New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults

I can’t believe it’s the 23rd of June already! How did that happen? Tonight the awards will be announced at a ceremony beginning in less than three hours from now! So I am quickly going to say what I have to say about each of the books I have read in the Young Adult and Junior Fiction sections, and then see how that pans out with the judges choices!
Results will be posted at this link, I am sure: FACEBOOK for NZ Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Junior Fiction

Such a difficult category to pick a winner from, with each having their own strengths. Certainly the favourite with the students has been ‘Project Huia’ by Des Hunt. And it is a great adventure. My pick of the bunch?  This is a tough one, but I think it has to be ‘The Princess and the Foal’. The book captures a voice that feels unqiuely ‘Haya’s’ and tells a powerful story. Gregg’s knowledge of horses and descriptions lend an authenticity to the telling that sets it apart.

Dunger by Joy Cowley

This is an interesting one. Joy Cowley writes beautifully, as always. There is a retro feel to the book that is quite appealing to adults, I think, but is not really capturing my students yet. Several have finished it, but it has become one of the ‘in-demand’ books in the classroom. There are great relationships to explore between siblings, grandparents, parents and grandparents, children and parents, and children and their grandparents. It describes the Marlborough Sounds evocatively. I am just about to finish reading ‘Because of Winn-Dixie’ to the classes I teach, and will have a go at ‘Dunger’ next, to see if it fares better as a read-aloud.

Felix and the Red Rats by James Norcliffe

David’s great uncle Felix comes to stay, although David’s older siblings, Martha and gray, are not all that fussed. It seems that Great Uncle Felix is a bit weird. He is an author who wrote several books about a mysterious land called Axillaris, many years back. The main character in these books was called Felix. Gray and Martha can barely give him the time of day, ‘They each said ‘Hi’ to Uncle Felix, now on his second cup of coffee, but in a perfunctory way just this side of being rude, and left the living room as soon as they were able. I saw Mum and Dad exchange glances, and Dad’s lips were pursed in annoyance. Gray and Martha were able to turn unwelcome into such a fine art.’ During the telling of the story, David is also reading one of Uncle Felix’s books, Into Axillaris. However, things start to become very strange indeed. David has so many questions that he wants to ask Great-Uncle Felix, and the mysteries build and build. Again, this books has a ‘retro’ (for want of a better word) feel about it. The setting and language are modern, but the plot devices and events have a ‘times past’ ring to them, almost Narnian – but not at all Narnian:

Still in a daze, I followed Uncle Felix and Bella down the path. If anything, the fact that the cobblestones were so hard and very real made everything stranger, more unreal.

When we entered the terminus I looked around with wonder. The lttle red cable-car was polished and gleaming just as it had been in Into Axillaris; its little mullioned windows made it an interesting mix of technology and romance.

No sooner had we entered than a twerp hurried down the platform towards us.

He smiled amiably and, once he’d ascertained that Uncle Felix and Bella were indeed Uncle Felix and Bella, said, ‘The Princess is expecting you. Please follow me.’

I love the writing, but I struggle to see it connecting with a wide range of young readers.

A Winter’s Day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik

I enjoyed reading this story of a Polish family’s experience during World War 2. Author, Melinda Szymanik has based many of the events on experiences her father had, which lends the book an authenticity. It adds another persepective to what is becoming a huge literary genre, for children. Many of my students have been avid readers of books like ‘Number the Stars’ by Lois Lowry, ‘The Boy in Striped Pyjamas’ by John Boyne, ‘I am David’ by Anne Holm, ‘Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes’ by Eleanor Coerr, and of course the ‘Once’, ‘Then’, ‘Now’ and ‘After’ series by Morris Gleitzman. There are so many other great stories, too, each offering a slightly new perspective of events. In some ways, ‘A Winter’s Day’ made me think of ‘The Endless Steppe’ by Esther Hauzig.  I remember, vividly, reading this when I was much younger, and feeling the cold and the hunger, and the injustice of the tragedies. ‘A Winter’s Day’ is more approachable for younger readers, I think. For me, the book was a little uneven. I loved the first two thirds, and then, as refugee lives are wont to do, it started to feel a little bit like a list of place names. I have had several of my students read and positively review the book, passing it on to friends to read, with postive recommendations.

