October, October Katya Balen, illus. Angela Harding, Bloomsbury, 2020
This was one of a bundle of books I bought online to celebrate the arrival of Wellington’s Good Books in the world (cracking good book delivery service, even rural!).
In a nutshell: this book is a gold nugget of a book. This book and me, well we are a perfect fit.
October and her father live in the woods and they are WILD. They live off the land. They can read the trees and the skies and the stars and each other. They like to be far far away from the busy world, especially London the nearest city. But then when October turns eleven everything turns upside down. She rescues a baby owl, even when they usually leave the birds alone. And then her birthday sets a chain of events clanging.
I knew nothing about the book bar what I read on the back (pretty much what I have written above) so I got to experience the surprise, the kicks, the tough choices, the learning curves without knowing what would be happening next. I love that!
So all I want to share with you is that this book is top-shelf heaven to read. October is an extraordinary young girl who gets to be fierce and grumpy and resistant and wise.
The writing will sing for you. Every sentence is songbird material. Every sentence filled me with sentence happiness. With some books the sentences deliver magnificent stories and that is absolutely okay, but with other books terrific sentences deliver magnificent stories. This is the latter.
October October is a story of resilience, discovery, warmth, learning, care, and much aroha. It is Poetry Box GOLD and I recommend it highly. I am now on the hunt for Katya’s debut book, The Space We’re In.
Katya Balen lives in London. She studied English at university and completed an MPhil researching the impact of stories on autistic children’s behaviour. She has worked in a variety of special needs schools as a teaching assistant, and more recently co-founded Mainspring Arts – a not-for-profit that provides mentoring and creative opportunities for neurodivergent adults.
I have read a lot of astonishing children’s books this year ( a whole raft published by Gecko Press), but Shilo Kino’s debut novel The Pōrangi Boy has affected me like no other. I just love it. It is my children’s book of 2020. I love it because it makes me feel and it makes me think, and it foregrounds Māori characters and issues, and it is prismatic with life and wisdom.
Shilo Kino, Ngā Puhi, Tainui, is a journalist and writer living in Auckland. She is a reporter for Marae, the current affairs show, and was a finalist for best Māori Affairs Reporter at the Voyager Media Awards 2020. She has written for The Guardian, The Spinoff and The Pantograph Punch.
The Pōrangi Boy centres on Nico (Nikora Heke Te Kainga-mataa of Pohe Bay) who is picked on at school, but he keeps his head down, and doesn’t blab when his face is forced down the toilet. He is called ‘pōrangi’ (mad, crazy), but this is what his grandfather is called. His grandfather is his anchor, his mentor, a much-loved presence who passes down stories, knowledge, ways of doing things. Anger, his grandfather says, is poison. When a prison is planned in the small town, on sacred ground where a taniwha lives, Nico and his grandfather get set to stop it.
The story is structured like a braided river, with its before, after and now strands interwoven; at the centre is the red hot event from which Nico measures time. I want you to read the book, and experience the unfolding braids yourself, so I am holding back on revelations.
Instead I want to celebrate the glorious and complicated humanity of the story. Its utter necessity. The way it radiates with life. Its dialogue glows. The Pōrangi Boy underlines the importance of Māori history, the whenua, taonga, te tikanga, te reo Māori, whānau, of our foundation document, the Treaty of Waitangi, of protest, of listening, reading, writing. Shilo is not delivering school lessons for readers, but all these critical elements are in the writing ink that drives the story. And crikey do they matter. You are held in the grip of story (I couldn’t put the book down), in how things are turning out, along with the characters and their challenges, but there are so many vital layers. There is a racist teacher (Nico’s) who makes my blood boil with her limited views on learning and teaching practice. There is a teacher who sides with Nico and the prison-land protesters, who brings food and who has always listened to Nico rather than laugh or sneer at him. There is the uncle who aligns with the developers and who beats his son. There is a 12-year-old boy ready to stand up and make the speech of his life in court.
