Monthly Archives: June 2014

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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