Poetry Box review: Ulf Stark’s Can you whistle, Johanna?

Poetry Box April poetry challenge

Can you whistle, Johanna? Ulf Stark, illustrated by Anna Höglund, Gecko Press, 2021

One of my favourite memories as a children’s poet was taking children to read their poems to old people in retirement villages. It was so very special. The young and the old loved it equally, especially talking to each other at the end. There were warm glows on everyone’s cheeks! Wide smiles. Sadly I just don’t seem to have time to do it at the moment but I do hope some other energetic poet gives it a go.

I think this shiny memory added to my delight in reading Ulf Stark’s Can you whistle, Johanna.

Ulf has a grandfather whom he loves dearly. They eat cake together on birthdays, go out to tea, and swap presents (five dollars and a cigar). The grandfather always eats pigs’ trotters. Ulf’s best friend Berra doesn’t have a grandfather and that feels like one terrible aching impossible-to-fill gap even though he doesn’t exactly know what grandfathers do.

Ulf comes up with a cunning plan and they go visit a retirement village where there are truckloads of old men. The boys definitely want one who eats pigs’ trotters and takes you out to tea and can teach you to whistle.

Ah, this is the sweetest most heartwarming story you can imagine. I laughed out loud and I felt good inside as I read. I especially love the bit about eating cherries from Mr Gustavsson’s extremely high tree in the dark. Oh and wanting to fish when there is no lake for miles but making something wonderful by making do with what is nearby (something rather special).

Sometimes you read a story and it sticks with you for days and you stop hanging out the clothes and writing the poem and weeding the garden and a little bit of the story lights up inside you. That’s how I feel with this glorious book.

I adore Anna Höglund‘s illustrations with their exquisite textures and colour palettes. I do wish children’s books included more details on the illustrations. It reminded me of the smell of crayons and pastels. Anna also illustrated the heavenly The Stone Giant.

Julia Marshall both translated and published the story. The sentences flow like clover honey and the book feels just right in your hand. Can you whistle, Johanna? was originally published in 1992 and made into a film. I can see why it is an international classic. I am so grateful to Gecko Press for continuing to publish books for children that are so very precious, and that always uplift stories with wisdom, verve and humour. When you read a Gecko Press book you get to feel the world.

I do hope loads of grandchildren read this to loads of grandparents – oh and truckoads of grandparents read it to truckloads of grandchildren.

Gecko Press page

Ulf Stark was a much-loved, award-winning Swedish writer. He has written around thirty books for children and young adults, and has been translated into more than twenty languages.

Anna Höglund is a Swedish illustrator and author. Her work has been recognized with Swedish and international awards. She has worked with many well-known authors including Barbro Lindgren and Ulf Stark.

Poetry Box review: Penny Chrimes’s Tiger Heart

Poetry Box April poetry challenge

Tiger Heart, Penny Chrimes, Orion (Hatchette UK) 2020

This year I hope to post little reviews of some of the children’s books I have loved reading. One because I love reading children’s books so much and two because children’s reviews are hard to spot in New Zealand. I am hoping some of you will be inspired to hunt down a book I have loved and see what you think. In bookshops and in libraries!

I will include a link to the monthly poetry challenge at the top of the review!

All Easter I have stayed at home and read books! I especially loved Tiger Heart by Penny Chrimes. Penny worked in Fleet Street (London’s newspaper zone!), and then in television as a news journalist. This is her first novel.

Tiger Heart is a cracking good adventure with all kinds of important ideas bubbling beneath the surface. You will read it in a TIGER FLASH it is so gripping. Fly was abandoned in a basket outside a workhouse in London and ended up working for a mean man cleaning chimneys. One day she climbs down the chimney into a room with a tiger and the GRIPPING adventure begins. The tiger doesn’t eat her. In fact he believes she is a princess and wants to help her.

Dark forces make it hard for Tiger and Fly to do everything they need to do. Rescue the people and animals the wicked men have enslaved. Find their way home. She does discover she has special powers!