 

Project Huia by Des Hunt

‘It had suspense – it had the bad guys and the good guys trying to get the same thing, lots of action, it’s just an all round, great book,’ so says Hamish, a 12 year old boy of the good, keen man variety. Singlehandedly, he has persuaded many of the other students to pick up ‘Project Huia’ and other Des Hunt books to read. He has now read all the Des Hunt books we can find, and can talk about each almost evangalically! Thank you Des Hunt, because you have helped Hamish to discover reading. He has since read ‘Juggling with Mandarins’ and ‘Shooting the Moon’, by VM Jones, and loves them as well. Grandpop Jim and Logan investigate the mystery of what happened to the last huia, a now extinct New Zealand native bird.  Everything a young reader could want is in the story, with a jinx, motorbikes, bullies, crashes and a great ending. Another really positive grandparent/child relationship represented. Des Hunt really appears to understand what a young, particuarly boy, reader requires, and to deliver it with applomb.  Humour, real-life issues and realistic relationships and dialogue make his books very readable. I have had to buy three copies for my classroom, and I haven’t seen one sit on the shelf for more than a lesson.

The Princess and the Foal by Stacey Gregg

This book has a very distinctive cover, with its bright pink background, black silhouette of a girl and a horse, and sparkly (I think) stars. I have to try to remember, since I haven’t seen my copy for weeks now!  The girls from Y6 and up have been very much enjoying this unexepectedly good book. When I say unexepectedly, that may sound unfair, but I have never really been a reader of Stacey Gregg’s Pony Club Secrets books. I can give them out to girls who like horses, and those who like a positive tale of overcoming odds to compete successfully are various horse events.  ‘In floods of tears, Issie rounded the corner of Storm’s loose box. She slid the door open and then shut it again behind her and collapsed down into the straw on the floor at Storm’s feet, sobbing her heart out.’ (from Pony Club Secrets: Nightstorm and the Grand Slam).

But, in ‘The Princess and the Foal’ Gregg shows us that she can develop an altogether more sensitive, and elegantly told story of the relationship between a girl and her horse. ‘I am trembling as I write these words to you and I tell myself it is not fear, it is excitement. In all the history of the King’s Cup there has never been a girl rider. But I am not a girl. I am a Bedouin of the Hashemite clan and I was born to ride. Thousands of years ago the women of my tribe sat astride thier horses in battl and fought side by side with men. Well, I do not want to fight – all I want to do is win.’

The story is inspired by the early life of Her Royal Highness Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein and will provoke some thoughtful discussion about current events, as well as give a great read to any young girl who loves horses (and even those who don’t!) I guess my main quibble is that the cover is so emphatically girly – pink and horses. Really?!  However, it does attract them and is very sought after in the classroom. Yet another book I had to buy a kindle copy of so that I could refer to it!

Young Adult

Wow! What a variety in this section. I thought these books were all very exciting. I am completely torn bewteen ‘When We Wake’ by Karen Healey, and ‘Bugs’ by Whiti Hereaka. I found ‘Mortal Fire’ superbly constructed in terms of the settings and mechanisms of the magic, but the characters were difficult to engage with. ‘Bugs’ won me over immediately, when I read it. And I was inclined to think it would be a sure fire winner, until I read ‘When We Wake’. This specualtive fiction novel had me hooked. In the end, I think ‘When We Wake’ would be the student choice, but my favourite is still ‘Bugs’.

The Necklace of Souls by RL Stedman

When We Wake by Karen Healey

Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox

Bugs by Whiti Hereaka

Speed Freak by Fleur Beale

Can’t wait to see the winners tonight!

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Dunger – Joy Cowley

DungerDunger – Joy Cowley

At first I wasn’t quite sure, when I started reading Dunger. It is a story told in two voices. There is 11 year old Will, and there is his 14 year old sister, Melissa. Like any brother and sister worth their salt, they argue – a lot! Will is a bit of a brain, and enjoys using big words, whereas Melissa has three brain cells. One for fashion, one for boys and one for texting all of her friends who also have only three brain cells. Obviously this is Will’s perspective on the issue, and he doesn’t mince words:

‘The world is full of calamity: famines and wars, birds choking to death on oil spills, earthquakes, tsunamis, and Melissa – my disaster of a sister. Reading this, you’ll probably say, what’s wrong with this kid? Is he a bit paranoid? My response is that all tragedies are relative to their context and as far as domestic upheavals go, this one is about eight on the Richter scale.’

