Category Archives: Children 12+

New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards – 2014

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

Advertisements

Leave a comment

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

Keeper – Mal Peet (2004)

Keeper Keeper – Mal Peet (2004)

Awards: Branford Boase (2004); German Youth Literature Award (2007).

 

I bought this book because I had recently heard Mal Peet and his wife, Elspeth Graham, interviewed on Saturday Mornings with Kim Hill, NZ National Radio: http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player/2558762

I remembered having read Tamar, his Carnegie Award winning book, and loving it.  I also have a young man in one of my English classes who is football/soccer mad.  He has finished reading the ‘Goal!’ series and I was looking for something that might capture his imagination (and have more to follow).  And the reality is that a lot of books that are specifically written for kids who love sports but don’t love reading, are of a pretty poor quality – which is frustrating.  I believe that to get children to love reading, they need to be exposed to quality writing.  Just like you can’t expect to get a beautiful sound out of a poor quality instrument, why would someone who only gets to read pedestrian writing learn to love reading!

This book certainly didn’t start out the way I had expected.  Faustino is a sports journalist interviewing El Gato, goalkeeper of the winning World Cup team.  This is to be a front page story, and Faustino knows exactly how he wants it to go.  He wants the story of El Gato’s journey from poverty to fame and fortune.  The only trouble is, El Gato doesn’t seem to want to play the game Faustino’s way.  He starts telling the story of how he came to be the one of a kind goal keeper, with seemingly superhuman powers, that he is, and it’s a story that’s hard to swallow.  It seems that this mythical goal keeper might not quite have a secure grip on reality.

I shared Faustino’s concern, initially.  I was completely taken by surprise.  I was sceptical.  I was anxious.  Faustino was worried about the sanity of his football hero.  I was worried about the credibility of this author.  Like Faustino, I decided to play along with the story – to hear El Gato out.  Certainly I was enjoying the language.  Mal Peet writes evocatively – he draws you right into a story:

Standing there, with its back to the trees, was a goal. A soccer goal. Two uprights and a crossbar. With a net. A net fixed up like the old-fashioned ones, pulled back and tied to two poles behind the goal. My brain stood still in my head. (Don’t you just love that image?  My brain stood still in my head…Wow!)  I could hear the thumping of my blood. I must have looked like an idiot, my eyes mad and staring, my mouth hanging open. Eventually I found the nerve to take a few steps toward this goal, this quite impossible goal. The woodwork was a silvery grey, and the grain of the wood was open and rough. Weathered, like the timber of old boats left for years on the beach. It shone slightly. The net had the same colour, like cobwebs, and thin green plant tendrils grew up the two poles that supported it.

It seemed to take an age, my whole life, to walk into that goalmouth. When I got there, I put out my hands and held the net. It was sound and strong, despite its great age. I was completely baffled and stood there, my fingers in the mesh of the net and my back to the clearing, trying, and failing, to make sense of all this.

Peet says that he has long since got tired of categorising by age or genre.  And this is apparent in ‘Keeper’.  There is enough about football in this book for any avid football fan to love.  But I don’t love football – at all.  And I really loved this book.  I highly recommend it.  Somehow, the weirdness works and becomes fantastically believable…Read Jan Mark’s review at the following link:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/nov/15/featuresreviews.guardianreview3

Leave a comment

Filed under Children 12+, Five stars, Prize winners, Read Aloud, Young Adult

Far From Home – Na’ima B Robert

Far From HomeFar From Home – Na’ima B Robert (2011)

This book was given to me to read by a student in one of my English classes.

It is a challenging read.  The author initially introduces us to Tariro, daughter of the Baobab.  Tariro tells the stories of her people, and the simple explanations given really help to develop an empathy in the reader.  She explains, in her uncle’s voice

‘Now, Lobengula, son of Mzilikazi, king of the Ndebele, had grown concerned about all these varungu – the Boers, the Portuguese, the British – bothering him, wanting him to let them look for gold and other minerals in his territory. But, because he trusted the British Queen’s representative, he finally agreed to sign a document called the Rudd Concession, giving the mining rights they wanted.’

Cecil John Rhodes was granted a charter by Queen Victoria, allowing him to run the country on behalf of Britain. As Tariro quite rightly asks,

‘Who gave her the authority to decide our fate?’ I asked.  ‘We have never seen her.  We did not accept her as our queen.

