Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2017

The end of one year and the start of another gives rise to lots of ‘Best of’ lists and reflections on what has stood out for the year. Here’s yet another literary round-up… 

The Best (& Worst) Children’s Books Evening co-hosted at the end of the year by the Canterbury Literacy Association and Christchurch City Libraries once again celebrated the best in children’s books.

Held annually, the event is a way to shout about and share the best books in a light-hearted end-of-year event, with no actual prizes awarded but an opportunity to hear from various experienced and enthusiastic practitioners and experts. It’s also a chance to gather together for the holiday season as a community of children’s literature enthusiasts, with like-minded folks across Canterbury. Attendees included a diverse section of professionals interested in children’s books from the National Library, the University of Canterbury, Christchurch City Libraries and Selwyn Libraries, to teachers and school librarians, all coming together at the newly rebuilt Ōrauwhata: Bishopdale Library and Community Centre.

And the ‘winner’ is…

CoverIt quickly became apparent that Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow – a debut novel by Australian Jessica Townsend – was the most notable book of the night, having been picked by several panellists who presented their top picks of 2017. But never mind about Nevermoor for now, let’s have a look at their other individual favourites…


Bookseller Picks

First up presenting was a representative from Paper Plus Bush Inn, Jo Harvey, who – aside from just Nevermoor – was also enthusiastic about:

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She also wants everyone to know about Those Shipwreck Kids by and Magnus Chase Ship of the Dead. And as for favourite picture books, she picked Tidy by Emily Gravett.

PaperPlus Bush Inn kindly donated bursting book bundles for the evening’s raffle draw.


Dyslexic-Friendly Texts

Katie Lumsden, from Christchurch City Libraries, spoke next about dyslexic friendly texts, and sang the praises about new changes to Overdrive (Overdrive is a digital content platform used by libraries to offer eBooks and audiobooks). It now has a feature to make some texts more accessible for dyslexic readers. An app called Libby has a feature that highlights the text as it reads aloud (only applicable on our Read Along collection). Katie has recently delivered talks on dyslexic-friendly texts and resources at the 2017 LIANZA conference in September in Christchurch.

AshboyKatie chose Ash Boy: A Cinderfella Story by Lucy Coats as her top dyslexic-friendly read of the year. It’s a good fun story says Katie, and, like other books from publisher Barrington Stokes, is printed in traditional dyslexic-friendly reading format using yellow pages, specific layout techniques and sans serif typeface. It has an interest level of age 8-12, yet is edited to a reading level of age 7, to allow ease of reading while still pitching to older readers.

When Cinder Ashok’s father remarries, Cinder finds himself lumped with a horrible new step-mother and step-brothers! They bully Cinder terribly – all he wants is to be left alone in the library, his favourite place in the world. But will a fairy godfather and a royal quintain tournament mean Cinder has a happily-ever-after on the horizon? Fun spin on the Cinderella story.

You can read the first chapter of Ash Boy here.


Top Student Picks

Each year we hear directly from the voice of young readers themselves. Primary school children from Waitākiri Primary School and Redcliffs School Mia, Otto, Evie & Flynn each spoke well and confidently about their favourite titles they read in 2017:

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Katie Lumsden (L) and Sophie O’Rourke (R) presenting their top picks at the Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2017 event, Ōrauwhata: Bishopdale Library and Community Centre, November 2017 

Best Picture Books

Sophie O’Rourke, junior teacher at Waitākiri Primary School, shared her plethora of engaging picture book titles of 2017 that stood out in her classroom, reading some funny highlights and telling us about the reactions and responses she gets from her Year 0-2 to the books – the real test of how well the authors and illustrators have hit the mark. A few highlights from the dozen chosen are  The Scariest Book Ever, Triangle, Creepy Pair of Underwear, A Place to Read (also titled as Are You Sitting Comfortably?) and Bug Bear.

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Read Sophie O’Rourke’s full list of Best Picture Books of 2017


Best Junior Fiction

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Zac McCallum, school librarian

Zac McCallum, formerly a children’s librarian from Christchurch City Libraries and also a previous children’s book awards judge, and now school librarian at Halswell Primary School, shared his delights of 2017 in the junior fiction category, including Nevermoor and:

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson. Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Matthew is trapped in his bedroom by crippling OCD, spending most of his time staring out of his window as the inhabitants of Chestnut Close go about their business. Until the day he is the last person to see his next door neighbour’s toddler, Teddy, before he goes missing. Matthew must turn detective and unravel the mystery of Teddy’s disappearance… Page-turning, heartbreaking, but ultimately life-affirming, this story is perfect for fans of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Wonder. It is a book that will make you laugh and cry. See Zac’s glowing review of The Goldfish Boy.

