Author Archives: Paula Green

Poetry Box review: The Polar Bear by Jenni Desmond

The Polar Bear, Jenni Desmond, Enchanted Lion Books, 2016

The Polar Bear book is sublime from tip to toe. It came out a few years ago but I want to share it with you! The opening page is heavenly and got me musing on the joy of reading as a child – AND also on the joy of reaching for a new book as an adult. We are talking a lot, lately, about why books are important in the lives of children. Books are a source of information, of seeing and understanding the world up close and from a distance. They might evoke all kinds of feelings: happy, sad, challenged, enlightened, comforted. They offer diversion, entertainment, amusement.

There on the first page of The Polar Bear a young girl, in her bright red crown, lies on a comfy couch and reads to her enthralled audience of stuffed toys. She is reading the book I am holding and I am as enthralled as the tiny rabbit!

The Polar Bear is an extremely informative book. It shines multiple lights on polar bears because, like so many animals on our planet, the polar bear is under threat from climate change.

I learnt so much. You will find answers to:

How do polar bears keep warm when the air is so cold your breath will instantly freeze?

What sound do polar bears make (the words deserve a poem!)

What are the paws of polar bears good for?

Why are polar bear eyes like a pair of sunglasses?

Jenni’s illustrations are breathtaking! So expressive. She uses watercolours, acrylics, crayons, pencils and printmaking techniques. The polar bear glows with life and hope.

The Polar Bear is a book to treasure, to sit with on a comfy couch or in a classroom and read to an enthralled audience!

Jenni Desmond is a picture book maker based in Hackney, London UK.  In 2015 she won Best Emerging Talent (Illustrator) at the Junior Design Awards, and in 2016 she was made a Maurice Sendak Fellow and her book The Polar Bear  won a prestigious New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books award. Her books have been translated into over 20 languages.

Enchanted Lion Books page

Poetry Box review: Game On! Shrinkle by Emily Snape

Game On! Shrinkle, Emily Snape, EK Books, 2023

Author and illustrator Emily Snape was inspired to write a junior fiction novel by her two sons. They were both reluctant readers who weren’t averse to a bit of sibling rivalry and bickering. Emily’s novel is structured like a computer game with ten levels, a clock that counts down and some puzzles to solve.

The book hooks you on page one with a pong: “spider breath smells worse than rotten eggs”! And now that Max, the narrator, has your attention, he introduces the mind-blowing discovery he and his younger brother made (Shrinkle!). He then rewinds to make a few character introductions. Max AKA Mr Pants AKA MR Super Neat and Organised is sick to his eyeballs with his brother Liam AKA Mr Pranks AKA Mr Messy AKA Mr Problem Maker AKA Mr Problem Solver .

BUT #1! Max has been working on a cool project at school (a timeline of the evolution of video games) and had brought in a drawing of what he saw in the gaming future BUT his prankster brother Liam had swapped loads of undies for the drawing in Max’s school bag. Sniggers all round!

Despite the embarrassing undies start, Max is in good mood because he is going to have the house to himself and a chance to crack the computer game he’s been playing.

BUT #2! Everyone is unexpectedly home and the neighbour Miss McBoob will babysit Max, Liam and baby Clio.

BUT UH OH#3! Liam hacks Miss McBoob’s phone when she nods off and hey presto he and Max shrink to the size of peanuts (give or take). It’s a game called Shrinkle and is controlled by an evil cat. Liam and Max have to solve three riddles and find three objects that match the answers. Easier said than done.

Dive right in: block your nose at the disgusting smells and cover your eyes at the disgusting sights, for this is a rollercoaster action-packed story that will keep you guessing until the ending. Expect baby sister to make an appearance and Liam‘s least favourite thing: a spider!

The story veers between virtual reality and actual reality at a cracking pace. PLUS Liam and Max learn a bit about computer games, a bit about spiders and a lot about being brothers who cooperate with a tricky and rather large problem to solve.

Definitely a book to stock in school libraries and hand out to children who love gaming strategies, surprising twists, fast-paced action with a dollop of the disgusting!

