake weed. This evokes on old mystery of a girl called Lily who went missing presumed drowned decades earlier and the mystery deepens when a girl in a dripping wet white nightie is seen and wet footprints are left on the floor.

The three teenagers discuss the happenings with their father and he suggests they follow the principle of Occam’s Razor which states “look for the most obvious, the most likely explanation”, But is there one?

Things become very complicated when the teenagers meet Skip and her mother Jessie who is a mystic, and then their cousin Jack goes missing. Read it and find out what happens. You won’t be disappointed.

Beautifully written and structured by James Norcliffe and excellent cover illustration by Jenny Cooper who gets the mood of the story just right.