Category Archives: NZ children’s book

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: ‘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

Poetry Box review: ‘Moon & Sun’ by Melinda Szymanik and Malene Laugesen

Moon & Sun by Melinda Szymanik, Illustrated by Malene Laugesen, Upstart Press, 2021

Welcome to the dreamy, swirling-colour illustrations of Malene Laugesen. They remind me of watercolour paintings where the light shines through. The images gleam and shine and radiate. This is the perfect choice for a story about the sun and the moon.

Melinda Szymanik’s writing flows beautifully too. The moon is unhappy because she thinks no one likes her. She sees the sun and is blinded by her warmth and dazzle and bright light. Everyone loves the sun, she thinks. No one loves me, she thinks. So yes the moon is feeling very sorry for herself and believes no one could ever admire her.

Her sister, the sun, is full of wisdom and, as the story unfolds so exquisitely, I am reminded of a fable unfolding. I love the messages about being in the world, and about learning to love who you are, and how we all have different strengths and weaknesses. I also loved seeing the sun show how we can help those near us see their own gleam and shine.

A glorious story that I gobbled in a flash and then felt warm and toasty inside with a sun and moon load of good feelings. It is perfect to have this special book in the world.

Melinda Szymanik is an award-winning children’s author (chapter books, short stories and picture books). The Were-Nana won the Children’s Choice at the 2009 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards and Fuzzy Doodle was a 2017 White Raven selection.

Malene Laugesen was born in Denmark and moved to Christchurch in 2008. She has illustrated more than a dozen books.

Upstart Press page

Poetry Box review: TK Roxborogh’s Charlie Tangaroa and the Creature from the Sea (with a 24 hour challenge for Tāmaki Makaurau children)

T K Roxborogh, Charlie Tangaroa and the Creature from the Sea, Huia Publishers, 2020

T K Roxborogh’s junior novel begins with a question: ‘I’m curious. What would you do if you found a mermaid washed up on the beach?’ My curiosity was sparked. Would I freak out? Write a poem? Call the mermaid savers? Just sit and watch and wait? Who knows. Write a poem maybe! I liked the way I was involved in the story from the first sentence.

I loved reading this book, this story that borrows from ancient traditions of myths and legends. I read it in one delicious gulp (at the beach in fact with the soundtrack of waves lapping and gulls squawking). Charlie is a very cool character. He gets teased at school but he is gathering layers and layers of wisdom from his grandfather. He has an annoying little half-brother Robbie. He does ‘beach patrol’ because he wants another tick in his Sea Cadets service book. He is sick to death of out-of-towners dumping rubbish on their beach and threatening sea life (think dolphins, whales, sharks for a start). Charlie has a prosthetic leg which he used to trick two rubbish-dumping youths into running off.

Charlie doesn’t know who is father is (he disappeared at sea when he was younger) but he does know his grandfather matters more than anything and family is important. They live with his much-loved mum in Tolaga Bay.

One significant day Charlie and his brother rescue a mermaid-like sea creature from the rocks and in doing so are flung into a story that demands courage, initiative, determination. This is why you need to keep reading the book until you get to the last page. You just have to know what happens next. Especially to Charlie. There are twists and turns and puzzles.

Charlie and Robbie discover the ‘mermaid’ is named Pō-nuia. She is a ponaturi, a sea goblin, and she is very much part of the story. Miraculously Charlie discovers he can communicate with her.

Grandad is a big help. The stories they have told and listened to are a big help. The songs they have sung are a big help. Because yes this is a gripping story with action and suspense but it is also an important story. It is grounded in mātauranga Māori and tikanga, with Māori Gods making an appearance. Te Reo Māori is equally important. Charlie’s big mission is to bring peace and undo an ancient grudge between Tane and Tangaroa (which is fired up by the building of a port in the bay). For the sake of the land. For the sake of the ocean. For the sake of his whānau.

T K’s novel is shining a light on our tilted world and how we must work together to heal the damage. I love the way in helping the Gods solve their terribly destructive argument, Charlie is also growing stronger and wiser in himself. He doesn’t let his disability stop him (and he does have pain and challenges). He doesn’t let bullies keep flattening him. He listens and he learns. He grows closer to his family.