Penny is a whizz at making up words and using words that might send you to a dictionary: nick-ninny, flummery, termagant, trot-box, drowndead, humdudgeon.

I so loved the action, but I also loved the Tiger’s wisdom and the importance of friendship. I loved the way Fly got to be stronger and wiser. I like the fact GREED and CRUEL behaviour are not options. Kindness matters. Leading a country with kindness matters.

So when you are in the mood for a cracking good adventure, with whizzbang dialogue, fascinating characters and excellent ideas hiding in the nooks and crannies, then this is the book for you.

Hatchette Australia page

Poetry Box April challenge: The sun and the moon

The sun and the moon at Te Henga Bethells Beach

I recently reviewed Melinda Szymanik’s gorgeous picture book Moon & Sun. I decided I would love to see poems with both the sun and the moon in them. So your April challenge is to write a poem with both sun and moon making an appearance!

Remember this is a challenge to get you playing with what words can do, not a competition. When I read the March poems I could tell you had fun writing them and that you love writing. That matters so much to me. I have loved writing since I was first holding a pencil. The writing has been the most important thing.

Some starting points

Write a sun and moon story in the form of a poem

(your story might be imaginative or realistic)

Use your imagination

Use facts

Use moods

Take a photo of the sun and the moon with words

Write about a time you have experienced the sun and moon

Make up a sun and moon fable

Make a word soundscape that celebrates the sun and the moon

Write from the point of view of the sun or moon or both

Hide some fascinating sun and moon facts

Top tips

Hunt for sun and moon words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs)

Make a list of scintillating sun and moon similes

Try three different endings

Try three different beginnings

Read your poem out loud to check the sound of the lines

Which is your favourite line?

Which is your least favourite line?

Give your poem a title!!

You can illustrate it if you want

Don’t send it to me the minute you finish it – LET

it sit for at least a day and then do another sound

and word check

Deadline: 28th April

Send to: paulajoygreen@gmail.com

Include: name, age, year, name of school or homeschooled

Don’t forget to put SUN AND MOON POEM in subject line so I don’t miss it

AND I will post some favourites near end of month and have a few books to give away

Poetry Box March challenge: Some favourite summer poems

Welcome to the first 2021 Poetry Box gathering of poems by young New Zealanders. I picked summer for March which means we are now getting summery tastes in autumn. Wonderful!

I have been reading the poems over the past few days with the rain bucketing down. It is filling the water tank we just had cleaned and watering our garden and I feel so cosy snuggling into your wonderful poetry.

I love the way your poems do so many different things because there is a solar system of ways to write a poem.

I love the way you take up my challenges and getting playing with words.

But I always feel sad that I can’t post all your MAGNIFICENT poems because I feel sad that some of you miss out getting your poem online. I hope you know from my letters I can tell you all love writing and playing with poetry. Some of you have been on the blog a few times so I may not have picked you this time.

Please know ALL YOUR POEMS glitter in my heart like summery stars and I carry them with me.

This is never a competition but I am sending some books out to these young poets because I love giving away books: Jonny A (Ilam School), Harry S (Fendalton School), Nico (Richmond Rd School), Lily (Paekakariki School), Isabella (Selwyn HOuse), Rose (Westmere School) and George (St Andrews School).

I don’t usually send so many books but am starting the year with book fireworks to thank you for the wonderful respopnses.

So here are some of my favourite poems:

The Poems


I walk over the hot windy hills,
bike down mountains
collecting sweet blackberries
putting them in a medium sized container,
my Dad will then turn them 
into blackberry Jam,
some blackberries are red 
and bitter,
some are too old
but the summer black blackberry
is as sweet as cream
with crunchy seeds and a juicy taste,
it is sweet as syrup.

Jonny A, 8 years old, Y5, Ilam School

Dear Summer,

I like it when you look

through my bedroom window

and say Hi.

Sometimes you’re too bright

and I put sunglasses on.

I like it when you’re sunny,

and I can go to the beach.

