Picture book round up for October 2015

The Lion and the Bird cover image

Alright, it’s November. Stop being picky. :) Anyway, Christmas is coming up so go buy these books – they will all make brilliant presents!

Catch That Rainbow cover imageLet’s Catch That Rainbow, written and illustrated by Ann Keane, Pines Estate Books, ISBN 9780473320171, RRP $19.99

A rainy day story for a rainy day read, Let’s Catch That Rainbow follows Hadleigh and his fascination with rainbows, including trying to catch one! This is a Kiwi story through and through, and has enough bright pictures and story twists to keep kids interested and laughing. It also has good production values, which is great to see in an independently published book.


First to the Top cover imageFirst To The Top by David Hill, illustrated by Phoebe Morris, Puffin, ISBN9780143506874, RRP $25

The story of Sir Edmund Hillary and his many adventures and achievements is taken for granted by adults but while most kids might recognise the name they won’t necessarily know why. First To the Top is a wonderful picture book that perfectly captures Hillary’s life including the all-important Everest climb. It also does a great job of crediting Tenzing Norgay. The illustrations are fantastically cartoonish and this will be riveting to any child with a taste for knowledge and adventure.


In the bush cover imageIn the Bush: Explore and Discover New Zealand’s Native Forests by Ned Barraud and Gillian Candler, Potton & Burton, ISBN 9781927213544, RRP $19.99

I admit it, I’m a nerd, and as a nerd kid I LOVED books like this – full of detailed illustrations, fascinating bits of knowledge and more facts then you can shake a stick at. In the Bush is a journey into our native forests and is chock-full of information about plants, fungi, birds, frogs, bats, reptiles and even pests. The illustrations are AMAZING works of art. Wonderful stuff!


The Lion and the Bird cover imageThe Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc, Book Island, ISBN 9780994109873, RRP $24.99

I’ve said it many, many times before and I’ll say it again – Book Island books are not only wonderful stories they are little works of art. The Lion and the Bird is a wonderfully gentle story of friendship that will be appreciated by children and parents everywhere. It’s the perfect quiet-time, bedtime story with soft line and colour drawings.

My love affair with Book Island continues.

The Lion and the Bird page spread

Book review: The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett

The Shepherd's Crown cover image

The Shepherd's Crown cover imageThe Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett, Doubleday, ISBN 9780857534811, RRP $50

It’s hard not to approach the finale of a beloved series with some serious trepidation. Can the creator keep up the pace? Will they provide a fitting end, an open question or a complete let down? We expect much of those who create masterpieces.

The final book to be written by Sir Terry Pratchett before he passed away earlier in 2015, The Shepherd’s Crown tugs on the reader’s heartstrings in more ways than one. It’s the end to the Discworld series, the end to Sir Terry’s writing and the end to more than one life.

In it we return to The Chalk, Lancre and Tiffany Aching, the best (in my opinion) of the more recent Discworld characters. Tiffany and the witches find themselves again at the frontline of the fight to keep Discworld safe from the parasitic elves but, as usual, this story is about so much more than just the narrative.

Pratchett explores some of the major questions of our own world, like the nature of life and death, good and evil, and the power of believing in oneself. He contrasts the fighting nature of the Nac Mac Feegle with the new witch, Geoffrey (oh yes, a male witch), who cannot bear to hurt a living creature and has a skill for bringing people together (Tiffany dubs him a “calm-weaver”). He shows us that fighting is not always the same thing as aggression.

If Pratchett was only interested in the narrative it would still be good enough. This book is as full of fun and humour and action as all the Discworld books, making it thoroughly enjoyable to read. For long term fans the author treats us throughout the book to cameos of all his best and most beloved characters. Sir Terry is saying goodbye.

The Shepherd’s Crown is a fitting final work by a modern master and I defy anyone not to shed more than a few tears when reading it.


Sir Terry Pratchett

Leading New Zealand Children’s Book Awards Merge

Leading New Zealand Children’s Book Awards Merge and Hell Pizza Encourages Reading Addiction

Prize Money Now Totals $59,500

The New Zealand Book Awards Trust and the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) have announced today that they are merging their respective children’s book awards, setting the stage for even more activity and visibility around books for New Zealand children. Complementing the Awards, Hell Pizza has partnered with the New Zealand Book Awards Trust to sponsor the Hell New Zealand Reading Challenge.

