The Adventures of Mittens
Silvio Bruinsma (2021)
Penguin Random House New Zealand
Mittens is not your ordinary cat! A Turkish Angora cat, he lives with his family in Wellington, New Zealand. Through his own Facebook page ‘The Wondrous Adventures of Mittens’, this cat has captured the hearts of a community and has even been presented with The Key to the City of Wellington by the Mayor.
In this cute rhyming story, the reader enjoys following Mittens through the city to discover the many different people and professions within. Mittens is an explorer and enjoys roaming. He visits a clothing store and a university. He spends some time on a desk in an office block and checks out what is going on at the central police station.
Silvio Bruinsma wrote this story following on from the immense popularity of his pet cat Mittens. Through Mitten’s real life wanderings, Bruinsma saw an opportunity to direct the celebrity attention to a worthy cause: New Zealand’s Mental Health Foundation. The illustrations by Phoebe Morris have a playful cartoon quality about them. It is a book that will delight cat lovers and young children alike!
Moonlight Mums- A cosy bedtime story for busy families
Laura Stitzel (2021)
Penguin Random House Australia
“Mums, with many things to do, all miss their little ones like you.”
Do you know a busy mum who can’t always be home to tuck in their little ones? This modern bedtime story paints a realistic picture of the working mother who can’t always be the one to put their young child to bed. Busy mums miss their children and will always be home to give them a kiss, even if they are already tucked up and asleep.
Laura Stitzel is an illustrator, author and animator from Australia. She has written and illlustrated Moonlight Mums and Mr Mo Starts to Grow. She has also contributed cover art and illustrations to a range of other books such as Elliot Perlman’s Catwinkle series, as well as animations including Disney’s Space Chickens in Space.
Moonlight Mums is a gentle comparison story where animals and their mothers cannot always be together at bed time, just like the little family in the story. Full of colour and rhymes, it is a beautiful story to read to a young child at night. At a higher level, this would be an excellent book to teach Compare and Contrast and Author’s craft: Organisation.
7 ½ A Novel
By Christos Tsiolkas
Allen & Unwin. 2021
I read the entire book believing that it was a true recount and I kept waiting for the fictional story to launch and take over. It wasn’t until the end when I read the acknowledgements that I realised the lover the narrator referred to in the book was not the same lover that Tsiolkas dedicated the book to. As I investigated deeper, I realised that this realistic recount was in fact fictitious.
7 ½ is a unique text. It follows a writer who wishes to work in solitude so that he can write about beauty. He’s not sure that he can, as his usual style is grit and outrage. “You can’t write about beauty,” says his friend, “You’re shit at metaphor.” But he’s tired of being angry and no longer cares for politics. He thinks constantly about his lover and the beauty of their relationship while he writes a fictional tale about a porn star that he once idolised.
Tsiolkas strives to show the beauty in the everyday and yet his descriptions are still raw and gritty. However I think this is his point, to embrace the shocking truth such as the sweet stench of one’s own body odor. And speaking of scent, it is something that Tsiolkas does best; describing the depth of smells that we all know to be true but still make us blush.
After writing 7 breathtaking novels that have been awarded numerous prizes and adapted for screen, 7 ½ A Novel is something out of the box. It’s a story, a musing, an observation and a story within a story. It’s something for a reader to ponder long after finishing.
Inda Ahmad Zahri (2021)
Salih is a story of hope and empathy. A young child with a backpack full of belongings and her memories, flees her war-torn home. We learn of her sadness and wishes, and the different ways that people cope with trauma. Her journey is long and frightening. Salih and her fellow refugees do not know what will meet them when they finally reach their destination. They cannot be certain that there will be someone who can understand them and the challenges they have faced.
This is a beautifully illustrated picture story book that can help young children understand some of the experiences that other children around the world face. It is a gateway book to a global understanding and can be a fabulous tool to develop our young global citizens. The reader has an opportunity to make connections with the lovely things that Salih remembers, and is then asked to consider the changes that Salih has faced due to war.
This book is rich with imagery: “By the time we reach the sea, I am jangling like a potioneer.” and metaphor: “The sea is angry for the homes we’ve lost.” As a teacher, this book is the perfect mentor text for teaching a range of comprehension strategies including prediction and inferring. It’s also an excellent model for writing traits such as the supreme word choice e.g. ‘stomachs lurch’, ‘feet thrum’. At Year Two this text could be introduced as a challenging text where considerable rereads and teacher support might be necessary. It would also be appropriate for the Middle and Senior Years of Primary School.
Klara and the Sun
Kazuo Ishiguro 2021
Faber and Faber
A unique dystopian story written by a celebrated author. Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun was longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize after he received a multitude of awards for his previous seven novels.
In this story, an artificial friend (AF) has been developed to starve off loneliness for children who have been ‘Lifted’. To be Lifted is to be modified so that one can have future career advantages. The narrator is one such artificial friend named Klara, and the story told through her eyes creates an unreliable perspective of the challenges faced by humans in this futuristic world.
Klara is a special AF and is charged with caring for Josie, a young teenager who has become quite ill. Klara is observant, adaptable and intelligent, and because of her own solar charging, comes to believe that the sun is a powerful God.
The tone becomes dark and ominous when the desperate motives of Josie’s parents are revealed. Klara appeals to the Sun for help as she grapples with her understanding of what it is to love another.
With themes of hope, love and science, this is a story with many twists and turns. The reader will find themselves flip-flopping between sympathies for different characters, while the voice of Klara remains consistent and unique throughout the story.