I’ve had to work hard to get my young Des Hunt fan to move beyond that, I can tell you. In fact, the first time I read it, I put the book down, poured myself a wine, and wondered what I should read next.

Perhaps I just wasn’t in the right place for a clever, challenging 11 year old demanding my attention…because it’s worth persisting. It really is. I think ‘Dunger’ could well be a great class read aloud, and I’m going to try it out. The writing is sensational because it has an ease to it, as well as a truth and simplicity. And there is plenty of room for fun with characterisations, if you’re going to read it aloud. I can’t help thinking that the grandparent characters are some of the best grandparents I’ve read: funny, grumpy, wise and a little bit dangerous and unpredictable.

Will and Melissa are slightly conned by their parents into staying with their grandparents at the bach. This is a real Kiwi bach, the like of which very few exist anymore. We’re talking no electricity, no shops, postal services twice a week, no cell phone reception and a long drop, complete with possums and spiders, out the back. They are two and a half hours away from the closest town.

The track takes us down to the edge of a bay that is half in sunlight and half in dark shadow. On the shadowed side there’s a stand of old macrocarpa trees. Grandpa pulls over and stops. Neither he nor Grandma says a word.

‘Are we here?’ I ask.

I already know it. Inside the circle of trees is a wooden hut with a brick chimney, a verandah, a water tank and a corrugated iron garage. The grass and scrub around them have grown almost as high as the hut’s windows.

This is the famous bach of my father’s childhood.

It’s a bit much for these two modern young things. But with good old hard work, no useless praise, bread baking, recipes that remind me of my mother’s (how much?  A slosh. What’s a slosh? You know, when it looks right. What does right look like?) fishing and swimming, they start to learn a few life lessons. And a more generational perspective of their family.

Grandpa says his grandfather was only the second man in town to own a car, a Buick, he says, shiny black with big running boards and velvet seats, really posh except that he was accustomed to his horse and cart. So when Grandpa’s grandfather drove to church with the family he forgot it was an automobile he was driving, and to stop it he called out, “Whoa! Whoa!” and pulled on the steering wheel. The Buick stopped alright, halfway through the wall of the shop next to the church.

“Does Dad know that story?” I ask.

“Yep, he’s heard it.”

”Why hasn’t he ever told it to us?”

“People remember what they need to remember,” says Grandpa, rubbing his chin exactly the way Dad does. “The rest slips through, which is just as well or our brains would self-destruct. Your Dad was always quiet. Me and your grandma wanted a whole heap of kids but we just got this one boy, kind of gentle, always thinking. Don’t know where he got that from.”

I’m about to agree with him but I’m not sure how he’ll take it, so I just nod. Besides, I wish he’d say more about the flattened grass that looks like newly cut hay.

Their grandparents are just as good at bickering as they are, which Will and Melissa find uncomfortable.

‘I never said there were sharks!” she glares at Grandpa. “He probably told you. Silly old fool, he’ll say anything for a laugh.”

“Be blowed if I did!” he said.

“Be blowed if you didn’t,” she replied.

He leaned over the table towards her. “Woman, you’ve got a tongue in you so long, the back doesn’t know what the front is up to.”

I look at Will who shuts his mouth tight, glaring at me to remind me that I’ve started one of their useless arguments.

And this is one of the real strengths of the book. One of the reasons it’s worth a read. However, rather suddenly, something happens which means everybody needs to work together to prevent disaster.

‘Dunger’ is a satisfying read. It’s impossible to read without bringing to mind ‘Bow Down Shadrach’, since there are elements that are very similar: Marlborough Sounds, parents glossing over truths, adventure and mayhem. My initial reaction was that I enjoyed ‘Bow Down Shadrach’ more, but ‘Dunger’ does have lovely moments, I suspect especially for the parents, or indeed grandparents, of the target readers. However, the subtle strength of this book is how enduringly it has stayed with me. The characters are vivid and real, and the Marlborough Sounds setting is so well drawn I feel as though I visited and remember the bach, rather than read about it. In the end, it doesn’t matter which is the better, since I think both are an important part of the New Zealand Children’s Literature landscape.