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See Zac’s Best of 2017 Junior Fiction book list

Also check out My Best Friends are Books, Zac’s brilliant blog of children’s book reviews.


Best Older Fiction and Young Adult Reads

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Author Rachael King, WORD Christchurch Literary Director

Ending the evening was author Rachael King, Literary Director at WORD Christchurch, who told engaging anecdotes about her favourite older fiction and young adult books read in 2017. She was also a judge in the 2017 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children & Young Adults so naturally her list includes a number of notable New Zealand titles.

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No surprise Nevermoor was also in Rachael’s top picks along with The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman and also by Pullman, a graphic novel: The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship 

See the full list of Rachael’s Best of Older Fiction & Young Adult Reads of 2017 and read the library’s interview with Rachael King which includes her all-time top picks of books for children and young adults.

Rachael also wanted to give special mention to what is actually an adult book, Tess, a page-turning eerie novella about a 19-year-old woman – a somewhat supernatural story set in late 1999 Masterson, by New Zealand author and publicist Kirsten McDougall.

WORD Christchurch also donated tickets to raffle off to celebrity children’s author David Walliams sold-out show which they were hosting. Priceless!


That’s a wrap…

Nevermoor was certainly the favourite on the night with three speakers having brought the book along as their favourite of 2017. Touted as Harry Potter meets Alice in Wonderland, the story is about “a cursed girl who escapes death and finds herself in a magical world – but is then tested beyond her wildest imagination.” The panelists said they were pleasantly surprised to find that the book really did live up to its marketing hype. (There are eight more books in the series due out!)

And as for the ‘worst’ part of the event’s title? The books chosen as the ‘worst’ of the year are of a ‘you have to have been there’ type nature – Chatham House rules – but we can say that books about poo got the poo poo!


Big thanks to MC Scott Wolfe, literacy facilitator at UC Education Plus, and member of the Canterbury Literacy Association, who did a cracker job mc’ing – and cracking jokes – at this end-of-year event.

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A large audience of enthusiasts in attendance at the Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2016 Event, South Library, November 2016

 

What’s a young person to do this summer?!

The summer holidays are upon us at last and there’s now lots of daytime hours to pursue your extracurricular interests and one of those interests is sure to be reading, but just WHAT do you read..?!?

I have compiled a reading list just for you so you don’t have to waste your precious summer moments searching for your new favourite book.

There’s everything in here, from steampunk adventure to wilderness survival, sci-fi alien battles to swords and sorcery, everyone will find something to rock their world this summer. There’s not a lot of romance in here, it’s all action, adventure, and fantastic tales – just the ticket for the long hot season!

So get looking through the list, place holds, search your local library, and talk to your local librarians…

Teenage Kicks

List created by DevilStateDan

A list of action-packed, non-sentimental, teenage reads!

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The Obsidian Blade
The first book of a trilogy that hurtles through dimensions as the young protagonist seeks answers and the truth behind what has happened to his family. Fast paced, full of action, and confronts the ideas of organised religion – great read!

Stormbreaker
High octane adventure as a young man gets recruited into the secret service – action packed!

Mortal Engines
Cities on wheels scouring the globe eating each other..?? A brilliant future-fantasy/steampunk adventure, and the first of four books. Hugely inventive and creative in it’s world building, and non-stop action!

Nation
A desert island survival adventure with a fantasy twist, and it’s Terry Pratchett so you just know it’s going to be full of heart and humour.

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Starship Troopers
If you like science fiction then this is the one for you! A huge story of alien battles, military camaraderie, and a high level of irony make this space adventure story a huge winner! Once you’ve read this book then watch the 1997 movie of the same name – you’ll never look at humanity in the same way again!!

Hatchet
Another wilderness survival story, this time in the wilds of Alaska and a young man alone. A great coming of age story – he goes into the wild a boy and becomes a man, but does he survive…??

The Outsiders
Gang life in the 1980s is where this story is at, with all the highs and lows of growing up in a poor and struggling family, trying to find your way in the world. This is a modern classic and a must read for all teens!

The Book Thief
As my colleague AliReads describes this book; “The Book Thief, Leisel, embodies the idea that humans need stories to continue being human. Like a lot of these other books, it’s a holding-on-to-your-humanity story, because war will strip you down.”

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Gone
What would you do if everyone fifteen or older was suddenly gone? No explosion, no green alien smoke, just … disappeared.

