Archive for the ‘Non Fiction’ Category

Do Animals Fall in Love by Katharina von der Gathen, illus. by Anke Kuhl. Pub Gecko press, 2021.

May 27, 2021 Comments off

Written in response to questions asked about sex by children this highly informative and entertaining book is a must for inquisitive children aged 9 to 13 years.

it is divided into three main sections dealing with firstly The Art of Seduction or how animals get it together. secondly Mating which is both entertaining and informative and thirdly The babies Arrive which deals with pregnancy and looking after the new born.

Under the Art of Seduction animals prance dance sing and fight to attract a partner. musk ox bang heads together, kangaroos box, zebras bang necks together and swans dance and preen. Mating shows the wear with all that animals have and some of it is impressive but all accurate. And Arrive shows animals looking after the young. polar bears eat all summer and give birth in winter so that the young can suckle while in a snow cave. Ostriches are brought up by the males.

But do animals fall in love? Check this beautifully illustrated book out and see and get informed and have a good laugh at the same time. Domestic animals pets like dogs and cats are featured so children will be interested.

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.


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: ,

Becoming by Michelle Obama. Adapted for young Readers. Pub. Penguin Random House, 2021.

April 3, 2021 Comments off

The most fascinating and readable autobiography I have read for some time. The cover says it has been adapted for young readers but I couldn’t see what Michelle had left out. The woman with the dazzling smile, with the too lovely daughters who stood beside Obama when president of USA, sweeps you off your feet in this extraordinary book.

The book is in four parts the first is Becoming Me and tells of her schooling and College until she met Barack Obama. Born Michelle Robinson in South Chicago in an area that experienced whit flight as the Black population slowly moved in. It was a rough area and Michelle and her brother Craig with their parents lived in an upstairs apartment above a stern woman who taught piano. Michelle learnt piano and went to schools that were mainly coloured students.

She learnt how connections and privilege gave some people an advantage over others which she accepted. She spoke very correct English and was taunted by her fellow students ” how come you speak like a white girl”? She was seen as uppity and betraying her black Culture.

She followed her basketball scholarship brother Craig to Princeton in the 1980’s a place she saw as “extremely white and very Male”. She stuck to what she knew and had few white friends. When she left with her degree she studied law and got a position in a Chicago law firm and met Barack when she was assigned the job of mentoring him.

Part 2 is titled becoming Us in which she gets to know Barack, forms a relationship with him, marriage two daughters Malia and Sacha as well as developing a career involving social and political work plus motherhood. She saw that Barack was a deep thinker, heavy reader and had a version of hope that extended beyond hers. He wouldn’t settle for the World as it was, he wanted it as it should be.

Politically the path of the future was laid with the election of bill Clinton as President when she was involved in encouraging the black voters to vote which ensured Clinton’s win. The road was set for Obama’s run for president.

Michelle and Barack married in style with a Stevie Wonder song You and I We can conquer the world.

As Barack’s political aspirations bore fruit Michelle was left as a working mother bringing up her daughters with

Barack largely absent. She gave him the space to forge his career. She witnessed the dirty right wing lies that mar any election and the racism that a black man running for election brings. Obama had to receive the earliest protection any presidential candidate has ever had.

Becoming More is part 3 and covers Obama’s election, inauguration and move into the White House that makes fascinating and compelling reading but I will let you the reader find this out for yourself.

Michelle Obama is a talented writer. She is clear concise and bloody interesting. You will not read a better autobiography than this.

North & South; A Tale of Two Hemispheres by Sandra Morris. Pub. Walker Books 2021.

February 27, 2021 Comments off

This beautifully illustrated and researched non fiction picture book sized publication contrasts the lives and needs of animals in both hemispheres at corresponding times of the year.

It starts in January when it is winter in the Northern hemisphere and summer in the South and shows the ways that animals adapt to the changing seasons and the threats that global warming, habitat destruction and other human activity are having on their lives.

Animals deal with changing seasons in various ways and the examples chosen show this but what is important is that animals need to be able to predict the seasonal changes and adjust their lives and those of their offspring accordingly.

Animals used in this publication include the salt water crocodile, the pink flamingo, the brown kiwi, the green tree python, the Japanese macaque, the African elephant, the honeypot ant, the Portuguese man-of -war and a host of others.

