Kate De Goldi and Kim Hill discuss three books on Radio New Zealand.

The Queen and the Nobody Boy by Barbara Else

This is the second installment, following The Travelling Restaurant, which is hysterically funny.

Sequels can fall down a bit but this is very good, if not a little more taut in its storytelling than the first.

Queen Sibilla is about to come of age and everyone hopes she’ll come into her magic, though there’s some anxiety around this. The story is told from the point of view of a young man. – Hodie, the odd-job boy. He’s a boy of character and sensibility and kindness. He ends up doing good against his better nature. This is a story of a growth of nature.

Else has a very arch way of poking fun at the inflated egos of people of status. For a fantasy writer she is very good at describing the material.┬áThere’s a lot of food in here too.

Highly recommended, especially for junior readers.

Guardian Review.

Here is the official Fontania Website.

The New Zealand Art Activity Book

This is allegedly for kids, but adults may want to keep it. Strongly reminiscent of a previous book about creative writing in the classroom. [If anyone knows what that book is, let me know!]

This book tries to jump would-be artists out of their comfort zones when it comes to making art. Exercises on every page narrows the process to give readers a specific way in to a project. There are ways of translating noise into art, ‘taking a line for a walk’, ‘sticking two pencils to your hand’, and other activities that wake up the kid inside the adult, or actual kids. You’re asked to cut things out of the book, so De Goldi recommends buying two — one to keep, because you don’t really want to cut bits out of it.

This book is full of fantastic ideas. Published by Te Papa Press.

A Winter’s Day in 1939

A really riveting first novel. Set during WWII. There are all the coordinates of people being taken away to camps. Adam and his family live in a part of Poland that was once the Ukraine. Their father has been given land as a reward for services to the army. He’s done good things with the land.

The story includes wonderful detail about living from the land. Readers will learn so much from that.

The story is not complicated, though there is a lot going on.

A device used is italicised, interpolated narration to explain what’s going on in the wider world of the war.

The story is told through the view of Adam, the second child in the family, and pretty immediately they are the victims of what’s going on between countries. Their farm is taken from them and so begins an enormous journey across a huge amount of the USSR. The author makes the reader wonder what it might be like to lose absolutely everything. Every now and again she reminds us clearly and sweetly that this is from a boy’s point of view (rather than an adult’s) because he’s feeding a rabbit.

The soviet labour camp is just dire, but their capacity for survival blows you away. There are many tales about children surviving through war, and this one can stand proudly beside them.

There is a big surprise at the end which will make you sad. The family eventually comes to New Zealand. This is the author’s father’s story blended with facts from other people’s lives. He had kept documentation. There is much attention to material detail. The relationships are fascinating, with the boy having a difficult relationship with his father.

There are small and big kindnesses from the people they eat.

There’s a strong sense of the family coming from the land, with the land being their life blood, which is surprising in a story with a backdrop of war.

Highly recommended for anyone between about 8 and 12, or even adults. Would be good to read aloud.