A Wizard of Earthsea
Wizards. Dragons. Good vs Evil. Oustanding and classic fantasy storytelling complete with the reluctant hero and a great quest. This has also been made into a movie by the legendary Japanese filmmaker Goro Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli)

Ashfall
A natural disaster survival story about a young man trying to reconnect with his family after a devastating volcanic eruption negotiating dangerous terrain and perilous people.

Neverwhere
Modern fantasy by the best in the business right now – Neil Gaiman.

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The Knife of Never Letting Go
I’ll let my colleague stewaroby describe this one; “Where have all the women gone? 13-year-old Todd Hewitt must solve this mystery and escape a strange, all male society on a strange,, harsh planet. He will need to find a new way to be a man”…sounds beaut!

Eragon
A young farmer finds a dragon egg and is propelled headlong into the action and intrigue of a swords and sorcery fantasy story – dragons are cool, this story is cool.

Cycle of the Werewolf
Werewolves are terrorising a small town in this horro story from the godfather of horror; Stephen King – a great place to start for a young horror enthusiast!

The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The one that started it all! Follow Arthur, Ford, Trillian and friends as they travel through the universe together, guided along the way by the best known travel book ever – and don’t forget your towel!

The Maze Runner
Think of an escape room… now make it as big as a city and extremely dangerous! That’s where a young man wakes up suddenly one day, finding himself in the company of strangers who together have to figure their way out of their deadly predicament!

The Lord of the Rings
The classic fantasy trilogy – it’s got everything, awesome world building, swords and sorcery, a quest of great significance… if you haven’t read this yet then do so now!

Ender’s Game
With humanity under threat from an alien race, six-year-old Ender Wiggin leaves his family on Earth to journey to the Belt. There he enters Battle School and is strictly disciplined in mind games and mock battles. In instinct, compassion and genius he is unequalled, for his is a unique destiny.

But hey! maybe Graphic Novels are your thing…?!? No worries, we have you covered and Ma1co1m’s reading list is full of the best of the best graphic novels for 2017.

But wait….there’s more!!

With reading comes your chance to WIN!

That’s right, all you have to do to be in the running to win a Westfield voucher, an MTA voucher, or book or movie vouchers is either visit one of our libraries or our website, complete the challenge sheet and hand it in and you’re chance to win! You can find out more by visiting our website (where you can also download a copy of the challenge sheet!)

And remember; if you can’t find the information you need, come and talk to one of our librarians and they’ll set you up with a beaut new read.

Happy Summer to you 🙂

2017 Book Challenge

Reader, I need your help. I’ve been diligently ticking off the categories on this year’s reading challenge (Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge), but it’s getting incredibly close to 2018 and I’ve still got a few unfilled. If anyone has any good recommendations that fit the bolded themes please let me know in the comments so that I can whip through them before the new year! (Or if you’ve read any of the same books as me, let me know what you thought of them.)

  1. Read a book about sports. A Season of Daring Greatly, Ellen Emerson White
  2. Read a debut novel. True Letters from a Fictional Life, Kenneth Logan
  3. Read a book about books. Reading Allowed: True Stories and Curious Incidents from a Provincial Library, Chris Paling
  4. Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author. Nightlights, Lorena Alvarez
  5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative. American Street, Ibi Zoboi
  6. Read an all-ages comic.
  7. Read a book published between 1900 and 1950. The Nine Tailors, Dorothy Sayers
  8. Read a travel memoir. Japan AI: A Tall Girl’s Adventures in Japan, Aimee Major-Steinberger
  9. Read a book you’ve read before. Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones
  10. Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location. Kaitangata Twitch, Margaret Mahy
  11. Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location. Leviathan Wakes, James S. A. Corey
  12. Read a fantasy novel. The Last Namsara, Kristen Ciccarelli
  13. Read a nonfiction book about technology. First, Catch Your Weka: A Story of New Zealand Cooking, David Veart (food technology counts, right?)
  14. Read a book about war. Firstborn, Brandon Sanderson
  15. Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+. Ramona Blue, Julie Murphy
  16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.
  17. Read a classic by an author of color. The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas (I’m cheating with this one because I think it’ll be a classic even though it was only published this year.)
  18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead.
  19. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey. American Street, Ibi Zoboi
  20. Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel.
  21. Read a book published by a micropress. Soft Spot: short stories, by Jagdev Singh Kaler
  22. Read a collection of stories by a woman. The Best of Connie Willis: Award-Winning Stories, Connie Willis
  23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love.
  24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color. You Bring the Distant Near, Mitali Perkins

Has anyone else completed (or tried to complete) a book challenge this year? Or if you want to get started on a new one, try out our summertime reading challenges for kids and for adults and be in to win a prize!