Emily Snape is a children’s author and illustrator living in London. Her work has appeared online, on television, in shops and even on buses! She loves coffee and notebooks, and has three cheeky children, Leo, Fin and Flo, who keep her on her toes and give her lots of inspiration for stories.

EK Books page

Poetry Box review: Endlessly Ever After by Laurel Snyder and Dan Santat

Endlessly Ever After: Pick Your Own Path to Countless Fairy Tale Endings
Laurel Snyder and Dan Santat, Chronicle Books, 2022

Here I go breaking my rules and reviewing a book I didn’t really like! I am breaking my rules because firstly, Endlessly Ever After might be exactly the kind of book you would love, and secondly, it got me thinking about what I love about stories.

Enter this book of fractured fairy tales and you will meet all the familiar faces: Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel, Gretel, Jack, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, a witch, a wolf, a grandmother, a goose, some pigs. But! it is like magic dust has been sprinkled over everything and there is no straight path through the woods and forests of reading! Expect to move all over the show and encounter a truckload of endings right from the start.

On page two you have to pick which coat you want to wear: a cosy fake fur and hop to page 20 or a red cape and skip to page 6. Then you get to go hopping and skipping, switching and picking, from one ending and one beginning to the next.

If you think of this book as a game – like scatter reading – then you will have FUN! But I just got giddy, dizzy and my head ached because I could never settle into the comfort flow of a story. I realised that this is what I love. I love stories that flow like rivers.

Don’t get me wrong! Stories behave in all kinds of ways. There will a thousand ways a river (book) flows. There will river rock pools to dawdle in, cascades to whoosh over, bumpy passages as you jiggle over boulders, curious side streams that need investigating, river banks that catch your attention. Ah yes! there is fluency and there is flow, and it is comfort and exhilarating, inspiring and immensely satisfying.

Children’s picture books and stories can be such brilliant reading rivers. I love beginnings and I love endings, but I also suddenly realised I love the richness and complications of middles. That is what I missed in this book – a good juicy middle – but if you love the thought of tracking a catalogue of surprise endings with a good dose of familiar fairy tale characters, then this is the perfect book for you.

Chronicle Books page

Poetry Box review: ‘Invented by Animals: Meet the creatures who inspired our everyday technology’ by Christiana Dorion and Gosia Herba

Invented by Animals: Meet the creatures who inspired our everyday technology Christiana Dorion and Gosia Herba, Wide Eyed Editions, Quarto Group, 2021

This fabulous book came out a couple of years ago. I picked up a copy when I was browsing for children’s books in Good Books in Wellington. Seems like an eon ago I was at a VERB festival, eating in cafes, book buying, catching up with friends! But this book has stuck with me as the premise is genius. Animals have sparked and aided so many inventions, and helped solve tricky technological problems.

It is kind of like a “Did You Know?” book. I would have adored this as a child hungry for fascinating facts and curious details and a truckload of animal information.

I have never thought about how an octopus is a disguise maestro. They don’t have spines and shells to defend and protect themselves so they are like chameleons. But it is not just a matter of changing colour. They can , for example, stretch out to resemble a sea snake or make the shape of a poisonous flatfish!

I didn’t know that ship builders have copied the rough skin of sharks instead of using toxic paint on the hull to repel barnacles. Wow!

These are just some of the animals that have inspired us to solve and create: the eagle, porcupine, dragonfly, polar bear, kingfisher, spider, penguin, mosquito, bat, dolphin, jellyfish, woodpecker, seahorse, tree frog, earwig, paper wasp, gecko, jumbo squid!

Invented by Animalswas the WINNER OF THE BLUE PETER BOOK AWARDS 2022, has been an international best-seller, and translated into over 25 languages.

The book is an encyclopedia extraordinaire. Every school library and every curious child should have a copy!

Christiane Dorion is an award-winning author and educational consultant. She has written a number of children’s books about the natural world and has worked with WWF and other environmental organisations for over 30 years. You can visit her website

Gosia Herba is an illustrator and art historian originally from Poland. She’s worked as an illustrator of children’s books, graphic novels, magazines, music labels, and advertisements for over 12 years. Website

Quarto group / Wide Eyed edition page

Poetry Box review: Harriet’s Hungry Worms by Samantha Smith and Melissa Johns

Harriet’s Hungry Worms Samantha Smith and Melissa Johns
EK / Exisle Publishing, 2023

I love the idea of starting with a “big green box” and wondering what is in it. If I had read the blurb on the back of the book I would have known it is full of hungry worms! 983 hungry worms that need feeding every day.

