Whitcoulls Kids Top 50 Books

Kiwi’s love to read and vote for their top books

Whitcoulls Kids Top 50 logo

Since 1998, Whitcoulls has been asking Kiwi kid’s (and adults as well) to nominate their favourite books and from Monday 28 July 2014 they get the chance to cast their votes again.

In recent years, the most popular books have been series such as Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, all of which routinely appear in the top five.

New Zealand picture books have also fared well, with Lynley Dodd’s iconic Hairy Maclary books and Craig Smith’s award-winning book, The Wonky Donkey, always appearing in the top ten. Eric Carle’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, is another enduring favourite and books by Roald Dahl and Dr Seuss are always hugely popular with Kiwis.

Whitcoulls asks New Zealanders to vote for up to three books and they can do this in one of several different ways:

  1. Whitcoulls website www.whitcoulls.co.nz.
  2. At their local Whitcoulls store.
  3. Via their smart phones/tablets using a unique QR code.

Everyone that votes will be in with a chance to win one of twenty $100 Whitcoulls Gift Cards.

Whitcoulls Head Book Buyer Joan Mackenzie, and the ‘face’ behind Whitcoulls influential Joan’s Picks says: “In an era where, it’s often said, books and reading are under threat from new media, and time is an increasingly rare commodity, the really good news is that kids are not only still reading – but reading more than ever! We’re seeing a consistent, growing interest from young readers who are still captivated by the exploits of strong characters, and by the thrill of a really good story – and their willingness to share these enthusiasms with other kids is truly alive and well.”

Once votes are in, the team at Whitcoulls begins the huge task of collating entries and compiling the nation’s Kids’ Top 50 books. The voting period runs for three weeks from Monday 28 July and closes on Sunday 17 August 2014. The Whitcoulls Kids’ Top 50 books will be announced on Monday 22 September 2014, just ahead of the school holidays.

So of course I’m totally going to vote! Probably for Elizabeth Knox’s Dreamquake series, Roald Dahl, Where the Wild Things Are, Gangsta Granny, The Book Thief… :)

Ghosts of Parihaka by David Hair

Ghosts of Parihaka cover imageGhosts of Parihaka by David Hair, Harper Collins, $24.99, ISBN 9781869509323, 4 April 2013

Ghosts of Parihaka is book 5 in David Hair’s popular Aotearoa series, and it’s the penultimate instalment. It’s nice to have some NZ YA fantastical fiction kicking around. Our hero, Matiu Douglas, is able to slip between two worlds – our modern day world of New Zealand and the parallel country of Aotearoa, a ghost world that combines elements of NZ history and myth. In Ghosts of Parihaka Matiu’s best friend Riki goes missing on a school trip to Parihaka – caught up in the Aotearoa-en version of events.

It’s a perfectly enjoyable read with a few points of detraction but I’d still be recommending this to most Kiwi kids and teens. Leaving aside questions of cultural appropriation, there’s still a bit of a thrill in seeing Maori and Pakeha myths and legends combined in a skilful way.

Detractions first: it suffers a bit from penultimate curse, in that there are interesting storylines that are started or advanced in Ghosts of Parihaka but not wrapped up, and that makes it not quite as satisfying a read as it could be. There’s a fine line between teasing and irritating and Hair doesn’t always get it right.

But my biggest gripe would have to be the female characters. I think this is a book designed to attract boys but I do wish it had a female character who stands on her own, rather than solely in relation to the males.

Ultimately though I think Hair is doing a great job of exploring how two separate cultural identities can be combined into one national identity through shared history and knowledge.

Plus the kids will like it.

My Book Watch for the NZ Herald on Sunday, 21 October 2012

Naked Truth coverNaked Truth: Lifting the lid on the New Zealand sex industry

By Rachel Francis (Penguin, $35)

An engaging and eye-opening social history of the New Zealand sex and adult entertainment industry, this is a fascinating read that tells the stories of several figures from the industry, from Flora MacKenzie of Famous Flora’s to Steve Crowe of Boobs on Bikes furores. Rachel Francis writes with an insider’s view, treating her subjects with honesty and admiration, letting them tell their own stories.


By Sid Marsh (Wooden Shed, $39.99)

As a reader I can tell when an author has gone above and beyond the call of duty for researching their books, and Greyhound is one of those. A compelling, strange war novel, written in thick Kiwi slang and focusing on a Kiwi tanker crew at the end of WWII, it is a difficult but ultimately rewarding read, filled with period detail of New Zealand and Italy.


By Tessa Duder (Whitcoulls, $19.99)

A fantastic new edition of one of New Zealand’s most beloved young adult books, Alex is still a great read after 25 years. It focuses on a wonderfully Kiwi heroine, Alex, who is trying to balance teenage life and love with trying to qualify for the swimming events at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games. I loved reading Alex again, almost as much as I loved reading it in 1989! A piece of New Zealand literary history.

Catching Fish coverCatching Fish

My Dad’s a Dragon Catcher

By Tanya Batt (Clean Slate Press, $19.99)

Educational publishers Clean Slate Press have launched a new imprint with new titles, including these two fantastic picture books from Tanya Batt. Catching Fish (illustrated by Natalia Vasquez) is a great read-aloud romp with beautiful collage-like illustrations, while My Dad’s a Dragon Catcher is full of colourful cartoonish illustrations and has the cutest heart-warming story. Perfect bed time story books.

Book Watch 211012 scan

Reprinted courtesy of the NZ Herald on Sunday.