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Books on screen: Murder most foul, sci-fi classics and more

Read the book before you see the film/TV series, or read the source material afterwards for all the added backstories and characters (that you can absorb at your own pace)?

It’s a tricky one and the answer really depends on your own personal tastes and inclinations. Either way, here is the latest crop of works of literature that are getting a makeover for the screen.

Out now

If you’re a “read the book first” sort, you’d better get cracking before you miss –

  • Alias Grace – Canadian 6 part series directed by Sarah Polley, featuring Anna Paquin and a cameo from author Margaret Atwood. Based on the true story of a young housemaid, Grace Marks, who became embroiled in a double-murder, this series is only available on Netflix and is a rivetting watch.
  • IT – I was terrified by this book in the nineties (and the subsequent mini-series adaptation). The current film splits the tale of a group of kids fighting a malevolent entity that often takes the form of an evil clown into two films – the sequel is due in 2019.
  • Murder on the Orient Express – The Agatha Christie classic gets another film outing (the 1974 version earned Ingrid Bergman an Oscar) and with a fairly impressive cast including the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, and Michelle Pfeiffer, with Kenneth Brannagh (who also directs) as the moustachioed Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot. The original novel was published in 1934, so avoiding spoilers might prove difficult.
  • The Mountain Between Us – Kate Winslet and Idris Elba’s charter plane crashes into a mountain and that’s not the end of the drama. Based on the novel by Charles Martin.
  • The Lost City of Z – Author David Grann’s hunt for famed explorer Percy Fawcett’s expedition in the Amazon has Charlie Hunnam as the missing Fawcett, with Sienna Miller as his wife and Robert Pattinson as another member of the expedition.
  • Thank You for your Service – Biographical war drama based on the book by Washington Post journalist David Finkel. The film follows several soldiers after their return from deployment in Iraq and their struggles with PTSD and the psychological trauma of war.

Coming soon

  • Chaos walking: The Knife of Never Letting Go – Another young adult sci-fi series adaptation, this time of Patrick Ness’s widely acclaimed dystopian novel. Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland are set to star.
  • Dune –  Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi saga gets another go-around (after the 1984 film directed by David Lynch, and two miniseries’ in the early 2000s) this time with Arrival director Denis Villeneuve at the helm.
  • Break My Heart 1,000 Times – Bella Thorne will star in this “supernatural romantic thriller” based on Daniel Water’s young adult novel set in world where people can see ghosts.
  • Guernsey (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society) – Mary Ann Shaffer’s 2008 bestseller set on the island of Guernsey during WWII was filmed earlier this year, with Downton Abbey stars Lily James and Jessica Brown Findlay in the cast and Mike Newell directing.
  • Ready Player One – Ernest Cline’s dystopian future/Virtual Reality/geek nostalgia-fest novel follows Wade Watts as he attempts to find an ‘easter egg’ that will bestow on him a fortune. Directed by Steven Spielberg, expect to see this everywhere in March 2018.
  • Peter Rabbit – A new animated version of Beatrix Potter’s classic tale of an adventurous bunny is due in early 2018, with voices provided by the likes of Rose Byrne, James Corden and Sam Neill.

On the radar

With the end of the Game of Thrones TV series on the distant horizon, Patrick Rothfuss is being mentioned as the next George R. R. Martin. Probably because they both have beards and neither have actually finished writing all the books in their respective series’. Lin-Manuel Miranda of super-musical, Hamilton, is producing the series for Showtime based on the first 2 novels of the as yet unfinished Kingkiller Chronicles fantasy trilogy.

Exams … Study … Help!

Becky, a library assistant at Riccarton High School, has some helpful tips for students at exam time.

It’s that time of year again, when exams are on the horizon. Information is being thrown at you from every direction, pressure is on you to do well at your exams, and all you want is to get a good night’s sleep for once!

Well never fear, we are here to give you some tips and tricks on how to survive this season and make it through to the holidays (yippee)!

How do I start studying?

  • Find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted. It can be nice to study with friends, but make sure that you won’t distract each other when you should be focused on your work. If you think your friends will be distracting (or you think you’ll distract your friends), suggest that you study separately, and you can always meet up when exams are done. A good place to study might be your school or local library, classrooms designated for study, or a quiet room in your house, or your friend’s house.
  • Set yourself rewards to keep motivated. If you’re really struggling to find motivation to study, set yourself a prize after each topic, chapter, or hour of study. A good prize might be a wee chocolate bar, a quick call with a friend or a chapter of a novel (social media is not recommended – that can easily suck away your time if you’re not careful).
  • Remember to take breaks. It is very important that you give yourself some time to breathe when you’re busy studying. Go outside for some fresh air, take a walk around the block and drink lots of water.