People do not always fit into tidy behaviour boxes. Good and bad are not always clear-cut divisions. Resolutions are not always easy. In this pandemic year, and this year of #blacklivesmatter, of Ihumātao, of statistics that hold tough stories (not just numbers) for individual people and families across the globe, in the anecdotes of care and human dedication – there are core values in the novel that resonate so very deeply. Read this glorious book and you will read what it can be to be human. You will listen to meanness and greed, bullying and white privilege; and you will listen to the wisdom of a grandfather, an aunt, a young boy finding ways to be kind, courageous, to grieve, to celebrate, to be Māori, to be part of his whanau. To be himself. To be kind to himself and to those nearby. To learn and acquire strength. To stand up and to speak out.
Beautifully written, lovingly published, this is a book to celebrate and share.
Some excellent links!
Cassie (J.C.) Hart (Kāi Tahu) met Shilo Kino (Ngāpuhi, Tainui) in July of 2018 as part of the Te Papa Tupu programme. The interview about Shilo’s new book can be found at The Sapling.
Sam Bratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram, Will You Be My Friend? Walker Books 2020
Will You Be My Friend?is a delightful sequel to Sam Bratney’s Guess How Much I love You,. It begins with Little Nutbrown Hare wanting to play and Big Nutbrown Hare too busy with a zillion things to be done. No time for play! Ah how to solve this? Little Nutbrown is allowed to go and play by himself as long as he doesn’t go too far. What adventure! What a double adventure when he discovers another hare staring back at him from a puddle. What a triple adventure when a shadow hare bounds and skedoobles after him.
But then! Oh crikey! Little Nutbrown Hare comes across a real hare. Not a hiding in a puddle hare or a running close behind him shadow hare. He has met Cloudy Mountain Hare and she most definitely wants to play.
This is exactly the right book to snuggle in with when you feel like a dose of good feelings because this is a story of friendship. And sometimes that is just the ticket – no matter whether it is blazing hot, or raging wind, or thumping rain outside.
The writing is exquisite and Anita Jeram’s illustrations are a perfect fit.
A sweet sweet book – especially to read with with someone else. Or to give someone who needs a little boost of picture book love.
Sam McBratney is also the author of You’re All My Favourites, illustrated by Anita Jeram; There, There and Just You and Me, illustrated by Ivan Bates; and many other books for children. He lives in Northern Ireland.
Anita Jeram is also the illustrator of You’re All My Favourites by Sam McBratney, Little Chick and a series about Sam and Mrs Bear by Amy Hest, and Skip to the Loo, My Darling! by Sally Lloyd-Jones, amongst other books. Anita Jeram lives in Northern Ireland.
Oliver Jeffers, What We’ll Build: Plans for Our Together Future, HarperCollins, 2020
Oliver Jeffers is from Belfast but now lives in Brooklyn, New York. He has published a stack of children’s books that are always extremely inviting, are much loved, and win awards!
Oliver’s new book What We’ll Build: Plans for Our Together Future is a gorgeous, make-you-warm-inside story that follows all the things a father and daughter might build together. They start with a door (think of the endless possibilities a door has) and move onto a home, but then imaginations go leaping, and they are building love to put aside for when they may need it. And yes! a comfy place to hang out together (a hammock!).
At the end of our pandemic catastrophe year, I have been musing on what I can build. What we can build as a world. As a community. A family. As just one person itching to make and create. After so many challenges and hurdles and cracks in the pavement, it is very good to think of things you can make. Things that will make you feel good – and maybe someone else feel good – as you make them, alone or together. In your imagination or in real life. Both can work.
This heavenly picture book might get you making lists and get you dreaming! Get you making one small thing!
One small thing that makes me feel good is giving books away and I want to do more of that in 2021! I especially like giving picture books to grandmas and grandads, as well as young children. Grandmas and Grandads would LOVE this book!
so yes …
This is the perfect book to give someone of any age– a little bundle of warmth and surprise that will make them feel warm and cosy as they read (yes there is a fire to be sat around under the starry heavens). This is a book you can sit around like a fire and read with someone you love! It is rather glorious!