You’re as kind as my dog, Sally,

and you’re as bright as lava.

George N, Age 7, Year 3, St Andrew’s College Preparatory School



That was Summer


Remember when you could taste the fresh morning air on your tongue?

Remember when you could taste the bright luscious strawberries ?

That was summer.


Remember when you sank your feet down into the refreshing green grass?

Remember when you splashed in the cold lakes on an oven hot day?

That was summer.


Remember when you ran around laughing and having fun with friends?

Remember when you heard the birds’ beautiful tunes as you woke up to a lovely day?

That was summer.


Remember when you could hear the waves crashing against the gritty sand?

                      Remember when you watched the flowers bloom all day?

                                                  That was summer.


         Rose R, Age 10, Year 6, LS4, Westmere School

Camp Bay

I can taste sand, salty sea, and the crunchy kelp. 

The sand against my skin feels like rough carpet . 

The giant crabs walk through the sand . 

I run to swim with my brother.

The shells scrape my feet.

Isabella B, age: 9, Y5, Selwyn House School

All in a Summer’s Day

The sand runs through my fingers like hot ash

It burns then cools in a flash

A thousand summer breezes clash

on my face, smash

a lash of water a splash

Water glides through my fingers

like pushing through wind

Cold and wet, silky and smooth, something heavy, so free but so pinned

Graceful waves breaking halfway to shore on a summer weekend

Wind cold on my wet face I grimace and grinned

Wind lashes across my face

like it was in haste 

quick but well paced

Sun beaming down light and heat

grass and grazers eager to meet

All in a summer’s day.

Lily M, Age 12, Y8 Paekakariki School

A Summer Scene

On the river bank

(Or if you prefer, the flank)

Going hither and thither

Like a mouse in a dither…

Can I be bold

And brave the cold?

Edging over stones

That would rattle my bones

Finally floating along

Hearing only nature’s song

A river in summer

Simply couldn’t be funner!

Daniel L, age 12, Y8, Hadlow School


Eating pavlova in Aotearoa.

I take a bite and taste an aroma of flavours.

Eating pavlova in Aotearoa.

I feel like a New Zealander.

The snow coloured cream.

The kiwifruit is a dream.

Eating pavlova in Aotearoa.

Maia W, Age 10, Y6, Fendalton Open-Air School


The taste of a very juicy watermelon 

The sun shining on my face like stars in the sky 

Watching whales in the sea 

And when summer goes 

I will say come back summer

Tala A, Age 6 years, Y2, Ilam School

Kaiteriteri Beach

The surging currents are as flexible as

a rubber band. 

I’m swimming the glistening moana,

 out from the Kaiteriteri beach

 surrounded by hills and forests.

 The boats leave wakes

 that I dive down into. I come

 back up as fresh as life.

Charlie W, Y6, age 10, Fendalton School


The sun is smiling.

I get the waterside out.

I have fun on the water slide

with my big sister.

It’s very slippery.

I run up.

I slide till the end of summer.

by Florence T, Aged 7, Year3, St Andrews Preparatory 

Aitutaki summer foods                                                  

The Mainese is like a bomb 

of flavour in my mouth

Don’t even get me started

 on the phenomenal chop suey

And fried fish with a pinch of love

from my papa blows my taste buds away

Mikaia T, age 10, Fendalton Open Air School


The water is lapping against my ankles.

As the salty air stings my face.

I hold out my arms.

They are welcomed by the warm sun.

This is summer. Beautiful summer.

Mia C, Age: 11
, Palmerston North Intermediate Normal School

Taylors Mistake

I feel a splash of salty water on my face.  

I hear children laughing out loud.  

I see the golden brown sand with small and big footprints blow away.

I taste the juicy red watermelon.

I smell sunscreen on my nose.

I see the surfers riding the greeny-blue waves.

I feel the coolness of the water.

Aliyah D, 9 years old, Y6, Selwyn House School


I am a 5 year old boy in my backyard.

 playing with a fire breathing dragon in the sun.