I was fascinated to discover what the hungry worms gobbled up! At first Harriet thinks the worms are boring but then she discovers why compost worms are worth feeding. At the back are some worm facts that underline how worms both fascinating and helpful. Here are some favourite facts:

*** worms have lived on Earth for 500 million years

*** worm wee and worm poo are excellent for the garden

*** shiny worms are healthy worms

I was also fascinated to read that worms are choosy eaters (although they do eat a lot!!). Worms like crushed eggshells but not spicy food. They like coffee grinds but not canned sauces. They like vegetable peelings but not loads of garlic and onions.

This book is a pleasure to read with its fascinating facts and revelations but it is made even more delightful by the illustrations. I am loving the current trend for collage-like images in children’s picture books. Melissa’s artwork is sumptuous. I love how it looks like she uses patterned paper to create a collage effect. It offers texture and visual sparkles.

Harriet’s Hungry Worms is extra cool! And it might inspire us to make our worm farm to feed our veggie gardens!

Samantha Smith is a lover of all things green and hopes that her first eco picture book will inspire young worm warriors to roll up their sleeves and put their food scraps to good use.

Melissa Johns is an artist, illustrator, an avid upcycler and a closet poet. She produces artworks predominantly made of recycled materials that lend her work a uniquely whimsical quality. Melissa has also illustrated Growing Pains and Tabitha and the Raincloud, both for EK Books.

EK Books page

Poetry Box review: Nanas with No Manners by Justin Christopher and Minky Stapleton

Nanas with No Manners Justin Christopher and Minky Stapleton
Scholastic, 2023

Sometimes a children’s picture book will tickle the right spot. I have decided there is a whole list of ways a book can tickle your funny bone. You might get a tiny smile at the edge of your mouth if it is a little bit funny, or a wide grin and a nod of the head if it is a medium bit funny. But sometimes, without even trying, you burst into laughter. And that is such a good feeling! That is exactly what happened when I read Nanas with No Manners.

Take a look at the cover. I don’t know why but I burst into laughter when I saw the nana with corn chips in her mouth like fangs. I pictured all the nanas I know sitting at a cafe table with corn chips in their mouths and hands held up like paws, pretending to be wild cats or T Rex. And the whole cafe rolling with laughter!

The three nanas live in the City of Seas and love going on outings together. They especially love eating chocolate nachos with cheese! Is this a thing? In fact they love it so much that is all they will eat when they go out. In every picture the three nanas are crackling and cackling with laughter. Even that makes me want to laugh. Like when someone yawns and I yawn too.

But! Oh dear! Oh disaster. The three fabulous nanas go on holiday to a resort and discover the resort does NOT sell chocolate nachos and cheese – no matter how the three fabulous nanas beg and plead. Oh dear! Oh disaster. The three fabulous manners are now, like the title suggests, three nanas with no manners.

…. and good manners can help in tricky situations … so what will happen next! Not exactly what I expected. But the end of the book put a different kind of smile on my face – that warm cosy smile that shows you have just read something warm and cosy and utterly delightful.

This book is fun. Minky nails the illustrations as she captures the shifting nana moods so beautifully, from gaiety and rumpus fun, to grouch and grump!

Every nana and every grandchild should read this book together! Yes!

Justin Brown is an author, writer, TV producer and MC. In addition to a number of books for adults, he has also written a number of middle-grade novels as Justin Christopher, including Stowaway Daze, Freakout IslandThe Underers and My Best Worst Year. His books encourage themes of friendship, family, and bad jokes. Justin lives in Auckland with his family, including Cooper the dog.

Minky Stapleton is a multi-faceted illustrator with a range of styles, all with a heavy dash of dark humour. She spent her formative years as an award-winning Art Director in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is now following her first love, illustration, and lives in Auckland.