The awards have a combined legacy of more than 100 years; the Trust-governed awards began in 1975 and LIANZA’s were established in 1945. A shared passion for children’s literature has brought the two awards together in a desire to increase children’s engagement with reading.

“We are thrilled about this decision to amalgamate the awards,” says New Zealand Book Awards Trust chair Nicola Legat. “The LIANZA awards are highly regarded by authors and publishers and we acknowledge how difficult it has been for LIANZA’s board to take this historic decision. We feel privileged to have LIANZA’S trust, and their awards will be in very good and sustainable hands. They will be cherished within our organisation.

“The merged awards now have a prize money pool of $59,500. This amount is a significant contribution to the children’s literature economy in this country.”

LIANZA President, Kris Wehipeihana, is equally delighted. “Merging the LIANZA Children’s Book Awards with the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is exactly the kind of collaboration that our sector endorses.” she says. “This is a win for both organisations, and for Aotearoa New Zealand children’s literature. We’re looking forward to working with the New Zealand Book Awards Trust.”

While the new awards will still be known as the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults they will incorporate important elements of the LIANZA awards. The awards will continue to bestow the Esther Glen title to the junior fiction category which maintains the tradition of New Zealand’s oldest children’s book award. In addition, the awards will continue to confer the Elsie Locke title to the non-fiction award and will also include LIANZA’s award for illustration, the Russell Clark award.

LIANZA’s Te Kura Pounamu award for the best book in Te Reo will replace the current Māori language award. This award will continue to be judged by Māori librarian and information association, Te Ropu Whakahau.

The awards will be administered and governed by the New Zealand Book Awards Trust, and a LIANZA representative will have a permanent seat on its board of trustees.

Hell Pizza’s high-profile relationship with LIANZA’s awards via its Reading Challenge will continue within the new format. “The success of the Reading Challenge has been hugely satisfying. With the announcement of this exciting merger of the awards we can take it to the next level and encourage even more New Zealand kids to enjoy reading books,” says Hell Pizza’s general manager Ben Cumming. “The 150,000 free pizza vouchers we gave out earlier this year amounted to more than one million books read by Kiwi kids. We would love to build on that number in 2016. Hell has always challenged the norm, and with kids now becoming so engrossed with modern technology we are bucking that trend and making reading cool again. We want pizza to be the gateway drug to reading addiction!”

Nicola Legat concludes, “The New Zealand Book Awards Trust is grateful for the support of our major funder Creative New Zealand as well as our other key sponsors Copyright Licensing New Zealand, Book Tokens Ltd and now Hell Pizza. We very much appreciate their significant investment and we are very much looking forward to next year’s awards.”

The call for entries in the 2016 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults opens on Monday, 16 November 2015 and the awards ceremony will held be in Wellington in August 2016.

Book review: How Bizarre by Simon Grigg

How Bizarre cover imageHow Bizarre: Pauly Fuemana and the Song that Stormed the World by Simon Grigg, Awa Press, ISBN9781927249222, RRP $38

Is there any New Zealander, anywhere in the world who wouldn’t immediately know exactly what one was talking about if one simply said “How bizarre”? In 1995 and 1996 Pauly Fuemana and Alan Jansson, as Otara Millionaire’s Club, scored an unprecedented (then or since) international hit record with How Bizarre. How Bizarre (the book) is the story of how that came about, written by Simon Grigg, owner of the record label responsible.

The basics of the story would be pretty familiar to most of us but what’s going to be new territory for the average reader is the back story of Pauly Fuemana, the Fuemana family and what happened to Fuemana after his single hit big. Warning: it’s not that pretty.

Grigg’s writing style is for the most part perfunctory and does occasionally have a “and then…and then…and then” feel to it but it’s the story and the insider’s take on it that’s centre stage here. Grigg doesn’t hold back from giving his opinion of various music industry people, whether they were centrally involved in Fuemana’s career or not, and his insight into the workings of the music industry, both in New Zealand and globally, will be eye-opening to those whose participation is purely as a consumer.

