Category Archives: Aotearoa children’s book

Poetry Box reviews by children: Ava (9) reviews Fifi Colston’s Masher

Poetry Box November challenge: Bird poems

Masher, Fifi Colston, Penguin, 2022

Masher is a fictional chapter book written by Fifi Colston, which is about a 12 year old boy and a papier-mâché puppet coming to life. This book was full of mysteries and plot twists and was a wonderful read!

The plot of this story is written in a way that feels like you are inside of the story. Our main character, Freddie Foxworthy’s class is going to be making papier-mâché  puppets, so when he arrives home from school that day, he decides to get a head-start on it by making one beforehand. 

Freddie makes glue for his paper-mash, as he calls it, and eventually leaves it outside to dry. But when Masher, the neighbour’s dog, eats the paste and dies, Freddie is blamed and punished. When he accidentally knocks over Masher’s coffin, Freddie takes some ashes, and they mix with his puppet and turn… real. All throughout Masher, little sub-plots and mysteries are planted around which all tie in together wonderfully at the end. For just a normal kid, Freddie sure knows how to get action into his life, and create some really high-stakes scenes to occur in the book, which had me worried for him!

Masher and Freddie are the best of friends, because they believe in each other and understand one another. In my opinion, their relationship is very well written, because it is realistic and like the sort of friendships kids at school might have. Of course, when Masher eats the food that Freddie wants, things get a bit more hilarious than argumentative, which is always a great read to have. But even if Freddie and Masher never tell each other off, that doesn’t mean that Freddie is never in trouble — and usually, that’s because of Masher. Masher gets out of control at a talent show and lands Freddie in massive trouble, which ends in great plot twists I didn’t see coming!

This book doesn’t have a gigantic cast, but every character is memorable, 3-dimensional, and well-written. First, we have Freddie, your average 12-year old with a keen eye for artistic detail. Then, he makes Masher, because of his papier-mâché problems. Masher is like the dog that used to live, in the sense that he eats everything, and has a bit of a temper. But, in reality, Masher is not very scary at all and is sweet and lovable, in a growly bull-terrier sort of way. Then we have Ms Burns, who gets Freddie into trouble and hates everyone and everything possible, apart from her missing cat, Forrest, which she accuses Masher (the dog) of murdering. Then we have Mr and Mrs Foxworthy, Freddie’s parents. His dad is nice and a builder, who doesn’t really understand Freddie’s love and need for art, but appreciates and lets him do it. His mum, however, is sort of strict sometimes, and doesn’t like messes. She still tries her best to understand Freddie — and his sister, Dahlia. Dahlia is an 18 year old girl who loves 3d printing. You’d think since both siblings enjoy art, they would get along. But it’s hard for Freddie to do so, as Dahlia is barely ever at home, and is always out and about at different places. 

This is a story with great characters, but it’s also greatly written on a whole. It’s very descriptive and goes into detail, but also doesn’t drone on and on about the appearances of things. The little mysteries that intertwine with the plot were subtly put in and the pieces click into place in unexpected ways. The illustrations were beautiful, but when there weren’t any on the pages, I could still see a very clear picture in my mind of what was going on. I remember that I finished the last half or more of the book in two days, and spent around an hour reading it because it was so enjoyable and exciting. Nothing got old, everything was new and fresh, and I really hope that Masher gets a sequel!

Masher was such an enjoyable, action book with a sprinkle of mystery to it. I think that anyone who is a fan of any genre can like it, because it’s just so original. I recommend this book to kids of ages 8+.

Ava (9)

Ava, age 9, Y5, Pakuranga Heights School. My interests are reading, writing, poetry, gaming, playing piano, and both traditional and digital art. I like to write about fantasy, animals, and magic! Cool books I have read lately: Keeper of the Lost Cities, Little Tales of Hedgehog and Goat, and The Okay Witch.

Fifi Colston is a straight-up creative with her fingers in many arty pies. She is an award-winning junior-fiction novelist and illustrator of more than 30 children’s books including the bestselling Marvellous Marvin by Nadia Lim and the Little Yellow Digger stories by Peter Gilderdale. She is also a poet and a television presenter of arts and crafts — firstly on TVNZ’s ‘What Now’ and then ‘The Good Morning Show’. She has been creating World of Wearable Arts designs and has been a finalist and an award-winner many times over. She has also worked in the New Zealand TV and film industry as a costumier, puppet maker and illustrator and trainee scriptwriter. In between writing and creating, Fifi enjoys visiting schools and community groups, inspiring budding artists and writers through workshops in creative process.

