Horse tales – Soraya Nicholas and Stacy Gregg: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Today I sat amongst a crowd of young girls, clutching their favourite horsey books – some even with their riding helmets on – to listen to Stacy Gregg and Soraya Nicholas telling Horse Tales at WORD Christchurch. I expected to enjoy myself, but I didn’t expect to feel myself brought to tears!

Stacy Gregg and Soraya Nicholas. Image supplied.
Stacy Gregg and Soraya Nicholas. Image supplied.

Stacy, in her wonderful, silver stiletto boots, told us the moving story of Princess Haya, the girl behind her first based-on-a-true-story book, The Princess and the Foal. Stacy had been in the middle of writing the Pony Club Rivals series when she saw a newspaper story about Princess Haya of Jordan, president of the International Federation for Equestrian Sports, and knew that she had to write about this courageous, gutsy girl. At first she had thought of adding her as a character in the series she was writing, and tucked the newspaper clipping away to refer back to. But as she thought about the Princess, she soon realised that Haya needed to have her own book. And so The Princess and the Foal came to be.

I first read Stacy Gregg’s books years ago, beginning with Mystic and the Midnight ride, which I gave to Miss Missy for Christmas. And I enjoyed reading the Pony Club Secrets series along with her, as I added each new book to her shelf. I hadn’t gotten round to reading all the more recent books, but believe me, as soon as I get home, I’ll be raiding her Stacy Gregg shelf, and reading The Princess and the Foal.

Princess Haya is the daughter of the Lion of Jordan, whose mother was killed in a helicopter crash when Haya was just 3 years old. And of course the little girl didn’t really understand what had happened, and thought that it was all her fault. She had lost her mother, and her father was too busy ruling his country to be able to spend much time with her, but he saw how sad and lonely she was becoming, and gave her a new-born motherless foal for her 6th birthday. And Princess Haya’s life found new meaning. By the age of 13, she was riding at international level, and she went on to become an Olympic show jumper.

I can’t wait to read it! I can’t wait for The Fire Stallion to come out either! (It’s on order already, so you can place a hold).

I’m also exited to read Soraya Nicholas’ Starlight Stables books. Although at 15, Miss Missy may be getting a bit old for these stories, I know that a few years ago, she would have just loved them! Soraya, also in shiny metallic shoes* – gold this time! — loved reading pony stories as a kid, and read the authors I read, like the Pullein-Thompson sisters, and dreamed of one day writing the kinds of books she loved to read. Just as much as the exciting excerpts from her books, I enjoyed hearing of her determination to become an author, even though people sometimes laughed at her dream. “Dream big” she told all those horse- and book-mad girls. Don’t let people who lack faith in you stop you from going after your biggest dreams.

What could be a better message than that?

*These two authors are definitely the most stylish of children’s authors, as Kate De Goldi said in her introduction.

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Follow our coverage of WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Gavin Bishop: Aotearoa – WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

I first knew Gavin Bishop not as a children’s author and illustrator, but as one of the art teachers at my high school. Although he’s been writing children’s books for years, it wasn’t until my son was a toddler that I started to take notice of his books. The first one that made me sit up and pay attention was The House that Jack Built which so beautifully blends together that traditional tale with the Kiwi setting. But it wasn’t till I read Diana Noonan’s Quaky Cat, post-earthquake, when Gavin Bishop’s hauntingly beautiful illustrations of my ruined city – of the Cathedral, which had still been standing when the book was written, but now was hardly more than a pile of rubble – brought tears to my eyes, and I added his works to my “favourites” list.

Gavin Bishop Aotearoa. Image supplied.
Gavin Bishop Aotearoa. Image supplied.

So it was very exciting to have the chance to listen to him talking about his latest books, Aotearoa: the Story of New Zealand, Margaret Mahy Book of the Year (and winner of the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction) and the soon to be released Cook’s Cook: The Cook Who Cooked for Captain Cook.

