Tag Archives: NZ Book Month

A month of books

In the last month, I’ve written a post a day about New Zealand books, focusing on children’s books. This is in part because we happen to have plenty of New Zealand children’s books in the house, so it was easy. There are some books I would have liked to have covered, but I ran out of time, such as the Alex quartet. Fortunately, both Ele and Karen Healey wrote about the Alex books. There are other books that I would have included, but our copies have gone missing – The Lion in the Meadow and The Little Yellow Digger are cases in point – so I couldn’t take photos of them, and couldn’t reread them before I wrote about them.

Of all the books I blogged, I think Annie and Moon is my favourite. Today, that is. By tomorrow I may have changed my mind, for I love many of the others too. I enjoy the glory and nonsense of Margaret Mahy’s books, and the little boy and his imagination in Taniwha touch something in my heart, as does the steadfastness and rebirth in Maraea and the Albatrosses.

Other people have been blogging books for NZ Book month too. Ele issued the challenge, and kept up with it herself, posting a book a day over at Homepaddock. Both Oswald Bastable and Rob Hosking blogged some books, ‘though Rob never come through on his promise to write about Bollard and Buckle’s Economic Liberalisation in New Zealand and Malcolm McKinnon’s History of the NZ Treasury. Karen Healey wrote about authors: Gavin Bishop, Elizabeth Knox, Tessa Duder and the marvellous Margaret Mahy. And new group blog, The Random Polka Dot Club 462, by a group of girls who may be known to me, features a post for the month covering four books, Kauri in my Blood, Kaitangata Twitch, Maddigan’s Quest and Alex.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the books, and that those of you with small and medium sized children have found some ‘new’ books to add to your own children’s collections. Or perhaps some books that you could give to grandchildren. Children need books!

NZ Book Month – The Best Loved Bear

bestlovedbearThe Best Loved Bear by Diana Noonan, illustrated by Elizabeth Fuller

I’ve been saving this book for October 31, because today is my brother’s birthday, and because of reasons, this book makes me think of him.

There is a competition at school for the best loved bear. Tim loved his bear Toby, but Toby is very, very scruffy. His nose is bare, his ear is torn, he is all sticky from the icecream that Tim has shared with him. Tim tries to clean him up as best he can, but Toby is still scruffy. But when the principal comes in to judge the competition, she sees that although Toby may not be the most beautiful bear, he is definitely the best loved bear.

This is a simple and gentle story, accompanied by simple and gentle illustrations. The bears in our house, Ursa, Hugo and Pedro, given to the girls by Granddad Strange Land, Barney, given to Miss Eleven by Granny Strange Land in a reading connection, and Paddington, also Miss Eleven’s bear, from her Great Uncle Strange Land, are well loved too, if a little worse for wear.* Each time we read this story, the girls would go to bed cuddling their well loved bears.

Happy birthday, beloved brother of mine!

*The Misses Eight have plenty of other cuddly stuffed toys! They just happen not to be teddy bears.


NZBMsmlI’m taking up Ele’s challenge, and blogging a book a day in October, which is New Zealand Book Month. All the books are by New Zealand authors.

NZ Book Month – Maddigan’s Quest

maddigansquestMaddigan’s Quest by Margaret Mahy, previously published as Maddigan’s Fantasia

Time travel, a changed world, mystery, a quest, a determined girl who is competent and able, but makes mistakes, and grows and grows and grows – what’s not to like? Garland, the hero, is daughter of Maddie, the leader of a travelling circus or “fantasia” which brings dreams and performances and wonders to the settlements and villages it travels through. The Fantasia has a task, to bring a power source back to Solis, the main city in the land. Some mysterious strangers appear from the future, but are they there to help or hinder?

I enjoyed this book. From the glimpses of New Zealand – a character called Tane, a taniwha, a town called Gramth which is surely Greymouth for which I have a peculiar affection* – to the not-so-happy but happy ending, it’s all a fabulous tale. One of the things I liked best is that although there are mysterious events in the story, they are all science-y, all explicable, even if it’s with the baffling science of the future. The fantasy is grounded in imagined fact, which makes it all the more compelling. I’m not fond of ghostie-explanations, even in stories; give me science any day.

It’s a good read. Maybe a bit episodic, but it’s hard to have a road novel that isn’t. It’s highly imaginative and morally complex; decisions that Garland takes have difficult consequences, and the seemingly evil deeds of some communities are explicable, when seen from another point of view. I was absorbed by this book, as was Miss Eleven, and it’s on my (ever-expanding) list of books for re-reading, sometime, soon…

*Due to a dip in a hotel bed, I was conceived in Greymouth, or so I’m told.


NZBMsmlI’m taking up Ele’s challenge, and blogging a book a day in October, which is New Zealand Book Month. All the books are by New Zealand authors.

NZ Book Month – Kaitangata Twitch

kaitangatatwitchKaitangata Twitch by Margaret Mahy

Margaret Mahy writes wonderful books for small children (see for example, one, two and three), and she also writes wonder-full books for older children too. This is the first of her books for older children that I ever read; Granny and Granddad Strange Land gave it to Miss Eleven a couple of years ago (Miss Eleven reads at a very high level, so finding books for her which are challenging and interesting, but commensurate with her emotional age, is a problem, but it’s a good problem to have).