Charlie is now one of my favourite children’s characters ever and he will stick with me for ages. Just as this glorious, beautifully crafted, rollercoaster, heart-warming story will stick with me. I adore it and I reckon children will too. Make this a must-read book to your class this year, to your own children, for yourself however old you are. This book SINGS! Read this book in Level 3 lockdown in Tāmaki Makaura Auckland.

Thank you T K Roxborogh and Huia Publishers.

POP-UP CHALLENGE: IF you live in Tāmaki Makaura you have until 9 am on Tuesday to tell me your favourite character in a NZ children’s book or favourite NZ myth or legend. Write a few sentences or a paragraph and / or do a drawing / or a poem even. I will give three copies away and see if I can get them couriered to you this week.


Include: your name, age, year, name of school

Don’t forget to write myth or favourite character in subject line so I don’t miss it

T K Roxborogh (Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri) is an award-winning author of more than thirty published works, both fiction and non-fiction. Her latest publication was My New Zealand Story: Bastion Point, which won the Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction at the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults and a Storylines Notable Book Award. She teaches English has been a writing mentor and a judge for short stories and for the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Poetry Box gold: Bren MacDibble’s Across the Risen Sea

Bren MacDibble Across the Risen Sea Allen & Unwin, 2020

Bren MacDibble grew up on farms all over Aotearoa. She lived in Melbourne, then sold everything and went bus travelling around Australia for two years. She recently parked her bus in Kalbarn on Australia’s west coast. I loved her first book How to Bee so so much – as did others because it won many awards in Aotearoa and Australia. Her second book Dog Runner won the Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction at the NZ Book Awards (2019). She writes for young adults under the name Callie Black (and is ace at that too!).

Bren’s third junior novel Across the Risen Sea came out earlier this year. She wrote this in her acknowledgements page (in March 2020): ‘What a year we are going through. Although we’re only three months into 2020 as I write this, it feels like we’ve lived a thousand years of fires and disease. No matter how it turns out, it will be a year of lessons.’

Yes! Little did Bren know how our challenging year would unfold, and how things are still not better yet in the world.

Bren’s new dystopian junior novel Across the Risen Sea is a good book to read in these challenging times. It is highly entertaining, exquisitely gripping and, most important of all, thought provoking. The book will get you thinking about how we treat the world, and each other. I was reminded of how I learnt some important lessons in Level 4 lockdown. What do I need in my life versus what do I want in my life?

Neoma lives in a tiny environmentally-aware community on high ground. All about them is the risen sea. The old world has changed. Lost in the past, in stories, in whatever exists beyond the village. Her best friend is Jag. She and Jag want to be the best scavengers and fishing crew. They live in dwellings made of car bodies that the risen sea had brought to the surface. They live off the land and the sea. They are gentle and kind. They have no technologies, no internet, no mobile phones. They have little boats that skim over the ocean and they have wise elders.

One day some strangers arrive from the Valley of the Sun, with their different language and, without giving the locals any choice, chop down precious trees and erect a tower on a hilltop. Definitely technological. Definitely unsettling. Neoma is furious. She and Jag draw pictures of it, she gets too close and burns herself. Feeling their village way of life is under threat, she sabotages the tower – and her bold action in the dead of night sets off a tumbling and terrible sequence of events.

And here is the gold nugget of the book – the way a young girl is resilient, daring, thinking on her feet, slow to trust, keen to DO something to make things better. She must save her friend, find the truth, go places she never knew existed, outwit a wicked and extremely cunning pirate, hungry crocodiles. Such tension, such page-turning delight, I gobbled this book up in one sitting! YUM!

When I finished, I started thinking about how we are being given a chance to do things differently. How everything we choose to do has a consequence. How we can look out for one another, how we can do little tiny things to help make a world a better place for everyone! How we can find our own brave daring wonderful kind steps.

This is a very good book and I am sure it already has a BUSLOAD of reading fans!

Allen & Unwin page

Poetry Box children’s book of 2020: Shilo Kino’s The Pōrangi Boy

Shilo Kino The Pōrangi Boy Huia Publishers 2020

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.