This is my first year of NCEA, any tips for sitting the exams?

  • Go to bed early the night before. A good night’s rest will help you much more than a late night cramming.
  • Stay hydrated during the exam. Bring your water bottle!
  • Eat a good breakfast before your exam so you have given your brain sufficient energy to think.
  • Remember to take your NCEA Exam Admission Slip into every exam with you. This is so the supervisor can authorise who you are – they won’t let you into the exam if you don’t have it.
  • Bring spare pens and remember your calculator if the exam requires it!

  • Look through the whole exam. Make note of which questions you know you’ll be able to answer and what might be a little more challenging. (You also might just find an answer to an early question hidden in a later one).
  • Double check your answers. Make sure to check over everything you’ve written to find any hidden mistakes or wrong answers.
  • Stay until the end of the exam. There is nothing worse than stepping out of an exam and remembering an answer to a question you were stuck on. Don’t let that happen when there is still time left. Once you leave the exam, there is no going back.
  • Read the questions and answer them. This one might seem obvious, but sometimes you might misread the question, and go off answering in a direction that the examiner did not intend. Some questions have multiple parts to them – make sure you have answered every part.

What about my social life?

Your friends will all be going through the same thing right now. And if a friend isn’t interested in studying, they should understand that you want to do well in your exams. You can always plan to meet up after exams are over and celebrate a job well done!

Most importantly, remember that there is life after exams, and there is life after failure. Study hard and try your best, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t do as well as you’d hoped. There will always be a next step for you.

More tips

Slave Power by Raewyn Dawson

CoverKate R, a Year 11 student at Riccarton High School – read the new book Slave Power by Christchurch author Raewyn Dawson. Here’s what she thought:

Slave Power by Raewyn Dawson is an exhilarating, exciting and breathtaking book about a young girl named Melo who fights to save the riders of the Wild Horse Tribe from her old rival and fellow rider Mithrida from attacking and destroying their tribe.

Suddenly Melo is kidnapped by the City Slave Traders she finds herself on the Holy Island as a slave. While Melo and the other slaves are being trained as fighting soldiers, they make friends with each other and try figure out a plan to escape being slaves when they get back to the mainland.

On the Holy Island, Sofia, a young priestess in training, wonders why strangers have landed suddenly on their small island. As she tries to find out , she becomes friends with Melo and the other Slaves and tries to help them connect with the Black Rock and overpower their kidnappers.

Back in the Wild Horse Tribe, Mithrida has destroyed the plains and has forced the Wild Horse Tribe and their fellow Eagle Tribe to join forces and try to take Mithrida down forever.

In the end, the slaves make it back safely to the mainland but have sadly lost Lady Tutea (leader of the Eagle Tribe who joined them in battle ), and finally found Mithrida and sentenced her to execution.

Slave Power is an amazing book with good descriptions but there are some quite sad and descriptive parts in this book that may be disturbing for children to read. The age this should be recomended for is between 14 and above.

Big Library Read – The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

Once Lost What Happened to Lizzie Lovett?  A mystery that Christchurch City Libraries borrowers can unravel by participating in the world’s largest global eBook reading club Big Library Read from OverDrive.

Chelsea Sedoti’s debut young adult novel, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett, has been selected as the featured title for millions of readers around the world to read at the same time beginning Thursday, October 12 and concluding October 26. This title is also available as an eAudiobook.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

Popular girl Lizzie Lovett’s disappearance is the only fascinating mystery her sleepy town has ever had.

Hawthorn has her own theory about Lizzie’s disappearance. And what better way to collect evidence than to immerse herself in Lizzie’s life? Like getting a job at the diner where Lizzie worked and hanging out with Lizzie’s boyfriend. After all, it’s not as if he killed her – or did he?

Told with a unique voice that is both hilarious and heart-wrenching, Hawthorn’s quest for proof may uncover the greatest truth is within herself.

Stacy Gregg’s latest pony book is close to home: an interview with the author of The Thunderbolt Pony

Stacy Gregg’s latest pony book The Thunderbolt Pony is a children’s novel very close to home, both for Cantabrians and for the author. Set in the aftermath of an earthquake in the real life town of Parnassus, near Kaikoura, the story is about 12 year-old Evie and her determination to save her beloved Arabian pony Gus, her loyal border collie Jock and her aptly named cat Moxy.