Penguin page

Poetry Box review: Emily Joe’s ‘My Real Dog’

My Real Dog, Emily Joe, Beatnik Publishing, 2022

Beatnik Publishing are another Aotearoa publisher that creates books with love and care. Emily Joe’s My Cat Can See Ghosts was a finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and YA (2022). I enthused about this gorgeous book here. Emily’s new book, My Real Dog, is equally delightful. I love the design, the blue orange colour palette, and the doggy endpapers that would have been perfect wallpaper on my bedroom as a child.

My Real Dog: The parents have a thousand reasons why their child can’t have a dog – although I note they are wearing excellent dog walking shoes!

The big question is: What is a REAL dog? We are introduced to the child’s dog and it is a TOP NOTCH dog that is not massive and has three black spots. It is the kind of cuddly dog that never gets muddy or too yap yap yappy. There are loads of ticks in the ADVANTAGE list and zero ticks in the DISADVANTAGE list.

Ah, if you are after a warm glow picture book, with a feel good ending, then this the perfect book for you. I am sitting on the couch GLOWING from head to toe, looking at the real coffee cup, the real tūī in the mānuka, and smiling at the real dog grinning back at me from Emily’s glorious book.

Emily Joe is an author, art director and animal lover based in Auckland, New Zealand. For Emily, inspiration is never very far away, sometimes even in her own backyard or lounge room, thanks to the crazy antics of her two chickens and two cats, who make sure there’s rarely a dull moment in the Joe household.

Beatnik Publishing page

Poetry Box reviews: Belinda O’Keefe’s Journey Through the Cat Door

Journey Through the Cat Door, Belinda O’Keefe, illustrated by Monica Koster, Bateman, 2022

Enzo Haxtendorf is a Russian Blue Cat. The owner tries to entice Enzo through a new cat door but he is extremely suspicious. Not even food bribes work. Furthermore! The door opens onto the backyard. But the cat door opens onto an unfamiliar world: Enzo spies a river, some forest and a big black bear.

Only three things will drag Enzo outside: the scary cupboard monster, a call of nature, and the number 3 child treating him like a toy again, with pulls and yanks and tugs.

The mysterious cat door is not everyday ordinary. It is a portal that leads to exotic places across the globe. Not just any old exotic place, but exotic places with endangered species.

Enzo is invited to join PAWS (portals for animals working as spies). Their mission is to protect endangered animals and to stop Professor Olga Stone in her evil tracks. Be warned! The Professor is a chef who loves to capture and cook endangered animals from all over the world.

Enzo is a terrific protagonist – such good company as you travel with him and the daring PAWS crew. He has a captivating voice that can be fierce, determined, vulnerable. You care what happens to him, and terrible possibilities lurk at every turn.

Journey Through the Cat Door is an action-packed, character-rich, hold-your-breath adventure. The novel is hard to put down until you get to the end. Questions are raised. Issues introduced. Problems solved. There is satisfying complexity: you can’t pin the cat characters down to a single trait. The writing is fluid. Monica Koster’s illustrations catch the characters perfectly. A must-read, gripping novel.

Bateman page

Belinda O’Keefe has a degree in Japanese and has worked in tourism. Her previous books include, Partners in Slime (Scholastic, 2021) and The Day the Plants Fought Back (Scholastic 2019). She lives in Christchurch with her husband, two sons and their cats, including a Russian Blue called Enzo.

Monica Koster’s paintings have been exhibited in Ashburton and Christchurch. She is studying Fine Arts and caterbury and has two adventurous cats.

Poetry Box review: Fifi Colston’s Masher

Poetry Box October poem challenge here

Masher, Fifi Colston, Penguin, 2022

Masher is a complete reading package. Expected to be startled and moved, your funny bone tickled. Expect to read for pleasure as you range from shock to delight to empathy.