Meredith, the hero of the tale, has strange dreams about the island in the bay. The island is in danger; a developer wants to turn it into a resort. But the island seems to want to be left alone…

Family life, and small town life, and environmentalism, and community, and the supernatural, are woven through this novel. Meredith is a likable hero – just a girl, but a sensitive one. She has integrity and determination, and she is very aware of the nuances of relationships and place, in a way that many girls are. Eventually, she is a witness to the island’s solution, if indeed it is the island’s solution, and the start of a new community, in the utterly familiar way that new communities form all over New Zealand – a new subdivision, some new houses, new people settling in and forming connections that over the course of ten or twenty or thirty years become community.

I sat up late with this book one evening, and woke early and read the rest of it the next morning. It’s a compelling read. I find it remarkable that Margaret Mahy can write so well for very small children, and write superb novels for older children too. She really is a national treasure.

It turns out that there is a TV series. And the ABC has bought it. Miss Eleven and I will be watching for it.


NZBMsmlI’m taking up Ele’s challenge, and blogging a book a day in October, which is New Zealand Book Month. All the books are by New Zealand authors.

NZ Book Month – Down the Back of the Chair

downthebackofthechairDown the Back of the Chair by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Polly Dunbar

For many years, when Margaret Mahy read books for groups of children, at schools and in libraries, she would also recite her poem, Down the Back of the Chair. It’s a nonsense tale, sort of, about all the things that have disappeared down the back of the chair. A dad who can’t get to work because the car won’t start because the keys have been lost decides to search down the back of the chair. The most astonishing things turn up. I especially love…

A packet of pins
and one of the twins,
down the back of the chair.

The look of delight on the other twin’s face is gorgeous, and on every page thereafter, in Polly Dunbar’s illustrations, we see the twins cuddled up together, playing together, sleeping together, cuddled up together on Dad’s lap.

At last, Dad turns up his old money box, all crammed with cash.

The chair, the chair, the challenging chair,
The champion chair, the cheerful chair,
The charming chair, the children’s chair,
The chopped and chipped but chosen chair
To think our fortune waited there
Down the back of the chair.

This book is made for reading aloud. The words rollick along, carrying the reader with them into a joyous zaniness. Mahy makes ample use of rhyme – A cake, a drake, a smiling snake – and alliteration – A skink, a skunk, a skate, a ski – which can make it a little challenging for the unprepared reader, but it’s always fun having a go at the lines. The words “down the back of the chair” are repeated many times; I can imagine groups of children gathered around Margaret Mahy shouting them out with her. It is a marvellous book, and if you have small children, you should be getting a copy for them for Christmas this year.


NZBMsmlI’m taking up Ele’s challenge, and blogging a book a day in October, which is New Zealand Book Month. All the books are by New Zealand authors.

NZ Book Month – Down the Dragon’s Tongue

downthedragonstongueDown the Dragon’s Tongue by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Patricia MacCarthy

For Mr Strange Land, and all the other besuited daddies reading this blog

Mr Strange Land is not known for being a reserved and distant daddy. Quite the opposite, in fact. But he is besuited, and when he comes home at the end of the day, he often looks drawn and tired, and in need of… something.

In this story, Mr Prospero comes from his neat, tidy office, where things happen in neat, orderly fashion, just as he wants them to be, to his home, but…

… things never seemed to be nearly as neat when Mr Prospero went home.

And his twins (a particular resonance in our household) plead and demand and beg him to take him to the playground. Mrs Prospero adds her pleas – she is a songwriter, and she needs some peace and quiet to get her song right.

In his suit, with the twins, Mr Prospero goes off to the playground, in grumpy mood. The children desperately want to go down the huge dragon’s tongue slide (has Margaret Mahy visited Kowhai Park?), but they need their daddy with them. Very, very reluctantly, he slides down the slide, “perhaps just this once.”

And off they rush, down the slide, into the sandpit at the bottom, suit and all, and then,

“Again! Again!” shouted the twins, leaping up and down.

So they go down, again, and again, and again, until the twins are tired, and want to go home. But Mr Prospero takes one more glorious slide.

“Oh!” cried Mrs Prospero as Mr Prospero staggered into the living room. “What happened to you? Where are your buttons Why is your tie dangling behind you? And how did your shoes get into that state? Harry! Miranda! I thought you were going to take good care of your father.”

“He was too quick for us,” said Harry.

“I’ve been sliding down the dragon’s tongue,” said Mr Prospero dreamily.

Whoooosh! Swiiiish! Wheeee! Woooow!

A very happy book. And recommended reading, for all the busy mums and dads.


NZBMsmlI’m taking up Ele’s challenge, and blogging a book a day in October, which is New Zealand Book Month. All the books are by New Zealand authors.

NZ Book Month – The Witch in the Cherry Tree

witchinthecherrytreeThe Witch in the Cherry Tree by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Jenny Williams

Margaret Mahy is a taonga, a treasure, a wonderful writer of the most fabulous books for the very young, and the young, and the growing-a-bit-older-but-still-young.

Margaret Mahy says her stories are meant to be heard, and I can hear this one – the matter of fact mother, the imaginative, slight scared but slightly brave boy, the witch who is doing her best to be angry and frightening but really just wants a cake. She tries many tricks to get David, the boy, to give her a cake, and eventually, she succeeds, not by trickery, but due to the kindness of a small boy.

I love the way that this story represents a child’s imagination. It all really could have happened, or was it just a boy weaving dreams around cakes and storms and birds on the back lawn. I also love the tone of the mother’s voice, accepting her child’s imagination, and working with it.

The book ends with a recipe for Gingerbread Witches. We have tried it. It works.


NZBMsmlI’m taking up Ele’s challenge, and blogging a book a day in October, which is New Zealand Book Month. All the books are by New Zealand authors.