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Stacy Gregg portrays strong, independent, fearless girls in her books and here Evie bravely overcomes not only the forces of nature but her anxiety disorder, which she has been suffering since her dad became terminally ill. Evie’s OCD manifests itself in the belief that she if she doesn’t stick to set routines, it will cause bad things to happen, making her the ‘bringer of earthquakes.’ Evie must embark on both a physical and mental journey, in a race against time to get to a rescue boat.

Stacy Gregg has experienced the effects of anxiety disorder firsthand, with her own daughter developing OCD a couple of years ago, and she brings the specificity of what it can be like into the story. In fact, Stacy manages to intertwine quite a lot into this pacy yet reflective story. There’s also Greek mythology in here too with reference to Poseidon, who makes the perfect tie-in as not only the god of the sea but of earthquakes and horses as well.

You don’t have to be a horsey person for this story of adventure and animal friendship to appeal. Gregg’s style of historical fiction applied here will particularly resonate with many middle-school children in New Zealand and those around Canterbury, the Hurunui and Kaikoura will feel especially immersed in the familiar settings. Overriding everything, however, is Stacy’s signature quality storytelling.

Interview with Stacy Gregg

We interviewed Stacy on the release of her latest book – she talks about her research and writing process and about her experiences with anxiety disorder in her family.

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Children’s author Stacy Gregg. Photo credit: Carolyn Haslett (photo supplied). 

Stacy, what types of research did you do for The Thunderbolt Pony?

As well as reading lots around my subjects, I’ve always travelled for my research. My books have taken me to Arabia and Spain, Italy and Russia and now for The Thunderbolt Pony, Kaikoura and the East Coast of the South Island. It was important to me to travel the route that my heroine will take, the 64-kilometre stretch between Parnassus and Kaikoura. I was hoping the earth might move while I was there, but it didn’t. I had to rely on second-hand accounts of what the earthquakes were like because I’ve only ever been in a minor tiny tremor once here in Auckland.

What did you find in your research of the earthquakes that surprised you?

That they are noisy! You don’t think about the sound an earthquake makes, you think about the feeling of the land moving underneath you. But everybody I spoke to talked first about the noise. The boom that comes beforehand and the sound like a train surging beneath you. Like the rumble of the thunder that comes before the lightning – it gave me the title for the book.

Surviving 7.8My Story Canterbury Earthquake
Read first-hand accounts of the November 2016 Kaikoura earthquakes in Surviving 7.8 and Aftermath. And for a child’s fictionalised point of view, My New Zealand Story Canterbury Earthquake.

Stacy, did you have a real person in mind when you were writing the character of Evie, who has OCD?

Evie’s journey is based very much on my own daughter’s struggles with OCD. When I first had the idea for writing the book I asked Issie what she thought about having a character who suffers from OCD and she was really, really supportive of me writing about it. She felt like it was important to raise awareness of the condition so that kids who are suffering from anxiety disorders realise how common it is and that they aren’t alone. There’s been such an overall increase in anxiety disorders in pre-adolescents, but this is especially true in places like Canterbury and Kaikoura where the kids have been through an earthquake and the ongoing aftershocks. Statistics in a recent study in Christchurch have shown that four out of five kids in the region have some level of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). It’s a very real issue.

What did you find in your research about anxiety disorders like OCD that surprised you?

My daughter gets really cross people say stuff like “Oh I totally need to keep the kitchen clean – cos I’m so OCD!” Because that’s not OCD at all – that’s just liking things to be neat! I remember there was a time when the word “schizophrenic” was misused in the same way. Then the mental health community stepped up and reclaimed it and said “hey it’s not okay to talk about schizophrenia as if it means you have a split personality -it’s actually a real condition that people suffer from.” I think the same thing will happen now with OCD.

There are a lot of mistaken preconceptions about OCD being a ‘clean freak’ condition where you have to wash your hands or keep things perfectly tidy. Yes, it can manifest in that way, but it’s just as likely for you to have OCD and have a super-messy bedroom! For many OCD sufferers it’s about wanting to protect people – or animals – you love and make them safe by adhering to rituals and counting. It’s a bit like superstition on steroids. If you have OCD you are compelled to carry out your rituals and you get really anxious and upset if you can’t do them right as you really do believe you are risking harming everyone that you love. You’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. In The Thunderbolt Pony, Evie is fighting her OCD and trying to get a grip on her actual reality, but she’s got a lot to contend with.

How challenging was it to write about a condition in your family? Was this a helpful process for you, to write about it?