It was amazing to get a glimpse of the way that Aotearoa was created (the book, that is). He told us how his publisher suggested the idea to him, of a great big picture book about the history of New Zealand, covering 65 million years in 64 pages, and how excited he was to work on it, wishing he’d come up with the idea himself. And then of the 2am moment of panic, when he realised that this book was four times bigger (in size alone, not to mention the scope of it) than a normal picture book, and he had only a year to do it in

I really enjoyed seeing the carefully detailed planning pages, with the art work and text carefully drawn in, and then the finished paintings, so beautiful and oddly empty without their accompanying text. Despite all that care, there were times when he didn’t leave quite enough room for the text, but thanks to the wonders of Photoshop, the designer was able to nudge bits of artwork over to make room. Bishop and the designer had quite the debate over the cover artwork. He created at least eight different versions of the art work, and had wanted to include a rainbow, but the designer didn’t agree.

Bishop spent many hours researching for this book (hardly surprising, 65 million years is a lot to cover!) and out of that research emerged another story, which became Cook’s Cook. We’ve all heard of Captain Cook, of course, but I’d never given any thought to the practicalities of the voyage. Did you know that there were 94 men aboard the Endeavour, a ship built for just 16! And of course all those men had to be fed. It was a one-handed Scottish cook, by the name of John Thompson who cooked and fed them all, on Pease Porridge and all manner of curious meats. I can’t wait for this book to arrive at the library, so I can read it!! It’s in the catalogue already, though, so you can go ahead and place a hold on it (you’ll be right after me in the queue!)

Not too old for picture book fun

Cover of Rattletrap Car by Phyllis RootI’ve been having car trouble lately.  If Sheldon Cooper rode shotgun with me, he would have a complete meltdown, because Daisy’s check engine light came on over a week ago, and I haven’t checked her engine. So, anyway, the other morning, on the way to school with the Young Lad, despite the warming up and molly-coddling, I felt that all-too-familiar stumble-chug as we were driving along. I asked the Young Lad if he thought it would help if I gave Daisy some razzleberry, dazzleberry, snazzleberry fizz like the family in Rattletrap Car. And you know what he said, that boy of mine? “I’m too old for rhymes, Mum!” (with audible eye rolling in his tone.)

I know what he really meant. He meant that he’s too old for silly nonsense, like a car that can be repaired with random items stuck on tight with “chocolate marshmallow fudge delight.” Just like he’s too old for cuddles from Mum before he goes off to his classroom in the morning. *sob*

But honestly, how can anyone be to old for rhymes and stories? I say you’re never too old for a great picture book!* And lets face it, life is too short to read boring books. If you’ve got a littley to read to, you’re gonna want to enjoy what you’re reading too. So, with that in mind, I thought I’d share a few of my favourites with you.