 

Read other reviews here:

The Book Bag

Bobs Books

 

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Filed under Book Review, Boys' Reading, Children 8+, Five stars, Joy Cowley, New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, New Zealand Writer, Read Aloud

New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards – 2014

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And the nominations are…
Junior Fiction
* A Winter’s Day in 1939 – Melinda Szymanik (Already well read and loved in my classroom)
* Dunger – Joy Cowley (Doing the rounds at the moment)
* Felix and the Red Rats – James Norcliffe (Must get!)
* Project Huia – Des Hunt (Popular with the boys)
* The Princess and the Foal – Stacey Gregg (Well loved by more than just the horse book readers)

Young Adult Fiction
* A Necklace of Souls – Rachel L Stedman (Won the 2012 Tessa Duder Award for a work of fiction for Young Adults 13 and above)
* Bugs – Whiti Hereaka (Superb – have already reviewed)
* Mortal Fire – Elizabeth Knox
* Speed Freak – Fleur Beale (Consistent – Can see it in a Year 10 English Class replacing Slide the Corner – maybe)
* When We Wake – Karen Healey

Very exciting to finally have the short list and see that many of these books are already well known and loved. I am particularly pleased to see ‘A Winter’s Day in 1939’ by Melinda Szymnaik, and ‘Bugs’ by Whiti Hereaka, both of which I have really enjoyed.
I still have some reading to do, as I haven’t read ‘Felix and the Red Rats’ by James Norcliffe. Shame on me. But I have never been able to get ‘The Loblolly Boy’ or its sequel ‘The Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer’ to take flight in the classroom. I will need to retry, perhaps.
This year, to try something a little different, I am going to try to post book reviews of the children who have read the books, as well as my own thoughts, before the Grand Announcement of the winners on Monday 23rd June.

I am slightly disappointed by the lack of male authors in the Young Adult Section, but as I think the judges have done a great job of selecting a range of fresh and interesting titles, as well as including some tried and true, I’ll suspend judgement on that for now.

Just for fun, I came back into my classroom this afternoon to see written on my whiteboard…
summons…lovely!
Good reading, everyone!

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Filed under Children 10+, Children 12+, Children 8+, New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, New Zealand Writer, Uncategorized, Young Adult

Rooftoppers – Katherine Rundell

RooftoppersRooftoppers – Katherine Rundell.

On Monday one of my students came rushing up to me because she had finished the book she was reading and needed another one just as perfect. Scariest moment in the book recommendation game! This thirteen year old reader loves speculative fiction, and is very picky, in a good way. She’s a clever girl. ‘How about a differently perfect book?’ I ask with some trepidation.

Sometimes introducing new kinds of books to readers is like introducing new vegetables to babies and toddlers. You might be lucky, and they’ll view it suspiciously, but let you put the spoon in their mouth, taste it, widen their eyes, and open their mouths for more. Or they might spit it out, perfectly aiming for any new or white clothing, and never let that vegetable within high chair reach again. I’m a believer in persistence though. Let a little time pass and try again. And again. And again.

And so it is with this young reader. For the last year I have been working very hard to get her to try something new. Something with a texture that is a little different, with a flavour that is novel (I know, but an irresistible pun – right?), and most of all something that is nutritious. Because she is a clever girl, and she needs to digest a wider range of food groups in her reading.

I pull ‘Rooftoppers’ out of my back pack. I have the advantage here. All of the children want to read Mrs OW’s newest books. And this one is beautiful. It has a smoky cover with gorgeous silver embossed writing, a mysterious moonlit skyline of rooftops, and the silhouette of a character sitting on the rooftops, playing a cello. Everyone wants to hold it. Even a few of the boys are standing a row or two back, trying not to look too interested. I read the blurb, (something like) ‘On the morning of its first birthday, a baby is found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel.’ What’s a rooftopper? Why a cello case? What’s a cello? (sadly), are questions that are flying around the room.