The removals of the Karanga people, Tariro’s people, from the land, are violent and merciless.  Tariro and her family suffer terribly, with the loss of many people and the removal to poor land with no rights to cut down trees, or to irrigate.  And the girls sent to fetch water from the river live in constant danger of attack from the white men.  (In Maori, a karanga is a spiritual call to welcome, or summon, the manuhiri – visitors – on to a Marae.  It is a thread between the two women, one tangata whenua and one manuhiri, calling through the passages of time.  This felt really appropriate to me,as this novel is so much about the calls of woman to woman, and identity through time and place).  A good friend of mine who speaks Shona, tells me that Maori and Shona languages have unexpected connection.

Tariro suffers such an attack, and the result is a daughter, Tawona.  Despite her hatred of the man, Ian Watson, Tariro loves her daughter, and brings her up in the Karanga way, as best she can, suffering the deprivations that they do.

However, as time passes, discontent grows, and the African National Congress grows and develops.  The Karanga, and other displaced African people, build an army and start to reclaim their land.  This is also the time of Robert Mugabe.  Tariro becomes involved and fights in the battles as a soldier.  This is an historic time, where the people of Zimbabwe not only reclaim their land but also reclaim their name.

About two thirds of the way through the novel, we are introduced to Katie, the white and legitimate daughter of Ian Watson, and the White African version of events is told.  To be fair, it is difficult for the reader to develop a lot of empathy with Katie and her family.  Our first and loyal affiliation is to the family we know and love already, who were so badly treated by her white ancestors and by her father.  Racism is conveyed very effectively, especially in moments where Katie herself acts in ways that reflect her upbringing, rather than what she learns.  I guess this could be uncomfortable reading for some, but it reflects very much a perspective that was real.  What the author attempts to do is to help us understand why Katie might feel that she has had her heritage ripped away from her.  She is not successful in this.  But I did find myself thinking that it wasn’t Katie’s fault she was born into the family and the place that she was.

This novel demands that the reader asks some really difficult questions of themselves and their lives.  The author bravely attempts to present two sides of a story that she cannot really feel in her heart.  While this is courageous, I think ultimately Katie as a character fails.  She is relatively two-dimensional compared to Tariro or Tawona.  I’m not sure that is entirely fair, but it is a brave attempt to acknowledge the possibility of another perspective to this story.

This is a very well written book that taught me much about the recent history of Zimbabwe.  I will be asking my friend who grew up in Zimbabwe, to read it and tell me his view.

Because of the violent acts that happen within the story, I feel this is probably a Young Adult / Adult novel.  I would rate it a 4/5 stars.

Leave a comment

Filed under Children 12+, Four stars, Historical, Young Adult

My Brother’s War – David Hill

Dulce et decorum est

‘This item is from The First World War Poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford (www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit); © [Copyright notice]’.

    My brother's War

So, I finished on Anzac Day, which seemed appropriate – and here are my thoughts.

I did really like this book.  Quite a lot. If I could give a 4.5…..

This book is an amazing journey.  Set in New Zealand, in 1917, it is the story of two brothers, and the choices they make once the  1916 Conscription Law is passed.  Older brother, William, enlists and younger brother, Edmund, is a conscientious objector.  (After two years of having their young men go to war, never to return, there were plentiful objectors to conscription, as can be seen in this  Te Ara photo and article ) Because of their disagreement, the two brothers have not spoken for over a year.

William is treated as a hero by many of the townsfolk, and Edmund as a coward – although there are people along the way who quietly sympathise with his view and support him.  Their mother and sister, left at home, have to cope with this view of the boys, and there are a few allusions to how difficult this could be, at times.

There are seven sections to the book: At First, Before Sailing, On Ship, Getting Ready, The Trenches, First Attack, Second Attack.  The boys’ parallel journeys are told in each section both with an authorial bird’s eye view from each character, and through letters from Edmund and William, home.

Something I really did like about the book was the length of time it took for the characters to begin to question their views about wars and the army.  There’s no sudden revelation, and in the end there is not one right view.

In the trenches, Edmund has been refusing to obey any army commands.  The trouble is, it is hard to decide what is a command and what is humanity and compassion.  Edmund, unlike Archie, decides that he will choose to be humane and help the stretcher bearers bring in the wounded from No Man’s Land.   One of the men asks Edmund which ‘lot’ he is with:

Edmund shook his head. “I’m a conscientious objector.  The army put this uniform on me.” The soldier who’d offered him the cigarette glared. “So why are you doing this, if you’ve got such high and might ideas about war?”

“My ideas aren’t high and mighty,” Edmund told him. “They’re just mine. And I’m doing this to try and save lives, instead of destroying them.” The man who’d challenged him was silent. 

