Dear John: a big reader, Pasifika lit & Manga

John McIntyre from The Children’s Bookshop in Wellington is a top children’s bookseller. He’s here once a month to answer your child-related reading questions.

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Dear John,Could you please recommend some good chapter books for a thoughtful boy? I can’t keep up with how fast my five year old is reading! He easily reads a longish chapter book in an evening. His favourites so far have been: Ramona Quimby, Junie B Jones, any Enid Blyton, the Lottie Lipton series, and the Dragon Keepers series. He started the first Narnia one but it was too scary.Thanks in advance​,

Frank W.

For Frank,

Let me introduce you to Kate DiCamillo – the author of such books as The Tale of Desperaux, The Magician’s Elephant, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and Flora and Ulysses. This is charming, old-fashioned storytelling with intriguing and imaginative plots and beautiful language. You will cherish them. Some of her other fiction packs a bit of emotional impact with social issues affecting the children so you’d be best to wait a few years for those. Her latest book Raymie Nightingale is a little bizarre, even for me.

Eva Ibbotson is another favourite author of ours. The Secret of Platform 13, Dial a Ghost, One Dog and His Boy are all suitable, and two of her other books would make great read-alouds – Journey to the River Sea and The Star of Kazan.

He should enjoy Stories of the Wild West Gang by Joy Cowley, fun tales of a family and their adventures growing up in outdoors New Zealand. It is a collection of books in one volume – it may last him a week.

Other ideas: The Railway Children, Little House on the Prairie, Pippi Longstocking, The Borrowers.

You make the point about Narnia being too scary. I fully agree, which is why it can cause real problems finding suitable age-appropriate reading for really advanced young readers. We see parents boast regularly that their children can read Harry Potter at the age of six. Yes, they can read the words, but understanding and appreciating can be missed. Also, they are genuinely really frightening.



Dear John,

I am trying to find Pacific Island books for my daughter (age two). My husband loves reading her Tui’s Gang and Dua Means One by Penelope Casey, The first book is actually a colouring book with a really good story, much loved in our house. We live in Canada, so I have asked her aunties to look out for suitable books to bring or send over, are there any that you could recommend?

Thank you,

Tina A.

Dear Tina,

Unfortunately, there has been little Pasifika literature available, and whilst there has been a few published recently it remains a void that needs filling. Your comment that you are using a colouring book as a reading resource is telling.

In terms of the language Huia Publishers have had two classic children’s books translated into Samoan, Where The Wild Things Are (O le Nofoaga ‘olo ‘o lai Meaola Uiga’ese) and The Very Hungry Caterpillar (‘O Le Ketapila Matua Fia ‘Ai). Also available in numerous Pacific languages are books, posters, and flashcards. They come in Maori, Samoan, Cook Island Maori, Fijian, Tokelauan and Niuean from Golden Bay publisher Jahri Jah Jah.

Wellington author, teacher and VSA volunteer Jill MacGregor has a series called Children of the Pacific ‘a day in the life of’ books photographed across a number of countries. The illustrations are stunning and the language not difficult

Picture books available currently are limited. The Cook Island Crab Race by June Allen and Polly Whimp, The Mouse and The Octopus by Lisala Halapau is the retelling of an old Tongan fable, and Counting in the South Pacific is a counting book. Also new is A Gift for Ana – O le Meaalofa mo Ana by Jane Va’afusuaga, illustrated by Azra Pinder-Pancho available in both English and Samoan versions. You’ll need to search widely to find others though.

Manuia le afiafi,John

Photo by Tiffany Matsis

Dear John,

My 12-year-old isn’t much of a reader generally, but she did really enjoy Brian Selznick’s books, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and those that have come since.

I was wondering whether there was anybody else working in that dense mix of illustrated/written fiction now he has paved the way? Maybe a graphic novelist? Recommendations would be great, as it was pretty neat to see her getting so into books, rather than obsessing over her phone!


Jim K.

Dear Jim,

I’m thinking Manga (Anime) – Japanese novels in ‘comic’ format, but across a range of topics.

Dating from pre-literate Japan, Manga is a massive industry that still produce a huge range of books, and the West caught on 15 or 20 years back.

They have become mainstream recently. The movie Ghost in the Shell originates from manga, as does Pokemon. Be careful if you’re ordering unseen though – they have a large adult audience and some have dodgy content – the manga aimed at truck drivers is quite visually pornographic.

My daughter hooked in to these books around the age of 14 and read them compulsively – until she discovered them on-line and then we’d find our internet time disappear and three days into the month we’d be on ‘dial-up’. Her favourite series was Naruto; personally I didn’t see the appeal, but she loved them and they did her no harm: ten years later she’s a avid reader across a range of genre, highly literate and articulate. They’re not just fluff though – there’s heap of ninja action, adolescent themes, rich and interesting characters,and aspects of Confucianism.

Manga comes ‘flipped’ and the original ‘unflipped’, read back-to-front and right-to-left. You’re more likely to find the flipped versions here – and I highly suggest you keep your wallet in your pocket and head to the local or high school library. They tend to be one-time use and in long series. I’m not aware of many bookshops here committing to carrying them – we tried without much luck. Many of them were read in-store in half an hour and then returned to the shelf.

幸運 – good luck


Ever wish you could Dear John your home’s reading challenges? Now you can!

Tell us about your kid. What do they like reading? Or are they not reading? Do they need books to help them cope with a challenge in their life? Or are they running out of things to read?

Email your queries to and we’ll ask John.

John McIntyre
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John McIntyre was the owner, with his wife Ruth, of The Children's Bookshop in Kilbirnie, Wellington (since 1992). He was a leading voice in children's literature in New Zealand, and an ardent supporter of our local authors, illustrators and publishers. Their store has hosted numerous launches, seminars, speeches, workshops and book-related events over the years.

John was the children's book reviewer on Nine to Noon on Radio NZ for 15 years, and had twice judged the New Zealand Children's Book Awards. He passed away after battling serious illness for many years, in June 2017.