After making a quick mental note that I must do something about their musical education, I pull the silver arrow out of my quiver, and draw the bow. ‘Listen to this…’

And I read the first few pages. Audible gasps echo around the room like Mexican waves as I read lines like, ‘Think of night-time with a speaking voice. Or think how moonlight might talk, or think of ink, if ink had vocal chords. Give those things a narrow aristocratic face with hooked eyebrows, and long arms and legs, and that is what the baby saw as she was lifted out of her cello case and up into safety.’

And chuckles ripple to, ‘The baby was almost certainly one year old. They knew this because of the red rosette pinned to her front, which read ‘1!’ ‘Or rather,’ said Charles Maxim, ‘the child is either one year old, or she has come first in a competition. I believe babies are rarely keen participants in competitive sport. Shall we therefore assume it is the former.’ Charles names the baby Sophie and takes her home, because she is his responsibility now.

Charles Maxim is a beautifully eccentric character, who is both entirely unconcerned about propriety and entirely determined to fight for what is proper. When the Child Services want to take Sophie into care, Charles reluctantly agrees to their visits:
‘Certainly, please do come,’ said Charles – and he added, as if he couldn’t stop himself, ‘if you feel you absolutely can’t stay away. I will endeavour to be grateful. But this child is my responsibility. Do you understand?’
‘But it’s a child! You are a man!’
‘Your powers of observation are formidable,’ said Charles. ‘You are a credit to your optician.’

These are lines worthy of Winston Churchill, Oscar Wilde or Stephen Fry!
Before I have even finished reading this, the title of the book is on the whiteboard, and names have been listed underneath, of those who want to read the book. Bulls eye! But I have one more arrow quivering. My student is starting to look a little anxious that she may not have this book first, after all. Others are clamouring for it. They all have good reasons for why they should have it first. But I know this book is meant for her. Her name is Sophie. When I hand it to her she literally strokes it and clasps it to her chest. Others mutter, ‘well, at least she’s a fast reader.’

Katherine Rundell’s ‘Rooftoppers’ has been referred to as luminous, and extraordinary, and poetic. It has an ending controversial enough to argue over. It is not so perfect that you can’t disagree over what you like about it – some of it feels a little overworked, and some of it feels a little bit precious. But that’s good. It gives the book its character.

In the end, though, the truth is in the reading. The very next day Sophie brought ‘Rooftoppers’ back in to school, having finished it already. She wasn’t keen to let it go, but reluctantly handed it over to the next reader on the list, who has also already finished it and passed it on to the next. I had to buy a kindle version, so that I could write this review. But I would recommend the hard copy, hardcover for preference. It is a book you need to hold, to feel the heft of it.

Proper reviews of the book can be read here:
The Guardian Review 
The Goodreads Page 
The Book Monster’s Review
Enjoy!

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Filed under Book Review, Children 8+, Five stars, Uncategorized

Dead End in Norvelt – Jack Gantos

13541514Dead End in Norvelt – Jack Gantos

Winner of the Newbery Medal 2012, Washington Post Best Children’s Book of 2011.

Middle Grade – Readers 10 – 13+

When Jack Gantos was seven, his favourite game was to pretend he was on fire and roll down a hill to put the flames out – and that explains a lot, really. There’s not a lot of time to reflect, in his novels. Usually, you’re on fire and rolling down the hill before you’ve really decided whether or not you’re going to play the game. Things happen at break neck speed, with the odd pause to get yourself back up to the top of the hill, ready to roll for your life again. (This game, by the way, never seems to wear out. I watched a group of 8 year olds playing it the other day. Do you remember the sheer pleasure of seeing how fast you could roll, how many kids you could bump into on the way, and the smell of the grass – especially if it was damp and had just been cut.)