What a time to be having a discussion like this, Edmund thought.  He almost laughed, and felt a shudder run through his aching body.  He was close to breaking point.  he and most of the others around him.  How much more of this could a human being stand?

The descriptions of the trenches and life in the army for both William and Edmund are heartbreakingly realistic.  Anyone who has read Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks – will understand the true horror of the Battle of the Somme.  And, of course it brought to mind ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ – Wilfred Owen.

David Hill says he was inspired to write this book after reading ‘We Will Not Cease’ – Archibald Baxter.  I feel the need to go and read that now.

This book will provoke some intense discussion in classrooms, no doubt, alongside the opportunity to really do some research into those who went to war, or those who stayed behind, using primary source and secondary source material.  I know it will enhance the understanding of ANZAC day for many of the people who read it, as well as encouraging some critical and reflective thinking about war.

anzac poppies

Other views:

Leave a comment

Filed under Children 10+, Children 12+, Four stars, New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, New Zealand Writer, Uncategorized

The Nature of Ash – Mandy Hagar

The Nature of Ash

Go to your bosom; Knock there, and ask/your heart what it doth know. Measure for Measure – William Shakespeare. (Epigraph to ‘The Nature of Ash’)

‘It’s so bloody unfair.  If those sabre-rattling douches shut the country down, we’ll be sent home.  And once you drop out of uni, it’s damn near impossible to get back in. So much for my grand plans of doing good: there’s no way I can be a speech and language specialist if I don’t complete the full three years.  With nearly half the working population unemployed already, and all the decent jobs reserved for those who have the right contacts – the stinking rich – chances are we’ll end up slaving in some sweat shop – or, worse, signed up against our wills to fight another no-win war.  But, worst of all, back to a life as boring and predictable – and hard – as it was before.’

This is ‘the nature of Ash’ at the beginning of this action-packed, dystopian, political thriller.  As well as representing the journey of Ash from self-absorbed teenager, revelling in the boozed life of a uni hostel, to Ash – political activist, hero and provider for all – (hmmm…) the title is resonant, because ‘ash’ brings to mind so many literary allusions that is has real depth as a metaphor.

This novel is set in an unspecified future in Wellington and Whanganui.  While we are not ever directly told it is the future, we make that assumption because of the referral to relatively new buildings (Te Papa and the Cake Tin – Westpac Stadium Wellington) as being the ‘old’ museum and the ‘old’ stadium.  Kowhai Park in Whanganui is, sadly, a wreck as well.  The political world is a mess, with an evil Bill Chambers as Prime Minister, and the Western Alliance – aka WA (USA, UK, Australia, Taiwan, Malaysian Federation, Republic of Indonesia, Peru) and the United People’s Republic – aka UPR (China, East Russia, United Korea, Japan, Republic of Indochina, Fiji and Chile) being the big boys that little New Zealand is squeezed between.   There are also State-siders – citizens of the USA.  The only State-siders  referenced in the book are evil manipulators of Muru – an activist group that has been taken over by WA secret service agents (aforementioned state-siders) for their own wicked purposes.

These acronyms dehumanise those involved to the extent that they become paper-thin manipulators and manipulated, according to the needs of the plot.  Shaun McCarthy, of the CTU (Combined Trade Union) is the face of the good guys – and the book is littered with his pithy aphorisms, reminding us of exactly what a good guy he was – Freedom has a very thin veneer if you look too closely.  He is Ashley’s dad, and is killed in a bombing of CTU headquarters at the beginning of the story – but who did the bombing – and who did the manipulating become the question.

New Zealand is effectively in a state of war.  Ash has to get his younger brother Mikey, who has Down Syndrome, to a safe place, and along the way collects together a somewhat eccentric band of followers.  There is Jiao, a Chinese student whom he is initially suspicious of, since he assumes her allegiance to the UPR.

‘How the hell can they get away with this?  It’s an outright act of war.’

‘They?’ Jiao’s eyebrow lifts.

‘Come on.  Even you must see that it’s the UPR.’

She tucks the collar of Dad’s dressing gown under her chin. ‘Jumping to conclusions never helps.’

‘Conclusions?’ I bark it out before I can switch down my volume.  ‘It’s pretty bloody obvious.  They’ve been screwing with our politics for years.’

As you and every country in the Western Alliance have screwed with theirs.’