Freddie Basil Foxworthy (aged 12, such a good name!) prefers arts and craft to socialising. He is very pleased that his Extension Class is making papier mâché glove puppets. BUT when the teacher tells the boys to create the heads and the girls to sew the bodies, there is an uproar and widespread protest. In other words, the girls get to do the craft while the boys get to do the art. Both are valid and important creative things to do, but children need to be able to choose! The next day Mrs Collins has been replaced, puppets seem to be off the menu, and they are asked to do Maths.

HIGHLIGHT: Freddie’s voice drives the story – it smart, funny, witty. He is inventive and he is persistent.

When Freddie can’t make puppets at school, he gives it a crack at home. He gets busy inventing homemade paste and goes scrounging for newspaper (who reads papers when we read online so much?!). Out of trial and error, Freddie masterminds a puppet but things go CATASTROPHE wrong. He leaves his paste mixture outside (in case of complaints) and his neighbour’s dog Masher scoffs two litres of it. And this is a CATASTROPHE! Masher the dog is “a big, greedy, and frankly scary dog from down the road”. He is a very hungry dog, and dog plus paste equals DOGASTROPHE!

I didn’t expect the SHOCK I got on page 20, and I don’t want to spoil the reading thrill by spelling everything out, but Fifi’s novel is rich in TWISTS and TURNS and STARTLE GASPS and SURPRISE HECKS!

The best thing is you read it for yourself to get startled and twisted and turned.

Freddie gets to make a puppet that mysteriously, miraculously, is a spitting, well GROWLING, image of poor old Masher. Puppet Masher will eat anything from tinned spaghetti sandwiches to homemade biscuits.

I love the way Masher is a gripping story, but is also about how we fit into our families, our schools and neighbourhoods. How we judge and misjudge people. It’s about the choices we make that help us feel good about, and grow into, ourselves. Fifi’s novel entertains, amuses, startles (yes I keep saying this but it is key), saddens, gladdens and leaves you with an extremely warm feeling. I don’t think I have ever exclaimed out loud so much while reading a book: Wow! Heck! OMG! WOW!

Fifi Colston is a straight-up creative with her fingers in many arty pies. She is an award-winning junior-fiction novelist and illustrator of more than 30 children’s books including the bestselling Marvellous Marvin by Nadia Lim and the Little Yellow Digger stories by Peter Gilderdale. She is also a poet and a television presenter of arts and crafts — firstly on TVNZ’s ‘What Now’ and then ‘The Good Morning Show’. She has been creating World of Wearable Arts designs and has been a finalist and an award-winner many times over. She has also worked in the New Zealand TV and film industry as a costumier, puppet maker and illustrator and trainee scriptwriter. In between writing and creating, Fifi enjoys visiting schools and community groups, inspiring budding artists and writers through workshops in creative process.

Penguin author page

Poetry Box review: Brigid Feehan’s The Life and Times of Eddie McGrath

Poetry Box October poem challenge here

My Whitcoulls Top 50 Kids’ Books popUP poem challenge here

The Life and Times of Eddie McGrath, Brigid Feehan, OneTree House, 2021

“Even in ordinary life you never know what is around the corner. And maybe that’s half the fun.”

I really love novels that keep you thinking and feeling things, that get you roving through the world and seeing little corners through refreshed eyes. Reading The Life and Times of Eddie McGrath did exactly that for me. It was like a reading odyssey.

First up let me introduce you to the cast of characters.

Eddie, the protagonist, is a book worm which got me wondering why readers get to be called book worms. I guess because a book worm chews its way from start to finish and books can be very chewy things as the poet Ruth Padel once said. But I personally like the idea of being a book cat. I love snuggling into a book, stretching and arching, purring and even hissing, sniffing and tasting. Eddie is a very cool character – more about her soon.

Eddie’s mum and dad are busy so she gets quite a bit of freedom. Her mum illustrates books and her dad is a builder.

Eddie has a cat called Olaf who is a snuggle puss.

Her sisters Beth and Claire drive her slightly mad.

Her best friends Liam and Meri are loyal and caring and adventurous. Liam is a vegan and Meri a drama queen.

Aunt Ruth, who also lives in the family home, is a radiographer and a Druid (think an ancient Celtic religion with maybe a whiff of magic).

Sylvia is a mysterious woman they meet in a ramshackle, rundown place – a turning point meeting!

Second up let me introduce you to the catch in the narrative.