 I see a monkey swinging around the apples on the trees.

 I think about picking an apple but I’m too scared.

 I love my backyard jungle because of the smell of hairy apes 

especially in the summer because.

 It means I can play in my jungle.

 eating mr whippy ice cream. 

 Best of all in the summer I can be me!

Harry S, age 9, Fendalton School


Warm waves whispering

Seagulls screeching

Lush leaves rustling

Children laughing

Pōhutakawa blossoming

The hot sun scorching

Ice-cream dripping

Flip-flops thumping

The Ho-ho-ho of Christmas

I love New Zealand Summer!

Sneha, 12 years old, Year 8, Selwyn House School


A bright thinker

A keen gazer

A light dreamer

A lovely glider

A big wonder

A wind chaser

A tree lover

A kiwi watcher

Jessie W, age 6, Y3, St Andrew’s College

Summer poem

The sun shines on the sleek, white albatross,

Making giant shadows covering the beach.

Starfishes lie there, 

gazing at the simmering sun.

Memories of my childhood come back 

as I stare into the distant hills.

At the beach.

A gust of winds blows,

Making me snap back into the present.

Olivia C, Y6, age 10, Fendalton Open-air School

My summer plan

I’m gonna go drizzle in the crisp blue waves 

Diving skidding swimming in the blue crisp waves 

Then I’m gonna go whip up some sundae

Pouring chocolate and caramel up on my sundae


Like a summer vacation

Ray, age: 9, Y5, Fendalton Open-Air School


As red as apples,

beaches have lots,

people sit under them,

tūī sing.

Alfie L, Y3, 7 years old, St Andrew’s College

Summer Barbecue

The burgers are cooking.

The people are talking.

The burgers are ready.

The people are eating.

The children are playing cricket.

The sun is sleepy, it is time to leave.

Benjamin C, Year 3, aged 7, St Andrew’s College

Summer dream

At the pool the sun smiles happily

Like a rainbow

The taste of roses in my mouth

The sounds of waves crashing against the rocks

I dream of summer

My room fills with light

Caitlin C, Age 8 Y4, Ilam School

Golden Bay 

Walking on the beach

Collecting shells

Playing in water

Sand under my feet

Looking at crabs

Kayaking in the morning

My mum next to me 

Walking with me 


Golden Bay

Nalani, Age 8, Y4, St Andrews College

Ice Cream Days

Slipping and dripping

Down a slope of icy cream

Giving my tongue frostbite

Melts in my mouth like cotton candy

The horrible feeling of brain freeze hits me instantly.

Carlos DG and Parker F, Y6, age 10, Richmond Rd School

The Sea in Summer

I am a dolphin in Akaroa

I swim around little boats

I swim through waves crashing on me

I dance in the water under the summer sun

I dive down to catch some fish

I play with my dolphin friends

I love swimming under the hot sun between the boats

and jumping out of the water too. 

Olivia E, Y4, Aged 8, St Andrews College


Sand being blown on the beach

Beach charcoal crackling in the barbecue

Green luscious leaves rustling on the tree

Blocks of ice melting oh so slowly

Maria, 8 years, Ilam School

Your Summer Recipe

Grab your bowl, grab your spoon.

Add a cup of sunshine, a teaspoon of pool parties

Sieve in the laughter and mix it all together

Pour in a bonfire on the beach

Slosh in your ice cream

Blend it up and add endless laughter

Let it cook,

and you have summer.

Amelia W, 11 years old, Selwyn House School


I come from the coal black seeds of watermelon

I gaze up to the sun

I wait for the rainbow I see the horizon

Come back summer!

Libby F, age 7, Y4, Ilam School


Shimmery summer heat haze, norwester days.

Footprints sink in the gleaming sand.

The reef underwater is like a patchwork of pōhutukawa.

Sleek dolphins pounce out of the water.

Shimmery summer heat haze, norwester days.

Surfboard fins glide on snowy tips at the speed of lightning.