Shilo talks about the book at The Spinoff

Shilo in conversation with Philippa Tolley, Nine to Noon, Radio NZ National

Huia Publishers page

Poetry Box review: James Norcliffe’s Mallory, Mallory – The Revenge of the Tooth Fairy

James Norcliffe, Mallory, Mallory: The Revenge of the Tooth Fairy illus Emily Walker, Penguin Random House (Puffin) 2020

I love opening a book without reading the blurb or reviews. I read the title and that is my entry in. I like being surprised and taken on a book adventure. After James Norcliffe’s excellent The Loblolly Boy (2009) I knew I was in for a treat, and yes, a surprising book adventure.

James’s new novel for junior readers is an utter delight. I gobbled it up on a rainy Sunday morning in bed, but it would work just as well under a shady tree on a shimmery hot summer day or in a refuge on a mountain in the falling snow . With a nod to Dr Seuss, you could read this book anywhere: in a tree hut, in the sand dunes, in a huge comfy armchair, in a hot-air balloon, on a train, a plane or at the kitchen table.

Emily Walker’s quirky illustrations are misty and magical – and a perfect match.

Mallory is the meanest, cruellest, most unpopular girl in the universe. She hatches the meanest plan: she decides she will kidnap the tooth fairy when she puts her wobbly tooth under her pillow and demand a ransom.

Arthur is her best friend (let’s face it her only friend) and he is loyal and kind and sensible. He is also good at asking questions and immediately spots flaws in Mallory’s cunning plan. He is not very good at going against her wickedness.

Hmmm! Now I come to the tricky bit, because I want to tempt you to read the book without giving away SPOILERS! This story has the surprising twists and turns of a twisty labyrinth.

The tooth fairy is also cunning! The title tells us that. So yes mean old Mallory catches the tooth fairy, but what happens next is pure reading delight. This is a story of cunning and trickery, but it is also a story of loyalty and friendship – and learning curves!

In order to get the ransom, the tooth fairy insists they must travel to the Chancellor of the Hex Checker in Orolia. All very mysterious. This is the land of teeth and truth. Like all good stories there will be obstacles, things will not always be as they seem and there will be epiphanies (brain and heart flashes of new understandings). There will be mysterious looks and mysterious undertones. You will hear the fierce cry of canines and you will meet the Molars who are Giants who are Pie Chefs who have enormous appetites for enormous pies.

This book has humour spots. At the Customs Gate, Arthur asks the tooth fairy if he should knock and the tooth fairy strongly advises him too, ‘or we’ll be waiting outside the door for a very long time.’

Sometimes humour and logic mix. When Arthur asks the tooth fairy how far to go he gets this perfect answer: ‘about twice as far as halfway’. Love it!

Sometimes you get storybook wisdom: ‘Sometimes the journey is far more pleasant than the destination.’ I feel like that about writing!

I like the way James plays with a saying in order to share a little truth. The tooth fairy reckons Mallory doesn’t always see ‘the wood for the trees’ and Arthur wonders what that means. I love the answer: ‘I think your friend Mallory only sees the world from a very small place called Mallory.’ I hugged that thought!

Mallory, Mallory is a treasure of a book with its story bends, its very cool characters, its wisdom gleams and its excellent ending. I finished this book and I felt warm inside. It is a quiet book that will show you the woods and trees, the tooth and the truth, and make you hungry for more! Which is fortunate as there is a second one in the pipeline: Mallory, Mallory Trick or Treat. Bravo James Norcliffe!

James Norcliffe is an award-winning poet, educator, editor and author of books for adults and children. The Loblolly Boy won the 2010 NZ Post Junior Fiction Award. Since then he has published the sequel, The Pirates and the Nightmaker (2015). You can find details of his other children’s books and awards on the Penguin Random House link below.

Emily walker has twice been shortlisted for the Storylines Gavin Bishop Award for Illustration (2017 and 2019) and in 2019 she was also a finalist in the Margaret Mahy Illustration Award. Mallory, Mallory: The Revenge of the Tooth Fairy is her first book commission.