Poetry Box review: Big Cat by Jess Racklyeft

Big Cat by Jess Racklyeft, Allen & Unwin, 2023

Jess Racklyeft’s picture book, Big Cat, came into being during lockdown. Jess went out walking and began to see the neighbourhood in new lights: the street art, the parks, the lanes. She looked for “magic in the mundane and found it”. She also explored Melbourne’s Arts and Heritage Collection, discovering all manner of treasures hidden away.

Some of her discoveries are hiding in the book, in new contexts. She includes a list of the artwork at the back, and a drawing of each work along with fascinating details on the endpapers.

Catherine is a seven-year-old investigator. She is extremely good at it because she is a good planner, a good packer and loves to research things. Catherine wants to solve the mystery of the Big Cat which means lots of observing, a dollop of humming, some Big Cat bait laying and some solid note taking. The unfolding story is a delight, a sweet surprise, a thought prompter! We get to be double hunters as we join in Catherine’s hunt and also hunt for the hidden art works on each double page spread. Double reading pleasure!

What adds to the reading delight is Catherine sublime use of language. A single word stalls me in my tracks and I am in awe. Here are two examples. Firstly: “when she first heard about Big Cats it was like sherbet had been sprinkled on her mind”. Wow! What an image. It is the perfect simile for what reading this book is like! Reading is akin to sherbet. Here’s the second image I love: “In the silence of moonlight, curiosity RUMBLED deep inside her.” Another wow word moment. I just adore the thought of curiosity rumbling inside us.

Jess’s illustrations are an exquisite meeting place for watercolours, collage and inks. The overall effect catches mood so beautifully and is a visual comfort feast for the eye.

Big Cat got me moving along a glorious trail of thinking. I was thinking about how we become immune to what we see every day, to the ordinary and the mundane, but if we turn the switch, we can go walking in our neighbourhood and see the world with fresh eyes. Try walking down your street and opening your eyes to things you have never spotted before. And herein lies the subterranean message in Big Cat: we can be well planned, well packed investigators but we can also be intuitive roundabout investigators and experience the world afresh. Jess’s fluid and curiosity-rich book is a refreshing treat. I love it to the moon and back.

Jess Racklyeft creates a variety of illustrated things – picture books, paintings, prints, pins and cards – mainly in watercolours. She works from her Melbourne home studio with her cat and dog at her feet, and occasionally one of her kids joins in too. Her work often combines collage – either on paper or digitally assembled – and lots of ink, and for every book she tries to use a new technique or process to continue to challenge and grow, book by book. Jess has won several illustration accolades including CBCA Picture Book of the Year for Iceberg (written by Claire Saxby). Find Jess’s work at her website.

Allen & Unwin page

Poetry Box review: Run Rabbit / E Oma, Rāpeti series by Norah Wilson and Kimberly Andrews

Run Rabbit / E Oma, Rāpeti series by Norah Wilson and Kimberly Andrews
Scholastic, 2023

Scholastic has published a set of three bilingual books in which an adventuresome rabbit promotes the use of te reo Māori. Each story is fun to read aloud – with a terrific use of rhythm and repetition. I found myself reading aloud to the bird on the deck! Little Rāpeti will always have to run somewhere for some reason!

In Run Rabbit: Playtime / E Oma Rāpeti: Te Wa Takaro rabbit has such fun at playschool kindergarten. He says YES to the paint, trains and blocks, to the swings and the books, but NO to the toilet. Uh oh! Playing is such a fun business, so engrossing! And yes Little Rāpeti does need to run.

In the equally delightful Run Rabbit: Goodnight / E Oma Rāpeti: Pō Mārie Little Rāpeti wants to say goodnight to everone of his freinds while his mum keeps calling hime for bed. Og hear little rapetit time for you to getting running.

Finally there is the sweet delight of Run Rabbit: The race / E Oma Rāpeti: Te Rēhi. Rabbit keeps injuring himself as he has a fun race with some of his friends. But they know exactly the right thing to say to keep his spirits up!