  • Cover of Welcome by Mo WillemsFirst up: Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals.  I spotted this one on the shelf the other day, and I absolutely love it! It’s sort of like an in-flight safety instruction card for babies. The road-sign style illustrations made me giggle, and who wouldn’t laugh at Willems “instructions” about available activities (“sleeping and waking, eating and burping, pooping and more pooping”) and log-in codes (“Do not worry. You do not need to know any log-in codes, yet.”) Or his warnings about unpleasant possibilities, like “fighting and wastefulness and soggy toast” or the ice cream disasters that no-one is exempt from. Technically, this is not actually a picture book, which is all the more reason to share it with you, since you won’t find it in the picture book bins at your local library. When you look for it (and you really should!) you’ll find it in the non-fiction section.
  • 9780803739901Henry Finds His Word by Lindsay Ward.  When he was a little younger, the Young Lad enjoyed reading this book with me. He always loved books with nonsense words, and this one, with Henry’s baby-babble-nonsense as he tries to make himself understood by the grown-ups was no exception. Henry decides he needs to find his word so people will know what he’s talking about, but he doesn’t know what words look like. Are they big or small? Fuzzy? Prickly? Could one be hiding under his blanket? You’ll have to read this sweet, quirky story to find out!
  • 9780062252074Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall is a great story about a crayon who just can’t seem to draw red, even though that is what his label clearly says. His friends all think he needs practice, or should try harder, but no matter what he does, all Red’s drawings turn out to be blue! A wonderful message of acceptance, and being who you are, told in a delightfully funny way. I love the brightly coloured illustrations too, they are a mixture of  collage-style shapes and crayon drawings, that really make the story pop.
  • 9780714874081Before & After by Jean Jullien is a hilariously simple book that explores the concept of before and after in funny and surprising ways.  This is also not technically a picture book, but will be found with the board books.  While you’re looking for it, you might also want to look for Jullien’s equally hilarious This is Not a Book.
  • Reading The Scariest thing in the Garden by Craig Smith always involves lots of noise and hilarity. Would you believe that an aphid could be the scariest thing in the garden? It is to a really, really scared Brussels sprout. What about a lady-bird? They are pretty scary to an aphid. It’s fun to try to guess what the scariest thing  could be each time, and to scream along with the scared bugs and animals. And you’ll laugh when you discover what the scariest thing actually is!
  • 9780553539295Although you wouldn’t actually read ABC Dream by Kim Krans, I’m sure you’ll love sharing this beautiful and absorbing wordless picture book with your littlies. The illustrations are simply beautiful, and it’s lots of fun trying to work out all the things that begin with each letter — some are really quite tricky! I’ve shared this book with lots of children who’ve visited the library, and have been blown away by some of the things they think of. Don’t you just love it when kids surprise you?
  • And finally, no list** of my favourite picture books would be complete without Captain Pugwash by John Ryan. I just love this series of Pirate stories about Pugwash and his crew, who are the laziest afloat. Although Pugwash thought himself very brave and clever, it was always Tom the Cabin Boy who saved the day. Dad gave me this book for my 5th birthday, and it is the very first book I ever read to myself. The stories are still just as exciting and funny as they ever were, so if you have a small person who likes pirate stories, I’m sure you’ll love these books as much as I do!

After all that talk about being too old for this kind of thing, The Young Lad surprised me last night by telling me he wanted to come to the library and listen to me sharing Storytimes with the little kids. I guess you really are never too old for picture books!

*I think I may have mentioned my love of picture books once or twice before

**I had a really hard time choosing which books to share in this blog post, because once I got started…I just couldn’t stop! So naturally, I also put together a list in our catalogue of a few of my favourites. I managed (with difficulty) to keep it to just 40 books. And I’m sure I missed out at least one fabulous book that I just couldn’t remember the name of.

Perfect or flawed? Cecelia Ahern’s dystopian sequel

Ever since she was tiny, Miss Missy has loved books and reading. She never had a security blanket—instead she had to have Peepo by Janet and Alan Ahlberg in her cot to go to sleep. Our best “look what my baby can do” party trick was getting her to bring us alphabet letters from the fridge. She could find the “S for Sausage” or the “G for Genevieve” or the “H for Helena” (her BFF) long before she could say any of those words. When she got bigger, she went through chapter books so fast that on trips to the library, she’d have finished a book before we even pulled up the drive.

9780008125097I shared all my best-loved books with Miss Missy—the Chronicles of Narnia , Milly Molly Mandy stories, the Little House books, and (of course!) Harry Potter. As she got older, she started sharing her favourites with me, like Michael Morpurgo and Lauren Child two authors that I thoroughly enjoy reading. Now that she’s reading teen fiction, Dystopian novels feature heavily. A while back she brought home Flawed by Cecelia Ahern. I was intrigued by this world where perfection is everything, where the smallest mistake can see you branded, literally, as a flawed member of society, and by Celestine, the girl who decides to make a stand for the shunned.

It was a fast paced and exiting story, which ended with Celestine on the run, so Miss Missy and I were both eagerly awaiting Perfect, the next book in the series!

