Posts Tagged ‘poverty’

Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys, co writer Andrew Weiner, Illus Brittney Williams. Pub Harper Alley, imprint HarperCollins, 2022

May 24, 2022 Comments off

A powerful graphic novel that looks at the lives of poor kids from the projects in an American city and how their lives and aspirations are affected by their situation. It will be popular with Maori and Pacifica students and .anybody who is a graphic reader from intermediate through to high school students and beyond.

Co written by pop singer Alicia Keys and based on a hit song of the same name, this novel looks at the lives of Lolo Wright, her brother James and her school mates. They live in a tough neighbourhood that is riven with drug dealers lead by a nasty man called Skin who controls everything.

When Lolo’s brother James is falsely accused of a crime he didn’t do, Lolo develops a characteristic she didn’t know she had and it is super powered in nature. At the same time a short boy named Runt who is also bullied and abused develops the same power.

Conflict results with a few surprises and ends in a satisfactory manner. Message is we all have the power within us to shape our own destiny no matter who we are.

Lots of friendship stuff particularly between girls and family stuff too. Great reading.

I read this book twice in a row without stopping. Firstly I looked only at the graphic images to see what they told me, then I read the written text. They complimented each other perfectly. Lots of tough ghetto talk and action images. This book will be popular.

Answering to the Caul by Ted Dawe. Pub Mangakino University Press. 2020.

January 3, 2021 Comments off

This is a powerful novel in two distinctly different parts. The first part is titled Living with the Caul and analyses the life of Andrei Reti a boy who was born with a Caul covering his head. According to folk lore and superstition this will lead to him having an affinity with water with the possibility of drowning being unlikely.

Water does indeed have a great influence on Andrei as he survives drowning in the bath while a baby, and in other incidents in his life that affect his relationships with his whanau. He grows up with a sense of guilt.

However it is poverty and reading that by far have the biggest impact on his life. When your father is in jail and your mother is sick the world looks like a huge and lonely place. Poverty comes through the door and when Andrei’s mother dies he is shipped up to live with whanau in the north where poverty is a daily existence.

He adjusts and his only escape is books. He reads prolifically at a level far in advance of children his own age and this influence of reading is a major theme of the novel.

Up North he comes in contact with a wild family member called Dallas who is violent and on the verge of exploding every minute of the day. Dallas introduces him to the adult world and is to have a major impact on his life in the second part of this novel but you will have to read it to find out how. Needless to say Dallas regards the two factors that control his life as Whanau and utu. There is no room for aroha as Andrei tells him.

The story is narrated by Andrei and covers his early childhood and school up to high school. It then jumps into adulthood and the repercussions of his childhood and the Caul come to the fore.

Part two is another story as it is set in Thailand but I will leave that to you the reader. Needless to say there is an incident that reminds me of a novel by Michael Morpurgo involving elephants.

The book is very readible, with short chapters, and much to say about school life and poverty. It is very descriptive and brings back old kiwi english with terms like cackhanded, which made me smile. Then there is the description of a current scone made by his aunt that is described as “not a food but a landform, something between a boulder and a cow pat”.

This novel would go well when read in conjunction with Tim Tipene’s White Moko which is reviewed earlier on this blog. This New Zealand in the raw.

Trainsurfer by Kate S Richards

September 5, 2019 Comments off

trainsurferTrainsurfer by Kate S Richards. Pub. 2018.

An inspiring novel set in Apartheid South Africa just before the release of Nelson Mandela, with surfing the focus for revealing the contrasting lives of both black and white people.

Jabu is a young boy when his mother dies while in need of medical attention because she is black. He leaves his shanty town hovel in Soweto and travels to Durban to be with his aunt who has too many children dependent on her for life.

Through surfing Jabu meets white girl Billie and her surfing white mates, Kyle and Josh. The privileged lifestyle of whites contrasts with the poverty, crime ridden lives of blacks.  But life moves in mysterious ways for both racial groups.

The ending is positive, the characters believable, and there is a beautiful story of a young Rhinoceros in the back of a truck with Jabu. The start and ending are linked beautifully.

There is lots of surfing talk and action with the excellent cover showing Jabu dropping into the green room.