Frustratingly though Pauly Fuemana remains fairly elusive throughout the book. There’s plenty of detail here on everything but the thoughts of the man himself (Fuemana passed away in 2010 due to a chronic auto-immune disorder). The personal relationship between the author and his subject was seriously complicated and that, combined with Fuemana’s tendency to be chameleon-like, means it’s not surprising that there’s no clear insight into his state of mind.

It’s time the story of Fuemana and How Bizarre was told in more detail so this is definitely a good addition to the canon of books on New Zealand music. It should be a cautionary tale but one suspects that, sadly, it’s probably more likely to be yet another example of cynical greed.

Book review: Starlight Peninsula by Charlotte Grimshaw

Starlight Peninsula cover imageStarlight Peninsula by Charlotte Grimshaw, Vintage, ISBN9781775538226, RRP $38

Starlight Peninsula is the beguiling new novel from one of New Zealand’s most celebrated contemporary authors, Charlotte Grimshaw. The novel’s central character, Eloise Hay, is a young woman forced to slowly confront trauma from her past, a past that suddenly seems to her to be full of layer and hidden meaning. Readers of Grimshaw’s previous books will already be familiar with parts of her story.

The author uses instantly recognisable characters and scenarios from recent events in New Zealand politics and media to create a mysterious tale of power and influence, as well as an enthralling glimpse into the mind of a woman who’s trying to understand what’s happened to her life.The novel feels at once deeply embedded in the New Zealand landscape and still universal. Every character is like a small perfect portrait, and the absolutely stunning writing creates an atmosphere of dreamy mystery.

Perhaps this was what happened when you went mad: eventually everyone was a stranger. You went on talking and in the end you were surrounded by faces you didn’t know.

Eloise is a character dealing with loss every day but in many ways failing to allow herself to move beyond it.

Grimshaw’s use of language really was so beguiling to this reader. She mostly writes in a sparing manner but every so often an image is dropped into the narrative that is intensely powerful and poignant. It’s hard not to become intrigued by the ominous undercurrent moving through the book, which correlates strongly with our society’s own current zeitgeist that asks if those who purport to tell us who we are might not instead be our worst enemies.

Reading Starlight Peninsula is a disquieting experience but also immensely satisfying. Now I have to catch up on the rest of Grimshaw’s books.

Eloise half-listened. She was remembering the person hidden behind Kurt Harmann’s eyes. How many of us are living so deep below the surface, no one knows who we are?

Book review: Shards of Hope by Nalini Singh

Shards of Hope cover imageShards of Hope by Nalini Singh, Gollancz, ISBN 9780575111813, RRP $29.99

Nalini Singh is a prolific New Zealand/Fijian author and something of an undervalued hero in the NZ literary scene. And by prolific I mean “over 30 books published and that’s not counting novellas and stories”. Yes, that kind of prolific.

She specialises in amazing romance/paranormal/sci-fi hybrid novels and Shards of Hope is the 14th instalment in her Psy-Changeling series. It’s also the first of her books I’ve ever read – if you know me you’ll know that romance/paranormal/sci-fi hybrid novels have traditionally not really been my thing. What I love about reviewing though is getting to read books I might not pick up myself.

The story begins with our main characters, Aden and Zaira, waking up wounded in a darkened cell and knowing they must escape, and survive, to warn others of a new powerful enemy. Their determination to protect their fellow Arrows soon extends to protecting each other when they end up in the midst of a changeling pack. And before you know it, boom chicka-wah-wah, they’re basically all over each other.

Okay, I’m cutting out a huge amount of detailed back story and history from Singh’s imagined world. Her characters are strong, complicated and sexy, and the action in Shards of Hope is virtually non-stop. The Psy-Changeling world is complex and believable while still retaining a bold fantastical quality. After 30 books Singh could be forgiven for being a bit formulaic but at no point did I feel she was “churning it out”. And after reading dross like Grey it was a relief to find some romance (which, by the way, is code for intense emotions and matching sexual escapades) that felt written by an author who recognises her readers are grown-ups.

Shards of Hope is immensely readable adult fiction and the perfect escapist fantasy for a wet weekend’s reading.