Cold droplets shower on me from the mighty manus.

The rope fishing line dangles from the rickety pier.

Shimmery summer heat haze, norwester days.

Emily P, Y6, Fendalton School

Sandy Soul

​Down at the beach

Sand, sea, salt, sun 

all mixed together

sun all shimmery

sea all blue waves

brushing over me

with special salt

glue sand, sand

in my hair

on the car seats

on the towels

everything sand

beach is fun, fun

in the hot, hot sun

Lara I, age 9, Y5, Andrews College 


Summer’s by far my favorite season,

And here are a few of my reasonable reasons.

There’s wickets, tickets, backyard cricket.

Fish’n’chips, kiwi dips, manu flips, watch out for rips!

Cricket bats, bucket hats, stuff like that.

Lots of sun, lots of fun, better bring my water gun.

Peaches, beaches, bye to our teachers.

Swim in the sea, nice summer breeze, it’s forty degrees.

Sea shells, christmas bells, hot sausage smells.

Swim out to catch a wave, better hope those sharks behave.

Waves crashing, fish splashing, crabs dashing.

Way up high, there’s a cloudless sky, no longer July.

Ice cream, in a stream, feel the sunbeam.

Grab sun lotion, at the ocean, make no commotion. 

No more school, chill in the pool, summer rules.

Late at night, it’s still light, cause the suns still shining bright

Christmas day, on the bay, ocean spray.

It’s a good thing, it’s no longer spring, cause summer is better than everything.

Nico, age 10, Y6, Richmond Rd School

Summer Cricket

I got a ticket for the game,

I got a wicket to my name,

great sweep,

outstanding leap.

Cover driver,

everybody’s watching live. 


That’s the match.

The bails go flying

 everybody’s admiring.


 only need a few more. 

He’s a great bowler, 

but he needs to get a little slower.

Throw you in the mix

 and you’ll hit a six.

It sucks

 that I got a gold duck.

Splendid fielding,

batting needs mending.

The stumps are out 

and I’m out and about. 

Defensive shot 

that’s a dot. 

Advance down the ground

to give the ball a pound.


Are the winners on this ground?

Great over 

as powerful as a range rover.

 Keeper catch,

best of the match. 

Boundaries come 

that numb the fielders. 

Great dives, 

but the batsman survives. 

incredible stuff…

that’s tough. 

Joseph R, 10 years old, Year 6, Richmond Road School

Poetry Box Easter challenge: Maisie picks ‘Howling Wolf’

Maisie inspired me to invite you to pick one of my children’s poems and illustrate it.

You could also write your own poem and illustrate it.

I want to post them over the long weekend and have books to give away.

Details here.

By Maisie aged 7. She lives in Auckland and she loves reading and writing stories. Her favourite authors are Jeff Kinney, Andy Griffiths and Roald Dahl. She picked my poem ‘Howling Wolf’ from Groovy Fish (The Cuba Press).

Poetry Box Easter invitation for children: Pick a poem out of one my poetry books and illustrate it! Or write your own!


I am inviting you to pick one of my children’s poems and write it out and illustrate it (this means I don’t have to clear copyright over the long weekend).

Or you can write your own poem and illustrate it

You can email the poem/drawing or you can be holding it in a photo.

I will post them as they arrive!

Deadline: Monday 5th April 4 pm

Send to: paulajoygreen@gmail.com

Include name, age and city or town or village you live in

Don’t forget to put Easter challenge in subject line

I have books to give away!

Poetry Box review: ‘I Talk Like a River’ by Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith

I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott, illustrated by Sydney Smith, Walker Books (UK), first published by Neal Porter Books (USA)

‘I stay quiet as a stone.’

Outside the rain is bucketing down, our water tank is being emptied and cleaned, the kererū are still, the tūī are quiet and I am lost in a children’s book. I have read five sublime children’s books in a row over the past week and today I Talk Like a River feels like the most perfect children’s book I have ever read. It is the winner of The Schneider Family Book Award among loads of others.