Each animal is accurately drawn with a profile that shows how it lives and adapts to its environment. It is classified according to its survivability in our changing world and the threats to it’s survival.

Easy to read and at the start and finish of this book is a map of the World showing all countries and the location of the animals.

A superb resource for any school library and for the family home. You will not get better information than this on the Internet. The author has written it to show children the impact of their behaviour on animal life and how this will shape the future of our natural world.

New Zealand Disasters. Our Response, Resilience and Recovery by Maria Gill, illus. Marco Ivancic. Pub. Scholastic 2021.

January 27, 2021 Comments off

One of the most popular topics to study in NZ schools at primary and Intermediate level is Disasters. We know all about them, we have had our fair share.

This comprehensive coverage of well known and little known disasters throughout NZ’s history are beautifully covered in this text. The Internet could not provide this amount of information with its accuracy of information and presentation that makes it easy to access.

Cyclones, tornadoes, earthquakes, landslides, volcanoes, fires, aeroplane crashes, train crashes, pandemics, mass murders, mining disasters, you name it we have had it and many of them within living memory.

At the front of the book is a Disasters Map showing where they all occurred and in the back there is recognition of those who respond to the disasters, survival tips and plans for what families can do plus a Recovery piece about acknowledging feelings and being positive.

All good accurate information excellently illustrated by Marco Ivancic. The title page introducing every type of disaster has a big dramatic illustration with real photographs of the disaster evenly placed throughout the text.

Did you know that when the Lake Taupo supervolcano went off 300,000 years ago was one of the worst in the World in the last 5000 years.

This hard cover book fittingly closes with the Covid 19 pandemic and has a memoriam to those killed in the Mosque Massacre of Friday 15 march 2019. An essential purchase for every school library.

Categories: Non Fiction

Whiti. Colossal Squid of the Deep by Victoria Cleal, illus. Isobel Joy Te Aho-White. Pub. Te Papa Press, 2020.

December 15, 2020 Comments off

The most fascinating fact about the colossal or giant squid is that it possesses the largest eye of any creature, about the size of a soccer ball, which lets in 144 times more light than a human.

That makes it ideal for living in the deep ocean at depths between 1000 and 4000 meters and that is why so few of them are seen or caught except of course in fiction.

This Te Papa publication for children follows the life cycle o0f a colossal squid from birth as a ngu through to its death which when it happens helps feed all the species in the Antarctic environment.

Inspired by the real life finding and preserving of a colossal squid now in the Te papa museum, this excellent scientific picture book looks at the whole environment from toothfish to leopard seals and spindly spiders and kina of the sea floor all with Maori names and cultural meaning.

The information is easily accessible and the illustrations by Isobel Joy Te Aho-White are big bright and accurately drawn.

One of the best NZ science books for children of the year. Great gift for children who like science.

White Moko. stories from my life by Tim Tipene. Pub. OneTree House, 2020.

November 15, 2020 Comments off

This memoir of childhood in an abusive family is one that all New Zealanders should take heed of particularly those whose lives have been damaged by their upbringing.

Tim Tipene has a Maori name but he is white skinned, hair haired with blue eyes. His father was rightly jailed and his mother married a Maori man who had wonderful whanau but he himself was a brute.

Tim was brutalised all through his childhood. Both parents took great delight out of being sadistic towards him. His mother told him he had ruined her life and that she wished he had never been born.

All this reflected on his performance at school where he was labelled a bad boy and not worth the effort. He had a couple of good teachers but when he was kicked out of college he couldn’t recite the alphabet. Didn’t know his times table and couldn’t tell the time on an analogue clock.

The stories he tells of his early life are harrowing but he never lost hope and loved both his parents and was fortunate that he had his Maori whanau to get him through. He was a white Maori and proud of it.

As he grew to adulthood he got involve in martial arts which led him to Japan and a karate master. He attended an anger management class for men who were abused as children and found he was not alone.

His school and early adult life and recovery is covered up to his formation of Kora Toa Warrior school and his work with underprivileged and abused children.

He is a wonderful successful man and it is essential that his story be utilised as a source of hope for those who have suffered similar treatment. His message is you are not alone and can be helped.

The most powerful book I have read for some time.