Penguin Random House page

Poetry Box review: Egg & Spoon by Alexandra Tylee and Giselle Clarkson and the food poem challenge

Egg & Spoon: An Illustrated Cookbook written by Alexandra Tylee and illustrated by Giselle Clarkson, published by Gecko Press, 2020

I am a cookbook squirrel. I think I might have more than a hundred cookbooks. I love cooking old favourites and I love cooking things I have never cooked before. Cookbooks are my passports to new places, new taste sensations. I love how food connects friends and family, and how food keeps our body engines running beautifully.

Gecko Press have just published Egg & Spoon, the best cookbook for children (and adults) ever. It is written by Alexandra Tylee from the excellent Pipi Café in Havelock North. Such scrumptious food served there, it is not surprising the recipes are mouth-watering, tongue-popping DELICIOUS. Anytime I am in Havelock North I pay a visit!

Whizz image maker, Giselle Clarkson, has done the scrummy illustrations. She makes comics, cartoons and illustrates books (I loved the work she did for The Gobbledegook Book, Secret World of Butterflies, Hazel and the Snails).

A good cookbook makes you want to run into the kitchen and bake. Sometimes I put tags on recipes I want to cook – or make a long list. There are so many things I want to make from Egg & Spoon, I think I want to try everything! I want to COOK the BOOK!

I really like Alexandra’s philosophy: Cooking is very individual – there are no rules …well there are, but I’ve never taken them too seriously. Just trya recipe and see how it works for you. If you feel like adding a bit of this and some of that, then I say go for it. That’s how you learn what works and what doesn’t.’

I think it works for poetry: ‘Poetry is very individual – there are no rules …well there are, but I’ve never taken them too seriously. Just try a poem and see how it works for you. If you feel like adding a bit of this and some of that, then I say go for it. That’s how you learn what works and what doesn’t.’

The recipes

Alexandra’s recipes are very easy to use.

You are guaranteed something that is very tasty and very good for your body engine.

You are guaranteed to have fun making things and even greater fun eating them.

I want to make the baked beans. I love home-made baked beans – Alexandra adds a parmesan rind which is a very Italian thing to do! MMM baked-bean lunch tomorrow for me! I want to make the teriyaki salmon on sticks for dinner tonight. AND I am itching to make the apple slice.

This gorgeous gorgeous book inspired me to have FOOD POEMS as my last Poetry Box challenge for the year.

I’m giving away two copies of the book to children who try my challenge – to celebrate Gecko Press, Pipi Café, Alexandria Tylee and Giselle Clarkson … and of course poetry. You can find the food-poem challenge here (deadline is Monday 30th November).

Gecko Press have kindly given permission to post four recipes from this exquisitely-produced, treasure of a book!

Recipes extracted from Egg & Spoon: An Illustrated Cookbook written by Alexandra Tylee and illustrated by Giselle Clarkson, published by Gecko Press, RRP $39.99

have fun cooking

Poetry Box review: Whiti: Colossal Squid of the Deep plus a 48- hour poem challenge

Victoria Cleal, illust. Isobel Te Aho-White Whiti: Colossal Squid of the Deep Te Papa Press 2020

Thanks to Te Papa Press I have a book to give to one child who tries my popUP challenge below.

Since her arrival in 2007, the colossal squid has been the most popular exhibit at Te Papa. Now there is a sparkling new book that shares Whiti’s story – and indeed the story of colossal squid and other sea creatures that live in Ross Sea’s biting cold in Antarctica.

This book takes us on a journey to Antarctica — you feel like you are there with your warm layers (it’s colder than your fridge), watching out for the animals that can live in this harsh place. BUT this is an underwater story. We need to dive down deep and discover the fascinating life below the ice.

I love the way pages unfold to give you a panoramic view of underwater life because the underwater world is utterly fascinating.

Look for the giant sea spiders that are not really spiders but have 8 legs and are the size of dinner plates!

Or the volcano sponges that are sometimes big enough to fit a diver inside.

Find out how a colossal squid egg is the size of an ant. The bulgy-eyed babies feed off plankton, but penguins and other creatures like to eat the babies! These tricky squid babies are hard to spot as they are virtually see through and they (maybe) squirt out black ink to muddle the predator.

Find out how the adult squid travels and lives in the deep deep dark dark water with her eyes growing like headlights (bioluminescence).