Let me know if you have a gran or grandad you would like to give this book to and I will give away one copy to a child who has a grandparent they would love to give it to. firstname.lastname@example.org By January 10th
thanks everyone who sent in poems in 2020 and making Poetry Box so special
It has taken me ages to read all your scrumptious food poems (hundreds of them!) with such sweet salty sour sizzling wordchoices. I loved the way your imaginations leapt and trampolined, and your poems made me want to eat yummy things.
Too many poems to post them all – butthe challenge is to have fun writing poetry and to play with words and ideas. And you have done a SMORGASBORD of that. What fun.
I always feel sad I can’t pick all your poems, but I hope you keep up the poetry loveover summer and try writing a poem of your own.
I have had big problems doing this post so if your poem is set out wrong or I haven’t replied to you let me know. email@example.com
AND then in March 2021 try my first poem challenge of the year.
Poetry Box is never hosting competitions (so no winners and losers) but invites you to try new and old things when it comes to writing a poem.
I was inspired to do the food challenge by the excellent Egg & Spoon cookbook (Alexander Tylee and Giselle Clarkson). Gecko Press have kindly given me two copies to give away. I am giving them to: Harry S from Fendalton School and Finn B from Russley School.
When mum’s in the kitchen the smell of fresh pie fills the rooms of my house then it sneaks out.
Vitek M, 7 years old, Y2, Ilam School
A Bed of Clams
Cranky, clinky clams
Checked rough patterns
burrowing like kids in bed
Finn B Year 3 Russley School
My Morning Porridge
My morning porridge Steaming in pot Nutritious warmth trapped inside Just oats and creamy milk My morning porridge Melting in your mouth Leaving me with a warm glow in my tummy Ready for a long day at school My morning porridge Raspberry, blueberries and banana Fruit explosions Sticking to my face I lick up the warm goodness Of my morning porridge
Phoebe, age 12, Selwyn House
French waffles in snowy Paris with a little dog tied to a dark leather lead drinking cold glistening water looking at my waffle with its golden crispy coat
Harry S age 9 year 4 Fendalton School
A crumb, falling, birds chomping, flying away, a competition, starting in the sky.
Maia-Sophia B Age: 11 Ilam School
Crispy Egg Tarts
Crispy egg tarts Have a lovely crunch to them A hot egg jelly inside
Joyce X, age 9, Fendalton Open Air School
I have a dog a black as coal dog. Her name is Poppy whenever we go to the park she lets herself loose out on the field and slowly gets tired and sits down beside me begging for food of course. I refuse she runs as fast as thunder to an open can of cold spaghetti Yum yum!
Libby, age 7, Ilam School
Poems from Richmond Rd School
Crunchy Seaweed and squishy rice With a surprise in the middle Curled up like a cylinder With a tasty texture.
By Kaden, Ana Cooper O and Meadow
Sticky sweet suckers, Dissolving in my mouth. Slippery on your tongue. Melty in your mouth, Super sweet and sticky, Sour surprises!
By Felix and Issy, Feddie and Sophia L
It is super sweet on your tongue It’s like a crooked, fat, witches nose. It’s a glowing heart with black freckles.
By Sophia L and Feddie
Red and juicy flesh in my mouth A sweet surprise in the shape of a love heart Full of seeds and nice and squishy Like a precious red ruby.
By Issy and Felix
Pale orange like the sun Setting across the silver sea It’s as juicy as a melting ice block
By Cooper and Meadow
MORE Scrumptious Food Poems
My annoying brother
It’s 6 am, I feel like it’s 1, Stomp, stomp, stomp. I hear heavy footsteps downstairs. I slip my slippers on and my dressing gown. I tiptoe out of my room, open the door, creek! The door creeks open, I continue to tiptoe down the stairs. I reach the bottom of the stairs. My arm is reaching for a torch nearby. I turn it on. Crunch, munch, crunch. I head towards the kitchen door. My brother yells, ‘AHH!’ ‘It’s okay, it’s okay it is only me’ I say calmly. I stride across the floor to where he’s sitting bolt upright on a stool opposite a counter full of biscuits and chocolate. ‘WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU DOING? ‘Eating breakfast’ My brother said with a nervous tone. ‘Oh really?