This novel has more than an element of the ‘do you remember’ about it. It is nostalgic for  1962, small town, America. Norvelt has a special history in that it was founded by Eleanor Roosevelt (hence Norvelt) for families who were struggling financially. To be honest, at times it does feel a little self-conscious about ensuring you know when it is set – for example, ‘It was a good thing John Glenn had orbited the earth back in February.’ And, of course, JFK is still alive. But it does well to introduce a version of the early 1960’s small town America to today’s young readers. ‘My uncle who had painted the pony claimed he had seen a UFO come down over that very same hill before the drive-in was built. He was in the newspaper and said he had ‘touched’ the UFO and that it was ‘covered in a strange Martian language that looked like chicken feet.’ My dad called my uncle a nut, but it wasn’t so nutty when the army sent troops and a big truck to take the mysterious UFO away and afterward military police went door-to-door to all the little towns around here, warning people not to talk about ‘the fallen object’ with any strangers as they might be Russian spies.’ Without going into the politics in depth, the reader gets a sense of the cold war, space as the next frontier, and a more censored world, possible in a less technological era.

It is the golden rule of middle grade fiction that, if you haven’t killed off the parents, they must be incredibly unfair, and unwilling to listen to reason. Certainly they will be misguided. Maybe they are even a bit mad.  Probably they are so busy in their own lives that they barely notice the antics of the hero, who has the mindboggling challenge of needing to put the world to rights, without anyone noticing that it wasn’t right in the first place. No one must know anything is wrong, because usually it is the fault of the hero, who had a misguided moment of klutziness, whilst doing something forbidden. Things get worse before they get better, despite the best intentions of our hero, but in the end… well, I’d hate to ruin a good story, so I’ll stop right there.

Jack is not so much a klutz, as a bit day dreamy, ‘because my mind wanders in the morning my feet are always a few steps ahead of me…’ When we first meet him he is on a picnic table in his back yard, with his father’s WW2 Japanese war souvenirs, watching a drive-in war movie, using the Japanese binoculars. Jack also has his father’s sniper rifle, and the movie enemies are for target practice, ‘because Dad said I had to get ready to fight off the Russian Commies who had already sneaked into the country and were planning to launch a surprise attack.’ Jack doesn’t realise that the rifle is loaded and one thing leads to another, which leads to Miss Volker dropping her hearing aid down the toilet, and the town plumber, who is also the local ambulance driver, roaring up to Miss Volker’s house in the ambulance to help.

Mom now has Jack over a barrel, so to speak, since Dad will blow a fuse if he knows Jack has been playing with his war souvenirs, and especially that he broke the rifle safety rules. Jack is mystified as to how the gun came to be loaded, but accepts the error of his ways, and the inevitability of a severe consequence. Mom grounds him until his father returns, with the only exception being that he is allowed to leave the house to help out their eccentric octogenarian neighbour, Miss Volker. It turns out that Miss Volker needs him because, due to her severely arthritic hands, she is unable to write anymore. She has Jack scribe the obituaries of the elderly townspeople, who suddenly seem to be dropping like flies.

Unfortunately for Jack, when Dad comes back he has an agenda of his own that involves Jack mowing down Mom’s cornfield. Dad says Jack must mow it down. Mom says Jack mustn’t. The reader knows Jack can’t win this one, and feels the injustice. Jack mows down the corn and is grounded for the rest of summer, by his mother. Jack’s adventures might well make a great read aloud – if you can stand all the blood and gory bits – Jack’s nose bleeds constantly, his best friend’s father owns a funeral parlour, a Hell’s Angel motorcycle club member is flattened by a truck, and several elderly residents are found dead. Jack’s errands for Miss Volker are often dubious, if not downright dangerous and law breaking. He dresses up as the grim reaper to break into a house where Miss Volker suspects a senior citizen lies dead. She needs him to check, so that she can write the obit. He drives her car round town at break neck speed, and buys 1080 poison from the hardware store to kill the rats in her basement. There is also the mystery of why the town’s elderly are suddenly dying…

I have a couple of boys lined up to read this one over the next couple of weeks – they have already read the blurb and are keen. I’m keen to see what they think. I think it’s a great read, but I’m interested to know if there’s just a bit much history tucked into the book. As any parent knows, there are only so many green things you can hide in something yummy before it is spotted for the vegetable that it is.

Speaking of which, here’s a titbit for the Kiwi’s. Jack is reading about Kennedy during WW2.  Apparently, ‘Kennedy and his torpedo boat crew were on night patrol in the sea around the Solomon Islands when a Japanese destroyer came roaring at full speed out of the mist and sliced their boat clean in half. Eleven men survived the collision but some were burned badly from the fuel fire that took place after the crash. Kennedy had been hurled across the deck and fractured a vertebrae in his back but he could still move.