However, Ash develops trust for Jiao as he sees Mikey’s devotion to her.  And there is Travis – alcoholic and would be drama student, son of Police Officer, Jeannie Smith, who takes an initially unfathomable maternal role in the story.  And Erich, neurosurgeon turned ‘green’, and (handily) benefactor and Lucinda Lasch, dad’s lawyer, who to Ash’s surprise and admiration – Fuck me, she really is a porn star! All she needs is fishnets and a whip, was possibly his father’s girlfriend as well.  Ash is very hormonally driven – although maybe this was a little over done.  Having said that, it wasn’t unbelievable, just tiresome.

The story moves along at a cracking pace.  There is always another twist to the plot, another character flaw or strength to be revealed and another of Dad’s pithy aphorisms ‘Note to self: Dad was right. Irony is just hypocrisy with style.’  Certainly Ash is a well drawn character, and this story is exactly as self-absorbed and black and white as his character should be.  And I think that this is appropriate.  Very few of the other characters in this story are really fleshed out to any degree at all, except with their relevance to Ash, although there are a few attempts, ‘Note to self: nobody is as straightforward as they first seem – even pissheads (and big busted girls originally from the UPR)’.

There are some real strengths to this book – the plot is complex and relatively unpredictable.  There are no zombies or vampires – which is a relief.  Ash is a believable character, in many ways.  I can  see it appealing to a wide readership.  The political stance and eco-politics asks readers to reflect on how our society could end up, if we are not vigilant and thoughtful.

O, it is excellent
To have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous
To use it like a giant.

(Measure for Measure, William Shakespeare).

It is certainly no hardship to read.  I read it in two sittings, in under a day.  I found myself comparing it to other titles – for example, Tomorrow When the War Began.  I vastly prefer Ellie to Ash as a character, but as I reflected on the similarities and differences between the two, I realised that The Nature of Ash doesn’t brush over the politics, the politics drive the book, possibly to the detriment of character.  It kind of makes Tomorrow, When the War Began feel a little lightweight in comparison.  It is good to have provocative literature.  There were strongly  espoused beliefs in here that could do with exploration.  This should bring about many a lively discussion – I really hope so.  I give this about 4/5 stars, because there is so much that is worthwhile in it.  I see it as best suited to readers of 13+.

Read other reviews here:

Leave a comment

Filed under Children 12+, Five stars, Four stars, New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, New Zealand Writer, YA 14+

Reach – Hugh Brown

Reach

Firstly, I would like to say that there is not ‘a way that teenagers talk to each other’, as some reviewers have commented.  I have heard a few that actually sound quite literate – so, for me, the teenage conversation was fine.  (Perhaps I could read it as a translation of what they actually said!) The thing I found most surreal about this book was that there was not a cellphone, facebook page or electronic device involved.  Technologically speaking, this book was set in the 70’s. Evocatively.  And I liked that.

Will is a Year 12 boy who lives with his grandparents since his mother left to join a commune 5 years ago.  His father, Bill, (and yes that can get a bit confusing) parents a bit like a hawk – Will says, ‘Dad’s like that – circles around in the hills by himself most of the time, then every now and then he lands nearby, stares at you, silent and fierce, then he’s up and gone again.’  Will sees himself as a nerdy bookworm, and this is further verified when Woody (a rugby player of course) starts to bully Will at school.  At about the same time, Will meets Conway, a new girl at school, and the daughter of a Guidance Counsellor that he has a bit of an unfortunate conversation with when she queries his lateness to school each day.  In typical teenage fashion he decides to play with her a little, because he can, without further thought to how the mother of a girl he likes might interpret what he says.  Also, Will’s mother is now back in the country, and Will, having idealised her to bits, wants to visit her, feeling that she would understand him better than anyone, and help to put things right.  (We all know how that’s going to turn out, right?)  Conway appears to show interest in Will, and then backs off (mysteriously to Will, but obvious to the reader), Will learns martial arts and then one day Woody turns up…and – you get the picture.

This book is not about the plot.  It’s about the telling of the story. It celebrates language and plays with it all the time. Perky, Will’s best friend, speaks like a thesaurus, ‘A miniscule sun, a tiny luteous orb’ is how he describes a ball of earwax plucked from his ear.  When he flicks the wax, it lands on the board between red and wheelbarrow – William Carlos Williams.  Perky is quirky – no doubt about that, but as he says himself, it’s a pose – a defence mechanism, ‘Don’t worry, the dean’s very nice.  We’re great friends, though of course she is somewhat concerned about my extreme attention-seeking behaviour.  But hell, people who live in glasshouses shouldn’t shoot skeet.’