Isabella G Age:10 Selwyn House School
I like FOOD
I have travelled the world
And tasted food of all kinds
Here are just some
That spring to my mind
The food in France
Sent me into a trance
In Finland I ate bold
Because I was so cold
In Aussie it was easy
To find food that was greasy
The buffets of Singapore
Have all food types – and more
In Canada, poutine
Hawaii has loco moco
In America, alligator
Couscous in Morocco
Fettucine, fish, frankfurters and fruit
Oreos, oranges, Opera cakes
Oats, omelettes, or oxtail soup
Dumplings, donuts, duck and dates
There is so much food! But I have to say
The thing that I like most
Is what I eat at home every day…
Peanut buttery toast!
Daniel L, age 12, Y7, Hadlow School
It’s a warm and sunny day
To be on the gorgeous bay
I am jumping and splashing
And oh! I hear loud screeching
I swish, jump and turn around
See a car going around
I see an ice cream on top
Of the car that makes me hop
I quickly run to my dad
He pulls dollars out and I’m glad
He replies : “You are in luck!”
So I run straight to the truck
I now have a chocolate chip
Ice cream in chocolate dip
IT’S SO YUMMY!
Leo Y Year 7 Age 11, Russley School
The shopping list: 210 grams of crimson red salmon 2 eggs 2 tablespoons of self-raising flour 1-2 tablespoons of stinky vinegar.
The Classic Method Drain the liquid of the salmon and replace with the smelliest vinegar you can find In a bowl, beat up the eggs…but don’t bully them Mix the flour into the bullied eggs Now add the salmon and mix well, like soil and water In a frying pan, add a pat of butter and oil Once you have heated it up enough, you will hear sizzling like the sounds of summer Add the mushy mixture in tablespoon lots and cook until the mixture sets. Or before Christmas comes With an egg slicer turn the patties repeatedly until nice and crispy brown…or when your heart desires You can now officially munch your salmon patties up. Pro tip: Eat before your family discovers that you’re eating the yummiest recipe ever
Niya K Age: 10 Ilam School Canterbury
How to make breakfast:
First you take the bread out of the freezer. Then you heat it up using the heater. Next you put it in the toaster and heat it up nice. While you wait, get some water and put in some ice. When the toast is done, take a butter knife to spread the peanut butter. Then put the cheese on the toast using a cheese cutter. When the breakfast meal is completed, Well, now you can eat it!
Scarlett B 11 yrs old Yr 6 College Street Normal School
My slim fingers dig into the slimy spaghetti spilled on my plate. The sauce bubbles through my teeth, slowly slips away down my throat, scratches my insides like tiger’s teeth rippling down my belly.
Eliska M, 9 years old, Y5 Ilam School
nicely toasted soft tortillas crumble into my mouth
fresh and thick sour cream changes the taste
crumbs wrapped around my fish like a cloak
red onion dancing along my taste buds sharing its song
leafy coriander reminds me of trees
sriracha sauce giving it a kick to top it off
Violetta, aged 11, Selwyn House School
LS4 Middle School at Westmere
Once I ate a snail, which left a snail trail, on my tongue!
It could have been less blubbery and very much less flubbery. The little thing daren’t go down.
I liked it but I couldn’t. I’d like it if it didn’t make me have to chew and grind and swallow it whole!
At first it tasted like olives. just a flavoured bit of fat, but after a while I thought… “I’ll never stomach that!”
My Ode to Malaysian
Oh Malaysian, Malaysian You are the best. Your roti is like a pancake. Your spicy chicken blows me away, probably because you are in a curry!
Oh Malaysian, Malaysian I love your pineapple and coconut milkshake. It wakes me up the moment I sip it. I love you from my head to my feet.
Oh Malaysian, Malaysian You are my love. When I eat you I feel like a dove! I will never let you go, not for a month. No, not time to go! Do I have to wait another week?
Potato Top Pie!
Potato top pie so creamy and delicious. On the top, a potato tornado, swirling like the wind on a breezy day. It’s my favourite in the world! I find it extraordinary. It melts in my mouth, like an ice cream on a hot day. Out of all the pies, this is the best. Do you like it too? I do! Potato top pie.
