Rona Chris Szekely, illustrated by Josh Morgan, Huia Press, 2016
Sometimes I think good junior chapter books are as rare as hen’s teeth. Yet it is a time when you are hungry to read good books. I used to gobble books up in a swizzing second when I was that age.
Chris Szekely’s new junior chapter book, Rona, is so very good. I gobbled it up in one sitting and I didn’t want it to end because it is a book that makes you feel good (and I had a sore throat!). There are lively illustrations by Josh Morgan.
Chris is the Chief Librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington and is the first Māori person to hold this position.
Chris is already an award-winning author. In 2012, his book, Rāhui won the Picture Book Category at the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards, as well as the LIANZA Russell Clark Award for Illustration and the Librarian’s Choice Award.
Fleur Beale (a favourite author of mine) says this ‘s a gem of a story’ and I agree.
Rona stars in her own story. She lives with her Nana and Grandad – and her cousin Jessie comes to stay one summer. Rona is brave, bold and cheeky, inventive, and she knows how to stand up for herself. She is not-quite-good because she does some mischievous things (especially in the poetry competition!). I just love this character.
The story is so like real life it shines. Chris must take notice of little things like a sharp camera and store them in his memory bank because the detail is magnificent. I loved the china teacups, the boiling hot days, the fruit soaking for the Christmas cake, the teacher who could see through lies, the ice-cold-water dive by the wharf, the set of coloured pencils. I felt like I was staying with the family for the holidays I was so grounded in the story.
I especially loved the joy of a fresh set of coloured pencils ‘like a rainbow.’
The dialogue (what people say to each other) flows perfectly. It feels real not fake.
The sentences flow and sing – the verbs dance and pop.
I love the way Chris hides clues to things.
The glossary at the back is very witty.
Nana is a strong, wise and loving grandmother. She won’t stand for any rubbish behaviour but she is there to mop your brow.
This story, which is like a kete of little stories, is all about friendship and families. Things get in muddles. Life gets a bit messy. But Rona shines through. She is new classic kiwi character that we will all grow to love!
I think every school library needs a class set of this book! And if you feel like a warm, toasty, zingy sparkling reading feeling -then this book is for you. I recommend it highly. And I do hope there is a sequel.