Young Will is inclined to a bit of verbal virtuosity himself, for example, when milking Hex, the cow (an hilarious scene), sounding almost Shakespearean, ‘set your foot, a hex on you, set your foot, poxy cow,’ he crooned.  In maths, a parabola turns into a poem

Why
equals rain, squared
plus sun? Cloud mountains
roil and mound.
Why equals
rai…

This book is such an interesting mix of ideas that every time I think about it, something else comes to mind.  Of course it brings to mind Atwood’s ‘The Blind Assassin’, having a novel within a novel, but also, ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’, with the dystopian, repressive society represented in Will’s journal.  Narcissus, from Greek mythology who turns into a daffodil, staring into the beautiful reflection of himself in the pond, is the tongue-in-cheek way Brown shows Will’s self-absorbed mother.  In a more ‘boy’ way, though, how can we not think of the Marvel comics – Clark Kent being brought up in the country, on a farm, with his ‘grandparents’.  It’s interesting that it is Conway, a girl, who is obsessed with the graphic novels – most books would have the boys reading the graphic novels and the girls being the book worms. But then Conway is an artist.  At times, Conway is drawn as a character from a graphic novel – when she mimics the finch-like behaviour of her mother, ‘she pursed her lips, put her head on one side and made her eyes round and glassy’ makes her sound more like a Manga than a person, or a finch!

Maybe this is a new form of fantasy writing – set in the here and now – but in a parallel universe where we still drive Valiants and Vdubs, listen to Elvis and have grandmothers who bake endless delectable delights – some of which I haven’t tasted for years.  Reading this nearly made me run for my other great Kiwi classic – the Edmonds Cookbook – to bake an Albert cake – whatever that is…and some ginger crunch (not mentioned in this book, but the best thing my mum used to bake on Saturday mornings, while Dad and my older brother were mowing the lawns.)  And this book does evoke that time.

Is it too removed from reality – I’m not sure.  After all, as this book points out in so many different ways, what is reality?  Is it what we experience, is it what people experience of us, is it the reality we build to protect ourselves, is it the reality that dawns on us piece by piece as we put the bits of the puzzle together.  This book is perhaps a meditation on life, ‘the point of meditation isn’t to get to a place where you have no thoughts, but where you aren’t involved in them.  Where you’re separate, able to observe them, or not, at your leisure.’

This book has been shortlisted for the Young Adult Section of this year’s New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards, and also won the inaugural Tessa Duder  Award for Young Adult Fiction.

I’m off to offer it as a possibility to my RR, without telling him any of this, of course.  I’m pretty sure he’ll just enjoy the story.

1 Comment

Filed under Children 12+, Five stars, humour, New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, New Zealand Writer, Prize winners

Bull Rider – Suzanne Morgan Williams

Bull Rider

I did wonder, initially, how I was going to connect with this book – not knowing anything about Bull Riding, or caring much
about Skate Boarding, and not coming from Nevada, or even the United States. However, I do know 14 year old boys, and however much they try to hide it with grunts and bad haircuts, there are sensitive hearts and undeveloped amygdalas making their lives very confusing and difficult to navigate. Especially when other family stuff is going on – and other stuff is often going on. The author
describes this well. The teenage desire to be the centre of the universe, while being left well alone; the conflict of needing to be different and needing to belong; the distancing from the intensive parenting of earlier years, while still desperately needing to be parented. This is some of what I take from the book.

Cam is fourteen, and he loves boarding – or that is what he tells us. I’m not entirely sure that it ever quite rang true for me. It doesn’t take a lot to distract him from boarding. To me it was the classic avoidance passion. He was determined not to be a bull rider because he was worried he would never be as good as Ben – his big brother, whom he idolises. Boarding really represented his need to be different and his need to find his own passion. Of course, inevitably bull-riding does become an important part of his life, as he struggles with the results of a devastating family event.

Cam feels powerless to help, until he hits on the idea of riding a particularly large and nasty beast, called Ugly, to win 15 000
dollars, but to do this he has to use a little bit of subterfuge.

Along the way, Cam faces friendship issues, fallen idol issues, battles with his parents and his own self-confidence.  A strong relationship with two of his grandparents helps him along the way.  This is a great book that I think many boys will enjoy.  I have put it in the 12+ category mostly because I think the content is more appropriate for slightly older children, but it is not a difficult read at all.

I would rate this at about a 3.5 / 5, perhaps getting closer to a 4 than a 3.  Definitely worth a read!

Leave a comment

Filed under Children 12+, Four stars