What transforms these books, beyond playful stories and useful language tools, are Kimberly Andrews’ sublime illustrations. I have such a special attachment to Kimberly’s work having adored the illustrations she did for my Little Tales of Hedgehog and Goat. These recent examples strengthen my fanship. The animals are rendered in a heavenly warm watercolour effect and I just want to hug the books close.

Scholastic page

Poetry Box review: Lulu & the Dance Detectives: Mystery at the Hotel Español by Sally Sutton

Lulu & the Dance Detectives: Mystery at the Hotel Español, written by Sally Sutton illustrated by Lily Uivel, Penguin, 2023

A detective novel for younger readers is just the ticket. Start with a calamity. Take one school production of Beauty and the Beast. Add one ferocious storm, and most importantly, one stolen money box. Introduce the cast, the seven Silver Star Dancers, who love to put on their dancing shoes and boogie. And then, hey presto! We now have the Silver Star Dance Detectives.

And so the mystery begins … the scene is set – the young dancers are about to perform a Spanish dance and are staying at the Hotel Español. But my lips are sealed! All good detective novels lay down tantalising clues, curious trails, even red herrings. I love the fact this is a mystery of mix-ups:

You’re about to read a mystery
Of mix-ups quite absurd.
(The flamenco is a DANCE.
A flamingo is a BIRD.)
Will you crack the case?
Here’s a little clue:
The key to solve the mystery
Is right in front of you.

Lulu & the Dance Detectives is action paced, the young dancers are both quick on their toes and quick witted, and that is an excellent recipe for detectives. Reading this ultra fun book I filled with warm smiles, laugh-out loud giggles, and oh-that-was-a-touching moment grins. Not everything is as it seems, as you’d expect in the twists and turns of a mystery (or maybe it is!). Sally delivers a dance troupe of fun, and Lily’s illustrations add zing and zest. You can even take a quiz at the back to see what kind of detective you are: analytical versus intuitive. Plus you get to read the first chapter of the next book in the series. Perfect book for amateur sleuths!

Aucklander Sally Sutton has been writing picture books, children’s novels and plays for two decades. Sally has been awarded several Storylines Notable Book Awards for her work, and in 2009 she and illustrator Brian Lovelock won the Picture Book category of the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults for Roadworks. Her 2018 story about a cat’s amazing true journey, The Cat from Muzzle (illustrated by Scott Tulloch),was a bestseller. Read more about Sally at her website.

After receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts, Lily Uivel worked as a props maker and designer. When Covid arrived, Lily and her partner, Rory Stewart, left their life in London and rushed home to New Zealand. She has now illustrated over 10 picture books, including Melanie La’Brooy’s The Wintrish Girl (University of Queensland Press) and Nicole Miller’s Celia Seagull and the Plastic Sea (Little Love). Lily lives in Days Bay with her assistant, She-Ra the dog, and Rory.

Penguin Books page

Poetry Box review: Blue by Sarah Christou

Blue by Sarah Christou, Faber, 2023

When author Sarah Christou was little she had a blue monster but she “didn’t know it was okay to talk about him”. Now she is big, and she knows it is important to talk about feelings and things, whether they are happy or sad, she has written a version of the girl and her blue monster.

The story is simply and gently told. A young girl has a secret, and that secret is Blue, and Blue goes wherever she goes. Whether to the park or birthday parties or on the bus. The young girl worries about everything and she tells nobody. Until one day – like a miracle epiphany – she tells another child about Blue – and then everything changes.

That the story is simply told, makes it an excellent stepping stone into discussions on how we feel things, how we might worry about things, how talking about what we feel and worry about can be very important. The illustrations are also pared back to an exquisite essence, and capture the shifting moods so beautifully. I especially love the cover; if you squint and peek you can see the silvery raindrops that might remind you of teardrops or a day when you scarcely know it is showery (you need the actual book to do this!).

Not everyone has a monster called Blue, but we have worries and we have feelings. A perfect book to share with children.

Sarah Christou is a debut author/illustrator who is currently completing her MA at the Anglia Ruskin School of Art in Cambridge. She writes children’s books with a focus on emotions that are engaging, thoughtful and accessible. She won the FAB prize for illustration in 2019. Sarah lives in Cambridge with her family.

Faber page