Friday, 21 March 2008

Kiwi Bites

I’m Telling on You Sandy McKay, Puffin (Kiwi Bites), 95 pages, paperback, NZ $14.95.
ISBN 0-14-331844-6
Brenda’s Planetary Holiday Tina Shaw, Puffin (Kiwi Bites), 96 pages, paperback, NZ$14.95
Ocean Without End Kelly Gardiner, HarperCollins, 174 pages, paperback, NZ$16.99 ISBN 1-86950-585-9
The Book of Changing Things and other Oddibosities Odo Hirsch, Allen & Unwin, 197 pages, hardback, NZ$29.99. ISBN 1-74114-355-1

The Kiwi Bites series provides a lively bridge, carrying young readers from stories to novels. Sandy McKay has created a sympathetic narrator for I’m Telling on You. “Ages ago I didn’t have many friends. Well, actually, none. But it was my own fault…” Timothy, the class tell-tale, burdened with his mother’s expectations (clarinet and floral art lessons), yearns for friends and a chance to try skateboarding. He succeeds in both areas but faces a moral crisis when he puts a skateboard through the classroom window. This is a witty and warm-hearted tale of friendship, truth and consequences.

Tina Shaw takes student home-stay exchanges to the next logical step in Brenda’s Planetary Holiday. Brenda succeeds in swapping places for a week with Zink from the Planet of the Beezee Birds. Zink copes surprisingly well with Earth cats and bathtubs, while Brenda is entranced by a diet of nice biscuits and white jellies. Some gentle satire will appeal to young readers: Zink’s sister despises his posters of the tall Snooks, who “make ear-bashing sounds. Zink thinks they are cool. He is so immature!”

Lily Swann is only 12 when she is captured by pirates, but her courage and navigation skills soon help her to rise from slavery to a valued member of the pirate crew. Kelly Gardiner doesn’t avoid the violence and death of the pirate world – Lily has to help the cook treat the wounded and dying in battle – but she has also created a fast-paced, swashbuckling story. Surrounded by larger than life characters like Captain Diabalo, the Blackbeard of the Barbary Coast, and Hussein Reis, the renegade Irish Captain, Lily manages to achieve friendships and begin her quest for her missing father. Is he a pirate or a castaway? Ocean Without End is the first of what promises to be a very lively series.

Straight into the monster’s mouth they went.” Odo Hirsch, creator of the Hazel Green series, also knows how to keep a good fantasy rolling, even if he’s a little hard on his characters. When Nathan’s school principal makes a boring speech, Nathan daydreams and soon he is in a strange landscape with Pogue the Squirrel and the Count Marvel Genarvel von Hubble von Jubble von Mirt “but everyone calls me Marvy”. In the yellow hills, where the wind smells of roast beef and trifle, the three encounter oddities, transformations, wordplay and strange, talking creatures. While some may find the constant changes tiresome, bright readers who appreciate the slightly sinister worlds of Lewis Carroll will delight in The Book of Changing Things, especially its very appropriate ending.
Trevor Agnew

This review first appeared in The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand on 22 April 2006.

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