Cover of Perfect by Cecelia Ahern

Much as I wanted to enjoy it, I couldn’t help thinking that Perfect was, well, less than perfect. I expected it to pick up just were Flawed left off, with Celestine on the run, and determined to take down the evil Guild that controls the world she lives in. But Perfect doesn’t take off at a run. Instead of running, Celestine decides to hang out on her Granddad’s farm for a couple of weeks, going no-where, doing nothing. And of course, she almost gets caught. Once she finally starts running, I expected her to go get the vital evidence she needed to bring down the evil Judge and his Guild, but it took her an absolute age to figure out what I already twigged onto–that she’d been given the evidence secreted in an unexpected gift. She’d had it since the first book, and it took her half the second one to figure it out! I got a bit annoyed with her naivety (stupidity?). She was just too trusting, and it kept getting her into trouble.

But maybe I’m being to harsh! Miss Missy loved it, and once it got off the ground, I did enjoy reading it.  I think Perfect just suffers a little from Sequel Syndrome (I thought I was being clever coming up with that, but a quick Google search will show you its not a new thing!) Is it cynical of me to think that Ms Ahern’s publisher just wanted her to spin the story out into two books instead of one? All in all it was a pretty good book, and if you enjoyed Flawed, it’s definitely worth reading this to find out what happens, so don’t let me put you off!

And maybe you’d like to tell me about a sequel that you thought fell a short?

Perfect
by Cecelia Ahern
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN:  9780008125141

Missbeecrafty’s latest crafty finds

I love me a good craft book. Sometimes I take them home just to drool over, and sometimes I actually make some of the things! In the last couple of months, I’ve found some really wonderful craft books, and I just had to share. Maybe you’ll find something to make too!

9781607058861First up, is Felt Wee Folk by Salley Mavor. This book is full of adorable little figurines, with the sweetest faces, little acorn cup hats, and beautiful felt clothes. I really wanted to make some fairies for the Christmas Tree, and a Nativity, and maybe a winter scene, too. I found it before Christmas, and I really would have made some if I hadn’t discovered book number two just a week later…

Book number two is Happy Quilts! by Antonie Alexander. This book looked so bright and fun I couldn’t resist bringing it home, and as I pored over the cute projects, I realised that here was the perfect inspiration for the Young Lad’s homemade Christmas present. Even though this is a book of quilts, I didn’t make him a quilt (remember I took this book out just before Christmas, even I wouldn’t contemplate making a whole quilt with just three weeks to do it. I may be good, but I’m not that good!)

9781440244476

I thought about one of the soft toys, but the Young Lad has just turned eight, and I wasn’t sure how well a rag-doll would go down, even if it was a superhero rag-doll.  So I decided to use one of the robot quilt blocks, and make him a cushion. I had a lot of fun choosing colourful fabrics from my stash, and was really pleased that the only things I ended up buying was background fabric and buttons. The huge grin on his face, and the bear hug he gave the cushion when he opened it told me I’d chosen just the right thing to make!

9781784943301The last book I want to tell you about is Wedding Jewelry by Sian Hamilton. I spied this book on the new books shelf and couldn’t stop myself from picking it up and flicking through. See, my little brother is getting married this year, and I want to make something for his fiancée. Even though the brides in the book all have rather pained expressions on their faces — according to Miss Missy, several of them look like they’ve just noticed bird poo on their shoulder — the instructions are really clear, and there are lots of interesting techniques. When I showed the book to my future SIL, we came up with a plan for me to make a beaded hair comb, and I’m really excited about getting started on it!

Have you discovered any great crafting books lately? If so, please tell me your finds!

The Pony Movie Recipe

30e3435d-1e1c-4e83-837c-ea96cf447887Even though Miss Missy is nearly 15, she and I still enjoy our Mum and Daughter Movie Nights. Often we pick a theme, like movies based on books (we liked Stardust, National Velvet and The Princess Bride), robot movies (I, Robot was our favourite) or flicks starring Robin Williams (Jumanji is Miss Missy’s top pick; I like Mrs Doubtfire and Hook too).