Fish and Chips
Fish and chips. Crunching and munching on these delightful chips! Soft in the middle crunchy on the outside. Man, I can’t stop munching on these fish and chips. Little bit sweet little bit sour. Just the perfect flavour. Ohhhhh! This is the food! Fish and chips. Crunching and munching on these delightful chips!
Pizza, Pizza, Pizza It’s time to make a base. Knead, knead, knead, knead stretch, stretch, pull.
Pizza, Pizza, Pizza It’s time to spread the sauce. Dollop, dollop,spread, spread We could add some gorse?
Pizza, Pizza, Pizza It’s time to lay the toppings. Mushrooms, salami and olives too. Plop! on the pizza, Yum for you!
Pizza, Pizza, Pizza. It’s time to sprinkle the cheese. Sprinkle, sprinkle, sprinkle Pizza for me!
Pizza, Pizza, Pizza It’s time to cook it brown. Bake, bake, bake, bake, Turn the oven down.
Pizza, Pizza, Pizza It’s time to eat it up!
Share, share, share, share, YUM, YUM, YUM!
Year One Richmond Road School
Fish sizzling in a frying pan Odorous onions make me cry Sour lemon makes my face funny Popcorn fireworks blowing through the air Chicken drumsticks feel so slippery and greasy
Trish’s year 1 class Richmond Road School
Radishes as red as a tomato Apples as golden as a medal Ice cream is as brown as a raisin Nectarines are as yellow as a buttercup Broccoli is as green as mint Oranges are as orange as Fruit Bursts Watermelon as pink as a pig Spaghetti as beige as a building block
Trish’s year 1 class Richmond Road School
Crunchy munchy chicken chips Handful of happiness In my puku Potatoes at their best Salty, spicy, scrumptious!
Trish’s year 1 class Richmond Road School
6 & 7 year olds at Westmere School
My Food! My Food!
My cat likes fish, YUK! I don’t like fish! I love strawberries. They’re really juicy! Mmmmmmm. I lick my lips when I see them. YAY!
Chloe H Age 7
I hate dark chocolate. I love pepperoni pizza with cheese. I love mango flavoured ice cream I hate Peas!
Yosei F Age 6
Ice Cream and Food
I like chocolate and ice cream But I hate smoked salmon. Yuk! I like pizza pineapple and ham pizza, Yum! I hate rice and peas mixed in a bowl. I love broccoli and chicken. I love strawberries and ice cream and popcorn. YUM!
Chloe P Age 6
Soft buns. It has tomato sauce that goes well with mustard as hot as hot chocolate. The chips are so salty I need a sip of water, with ice.
Henry P Age 7
5 year olds at WestmereSchool
When you take a bite of watermelon, does it dribble down your chin Yes it does! When I take bite of watermelon I spit out the seeds!
I do not like egg It tastes yukky. (But I like eggs in cakes…)
My favourite food is bubblegum I love bubblegum because I like making bubbles. You make bubbles by chewing and chewing and chewing then you BLOW!
and lastly, a couple of combined poem from Westmere 5 year olds ….
The jelly is like a frog, slimy. The jelly looks like a cloud. The jelly is slippery, slimy. The jelly is as yummy as an ice cream and it is jiggly. The jelly is really wriggly. The jelly is as wobbly as santa’s hat. The jelly is like a slippery mushy bubble. The jelly is as wobbly as your shivering hands. The jelly is as cold as the frozen strawberry. The jelly is wriggly as a tickly hand. The jelly is wobbly like a wriggly worm and I like it. The jelly is jiggly jelly and it is shiny like the ocean because it is watery. The jelly is cold like the north pole. The jelly is as wobbly as Santa’s hat. The jelly is cold and wobbly and it’s yummy. The jiggly wiggly jelly is like a frog. The jelly is as jiggly as a worm. The jelly is like Santa’s hat and it is as wobbly as a penguin. The jelly is like super slimy on my hand.
Even MORE tasty food poems
Red cherries in a tree, Falling on top of me. And I eat them up. So delicious! They come in twins, And different shades of red.