Eddie has won a national competition – Spend a Day with an MP. She wrote an essay on voting at the age of 15. But she turned the award down as she hates speaking in public especially making a speech in front of a TV camera and the Prime Minister. She would have to spend the day with the MP listening to people’s issues, pick a problem and try to find a solution to fix it. And then make a speech!

BUT somehow Eddie moves from NO! to accepting the award. You could say the novel is an odyssey – a way of discovering more about who and how you are. Unearthing more about how to deal with mammoth challenges and little disappointments. You could claim the YES! as a turning point that unexpectedly shines a light on making choices.

The cast of characters is magnificent. I have such a soft spot for a protagonist who is concerned about chicken welfare (as is Liam!), who loves to read books more than once (heck yes!), who makes lists of heroines (and heroes), who believes in ghosts, and who finds comfort in books (double heck yes!).

The Life and Times of Brigid Feenan is an inspiring read. It made me think about how we treat animals, how we care about old people, and how we can create creative solutions to tricky problems. How things can and often fall into place. Oh and how democracy can work for the good of others.

I loved the advice the Prime Minister gave Eddie after telling her she did something rare and precious.

“You asked a good question. And you listened to the answer, really listened.”

I most definitely snuggled up close with this book like the book cat I am. I purred and stretched and smiled, and I read and read until it finished in one slow cat gulp. I think the novel would be suitable for intermediate ages. Recommended!

Brigid Feehan was born, raised and educated in Wellington.
She studied law at Victoria University and travelled overseas for a few years before returning to Wellington. She now lives in Island Bay with her family and her probably not very bright, but definitely very handsome cat, Magnus. Brigid has worked for the government in a number of roles, none of which have involved meeting the Prime Minister. Stella Star, Brigid’s first novel, won the Tom Fitzgibbon Award and was included in the Storylines List of Notable Books in 2006. A sequel, Maybe Stella, was published in 2007.

OneTree House page

Poetry Box Reading Back, Reading Forward: a new series

one of my overflowing children’s bookshelves in our spare room, with books hiding behind the first row, and not counting the children’s poetry shelves

An Introduction to Reading Back, Reading Forward

I recently emailed a number of children’s authors in Aotearoa. I shared my plans to revitalise Poetry Box along with my commitment to create a small hub for children’s books and writing. Local books yes, but also sublime books from overseas. All categories, and for readers and writers up to Year 8.

Loads of authors (and school librarians) are offering support and it feels like the Milky Way keeps landing in my inbox with glints and gleams.

I feel even more compelled to do this since the editors of Annual 3, in a radio interview, suggested their anthology and the School Journal are the books worthy of attention, when there are scant good books available for readers aged 8 to 12 in New Zealand. Annual 3 is wow! – it’s magnificent glorious inspiring, but I’m suspicious of statements from any editors that are universalising, patronising, hierarchical. But, grumble aside, I can’t wait to review the book, plus there will be a review from one of my young reviewers. The anthology is to be celebrated along with so many other equally good local books. My current aim is to promote and showcase children’s books and authors on Poetry Box, and to open up wide, far-reaching, multi-hued paths through the world, both real and imagined, for young readers and writers.

My new series is one way of encountering New Zealand books for children. Of returning to past words and stories in order to move in refreshing ways through the present and towards the future. In Annual 3, there is a brilliant essay by Madison Hamil, ‘Harry Potter and the Missing Letter – and me’. Sometimes you cross the bridge into a piece of writing and the luminous connections spark and sparkle. Madison shares her reading life as a child, and how she emerged from ‘background character’ to confident. Books can be transformative!

Oh and I have other series in the pipeline.

Reading Back, Reading Forward

Bill Nagelkerke came up with the idea of shining light on forgotten New Zealand children’s books. Or books that are out-of-print. He wrote:

I’ve always thought it would be nice to look back at good NZ children’s books long out of print, but worth remembering and worth hunting for in library store rooms and second hand book shops.” Bill Nagelkerke

I loved the idea so much, I invited some authors and librarians to join in, either with a one-off piece or a now-and-then contribution. The books can be any category but suitable for readers up to Year 8. So watch this space!