The writing is FABULOUS.

The illustrations are CAPTIVATING.

The book is a fact finder’s DELIGHT!

I love the way similes help you get a COLOSSAL SQUID picture: ‘Whiti gobbles the toothfish the way you’d eat a corncob.’ GENIUS!

Or the fact Whiti’s brain is shaped like a doughnut!

Or the fact colossal squid get redder as they get older: ‘Red stands out in our light-filled world – think of pōhutukawa flowers. But red light can’t reach far down in wai. Red animals in the deep just look black, like the wai around them.’

You will also get to track other sea creatures: the slow-paced, long-living toothfish, the precious parāoa sperm whales with their wide hungry jaws, the bendy-boned snailfish, the wheke octopus / dumbo octopus.

This is an important book because Antarctica is an important place: ‘Aotearoa New Zealand and many other countries have agreed to be the kaitiaki guardians of the Antarctica and keeps its mauri strong. New Zealand helped make a big part of the Ross Sea a marine protected area. It’s now a safe place in the moana for plants and animals.’

I love the way Victoria uses te reo Māori as she tells the story of Whiti.

The book also shows us we can keep an eye out for ngū squid and wheke octopus in rock pools on our coastlines.

What a magnificent resource this book is. Get a copy for your shelf and then give a copy to a curious child.

POP-UP challenge: I will give one copy of the book to a child that sends me a colossal squid poem with one curious fact in it. You have 48 HOURS!

Deadline: Friday 22nd October at noon


include: name, age, year, name of school

don’t forget to put SQUID POEM in subject line so I don’t miss it.

Poetry Box review: Vasanti Unka’s I Am the Universe

Go here for September Poetry Box challenge

I Am the Universe, Vasanti Unka, Penguin Books, 2020

Vasanti Unka is one of my favourite children’s authors. Last year I was on a Storylines Tour with Vasanti (and a few other very cool authors) in the Kaikoura region, and I loved it when I shared a school session with her. I felt so inspired. Vasanti’s books are so captivating: her playful words match her playful illustrations.

Vasanti is an award-winning writer, designer and illustrator of children’s books. Check out her backlist – it is fabulous! She lives in Auckland, has a Masters in Design degree and tutors in this field.

It’s celebration time because a glorious new Vasanti Unka book has arrived in the world. It is scintillating. It gleams and it glimmers.

Vasanti says: ‘This has been one of my favourite books to work on, from writing to design, every step has felt like it was really sprinkled with star dust! I spent ages on the illustrations but I loved every minute of it. I can’t wait for you to see it.’

The book was due to come out a few months ago, but got delayed by covid so I have had my copy sitting on my desk and I have been itching to share this twinkling treat with you too!

Vasanti takes us on a tour of the universe with her glistening illustrations and writing. The story is like a bright list poem!

I am the Sun,

a mighty fireball

of blazing starlight.

I am the Moon

an orbiting satellite

spellbound by Earth.

We will travel from the glittering Solar system, we’ll land on earth’s gravel and rock, move though oceans, mountains, cities and neighbourhoods, and end up in the snuggly nook of home and family.

I love every page, but perhaps most of all the ending. The book goes full circle with the stars, sun and moon looking down on us at the start, and us looking back up at them at the end. In the final page the girl’s bedroom is mysterious purple-black, just like the universe. The child is wearing her starry pyjamas, her cat is waiting for a cuddle and games, but she is looking out the window at the glinting stars, with a big smile on her face and a head full of luminescent dreams.

That is what this heavenly book can do – fill you with glittery dreams. You can stall on any page and stories will flow. The neighbourhood page has my eyes darting and dashing from one sparkly spot to the next: children are scooting, skipping, tree-climbing, ball-kicking, cape-wearing, toy-playing, book reading.

The universe is a many-spangled thing. It is full of movement and shine, as well as darkspace and mystery. Vasanti’s book holds the universe up for us like a prism so we can bask in its many astonishing lights.

Yes, I love love love this book. I do hope it finds a home on a universe of Aotearoa bookshelves. Our borders might be closed, but our dreams and our readings are not.

Penguin Books author page