Ah. This is such a special book. It is the story of a young boy who stutters. He wakes up in the morning and finds letters for things, but can’t make the sounds of all the words. He is teased at school and it is a nightmare when the teacher asks him a question.

I am not going to ruin the unfolding story by telling you what happens. That would simply spoil the magic.

Instead I am going to tell you how sad I felt about the young boy. That is the power of a good story. It makes you feel. And then like a book miracle I felt joy as I read because the words are so lovingly tended. Jordan Scott is a Canadian poet and it shows in this sweetly crafted book about the struggle to speak out loud. Poetry often plays with how words fit in your ear like music, and Jordan’s words are music on the page. Listen to the honeyed murmur of alliteration. Then sink into the metaphors that help us move closer to what the boy feels.

The P

in pine tree

grows roots

inside my mouth

and tangles

my tongue.

The boy’s father is a treasure. He takes his troubled son to the river. Jordan tells us in his moving endnote that he is a stutterer, and how his father helped him.

I am reading this story thinking about how we all have different fluencies: when we write poems, tell stories, choose what clothes to wear, plant a garden, bake a cake, sing a song, walk down the road, swim in the river, try to fit in, speak. I am thinking we sometimes need different ways of seeing and understanding how we are. How we manage the obstacles we face. The boy’s father gets this. How I love his wisdom. How we can learn from him.

Sydney Smith’s illustrations are also perfect. They are like smudgy watercolour washes that offer impressions and are mood rich. The boy sometimes worries his face shows his troubled scared state when the other children mock and sneer. The faces in the book are often smudged and hard to decipher as though the paint is finding its own stuttery fluency. Utterly sublime.

I will carry this book in my heart for a long time. I hope it finds a home in the hearts of young (and older) New Zealanders.

A New York Times Best Children’s Book of the Year

An American Library Association Notable Children’s Book
Named a Best Book of the Year by The Wall Street Journal, People Magazine, NPR, Kirkus Reviews, Shelf Awareness, Bookpage, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Publishers Lunch, and more!
A Horn Book Fanfare Best Book of the Year
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
A Chicago Public Library Best Book of the Year
A CBC Best Picture Book of the Year

Poetry Box review: Kate Parker’s Kōwhai and the Giants

Kōwhai and the Giants, Kate Parker, Little Love, 2021

Kate Parker’s Kōwhai and the Giants gets three big ticks from me. Unlike many children’s books it provides details on the illustrations along with an author bio. I like this. I wish all children’s books did it. Two very big ticks. The third big tick is really a whole forest of ticks because the writing and the illustrations are dreamy and gorgeous and important.

Kate Parker is of Ngāti Maniapoto, English and Greek descent, and grew up riding horses and bush roaming in Kāeo, in the Far North. She is a theatre-maker and an artist living in West Auckland. A perfect place for someone who loves wildlife, the bush and the sea.

Kate’s artworks for the book were created during an artist’s residency at Anawhata and were displayed at the Arataki Visitors Centre in 2017. The work is back up at the Centre until May 3rd. The images were made from hand-cut paper, put in plywood boxes and lit from behind (see image above). As illustrations in a book they work so beautifully – magical, luminescent and, like much poetry, they offer complexity and simplicity. A sweet sweet combination in a picture book.

I live in a house in a clearing in the bush and can see the tail end of the Waitākere ranges. Our cabbage trees are in flower at the moment and the kererū are going crazy for the blooms. They whoosh and flap, fast and loud, from one tree to the next. In the bush where we live the kauri and tōtara are growing up amongst the mānuka and kānuka. The regenerating bush is something to protect and to celebrate.

A kōwhai tree is at the centre of Kate’s book. We see everything through the tree’s eyes. The story begins when Aotearoa was rich in tree and bird life, but without people. We are then carried along to the the arrival of the first people (the Māori), and later to the arrival and hunger of the second comers (the settlers). So many forests were wiped out after the second comers arrived, the natural habitat of the birds threatened.