Our favourite theme so far was our extended Pony Movie marathon, and we had plenty of options, sparked by my discovery of the Heroes and Heartthrobs Pony Club. While we gorged ourselves on equine adventures, we learned a couple of things.

First up, we learnt that Pony Movies are almost all made from the same basic recipe, which goes something like this:

Ingredients

  1. The Horse. It wouldn’t be a pony movie without a horse, of course.
  2. The Girl. Obviously the Girl loves horses. Sometimes she has never, ever ridden a horse, but she will instantly be a better rider than anyone else.
  3. The Father. The Father is generally either dead or the girl has never met him. Either way, he usually is (or was) a great rider. If there is no Father, there will be Horse-trainer-father-figure.
  4. The Tragic Accident (optional). Someone will often have had a terrible accident while riding. It could be the Father, the Trainer, or the Mother, and sometimes it’s fatal. This generally leads to the Girl being forbidden to ride. Or the brilliant Trainer refusing to train.
  5. The Villain. This is usually a rich neighbour, and possibly the neighbour’s bratty son. They will probably buy, steal, or have other treacherous dealings with the Horse. Or it could be a bratty girl who has been riding all her life and always wins every single competition.
  6. The Colic Episode (add for extra spice). Colic is a very common equine ailment in pony movies. Everything will be going along swimmingly, and then the Horse gets colic. Everyone will be in a complete and utter panic, the Horse will be on death’s door, but will be restored to full and perfect health after a night of being lead around the stable by the Girl. Or perhaps by some horse-whisperer who will have to be dragged from his bed in the middle of the night just so he can put a hand on the horse’s belly and magically cure the colic.
  7. The Competition. This could be show-jumping, rodeo, or a long distance race, or some such. Spoiler alert: the Girl will win. Even though she’s never ridden a horse before, remember?
  8. The Foreclosure (optional). The parents or step-parents of the Girl will be about to lose their house, farm, horse(s), or all of the above. Usually the villainous rich neighbour will offer to buy them out.

Method

Choose your optional ingredients and extra spices and mix all together. Bam! You’ve got a pony movie.

Young woman and horse
Pony movie ingredients 1 & 2: Girl and horse

Sometimes, the result will be a fun and exciting family movie. And other times…

Which leads us to the other thing we learnt: sometimes watching bad movies can be just as much fun as watching good movies! Miss Missy and I have just loved picking the plots to bits, spotting the stunt and pony doubles, laughing at bad riding and total lack of horse sense, and “predicting” the ending (will she win?? will the farm be saved??).

The  best Pony Movie Marathon moment was when we were watching Amazing Racer, and Miss Missy struggling to hold her derision in, snarkily told the TV to “pick a plot-line!” The makers of that movie clearly thought that more would be more, and threw everything in the mix: not only a dead father, but also a long-lost-thought-to-be-dead-but-not mother, and mean foster-parents (or were they an aunt and uncle, we started to lose track…). There was also a tragic accident (just for variety, it was the Girl who had the accident!), a near fatal equine illness… the list goes on! If you’re curious, you could watch this movie yourself, or you could read this deliciously snarky review.

Pony Movie Marathon Awards

Miss Missy and I couldn’t resist bestowing some Pony Movie Marathon Awards, and decided to award Amazing Racer our Best of the Worst Award.

Honourable Mention goes to: Virginia’s Run. Yes, this was your typical pony movie, but it stood out a little from the crowd. The first thing it’s got going for it is that it stars Gabriel Byrne as the father, and there are some genuinely funny moments. Yes, (spoiler alert)  Virginia wins the race, but we cheered when plucky Melissa come in last on her little pony, long after the crowds had gone home.