Most of my own children’s books are no longer available, and that is the same for many other local writers. We are such a small publishing industry in New Zealand, I understand why. But it does make me a bit glum, especially when I think of just the right person to give a copy of something to. Especially Aunt Concertina and her Niece Evalina, with my partner Michael Hight’s gorgeous oil paintings (Random House, 2009) or Flamingo Bendalingo with Michael’s magnificent acrylic paintings of animals (AUP, 2006). Same goes for beloved treasure by other New Zealand authors whose books are no longer available to buy or are hard to track down in libraries.

When I went scavenging for poems for the children’s anthologies that I have edited, I was heartbroken at how few children’s poetry books were still in print. Poetry is like the skinny shadowy corner of our children’s books market – so few get published, probably because so few by individual poets get bought. Yet poetry is such a cool way of unlocking the reader and writer in every child, with rich music, intriguing miniature stories and expanding wonder. And of course the ever present, wide ranging POETRY PLAY!

I love hunting for book treasures in second-hand bookshops and in library archives. Such fun as you never know what you will discover.

I am remembering the glorious novels by Barbara Else (especially The Travelling Restaurant series, Gecko Press, 2011- 2015), every glorious book Margaret Mahy ever published because not all are still available, the earlier brilliant poetry books of Joy Cowley (Mallinson Rendel, 1991) and the equally brilliant poetry of Shirley Gawith (d’Urville Press, 1991). Not only did I track down copies of Shirley’s children’s poetry books, I got to visit her in Nelson! We enthused about books and writing! She was maybe in her seventies or eighties, and she was over the moon that, after so many decades, her out-of-print poetry books were getting attention and her poems had appeared in A Treasury of NZ Poetry for Children (Random House, 2014).

Meeting Shirley Gawith in 2014

I do hope this new series spurs you to go scavenging for out-of-print books, to remember and celebrate examples from the past, to read new and fascinating pathways both towards the future and within the present. Reading shapes us. If we are what we eat and breathe, maybe we are what we read, especially when the world is abrim with astonishing books, ideas, feelings, flavours. Bon appetit!

May your days shine with good BOOKS

Poetry Box review: Steph Matuku’s Whetū Toa and the Hunt for Ramses

Whetū Toa and the Hunt for Ramses, Step Matuku, Huia Publishers, 2021

Steph Matuku’s children’s novel, Whetū Toa and the Hunt for Ramses came out last year. I have only just read it and love it so much want to track down the first one (Whetū Toa and the Magician) – more importantly I want to sing its praises to inspire you to read it too.

This is the kind of children’s book where the stars align and everything falls into perfect place: characters, plot, ideas, feelings, language, tension, surprise, illustrations. The cover artwork underlines how this book might engage you. Steph knows how to get a story to do a cartwheel, a forward or backward flip, so you end up somewhere surprising and different. I had to keep reading reading reading it, but forced myself to save the second half for the next day.

Character is such a vital hook for the reader, and Steph’s characters matter. Whetū is about to start school. She and her mum live at the magician’s place (I don’t know the backstory yet!), and Whetū’s job is to care for the animals. I am talking horses, a chicken (who might become a squawking multitude), a golden ram named Ramses, and a very helpful cat named Tori. None of the animal crew are happy about Whetū’s school return. Even though she has pledged to get up extra early so she can still look after them!

I adore Whetū. She is exactly the kind of character I want to carry with me at the moment. She has cunning and she has grit, she has tenderness and a sense of justice. She gets into difficult situations and figures out what to do, even though the magic in her fingertips is scarcely working.

I also adore Tori the helpful cat. Ramses goes missing so it is up to Whetū and Tori to find the ram. This is where the story forward flips and somersaults. Where you care so much about the characters but are never sure what will happen next. The blurb mentions starbeams, strange worlds, other planets and an evil magician, so I am not giving anything away there.

Buckle yourself in and enjoy the exhilarating ride this book offers, so much fun, so beautifully written and illustrated. You get magic and daring, you get insight and empathy, you get a novel that taps into what it means to human.

I put Whetū Toa and the Hunt for Ramses down, smiled from head to toe, and felt immensely grateful our world is a book world, a story world, a world in which we can connect and converse through the stories we share. Thank you.