Mia W Y5 age 9, Fendalton Open Air School
How to Live a Long Time
Noodles (Ideally long)
Wait until your birthday
Go to a noodle shop or canteen
Choose very thin and long noodles which symbolise long life
Then tell funny jokes which make you live even longer
Drink lots of water
Now you know how to live a long time, good luck!
Sam| 8 years old|Year 4| Russley School
I like pizza and lasagna. I like tacos and macho nachos. I like salt and vinegar chips with my fish. I like pumpkin soup with bread in bed. I like chicken drumsticks with sauce. I eat them without pause. When it’s halloween I am a candy and chocolate eating machine. When it’s Christmas time… it’s always turkey with some gravy.
Theo M Age:10 Richmond Road School
Cotton candy Twisty, twirly Wispy, whirly.
Melts in my mouth. Sugary sweet My favourite candy, I love to eat. Like a pile of fluff bundled up in a tuft.
Cotton candy Twisty, twirly Wispy, whirly.
Parker age 9 Richmond Rd School
Big Roast Beef
Its raining big roast beef today How much beef ? It’s hard to say!
They plummet down, one by one , A Christmas treat! Oh what such fun!
Charlie M Age 9 Richmond Rd School
Churton Park School poems
You are my worst nightmare I hate you so much Every bite haunts me WHY DO YOU HAVE TO EXIST!
If I were you I would pack your bags And move to a different UNIVERSE. All the different types of broccoli, Fried, microwaved, cheesy and boiled I HATE THEM ALL!
Do you get what I’m meaning NOW? Do you understand? I’ll say it one more time DON”T STAY HERE AND DO NOT COME BACK!
Kate, 11, Churton Park School
Ode to Chip
Oh, lovely chip filled with joy You make people happy every second of the day You make people scrunch their face with your salty sensation and you can come in different sizes like big and small Your obvious texture feels nice on your tongue Crunchy and smooth we love them all soft or crunchy.
Jacob L Age 11 Churton Park School
Mac and cheese recipe
CHEESE,CHEESE, CHEESE Melting in a pot! Fake cheese fake cheese fake cheese Melting in a pot! Noodle noodle noodle boiling in a pot! bacon bacon bacon sizzling in a pan! Noodles noodles noodles strained into the sink cheesy sauce and bacon being added to a bowl mixing mixing mixing mac and cheese in a bowl
Mya, 11, Year 6, Churton Park School
A Food Poem
Water tasting like salt and pepper Noodles curling like long snakes Tender red meat tasting like heaven Fresh green leaves garnished around A red hot chilli sitting all by itself
Pranavi, Year 6, Churton Park School, Wellington
Dear Lasagne, Sticky layers of pasta roll across my tongue Fleshy mince melts in my mouth Cheesy paste explodes in my mouth like a volcano A creamy smell of your sauce wafts into my delighted nose. My stomach bulges as I take the last satisfying bite
Dylan age 11 Churton Park School
Sitting down at a birthday party, folding my legs. I grab a small slice of cake. I slowly bite into it, I feel a light spongy mushy texture with a hint of sugar“ So delicious, freshly out of the oven so soft. I enjoy every single bit of it, the sun shining on my face.
Courtney-Jane Age – 10 Year – 6, Churton Park School
A rippling cascade of chocolatey deliciousness Coating a minuscule slice of crispy apple Smothering a cube of almost sour kiwifruit And hardening over a freshly skewered strawberry
The fountain bubbles slightly But otherwise flows smoothly on top of a dipped banana Making an archway underneath And covering the sweet fruit with chocolate
As I bring one to my mouth The molten chocolate dribbles onto the table, Drips a bit And starts to harden
Kyra, Age 1, Churton Park School
An extra feast of delicious poems
Watermelon brother of the pumpkin * Watermelon son of the pumpkin king * Under his cap the watermelons’ pink room * In the quiet darkness the moon shadows the watermelon * From my tree-house it rains watermelon seeds
Tom N, Y7, age 12, Christchurch South Intermediate
I am cooking Christmas Dinner
it is the BEST thing that you will EVER taste
For the meat I am using turkey, deep fried
in coconut oil
with goat tongue and boar tripe
garnished with turtle eyes.
For the vegetables I am making
eggplant boiled in camomile and dandelion root tea,