The Worst of the Worst: No question about it, this award goes to… A Pony Tale! This movie took “bad” to a whole new level. To be frank, I’m not even sure you could really call it a movie. It’s all of 88 minutes long, but I am not kidding when I say that half of that time is scenery shots that are completely unrelated to the plot, or even the location. There are also the random scenes of the Girl riding the Horse round in circles for no apparent reason. And let me also add that this is a movie about a talking horse, but they didn’t even bother to put peanut butter in his mouth, so the scenes where he talks are literally just shots of a motionless horse! We actually decided that watching this movie is a form of torture, and that the worst punishment I could possibly inflict would be making Miss Missy watch it again!

And finally The Best of the Best Award goes to: Horse Crazy. We loved this movie! It was wonderful to watch a pony movie that didn’t stick to the recipe! Not a girl but a boy, no tragic accident, or dead parent, and no miraculous riding ability to win the big competition. I don’t want to give the story away, so let me just say that there is a horse (of course) and a villain, three cheeky kids, a couple of gormless adults–and a whole lot of fun!

Any favourite horse flicks of  your own you’d like to suggest?

Review: Recipes From My Mother

When I moved into a flat of my own, one of the first things I did was call Mum to ask how to make carrot coins (aka honey glazed carrots) and call Dad to ask him how to make yellow rice (aka turmeric rice). Those were two of my absolute favourite things to eat when I was a kid, and I love making them to this day. There is nothing quite like the comfort and nostalgia of cooking things “just like Mum used to make.” So when I saw Rachel Allen‘s Recipes From My Mother: Delicious recipes filled with memories I was sure it would be just my kind of cookbook.

Cover of Recipes from my mother

And I was right!

It is a beautiful book, full of family photographs, memories of mouth-watering  meals cooked by loving mums and grandmas, and, of course, a multitude of delicious-sounding recipes that I just couldn’t wait to try.

There are simple ones, like “Scrambled eggs back in the shell,” and “Sweet eggy bread” (which is a souped-up version of french toast). Classic ones, like “Kedgeree” and “Apricot and cardamom bread and butter pudding.” Fancy ones, like “Amma’s icelandic kleiner” a sort of knotted doughnut, and “Lemon meringue pie.”

I find it fascinating that although Rachel Allen grew up in Ireland with her Icelandic mother and Irish father, many of the dishes she remembers loving as a child sound so familiar to me though I grew up here in New Zealand, with my Scottish mother and English father.  The first thing I learned to cook was semolina, back when I was small enough to need a chair to stand at the stove. Mum created a recipe for me that included beautiful pictures for instructions, because I struggled to read till long after I was a dab hand at making semolina. And what do you know, Semolina is the dish Rachel remembers most from when she was very young.

Still now I find a bowlful of this rib-sticking pudding the most comforting food of all.

You and me, both, Rachel! Her recipe includes a instructions for making raspberry jam to dollop on the top. I wasn’t making jam with mine as a little girl, but it does sound lovely!

The “Beetroot and hazelnut slaw” reminds me of the delicious beetroot salad my foster mum used to make; while “Baked creamy vanilla rice pudding” reminds me of the tasty meals I enjoyed while boarding in my first year of University.  Although I’ve never liked cauliflower cheese, Rachel’s description of the memories it invokes makes me wish I did!

For me, cauliflower cheese is serious comfort food. It comes with a shed-load of nostalgia, too, as I think of the round terracotta dish it was always cooked in at home. It would come out the Aga golden and bubbling.

Doesn’t that sound delish?

There are so many recipes in this book, I’m sure that you too will find something that takes you back! Not to mention something delicious!

Recipes from my Mother 
by Rachel Allen
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008208172

Cookie serendipity

9781452109626I just love it when the library gods smile at me by sending me the right book just at the right time! I have been lamenting to myself for a while about the arduousness of baking for midweek work meetings. I love to bake—and more importantly, I love to eat good home baking—but sadly, I am not Wonder Woman, and often the thought of whipping up a batch of cookies or a cake in the evening after work is just too much.