Huia Publishers page

Steph Matuku (Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Tama, Te Atiawa) is a freelance writer from Taranaki. She enjoys writing stories for young people and her work has appeared on the page, stage and screen. Her first two novels, Flight of the Fantail and Whetū Toa and the Magician were Storylines Notable Books. Whetū Toa and the Magician was a finalist at the 2019 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. In 2021, she was awarded the established Māori writer residency at the Michael King Centre where she worked on a novel about post-apocalyptic climate change.

Poetry Box review: The Lighthouse Princess by Susan Wardell and Rose Northey

The Lighthouse Princess, Susan Wardell, illustrated by Rose Northey, Picture Puffin, 2022

Susan Wardell (author) and Rose Northey (illustrator) are a match made in heaven. The Lighthouse Princess is the most scintillating picture book I have read in ages. The first page offers an inviting scene. The pared back opening sentence set me daydreaming about how it might unfold into story.

“The princess lived
in a tower by the sea.”

Rose’s illustration holds me all through my morning coffee and my chocolate pastry before I turn the page. First the crumpled paper ocean, then the floating curiosities: a boat with a goldfish bowl, another setting sail with a tree. The lighthouse tower bends like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, upon a bed of rocks with flowers and seals and cascading water.

The princess lives alone in the lighthouse tower, looking after the light that keeps ships safe, and finds fascinating things to fill her day. And then something happens. Out of the blue. Out of the storm.

And I refuse to spoil the book by telling you what happens next!

Each page is a picnic spot of delight, the words reverberate and the illustrations gift intricate visual layers.

This is a story of filling a day, of finding ways to be content, whether alone or with friends. It is a story of light and lightness. Above all, it is a story of friendship.

The Lighthouse Princess is an altogether breathtaking heartwarming exquisite hug of a book. Sublimely written. Sublimely illustrated. I adore it.

Penguin page

Susan Wardell is from Dunedin, New Zealand. She lives by the harbour, and teaches at the University of Otago, while raising two small humans and a modest indoor jungle. Alongside academic writing Susan publishes in a variety of creative genres. Her poetry, micro-fiction, book reviews and literary essays have been published in a variety of journals throughout Australasia, and won several awards. Her first picture book for children, The Lighthouse Princess, was selected for the 2021 Storylines Gavin Bishop Award for Illustration.

Rose Northey is a Takapuna-born, Wellington-based illustrator and poet. She spent her childhood sketching animals with her grandfather and mother, doodled her way through an honours degree in Mechanical Engineering and after three years in Product Development Engineering tried her luck at a creative career. At first Rose focused on performance poetry, but one day, when her domestic flight was delayed, she sketched other waiting passengers and rediscovered her joy for drawing. She is the current champion of the Going West Writers Festival Poetry Grand Slam. Rose won the Storylines Gavin Bishop Award for Illustration in 2021, producing illustrations for The Lighthouse Princess.

Poetry Box review: Philippa Werry’s The Other Sister

The Other Sister, Philippa Werry, Pipi Press, 2021

Philippa Werry is one of my favourite New Zealand children’s authors. She is a fan of history and many of her novels take you back into the past. You get to experience historical events, characters and places that are so vividly detailed you feel you are there too. It is as though you are hiding behind the curtains witnessing a scene. It’s important, this rich research-dependent detail, but I am even more drawn to the way the past is reviewed in new lights. A trip to the past can reconsider how girls are shaped, how people of colour are treated, how damaging ideas are circulated. How individuals can make a difference.

Philippa’s most recent novel, The Other Sister, is set in 1920 after the end of World War One. It is sumptuous in detail and and resonates with refreshing lights. Tilly Thomas is about to go to secondary school. It is the beginning of a new decade and she wants to do ‘something remarkable’. But she has no idea who she is and how she wants to be in the world. Expectations for girls in 1920 were not what they are in 2022. Back then, marriage and babies was their chief destination.

I wished there was a map to follow, or a path, like the way I walked to school. I wished I knew that when I got to this intersection, this would happen, and when I crossed that road, I’d be up to that stage. The future’s so invisible. The Principal told us there were all these new opportunities waiting for us, but how would we know where to find them?

In her endnote, Philippa says the female characters are some of her favourite heroines. And I can see why. I love these young girls stretching into knowledge and new experiences, finding empathy. Tilly, of course, but also her sister Beaty, her best friend Olivia who lives in an orphanage, Ingrid, Molly, to name a few.