Kennedy tied one end of a belt onto the most wounded man’s lifejacket and put the other end of the belt in his own mouth and swam the breaststroke for five hours before he got the man to the island. There was no food or fresh water…(lots of things happen and many days pass but…) But just before the men lost all hope, the native islanders tracked them down. They were friendly and wanted to help so Kennedy scratched a rescue note on a coconut and gave it to the islanders, who paddled their war canoe to an Allied base. More days passed, and just when Kennedy and his men thought they all would die, they were rescued by soldiers from New Zealand.’

There is a sequel to this book, ‘From Norvelt to Nowhere’, so if this goes down well, then I may buy it.

Read some other reviews here:

Betsy Bird’s Review

Book Browsers Review

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Filed under Boys' Reading, Children 10+, coming of age, Five stars, Historical, humour, Middle Grade Fiction, Prize winners

Fortunately the Milk – Neil Gaiman

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Fortunately the Milk – Neil Gaiman (Ridiculously bestselling author) and Chris Riddell (Illustrator)

Young Fiction, 7+ years, UK Author

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZFSbGY7L7g

This is a partnership made in heaven, I think. A little bit like Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake – quite a lot like that, in fact. There is an energy between the story and the drawings that means the sum is more than the parts. This book is a must have for every book shelf home and school – even if your kids are big (My 15 year old chuckled his way through it in one sitting). Or they’ve left home. Or they’re a cat and a dog. Or a goldfish. Anyone who’s been a child living with adults will enjoy this book.

I loved recognising Gaiman as Dad in the illustrations, and one of the things I liked about that was that it made the story even more believable – well – perhaps authentic is a better word…

Mum has to go to a conference, and Dad is left looking after the kids. Dad can be a bit distracted at times. We know this because a) Mum checks a list of instructions with him AND leaves them pinned to the fridge b) defrosting a frozen dinner ends up a bit of a mess and it’s Indian for dinner instead and c) well, we just know.  He’s the kind of Dad who can make a spoon sound new and exciting:

‘We can’t eat our cereal,’ said my sister sadly.

‘I don’t see why not,’ said my father. ‘We’ve got plenty of cereal. There’s Toastios and there’s muesli. We have bowls. We have spoons. Spoons are excellent. Sort of like forks, only not as stabby.’

‘No milk,’ I said.

‘No milk,’ said my sister.’

I’m not sure why, but as I read it, I heard Ardal O’Hanlon reading it – I’m pretty sure that’s the perfect voice for this book (although there is apparently a very good version of Neil Gaiman reading the book, which would be excellent, too.)  It’s a born read aloud for parents, or in the classroom – there is plenty of room to play with funny voices, ridiculous accents, spectacular pauses, and even the odd loud, scary noise.

The story is really a riff on why Dad took so long to get the milk from the corner shop, and it is story telling at its best. Most of us have someone in the family who spins a good yarn – kissed the blarney stone, so to speak.  And Dad really does tell a fantastic adventure involving flying saucers inhabited by globby snot green aliens, a professorial stegosaurus, several wumpires (or possibly vampires), and more…

Potentially a modern classic – buy or ‘borrow’ it now!

Click on the link below to see Neil Gaiman introduce the book, and watch Chris Riddell draw Professor Steg.

http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/fortunately-the-milk–9781408841761/

 

 

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Filed under Children 8+, Classics, Five stars, humour, Uncategorized

Into the River – R14

Into the River

I was in my favourite bookshop yesterday, Paige’s Book Gallery, gathering another pile to read. Lesley and I got to chatting about books, and she said that “Into the River” was now classified R14. Now, my mother was on the Film and Lit Review Board for quite a few years, so I know these decisions aren’t taken lightly, but I think this probably opens a whole new can of worms for the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards, and its categories. It also demands the question, if this book needs to be rated so that children won’t buy it, aren’t there a whole lot of other books in bookshops that need a rating?? What happens with Fifty Shades, for example. It would be bizarre to sell it to young children (under 14) – but it’s not illegal, like selling Into the River would be. And, let’s be honest, being illegal may well have just upped the kudos of the book as well.