Well written with the author structuring short chapters with gaps between paragraphs allowing the reader with a low concentration span to easily drop and read at will.

For reluctant readers at intermediate and junior high school level. Contact the author at


The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell.

August 4, 2019 Comments off

good thievesThe Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell. Pub. Bloomsbury, 2019.

This is children’s story telling at it’s very best. I am pleased to discover Katherine Rundell.

Set in New York probably in the 1920’s it is a battle for social and legal justice in which the poor and downtrodden take on a rich villain and win.

Vita is a girl of 11 or 12 years old with reddish brown hair of a freshly washed fox. She goes with her mother to New York to help her grandpa who has been swindled out of his castle by a ruthless conman called Sorrotore. Not only is he a thug but he is of a class that is trained not to see the poor and the poverty around them. He doesn’t care.

Vita confronts him in his own apartment in the Dakota building on 72nd street where John Lennon would later be killed. In the process she meets an Irish girl called Silk who is an accomplished pickpocket and safe breaker and seeks her assistance to break into her grandpas castle and find a hidden emerald necklace. She declines at first.

Vita also meets two boys  from a circus playing at Carnegie Hall, Arkady and Samuel, who have trapeze skills and are clever with animals. They too are seconded to help Vita get the castle back for grandpa.

The adventure is gripping and the plot has a weasel like quality to it – cunning. Katherine Rundell has great descriptive ability in her writing and you will not put this novel down willingly.

For primary, intermediate and junior high school readers. The find of the year so far.

Theophilus Grey and the Demon Thief by Catherine Jinks.

September 2, 2015 Comments off

demon thiefTheophilus Grey and the Demon Thief by Catherine Jinks. Pub. Allen&Unwin, 2015.

Something is scaring the living daylights out of the street life of Georgian London. Crime rate has soared, two men have been laid unconscious without any sign of being hit and rumours of supernatural interference are rampant.

12 year old Philo is a linkboy. His job is to deliver messages and to guide people through the dark dangerous and filthy alleys of London town by torch light. He works for a Fagan type character  named Garnet who sells remedies for various ailments and conditions but also provides information to the Magistrate in return for money. Most of the characters live in extreme poverty.

Philo gets a new client, a surgeon called Mr Paxton who treats him well but continually presses for information. What is he up to? What has a the return of returned prisoner Cockeye McAuliffe got to do with it and what sort of beast has caused the criminal boarding house the Rats Castle to close down? Is there a demon wandering the town a la Jack the Ripper? Read this exciting novel and find out.

A superb historical mystery thriller by Catherine Jinks who specialises in such historical pieces. This is book 1 of a series  and the recreation of Georgian London with it’s darkness, mysticism, extreme poverty and array of vivid characters is superb. The detail is incredible right down to the language spoken, there is even a glossary in the back of the book.

The best book of it’s kind that I have read for some time for children aged 10 years to 13years

Trash by Andy Mulligan

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Trash by Andy Mulligan. Pub. David Fickling Books, 2010.

This is a stunning novel about poverty, life, corruption and survival in a Third World nation. No country is named but it is most likely the Phillippines.

The reaction you have when you finish the story is Yes Yes Yes! If you have seen the film Slumdog Millionaire then you have got the picture.

Raphael, Gordo and Jun Jun live and work in the dump of a large city. They sift the rubbish as it comes in hoping for a big find that never comes for most. They are dirty, diseased and live an appalling life style.

One day Raphael finds a wallet containing 1100 pesos, an encrypted note,  a key and an identy card. The next day police are around asking about it, offering a reward and Raphael consults his friends Gordo and Jun Jun as to what to do. Because of the urgency shown by the police they decide to unravel the clues given and see what can be found.

What they unravel will leave you breathless and keep you reading till the end of this  tension filled story. It also has a book code to break amidst the action.

A story in five parts narrated by all three boys and an array of characters that fill in crucial parts of the story. It is a story of corruption by high ranking politicians, police and even lesser officials and is probably the way things are in many Third World Countries. The fact that three dump kids can outwit them all, is the most appealing part of the story.

One of the best novels for school years 6/7/8 and even junior high school that I have read this year. It exposes a world we rarely think about but should know about. You will not regret reading this beauty.