I was pondering this as I wandered through the cooking section the other day, looking for something to put on our Staff Picks shelf, when Slice and Bake Cookies: Fast recipes from your refrigerator or freezer leapt right off the shelf and into my hands.

Here it was, the answer to all my baking dilemmas! What could be easier than making several batches of cookies at once in the weekend, and then pulling them out of the freezer to bake when needed? Sounds as easy as falling off a log, and a whole lot more delicious! I couldn’t wait to try the recipes! The first one I tried was Sugar and Spice Snickerdoodles, and they went down so well at work that everyone is clamouring for the recipe!

Next up, I tried the Ginger, Ginger Cookies. The photo looked just like the yummy Gingersnaps that my family loves, but I hardly ever make, because rolling all those little balls of cookie dough takes soooo darned long!  As I mixed, I was sure I had a complete failure on my hands. Could this sticky, squishy mess possibly be rolled into a sausage and sliced up?? But amazingly, they worked!  The cookie sausages where certainly floppier than I expected, but because they were sliced up when still partially frozen, they worked just fine. The Beecrafty family were very disappointed when I said they were for work—but then I left the cake-tin on the bench when I left, and they got to eat them after all! (My team mates were not as happy as my family were!)

Last weekend, I decided to try the Double-Spiral Cinnamon Crisps that Miss Missy had been begging me to make for our Movie Night treat. I don’t have a cake mixer, which all the recipes claim to need, but so far my hand mixer and a wooden spoon had worked pretty well.  Of course, a hand mixer is not a good tool for cutting butter into flour. If you try this, you are likely to send clouds of flour all over the place. A food processor is a much better option. I already knew that, of course, but it didn’t stop me giving it a go with the beater anyway. Yeah. It doesn’t work. But luckily I do have a food processor, and that worked a treat on these delicious treats! Next time I make them, I think I’ll do a double batch, they were so good!

I think I’ll try the Squared-Off Lemon Shortbread next. Or maybe the Chocolate-Dipped Oatmeal Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches. Or Vanilla Cookies with Fudge Filling. Or…

They all look so good, I can’t choose!  Whatever I make next, one thing’s for sure: I’m adding this book to my Favourite Cook Books list!

Find out more

 

Celebrate Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori with Tuhinga Pikitia – Te Reo Māori Picture Books

Some people might say they’re just here for the kai, but I would say I’m just here for the tuhinga pikitia*. I love picture books, I really do. A good picture book is a work of art.

9780143502838One of my all-time favourite picture books is Kei Te Pēhea Koe? by Tracy Duncan. I love it because the illustrations are so evocative, just one look at the picture for “makariri” makes me shiver, and there’s no mistaking how hungry the little girl on the “matekai” page feels. The words are in both Māori and English which is great for people like me, who aren’t fluent in te reo.

9781775430117Another favourite of mine is Ngā kahumoe o te ngeru by Catherine Foreman. I remember the first time I read this book, when it came through the returns slot one quiet evening at Fendalton Library. The cat looked so sweet, tucked up in bed with his colourful pjs and his cuddly little rabbit, that I had to read it, even though I knew I probably wouldn’t understand a word. This is a lovely story, about a cat who wears a different pair of pyjamas each night, which inspire wonderful dreams…but when he wears his MONSTER pyjamas — well you can guess what happens! I understood all of this, just from the pictures. Because, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. I enjoy the English version too, but somehow, when I read it, it doesn’t seem quite as magical as that time I “read” the te reo version.

9781775432968Just the other week, I discovered a beautiful new favourite — Hush by Joy Cowley. This is a kiwi version of the classic lullaby, beautiful illustrated by Andrew Burdan. When Miss Missy was a baby, I used to sing Hush Little Baby to her, but I couldn’t remember the words properly, and made up my own version — I wish this book had been around then! Joy Cowley is much better than I am at making up words! The te reo translation is at the back of the book — I think it’s a shame the two languages aren’t together on the same page, but still, it’s a lovely book, and a beautiful song to share with your tamariki.