Three words resonate for me: breath, birdsong and hope. The story is so exquisitely crafted: simple, poetic, vital. My ears and eyes look and listen harder. I am reminded of the way the forest is a living breathing entity. I am reminded of the way we can stand still in the bush and hear native birdsong. I am also reminded of how stories and poems breathe and sing. Kate’s story is alive with breath and song – and out of that comes hope. I love that.

Kōwhai called out, and her voice

was mist and wind and rustling wings.

Some heard her. Others did not.

She held her arms wide, but she could

not stop the great giants falling.

I am feeling such terrible sadness at what we have lost and are still losing as I read this book. Tree sadness. Planet sadness. BUT this is a story of hope. Yes I am still feeling morning sadness but HOPE is in the carried seed, the planted seed, the little actions that are the tiny steps to help our planet (okay I know we need the bigger steps that Governments must put in place) but little steps can help too. Hope is in the native birds dropping seeds on the bush where I live.

Kōwhai and the Giants is clearly written by an author and artist who cares about our planet and wants to do something to help. An information page tells you to be native-plant detectives and discover more about planting native seeds / seedlings in whichever neighbourhood you live in. Once upon a time all kinds of ferns and trees and vines would have lived there!

So YES a FOREST of TICKS for Kōwhai and the Giants. It is an essential book to share with children. It is a terrific starting point for discussions – and a springboard for plantings both in the soil and in children’s own stories and artwork. A sublime gift gifted out of aroha and mahi. Thank you.

$3 from the sale of each book goes to Forest & Bird. You can find more information and activities and their website.

Kate Parker website

Little Love page

Kōwhai and the Giants FB page

Poetry Box review: Sandra Morris’s North & South: A Tale of Two Hemispheres

North & South: A Tale of Two Hemispheres, Sandra Morris, Walker Books, 2021

This week I am reviewing three New Zealand picture books that have caught my attention. On Tuesday Melinda Szymanik and Malene Laugesen’s beautiful Moon & Sun with its friendship wisdom, and on Wednesday Elena de Roo and Jenny Cooper’s sublime long poem Rush! Rush!, an exhibition of word joy and picture exuberance.

Today Sandra Morris‘s North & South: A Tale of Two Hemispheres. This magnificent book was motivated by climate change, by a need to join together to do our utmost to save our precious planet. Sandra has used her strengths (writing and illustrating) to draw us close to Earth. I love this book so much. I love the care both author and publisher have put into the book; it makes the subject matter doubly precious.

The book is divided into the months of the year. A double page for each month with the northern hemisphere on one side and the southern hemisphere on the other. Each hemisphere features particular animals and both animals are linked by a theme. This carefully planned focus is genius. We slow down and we look at an animal in detail. The connecting themes range from ‘Cunning Camouflage’ to ‘Mothers and Babies’, ‘Feisty Feathers’, ‘Showing Off’, ‘Building a Home’ ‘Armoured Animals’ (there are twelve!).

We explore the way animals manage the different seasons and climates.

In the deserts of Western Australia, some

honeypot ants have a special role as food larders.

During the flowering season they gorge on nectar

so their bellies swell up like balloons.

Sandra also includes the conservation status of the selected animals and the threats they face. There is a glossary and an index at the back.

The illustrations are simply divine. You feel like you are with the animal, you are discovering the animal, and you are most certainly absorbing its preciousness.

The writing is equally sublime. Factual books can rely on matter-of-fact writing and be very good indeed, but Sandra’s sentences bring the subject matter to life so beautifully. The sentences flow like honey – she dips into the poetry pot and uses alliteration and words that sound good in your ear. She keeps things simple but she makes words sing and thus makes the animals so alive.

With his beautiful

bright-blue feet, the

blue-footed booby

steps, struts, stomps

and, pointing his bill

skywards, makes high-

pitched whistles.