It was tough at times to open the wound and examine it – but it’s better than letting it fester I think. Issie and I are both the same like that, we confront stuff head on and she was very honest with me and trusted me to tell the story. OCD is a rough gig. It can totally dominate someone’s life in a very debilitating way. Issie did a lot of really hard work with her clinical psychologist and that work gave her the tools to overcome it. I’m really proud of how open and brave she was, and I’m really grateful to our psychologist Hilary, for the support he gave her. The character of Willard Fox is very much based on him and he gets a big thank you in the dedication.

image_proxyWhat has been the response so far from readers of The Thunderbolt Pony?

I just toured in Australia around schools in Sydney and what amazed me was that the kids there all knew what OCD was and they were very open to talking about anxiety disorders and seemed to really naturally engage with it. I’m just about to begin the South Island tour now – kicking off in Kaikoura – and I admit I am anxious about talking to the kids who have actually experienced the real earthquake. It’s going to be special, going back to the place where the book is set, but it’s also daunting. I hope they like it.

One thing really engaging about your books is the historical fiction aspect, how you use real places, events and real experiences in many of your stories. Why do you choose to write this way?

I think it’s the ex-journalist in me – I love to do solid research and I like to have a true story as a base foundation for my fiction. The Princess and the Foal was the start of that for me – it is the real story of the childhood of Princess Haya of Jordan. Her mother died in a helicopter crash when the Princess was 3 and she became really emotionally withdrawn and shut down after her death. When the princess was 6 her father, King Hussein, gave her an orphan foal to raise and said. “This foal has no mother, just like you. It’s on your shoulders now to be in charge and care for this young life.” This was the turning point for Princess Haya and her whole life story, her incredible success as an Olympic show jumper and as a powerful world influencer, came from that moment. It was so special to me to tell her story and to be given access to the royal palaces and the stables. My love of telling a true story sprang from working on that book.

PrincessandtheFoalTheIslandofLostHorsesTheGirlWhoRodetheWindTheDiamondHorse

You often write your historically-based stories from two points of view but in The Thunderbolt Pony we have just Evie’s viewpoints, one during the rescue adventure and one reflecting on her journey later (both physical and mental journey). Is this your way of using your ‘dual narratives’ device in this story?

That is a really good question in terms of discussing structure and the devices an author uses. I have frequently used dual narratives in previous books – dovetailing two girls with perspectives that are historical and modern-day up against each other. For this story though, there is just one voice, it is Evie’s story and hers alone. However, I didn’t want to write it in a linear fashion – I felt like we needed to see her two journeys – the physical and the mental – intertwined. It gives the book a different pace and that’s why we make time leap back and forth. The skill for a writer I think, is to construct a tricky timeline and make it feel like it makes sense and is effortless so that the reader doesn’t notice!

You’ve said you like to “get rid of the parents in a story” – can you tell us more about that and why?

It’s not just me who likes to get the parents out of the way. Look at Harry Potter. Or Lemony Snicket. Parents are a problem because they like boring stuff like routines and being safe. They are all about healthy meals and bedtimes and they are also on hand to help you when things get rough. If there are no parents you can have big crazy adventures where you must be brave and do everything yourself and there’s no one to stick their oar in and say “hang on a minute this is madness let’s stop and have a proper dinner!” That is why you get rid of the parents – they are too sensible and they ruin your fun and crush the spirit out of the adventure.

You write about strong female characters who are fearless, independent, self-sufficient. Can you tell us more about that?

I’ve always written strong girls as my heroines. Horses make girls powerful. You can’t be a powderpuff. You need to be mentally and physically tough to handle them. And at the same time you need to stay vulnerable and soft, because it’s in those unguarded moments that you create a true bond with a horse. My daughter rides competitively and when we roll up at competitions I’m always impressed at these women turning up driving massive trucks and handling enormous powerful warmbloods. We just don’t think anything of it – we don’t expect men to come and help with any of it. It’s a very feminist sport.

How long did the writing process take for this book?

I write a book a year. I spend about three months researching, three months writing and then another three months with my editor, pushing the manuscript back and forth through various stages beating it into shape. Then the next three months are publicity and touring and preparing to do it all over again. I love every stage of the process, I’m very lucky to do the job that I do.

What’s next? What are you working on at the moment?

My next book is called The Fire Stallion and it’s set in Iceland. As usual, I have the whole thing plotted out already – but I’m not giving away any spoilers yet!

What have you recently enjoying reading and what’s on you ‘to-be-read’ pile?