I don’t want all the books that win prizes to be sanitised, so I still think that if the judges thought this book merited a prize, it should have got a prize. It’s just that everyone in the category it won a prize in, should be legally allowed to read the book that won! But with the categories as they are, we keep running the risk of excluding the 12 – 14yr old category, or the 8 – 10 yr category. These are critical reading ages for children to be exposed to great literature so that they are motivated to continue reading into a life long habit.

Adults who were readers by choice as children and young adults, in study after study after study, have been shown to earn more, have more employment choices, and generally have more positive life trajectories that those who weren’t. The ‘reading slump’ is a well documented phenomenon, and occurs during the intermediate (Year 7 and 8) and early secondary years (Year 9 and 10). Good quality writing, both fiction and non-fiction, is vital. But what would be appropriate for one group, is just not for the other. Developmentally, these two age groups are very different readers.

What is the purpose of book awards? Sure, they critically acclaim the writer and the book, and that’s a great thing because, for most writers in New Zealand, the hourly rate is rubbish. And as any good behaviourialist knows, everyone needs positive reinforcement of some kind. But, let’s be honest, mostly it’s a commercial exercise. Lesley, at Paige’s, has had ‘The Luminaries’, recent winner of the Booker, positively flying out the door. Teachers, librarians, parents and other people who control the book buying in children’s lives, rely on book awards for guidance. We can’t possibly read every book – no matter how hard we try!

I have advocated for this before, but I really think that there should be four fiction categories in the NZ POST Children’s Book Awards:
– picture books (everyone!)
– junior fiction (8+)
– intermediate fiction (11+)
– young adult (14+)

Read below the decision by the Film and Literature Review Board to restrict sales of ‘Into the River’ by Ted Dawe

Into the River

R14 Parental advisory explicit content (Film and Literature Board of Review decision)

Date Registered: 08/01/2014

Into the River is a book by New Zealand author Ted Dawe. In September 2013 it was classified as unrestricted by the Classification Office after being submitted by the Department of Internal Affairs because of a complaint from a member of the public.

An application was made to the Film and Literature Board of Review for a review of the Classification Office’s decision. The Board of Review classified the book as R14.

How a review works

When conducting a review of a Classification Office decision, the Board carries out its own examination of the publication and applies the classification criteria to assign a classification. This process can result in the Board assigning a higher, lower, or same classification as the Classification Office.

The book’s plot:

The novel is centred on Te Arepa Santos, a boy from a fictional village on the East Coast of the North Island in New Zealand/Aotearoa. He wins a scholarship to a boys’ boarding school in Auckland, and the transition is difficult. He forges friendships, finds enemies, and discovers that his Maori identity is discounted and a disadvantage. He endures the bullying that comes from this, as well as that meted out to new boys, and sees what happens when that bullying goes too far. There are confusing encounters with sex and a growing understanding of intimacy, the use of drugs, peer pressure, deep racism, grief and death.

Decision summary

The Film and Literature Board of Review noted in its decision that the book contains themes of bullying, underage casual and unsafe sex, drug taking and other matters that people may find offensive and upsetting. The Board considered that the book is likely to educate and inform young adults about the potentially negative consequences that can follow from involvement in casual sex, underage drinking, drug taking, crime, violence and bullying. The Board also considered that the book serves a useful social purpose in raising these issues for thought and debate and creating a context which may help young adults think more deeply about the immediate and long term consequences of choices they may be called upon to make.

However, there are scenes in the book that are powerful and disturbing, and in the opinion of the Board run a real risk of shocking and disturbing young readers. Whilst those aged 14 and above are likely to have a level of maturity that enables them to deal with this, those below the age of 14 may not.

The Film and Literature Board of Review classified the book as objectionable except if the publication is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 14 years. The Board also requires that any further publications of the book carry the same descriptive note as the present publication, reading “parental advisory explicit content”.

What does this decision mean?

The Board of Review decision replaces the one by the Classification Office. It is illegal for anyone, including parents and guardians, to supply Into the River to anyone under the age of 14.

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Filed under New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, New Zealand Writer, Prize winners, Ted Dawe