Even though the war had ended, the world was not the same. The sharp grim edges of war were brought home by soldiers – there were the wounded and there were the dead. The war was carried back on scarred bodies, in the troubled hearts and minds of the young men, and this heavy luggage affected friends and families. At the weekends, Tilly works in a nursing home with wounded men. At first she finds it tough. But she draws closer and closer to the residents and their stories, and it opens life wider. Education, as her school principal indicates, occurs in all kinds of ways. It is book learning, but it is so much more.

As I hide and observe from the nooks and crannies of the novel ( I am so embedded in it!), I take such comfort in seeing a young girl grow in strength and wisdom. To see her question racism and sexism. She is friendly with Jim Lee, a Chinese delivery boy, and despises the way others treat him. She becomes best friends with Ingrid, a German girl, and despises the way she is treated.

I love this intricately crafted, exquisitely written, entertaining book, that brims with warmth, humanity, insight. With life! I love how Tilly looks up to her older sister (she was the town’s first telegram girl in wartime), and is then able to find her own directions, her own self belief. In 2022 we live in a precarious time. Back then, there was the flu pandemic, and now we have Covid. We still witness and experience unspeakable racism, sexism, genderism, global hunger, a threat of war, actual wars. I am thinking too of the online misogyny directed at our Prime Minster (and other women MPs) because she is a woman. These things overwhelm and feel unspeakable, yet we must speak them.

We must speak the past in new lights in order to speak and address the present. Philippa’s sublime and enriching novel does exactly this. It is a book of now as much it is a book of then. I love it so much.

Philippa Werry website

Philip Werry lives in Wellington with her family. She was born in Auckland, went to school in Wellington, Auckland and New Plymouth. She wrote poems and stories from the age of six, some of which were published in The Evening Post. She studied Greek and English at university, travelled, trained to be a librarian, got married, travelled some more. Her writing has been published in the School Journal and her novels include The Telegram, Enemy at the Gate, The Lighthouse Family and Harbour Bridge. She has also written the nonfiction book: Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story.

Poetry Box review: Sally Sutton’s Crane Guy

Crane Guy: A game of I SPY from up high, by Sally Sutton, illustrations by Sarah Wilkins

Puffin – Penguin Random House, 2022

Sally Sutton’s large format picture book is a delightful form of I SPY, with exquisite illustrations by Sarah Wilkins. Instead of looking out a car window on a long road journey, you are sitting in the cab of the crane driver, hunting for things.

Crane guy, up so high,
Building towers in the sky,
Tell me, tell me  what you spy.
Something beginning with …

The crane driver will spot some things for you, and then it is your turn to go eye scavenging. The language is lively. The kind of language that is FUN to read out loud because it is brimming with alliteration and leap-hopping sounds: ‘Shrieking, swerving, swirling, looping’.

You get to SPY on the sky, the ocean, city streets, a bridge, a playground.

I had such fun hunting. The illustrations are ABUZZ with movement and hidden things. In case you have missed something, there is a chart at the back of the book listing everything under the FIVE letters.

I especially love the HAPPY ending where you get to hunt for someone not something!

Inside the book Carla Sy’s DESIGN is brilliant. She brings the words to DANCING DIVING DANGLING life on the page.

Crane Guy is such a captivating read, I am wondering if it could be the first one in a series. I’d love that! Maybe playing I SPY in unexpected places, from the eye of an adventurer: underwater, in space, in a desert, on a high mountain, along the longest river in the world. I recommended this book H-EYE-GHLY.

Aucklander Sally Sutton has been writing picture books, children’s novels and plays for two decades. Her stories are celebrated for being ‘busy with joy, and colour, and words that boing off the page’ (The Spinoff) – making reading her stories a magical moment between parent and child. 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

Sarah Wilkins was born in Lower Hutt. The middle child of seven, she dreamt of becoming a solo explorer. Dreaming and drawing, which she loved, go together, so she became an illustrator instead. Her award-winning images can be found on buildings, buses, bags and many other curious places around the world, but they feel most at home on the pages of beautiful books. Sarah works from a light-filled studio perched high on a hill overlooking the Wellington Harbour. She is curious about visually communicating science for young and old, and illustrated Abigail and the Restless Raindrop while completing her Master in Science in Society. Find out more about her work at her website.

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