I have just finished Neil Gaiman’s book on Norse Mythology (OK that’s a big clue for the subject matter of my next book). But I won’t be able to read anything for a while now. I am an all-or-nothing reader and I can’t read other authors when I am in writing mode as I’m a terrible mimic. I have to isolate myself for the next few months and then I will binge read when the new book is finally done. On the bedside table until then are Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, The Dry by Jane Harper, and My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent.

NorseMythologyMagpie MurdersThe DryMy Absolute Darling

Thanks for your time Stacy!

StacyGreggSigning
Stacy Gregg at a book signing. Photo credit: Kelly Bold (photo supplied).

Thank you to HarperCollins.

The Thunderbolt Pony
by Stacy Gregg
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008257019

Papanui Technical School Tramping Club Hike: Christchurch Photo Hunt 2017

Photo Hunt 2017: Plains, Port Hills & Peninsula – Finding our way

This year the theme for Photo Hunt is Plains, Port Hills & Peninsula – Finding our way. However, the photos you submit are not limited to this theme. We invite you to share any of your photos and help grow the city’s photographic archive. All entries must be received by 31 October.

Christchurch City Libraries has produced a set of four postcards promoting the competition which are available from your local library. Each week during October we’ll be featuring one of the postcard images on our blog.

Papanui Technical School Tramping Club Hike. Kete Christchurch. Papanui_Technical_School_Tramping_Club_hike_2831322677_o. Entry in the Christchurch City Libraries 2008 Photo Hunt. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand License.

Papanui Technical School Tramping Club Hike at the Sign of the Kiwi, 1948. Entry in the Christchurch City Libraries 2008 Photo Hunt.

Papanui Technical College was founded in 1936 and was officially renamed Papanui High School in 1949.

About Kete Christchurch

Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch and Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Sequel

Based on a story by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the transcript of the celebrated London play. The story takes place 19 years after the battle of Hogwarts or, (in muggle terms), ten years after publication of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, the last instalment in this beloved series.

Harry, now married to Ginny, is the father of three children, and works for the Ministry of Magic (couldn’t they have given Harry a slightly cushier job? I mean we muggles would at least have given him a knighthood …).

Ron has taken over Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes’ (he kind of helped to save the world too by the way people, just saying, headmaster of Hogwarts maybe?…). Hermione and Ron are happily married with a daughter, and that is all we care about, right? Wrong. The main focus of this story is on Harry’s difficult relationship with his son Albus. Living in the shadow of his father, Albus Potter is a bitter, alienated teen, with something to prove, and slowly, as the story goes on, well, he doesn’t really prove it. He does however cultivate a great friendship with Draco Malfoy’s wonderfully drawn son, Scorpius. Fun, endearing, and emotionally intelligent, Scorpius saves this play from just being a bit of a cheesy reunion with the Harry Potter cast. There is some good banter between the two such as:

Albus: We’re ready to put our lives at risk.
Scorpius: Are we?

How Draco produced a real brick, and Harry produced a bit of a plank, is something we will gloss over, as we will the fact that Harry, perhaps the greatest wizard of all time, still wears glasses and hasn’t managed to conjure up some twenty/twenty vision for himself after all these years.

The story centres around the death of Cedric Diggory at the Triwizard tournament, back in Harry’s fourth year at Hogwarts. Albus and Scorpius, determined to correct the past, end up rewriting the past with dangerous consequences. There are some traditional, and ever welcome, Rowling plot devices along away- such as poly juice potions, time turners, and appearances at Hogwarts. Like the main Harry Potter novels, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is very character driven and fans will be thrilled by appearances from old characters like Snape, Dumbledore, and even Harry’s parents.

While this did have a bit of a fan fiction feel about it for me, I loved getting the chance to hang out with the Harry Potter crew again. I grew up with Harry, Ron and Hermione, so, like any respectable Harry Potter fan, reading this was not an opportunity to be passed up on. While the plot wasn’t a typically clever, intricate Rowling plot, it certainly kept me engaged until the very end, and I enjoyed a lot of the fun dialogue:

GINNY: I’m scared too. 
RON: Nothing scares me. Apart from. Mum.

Harry-ites will have to bear in mind that ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ is in play format, and was not written by Rowling herself, if they want to have a good time reading this. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was always going to be a bit of cursed sequel as most fans have been gagging for a follow up for the past ten years. The pressure to be as good as the rest of a bestselling series is always huge, not made easier in this situation by the fact that Rowling herself is not the writer. If you are keen to make some allowances and not expect a ‘sequel’, I guarantee you’ll just have a fun time reuniting with the world of Harry Potter again. After all, as Albus Dumbledore said, ‘perfection is beyond the reach of humankind’. Except, I will add, if it has been written by JK Rowling.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child parts 1 and 2.
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand