So Special by David Hill, Illus. Nikki Slade Robinson

August 6, 2017 Comments off

so specialSo Special by David Hill, Illus. Nikki Slade Robinson. Pub. Duck Creek Press, 2017.

Picture books can be used to highlight topics, feelings and personal situations so that the reader can see that they are not alone. The pen is still mightier than the sword although when applied to this book, there is something ironic about that statement as the topic is the families of the armed forces who are serving overseas and the problems they have.

Oscar and his sister Laila miss their dad who is with the army overseas. Laila sucks her thumb and Oscar sometimes gets angry when other kids ask about the whereabouts of his father. Mother copes as well as she can and supports her children with skill and attention.

But they still miss their dad. Both children learn to live with the fact that their dad is special and is serving his country oversea.

Nikkii Slade Robinson’s illustrations are perceptive, large and colourful. They show the joy and the sadness. The use of the family dog is powerful and the mother is always in control. The aircraft, tank and battleship shadows throughout the book remind readers of who we are talking about.

David Hill’s text is simple, straight to the point and sensitive. Also available in Maori language under the title He Tino Taonga.

This picture book fulfills a need in a most positive way.

The Traitor and the Thief by Gareth Ward

August 1, 2017 Comments off

traitor thiefThe Traitor and the Thief by Gareth Ward. Pub. Walker Books, 2017.

Many words could be used to describe this novel for readers of a wide age range from 12-18 years. Steam punk should be a couple of them but also ingenious, thrilling and enormously clever would be others.

The central character is teenager Sin who was left at an orphanage with a teddy bear, grew up tough and ended up working the streets as a thief for Fixer, a Fagan like character. He learns that rules mean nothing when you have money, power and privilege. The poor have no chance. Some things never change.

He is caught by the mysterious Eldritch Moons and pressured to join a COVERT OPERATIONS GROUP (COG) and train to be a spy. His fellow trainees include the ruthless Velvet, the delicious Zonda and a host of villainous reprobates but his talents as a liar, a cheat and thief are just the talents needed.

COG is headed by a genius inventor named Nimrod whose inventions form the steam punk part of the novel and he has the moral high ground by using his organisation to prevent war. Nimrod makes many enemies and COG has more leaks and conflicts than the West Wing of the White House.

Will Sin survive? and who are his parents? Is there a link between his abandonment at birth and COG? Read it and enjoy this thriller as much as I did. The ending will have you gasping for breath.

The plot bears a close similarity to the military, industrial and political rivalry that precipitated World war 1, and the city of Coxford where the novel is set, is remarkably like London.

Winner of the Storylines Tessa Duder Award. Splendidly paced and written. Great cover.

Dragons Under my Bed by Kathy Bee, Illus. by Lisa Allen.

July 31, 2017 Comments off

dragon bedDragons Under my Bed by Kathy Bee, Illus. by Lisa Allen. Pub. Duck Creek Pres, 2017.

Something happens in my room at night. Straight after Mum turns out the light” Heck we all know that is true and like the little boy in this story it pays to have a good story to explain what happens.

Yes it is dragons under the bed who come out and have enormous fun creating a hellava mess until mum comes back to see what the kerfuffle is.

A picture book from the song Dragons under the Bed from well known singer/songwriter Kathy Bee. You can download the song from this book and sing along or you can read it aloud instead.

It has the added advantage of easing childhood fears of a monster under the bed  especially knowing that the dragons are having such fun.

Lisa Allen has illustrated the song and brought it to visual life. The dragons are brazen, puffing smoke, firing arrows, throwing clothes around, emptying the wardrobe and all sorts of mischief. The little boy is as innocent as the day is long and of course has imagination

But we know who is really to blame.

Worth every cent of 20 bucks from  www.kathbee.nz

Sparrow by Scot Gardner

July 25, 2017 Comments off

sparrowSparrow by Scot Gardner. Pub Allen & Unwin, 2017.

Every day I see people scrambling for life and survival on the streets. Every city in the World has them and we walk on by trying hard not to notice. We never ask where do they sleep? how come they are there? what do they do all day? are they in good health? even when they are children.

This is the story of Sparrow a ten year old boy living on the streets of Darwin and making a good fist of it in spite of a horrible background. Sparrow has lost the power of speech because of the treatment meted out to him by family and others. He has a shock of hair a dashing smile and helps wherever he can for food and company.

Sparrow is looked after by an old man called Sharky who teaches him how to swim, a skill that will save his life. Every day Sparrow avoids the “ghost boys” who haunt the streets, taking drugs and booze and whatever else they can get hold of. One of them is Sparrow’s brother.

Leap forward five years and Sparrow is in Juvie and on a survival trip in shark and croc infested waters. An accident and Sparrow is out in the bush trying to survive in hostile country but at least he is free and he knows it.

The novel is superbly structured as the two strands of Sparrow’s life are told in consecutive chapters,coming together near the end of the book. Scot Gardner’s descriptions of the wilderness with it’s snakes, lizards, insects, crocs, sharks and physical beauty, are stunning. His understanding of the underdog, the sick, the mentally ill, the human condition and how to survive, are praiseworthy indeed.

Simple to read it is accessible to the most reluctant of readers of reading ages 14-18 years. The hopeful ending will bring joy to your heart.

Don’t miss this one. A potential award winner. Superb cover because you are always waiting for the croc to show up.

I Just Ate My Friend by Heidi McKinnon

July 24, 2017 Comments off

ate my friendI Just Ate My Friend by Heidi McKinnon. Pub. Allen & Unwin, 2017.

I have been sitting on this potentially award winning picture book for a few weeks now and I just have to get it out. Why you say? Because it is multi level, thought provoking, funny, with illustrations that are so simple I could have done them, yet it has that je ne sais quoi.

On a child’s level it has a strong message of, “be careful who you chose as a friend.” It also looks at ways in which we make judgments on who our friends should be.

At an adult level, while everything above is relevant, it deals with old adage of “what goes round comes round”.

A monster regrets that he has eaten his best and only friend, he ponders the meaning of this and goes looking for a new friend. In the end another monster chooses him. He is happy for a while, but………

Lots of black with bright colours on whole pages and white font in short but perceptive sentences. The ending is a killer.

Juniors will love it but older children and adults will be bewitched too.

There is no Dragon in this Story by Lou Carter and Deborah Allwright.

July 23, 2017 Comments off

no dragonThere is no Dragon in this Story by Lou Carter and Deborah Allwright. Pub.Bloomsbury, 2017.

I like dragons but I am afraid they are not always the good guys in children’s stories. They maybe in The Game of Thrones but I haven’t seen the ending yet.

The dragon in this excellent story for juniors and older fans of traditional stories, is sick of being the villain who captures a princess and fights a knight who becomes a hero. Fair enough not all dragons are tarred with the same brush and so it is with this one.

After trying to get into a number of stories involving the Gingerbread Man, the Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks, Pinocchio and Hansel and Gretel, and been told that “there is no dragon in this story”, dragon is fed up. He needs acceptance.

Jack and the Beanstalk gives him his big chance. See if he takes it.

Easy dialogue, best read aloud, with a chance for children to interact with the reader and the story. Illustrations are big, colourful and enhance the story line, especially the facial expressions of the dragon. Other traditional characters are easily recognisable.

An excellent publication out in August for $24.99NZ.

Middle School. Pottymouth and Stoopid by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein.

July 21, 2017 Comments off

stoopidMiddle School. Pottymouth and Stoopid by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein. Pub. Penguin Random House, 2017.

It was a miserable wet day and I needed something easy to read that would make me laugh and think at the same time so I grabbed Pottymouth and Stoopid. I was not wrong.

I love these Middle School stories they deal with serious issues like bullying, poverty, inequality, snobbery and friendship and they turn them into heart warming stories.

Pottymouth (Michael) is a black boy who invents new words that sound like swearing but are not. His friend is Stoopid (David) and they met at nursery school and are still friends at middle school. They are not as they are described by their school mates and are ploys to the old statement of “give a dog a bad name”.

Michael is a foster child and Michael comes from a broken relationship. Both boys and their mutual friend Anna Britannica are terrific. They have fun together but they have many low points that make them angry.

David’s father is a frustrated writer and a penny pincher but when he takes David and Michael to lunch one day he listens to their stories and this is to change their lives.

I do like a happy ending and am always on the side of the underdog. These are great stories for the reluctant reader, easy to read superbly illustrated by Chris Grabenstein and essential in every school library.