The Echo Chamber
John Boyne 2021
Penguin Random House UK
The Echo Chamber drips in hilarious sarcasm and many a time I could be heard laughing out loud while reading it. John Boyne, author of The boy in the striped pyjamas, pokes fun at a world addicted to sharing every mundane moment in a life. He weaves mischief between the ‘Wokesters’, those seeking to be offended by every comment made and the righteous keyboard warriors.
In this story we follow the trials, triumphs and ultimate catastrophes of the rich and entitled Cleverley family. George, the patriarch of the family, is a celebrity talk show host who can’t keep his outdated beliefs in check no matter how progressive he thinks he is. His author wife Beverly, enjoys her power-couple status, though prefers to share her bed with a toy-boy dancer named Pylyp. Their three adult children are also entertainingly inept. One unable to confidently converse with women unless he is wearing a uniform (any uniform seems to do the trick); another who places value on life based on the number of Twitter followers people have; and the youngest uses his good looks and charisma to use people.
As layer upon layer draw the reader to the inevitable disastrous end, the play becomes more and more ridiculous. Finally, as the Cleverley’s social status and online lives beeline towards “cancellation”, they are forced to relook at what is truly important.
As we wade through a sea of apprehension and worry in this present time, this book will give you the buoyancy that will lighten your day.
Dark as Last Night
University of Queensland Press 2021
Tony Birch is an Indigenous Australian Author who has won an array of literary awards. He writes short stories, poetry and novels. Dark as Last Night is an anthology of short stories with a telescopic focus on marginalised Australians who struggle through adversity. He draws on human connection and writes of grief, love and bravery.
The first story, the title track, hits you like a punch in the guts. The reality of domestic violence is a concept that one might choose to view from afar until Birch holds it right under your nose, and through his imagery, the smell of blood is pungent and frightening.
Then there is ‘Together’. In the simplicity of a family working through the grief of a dying loved one, there is a heart shattering rawness and truth. Birch demonstrates the complexity of emotions that anyone can experience in such a tragic time.
One thing that stands out in many of Birch’s stories are the hero older siblings. Their boldness and love are unbreakable as they protect the family that surround them. In ‘Flight’, older sister Miriam, sometimes a tyrant to her younger brother as she navigates her roles as daughter, protector and teenager, threatens her brother’s bullies with “If you ever touch my brother again, I’ll stab you in the head.” And the reader cheers at her fearlessness.
Review featured on the Literary Yard https://literaryyard.com/2021/09/20/dark-as-last-night-by-tony-birch/
By Alice Pung
Black Inc. 2021
“Your mother may not know how to love you best. But she love you the most.”
A journal written to her unborn child- Karuna is a teenager, overwhelmed by her over-protective mother’s need to control her. So desperate to break free from the shackles of her mother’s power, she says yes to a boy and is silently celebrating when she discovers that she is pregnant.
Pung writes with authenticity and imagery that prevents the reader from putting down this book. I could not put it down.
When control mashes with culture and tradition, we can understand where both women’s perspectives spawn. But love cannot be an excuse and lessons are learned the hard way. Ultimately, though, this is an uplifting and fast read.
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Cast of readers: Jorjeana Marie, Dominic Hoffman, Fiona Hardingham, Bahni turpin, Dion Graham & Allan Corduner
Bolinda Audio 2019
I have dived into a maze and surfaced in a sea of honey, sticky and in awe. The Starless Sea is a wistful and magical fairy tale for lovers of stories. The narrative fantasy twists and turns as the unpredictable paths speed up and slow down without warning. The storyline is memorable yet unclear, like a puzzle that is beyond my ability to explain.
It is the story of Zachary but it is also the story of fate and time, the moon and an owl king. Like myself as the reader, Zachary finds himself lost in a labyrinth. He and his companions are captivating, each character’s voice clear and distinct. Some of the cast are embedded in reality with believable tenor, while some of the more elusive characters are stylised to perfection.
Morgenstern is precise and vivid with her language choices. The pictures painted through her poetic imagery are clear and fantastical.
I lost my way so many times in this story, though somehow I was compelled to read on. Even at the end, like Zachary within his own story, I felt confused yet satisfied.
Hound the Detective- 2020
Moose the Pilot- 2021
Penguin Random House New Zealand
Two delightful books by the award winning author/illustrator Kimberly Andrews. Hound the Detective is a fun-filled mystery. Readers are taken for a ride as Hound follows the clues to understand why things are going missing in his village. His mission arrives via letter and he must use his super sleuthing skills to solve the case. The narrative is told through rhyming reflections in the Hound’s notebook, letters and speech bubbles. Along with engaging font and detailed pictures, readers are also encouraged to search for hidden caterpillars on each page.
Moose the Pilot follows a circular narrative and once again readers will enjoy the intricate details found within the pictures and the opportunity to search for hidden butterflies throughout the book. The story is told through rhyme and appears on Moose’s clipboard. Additional text in the form of speech through the radio speaker informs us of the jobs Moose must go to next. Clues and hints encourage the reader to make predictions as they discover the details of Moose’s interactions with his customers.
Kimberly Andrews’ most recognised book, Puffin the Architect, won the Russell Clark Award for Illustration as well as the NZ Booklovers Best Children’s Book Award in 2019. It is no accident then, that the very same puffin character appears in both Moose the Pilot and Hound the Detective books.
Multiple reads are a must for both of these books. With complex pictures, clues and rhymes, readers will discover new delights on every occasion.
Both books were well received by my Year two and Year three students.
What's this about?
As a lover of books and a teacher, I read widely. Here you will find book reviews of many genres including picture story, middle grade fiction, graphic novels, women's fiction, short story anthologies, non-fiction and anything else that takes my fancy.