Our favourite reads for 2017

Reading and keeping abreast of the bounty of books in the School Lending Collection comes with the territory when you work for National Library’s Services to Schools.

Side view of a finger turning book pagesPhoto by Anastasia Zhenina. License to use.

Here's a round-up of a few staff favourites. Most have been published in 2017, but some are newly discovered classics.

In the words of our reviewers...

Picture books

The attraction of this picture book is its live music! Welcome to the symphony: A musical exploration of the orchestra using Beethoven’s Symphony No 5 by Carolyn Sloan and illustrated by James Williamson. There's a 19-button sound panel for each instrument so you can compare the sound of the flute/oboe/clarion/bassoon, or hear other instruments and learn about harmony and melody. It's a nicely thought-out interactive book — as children read the story from the moment the orchestra strikes up, they are prompted to tap on the appropriate musical instrument. What an innovative way to learn about musical instruments and classical music. I spent time playing each of the buttons without even flicking through the pages.

If you have memories of dissecting frogs during secondary school biology classes (and just before eating lunch!), Explore a frog by Aimee Bakken is a great alternative to the real thing. At the centre of the book is a 3D plastic model of a frog. Turn the pages and you 'lift' a layer of the frog’s anatomy. Aimed at 8-year-olds and above, the text comes with lots of fascinating facts, illustrations, and diagrams. Definitely, one to leave on the staff room table or display on the issue desk.

Kids love gross stuff and Do not lick this book by Idan Ben-Barak and Julian Frost (of Dumb ways to die fame) is a post-modern picture book about microbes — kids will lap it up! A host of helpful microbes introduces readers, via blown-up photos, to everyday places where they live such as paper, fabric, teeth, and skin.

Ideal as a read-aloud for parents, The Sloth who came to stay by Margaret Wild and Vivienne To is the perfect mindful antidote to frenetic lives. The detailed illustrations enhance the sense of the family’s busyness like the quick meal recipe books on a shelf and the parents constant multitasking during dinner and at bath time. As for the ridiculously cute sloth, it just slowly and quietly goes about its life.

"It started with one mistake. Making the other eye even bigger was another mistake. But the glasses — they were a good idea." In The book of mistakes by Corinna Luyken, an artist starts drawing but makes a mistake, which is then swiftly incorporated into the 'story' of the picture. Imagination and creativity take over and obstacles are more than overcome. The result is unique, quirky, and a perfect read.

Town is by the sea, by Joanne Schwartz, and illustrated by Sydney Smith is a quiet, haunting story, with muted yet bold illustrations. Set mid last century in a coastal US town, we learn about one boy’s life in the sunshine and his father who works in the dark of coal mines under the sea. I loved the refrain "it goes like this... From my house, I can see the sea. It goes like this — house, road, grassy cliff, sea. And town spreads out, this way and that." I also loved this book's sense of time and place, community and family, work and sacrifice.

Young fiction

Unmasked by Donovan Bixley is a funny and captivating adventure with cats as the heroes and dogs as the enemy. There's some amazing artwork and the fast-moving plot comes with lots of humour. Unmasked is the third in the Flying Furballs series.

Jacqueline Wilson’s WWII evacuee story, Wave me goodbye, is as captivating as the characters are endearing. Wilson is always a wonderful read and this book is no exception.

The school for good and evil by Soman Chainani is a very smart and sophisticated book for kids 8–12 in the 'fractured fairy tale’ genre. There's lots of breaking stereotypes, well-developed characters and I enjoyed the sometimes grim (pun intended) humour. The book examines friendship and the nature of good and evil while making us look at our choices and their consequences. I can’t wait to get into the next one!

In Bastion Point: 507 days on Takaparawha by Tania Roxborogh, Erica Tito looks forward to her summer holidays on the farm in Northland but moves with her family to Auckland to take part in the occupation of Bastion Point.

Over the eighteen month occupation and through her diary entries, Erica recounts the struggles of daily life, the conflicts between protestors, Ngati Whatua elders, police, and politicians. A compelling story, for late primary and intermediate age students.

Another war story, Butterfly lion, is Michael Morpugo’s WW1 tale about a boy who runs away from boarding school. It's not new but, as a much-loved classic, it gets a special mention.

Young adults (YA)

The traitor and the thief is a steampunk novel aimed at the younger YA reader. Full of high adventure, there's lots of adrenalin, friends, foes, spying, — and a puzzle to solve. It's a fantastical, engaging read by Gareth Ward who was the winner of the 2016 Storylines Tessa Duder Writing Competition for Young Adults.

It was the title that sold me — who wouldn’t want to read this book? Children shouldn’t play with dead things (dead things bk1) by Martina McAtee. 17-year-old Ember is a loner and a little bit different — she prefers to hang out at the morgue and talk to the dead. At her father’s funeral, she is 'rescued' by her new cousins and seems to have finally found a place to fit in. While Ember is the main character, other characters (Tristin, Kai and Mace) are just as strong and play a key role in the storyline. Well-written, full of adventure with all kinds of paranormal creatures, this captivating read is not your typical supernatural YA novel. While light on the romance, the LGBTQ theme does comes into play in the second half of the book.

Optimists die first by Susan Nielsen is a YA novel I enjoyed and read in one take. It’s ultimately a story of grief and forgiveness. Topics like anxiety and love were treated sensitively and with a dark humour that appealed to me. Not to mention the inclusion of cat videos and crafting! A nice read!

Aaron Hartzler’s What we saw  is worth a mention. Maya Van Wagenen’s comment in praise of the book says, “This book is real. Like the protagonist, it is vulnerable, honest, and incredibly brave. Kate’s story will be a lifeline for kids observing impossible situations and wondering where the right and wrong is in all of it.”

I read it around about the time of the Wellington College sexist culture news story and it reminded me of the Roast Busters saga. So, it deals with the school and sporting communities, both within the school and beyond. It is very sensitively done and a great discussion book for senior secondary readers.

Where the world ends by Geraldine McCaughrean is an excellent survival story based on a true account of birders stranded on St Kilda island in 1727.

And for everyone!

I was looking forward to reading this book and it has been worth the wait. Good night stories for rebel girls by Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli is a beautiful book in a great easy-to-read format. Illustrated by 60 international artists, the stories are short and affirming, and celebrate women of all ages, and in all ages. In the time that it’s been on my coffee table, it has been enjoyed by all my family. I’ll be looking out for the second volume as well!

By Jo Buchan

Jo is the Senior Specialist (Developing Readers) for Services to Schools.

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Annette Vartha December 10th at 1:44PM

Hi there, Do you have a collection of ESOL Levelled Readers at all??

Jo Buchan December 12th at 4:03PM

Hi, our catalogue doesn't include levelled readers. Ministry of Education provides information on ESOL resources www.education.govt.nz/school/student-support/esol-resources/ and/or you could try Academy Books or the Kohia Centre.