9780473201791If you like waiata, then Sharon Holt is worth keeping an eye out for. She has lots of te reo titles, which include CDs to sing along with, which is a great way to learn the reo. Kei te Peke Ahau is lots of fun, with all the rere, peke, and pakipaki  (flying, jumping, and clapping). Each page has a different animal and action to do, ending up with e moe pēpi — sleeping like a baby (not an animal, I know…unless it’s jungle hour, then babies are definitely animals).

9780473331504Speaking of pēpi, it is the beautiful illustrations of pēpi and tamariki in Kanohi by Kitty Brown that make this book. This bilingual pukapuka is full of gorgeous, cheeky kids, with text in both te Reo and English. I can’t quite make up my mind if my favourite is the taringa picture or the ngutu one. This series of board books are perfect if you want to teach your tamariki a little bit of te Reo, or maybe learn a bit yourself. In fact, it was Kitty Brown’s desire to reconnect with her reo that prompted her to write the books. You can read more about this in our interview with her.

If you want more ideas for ways to share te Reo with your tamariki, then check out our page of resources

During te Wiki o te Reo Maori, we’ll have Storytimes with te reo Māori at all our libraries.

*The food is pretty good too. OK, I’m actually just here for the food AND the picture books!

The Alice Network – Review

I spent the last couple of weeks down the rabbit hole, head buried in The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. The story captured me from the very beginning—no need to read to page 90 with this one; I was hooked by page two!

Cover of The Alice network

Nineteen forty-seven was hell for little bony girls like me who couldn’t wear the New Look. Then again, 1947 was hell for any girl who would rather work calculus problems than read Vogue, any girl who would rather listen to Edith Piaf than Artie Shaw, and any girl with an empty ring finger but a rounding belly.

It was a surprising, rabbit-warren of a novel, following the interconnected paths of two very different women, and spanning both world wars. One path is the story of Charlie St Clair, the little bony  girl with the rounding belly, on her way to an Appointment to deal with her Little Problem. The other is the story of Eve Gardiner, a stuttering half-French girl plucked from her life as a file girl in an English law office and dropped into the spy network in France during World War I. It’s also the story of their two quests—Charlie’s search for her French cousin Rose, missing since 1944, and Eve’s quest for retribution and for peace.

And, it’s the story of Louise de Bettignies, code named Alice Dubois, queen of spies.

Cover of A tangled web: Mata Hari

Have you heard of her? If you have, you’re doing better than me! Before reading this fascinating novel, I knew nothing about women spies in WWI apart from some vague recollections about Mata Hari. I was surprised when I realised that I was reading about a woman who had truly risked her life providing the allies with information. I mean, I’m not completely ignorant about the world wars. I studied Gallipoli in History and War Poetry in English, not to mention a having a fair few novels set during the wars on my Completed Shelf. But Louise de Bettingnies was a stranger to me. It’s a shame she isn’t better known, as Kate Quinn says of her in the authors note:

The courage, ingenuity, and resourcefulness of the woman christened the queen of spies needs no exaggeration to make for thrilling reading.

Not only was Louise a real person, so too were several other characters, and many of the events in the story are based on historical events. I didn’t realise this while I was reading, so this realisation, at the end, made the book even more enjoyable.

This book is, by turns, exciting, harrowing, poignant, a little romantic, and quite funny. I particularly enjoyed the scene where Charlie, after being refused access to her own bank account because she’s lacking a man, decides to pawn her grandmothers pearls, and Eve surprises her by pretending to be the said grandmother and browbeating the pawnbroker into giving Charlie a decent price. I’m definitely going to be adding Kate Quinn to my list of must-read authors, and I hope you do too!

The Alice Network
by Kate Quinn
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780062654199