Book Review: Jade’s Summer of Horses by Amy Brown

Jade's Summer of HorsesJade’s Summer of Horses by Amy Brown, Harper Collins,  RRP $19.99, ISBN 9781869509224, Available now.

The pony books I read as an impressionable youth starred rich girls in a parallel universe of jodhpurs and gymkhanas. Jade’s Summer of Horses is still a fantasy, but a much more relatable one. (The exception to the problem of unrelatable pony stories is The Pony Problem, a classic I must have read ten times.)

Both the setting of Jade’s Summer of Horses – small-town New Zealand – and the characters – Jade’s single-parent dad, a very prickly aunt, and a pretty-much homeless neighbour – are different to what I remember in horse books. The plot’s a little different too: Jade has to sell her lovely old horse, Pip. Luckily, she finds the perfect buyer in her friend’s very prickly aunt, who happens to own a riding school, and would love to have Jade and her friend stay for a Summer of Horses. Jade makes friends with the aunt, the horses, and the next door neighbour who lives in a shipping crate and brings about the book’s – spoiler – happy ending.

There’s an awful lot about horses in this book. Jade goes riding around the paddock, in the sea, along the beach, and in the forest. It sounds rather exhausting, but she seems to enjoy it, as presumably, does our young reader. There’s instructions in the back of the book on How to Mount and Hold the Reins, which rather suggests that the audience isn’t the type of child who takes riding lessons, but the type of child who would very much like to.

It’s easy to dismiss horse books as nonsense written for girls, but Jade’s Summer of Horses takes care to introduce a variety of characters, in between loving descriptions of horse riding. Brown doesn’t speak down to the reader: there are lovely long words scattered about, and the more interesting characters are described perfectly matter-of-factly.

I especially enjoyed the loving descriptions of the food. In true Famous Five fashion, the characters eat regularly, and with great gusto. There’s pipis, fish pie, pancakes, toasted marshmellows, and “steaming hot, aromatic bread, on which the butter melted deliciously.” It’s great that the book is set locally – it’s always nice to see the place we live reflected, and especially as the beach is far more accessible than Platform 9 and 3/4s.

The only thing better than a good horse book is a series of good horse books. This is the 4th book in the Pony Tales series, all of which star Jade.

All in all, Jade’s Summer of Horses is a very solid pony book. Highly recommended for the pony-crazed young reader in your life.

Book Watch for 25 March 2012

Originally published in the New Zealand Herald on Sunday, 25 March 2012. Reproduced here courtesy of the NZ Herald.

Book Watch 25 March 2012

By Joanne Harris (Doubleday, $29.99)
Joanne Harris is far better known for her adult bestsellers like Chocolat but Runelight marks her second book in a Young Adult series that started with Runemarks. And what a series it is – fun, intelligent and innovative storytelling, using the legends of the Norse gods as a character base but building on that with action and a sense of humour. Runelight is a great read and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a new twist on the YA fantasy genre.

A History of the World in 100 Objects
By Neil MacGregor (Penguin, $45)
Fans of the fantastic BBC radio series and podcast A History of the World in 100 Objects will equally love this accompanying book. A comprehensive immersion in world history, the book (like the podcast) explores history not through people or places but through things; objects created and used by humans. Lavishly illustrated and well produced, this is a feast for the eyes and the mind. MacGregor has an engaging style whilst tackling the big questions of our shared history.

The Half Life of Ryan Davis
By Melinda Szymanik (Pear Jam Books, $19.99 paperback, $8.49 ebook)
Ryan Davis is 15 – the same age his older sister Mallory was when she went missing. She’s still missing and presumed dead but her presence haunts Ryan and his family. An engaging combination of mystery, family drama and coming of age, The Half Life of Ryan Davis is definitely recommended teen reading with a story that twists and turns, and intriguing characters that keep you turning the page.

Tea with Miss Tilly
Written By Justine Payen, Illustrated by Philip Webb (Harper Collins, $19.99)
“Delightful” is an adjective often used when describing picture books – but Tea with Miss Tilly is just that! A wonderful book that little kids will just adore, Tea with Miss Tilly explores the wonder of stories, thanks to the very imaginative Miss Tilly. Every day afternoon tea with Miss Tilly turns into a journey to outer space or Egypt or Loch Ness. The illustrations are gorgeous and warm with lots of little details to point out.

Book Review: The Half Life of Ryan Davis by Melinda Szymanik

The Half Life of Ryan Davis coverThe Half Life of Ryan Davis by Melinda Szymanik, Pear Jam Books, ISBN 9781927182406, RRP $19.99 paperback, $8.49 ebook, Available now.

You know how sometimes you get these ideas in your head for stories? Like “imagine writing a book about a unicorn… from the point of view of the unicorn!”¹ What I’m saying is, a great premise can make a book.

And in The Half Life of Ryan Davis, Melinda Szymanik has a great premise. What if you were the sibling of a missing child? Ryan Davis is 15 – the same age his older sister Mallory (shout out, 80s kids) was when she went missing. And she’s still missing, now presumed dead, only she looms over Ryan and his younger sister Gemma, particularly because their Mum now thinks of Mallory as the “perfect child”.

Part mystery, part family drama, part coming of age tale, The Half Life of Ryan Davis is unpredictable and a good read, and will have definite appeal to teen readers. I stayed engaged throughout and liked the genuine voices of the characters. It was a great, quick read with short chapters and action that persistently pushed the story forward.

In short, I will be lending this to one of the Teen Monsters to read. And you can’t get a better recommendation than that.