I learnt a lot as I lingered over animals I knew very little about along with those I did. Such fascinating facts. Such fascinating connections. Sandra spent a lot of time researching before she started writing and it shows. She had to ditch some animals after sadly discovering they were now extinct. Her chosen animals are very much alive but in many cases very much under threat.

The green tree python mother guards her eggs,

keeping them warm by coiling her body around

them in her nest in a hollow tree. January marks

the end of the mating season.


More than any book I have read in ages, North & South makes me feel the precious of both wildlife and the planet as an interconnected whole. When I read the list of things at the back of the book I can do to help stop climate change, I know I want to do better.

This beautiful, lovingly-produced, wisely-structured, astutely-researched, goose-bumpingly illustrated and word-nectared book is an utter JOY TO EXPERIENCE.

A sumptuous book we should gift every child this year, put on every school bookshelf, on every family kitchen table and then take time to read for ourselves with an excited swarm of children.

Sandra Morris is an author and illustrator from New Zealand. She gained her Masters in Fine Arts in 1990 where she completed her first picture book, One Lonely Kakapo, which won her the Russell Clark award for illustration in 1992. She has since written and illustrated Discovering New Zealand Birds, which was a finalist in both the Aim Children’s Book Awards and the Non Fiction Library awards. Sandra also holds a Graduate Diploma in Plant and Wildlife Illustration from the University of Newcastle, Australia. It was while she was in Australia that she developed a love for field sketching and this work has been exhibited in museums and galleries. Sandra also runs her own illustration agency promoting New Zealand illustrators overseas. Sensational Survivors was her first book with Walker Books. It was a finalist in both the Non-Fiction category of the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards, 2011; and the Elsie Locke (Non Fiction) Award, LIANZA Children’s Book Awards, 2011; and also named as a Notable Young Adult Fiction, Storylines Notable Books List, 2011.

Walker Books page

Poetry Box review: ‘Rush! Rush!’ by Elena de Roo, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

Rush! Rush! by Elena de Roo, illustrated by Jenny Cooper, One Tree House, 2021

Over the fence,

and down with a whoosh!

Onto the track!

Into the bush.

Elena de Roo is my favourite New Zealand poet for children and I have long hoped for a collection from her. Her new book Rush! Rush! is definitely a start. The book-length poem is an absolute JOY to read. A young girl is racing to get from home to the beach. Maestro illustrator Jenny Cooper has painted the girl in her pyjamas and dressing gown, because she has pulled the curtains back, peeked at the beautiful day, and then whizzed through the door. Rush! Rush! Rush! The illustrations are sublime. So full of exuberant life. Read the book and savour the images as you race along with the poem and the girl. You will get breathless too!

Every word is pitch perfect. One of the reasons (and there are many) I admire Elena as a poet is because she has a deft musical ear. She listens to how the line sounds. She avoids the clunky predictable rhythms and rhymes of so many picture books. She catches the rhythm of a child rushing, breathing in sights and sounds, and who is too excited to stop. The rhymes are a treat, especially the near rhymes that add knottiness to the musical flow (blind / time; sheep / bleat). She dances between soft and sharp sounds. Ah! she is a poet musician extraordinaire!

It felt like I read the story poem in one delicious breath – and I really liked the ending. A perfect ending (a single word!) to open the story wide like the girl’s arms stretched wide on the cover.

This book is a JOYFUL INVIGORATING POETRY treat and would be the very best book to read aloud to a class or your children. I was reminded of Margaret Mahy’s fabulous A Summery Saturday Morning. I love Rush! Rush! And it has given me an idea for my April Poetry Challenge.

Swoop round the shed,

In a ground-hugging loop.

What’s all the fuss about?

Rattles the roof.

Elena de Roo completed this book when she was the 2020 University of Otago College of Education / Creative NZ Children’s Writer in Residence. She has written a number of award-winning books and lives in Auckland.

Jenny Cooper is an award-winning illustrator and has illustrated more than 70 books. She lives in Amberley, Christchurch.

One Tree House page

Elena de Roo website