Each of these three new non-fiction titles presents fascinating information in an engaging and imaginative way. Coincidentally, they all deal with themes of journeys and/or exploration. Gillian Candler wrote a Reckoning about factual books, while Maria Gill had some thoughts on creative non-fiction, and Ned Barraud took us through a day in the life. Here, Philippa Werry reviews their latest work.
Toroa’s Journey, by Maria Gill, illustrated by Gavin Mouldey
Maria Gill’s twin passions for natural history and conservation come through clearly in Toroa’s Journey which relates the life story, based on fact, of a royal albatross chick born at Taiaroa Head, near Dunedin, on 28 February 2007. Toroa (te reo for ‘albatross’) was the 500th albatross chick to be born at the colony, and he was fitted with a transmitter before he fledged. His progress for thousands of kilometres across the southern Pacific Ocean, all the way to Chile, was traced until the transmitter fell off or was lost in September 2008, perhaps during his annual moult, but Toroa returned to his birthplace at Taiaroa Head in February 2014. Maria Gill has used these facts to build up an imaginative reconstruction of Toroa’s long flight, told in rich descriptive language and backed up with blue fact boxes, giving more information about the events shown on each page. Different font sizes, patterns of text, maps, diagrams and drawing add extra interest and variety. At the end is a glossary and links to teaching notes and the website address of a live web cam at Taiaroa Head.
Maria Gill has used these facts to build up an imaginative reconstruction of Toroa’s long flight, told in rich descriptive language …
The teaching notes – also available on Maria Gill’s website – include ideas for activities such as acting out the story, starting a plastic bag-free campaign, organising a beach clean-up and making a collaged artwork from plastic found washed up on the beach. (The spread showing a plastic floating island is based on actual rubbish washed up on a beach on the Kapiti coast.)During his long journey, Toroa spent most of his time at sea, so Gavin Mouldey’s illustrations, painted with gouache paints, wood stain, and pastels, show the blues, purples and greens of an ocean that varies from calm to turbulent, and interesting perspectives, sometimes close-ups of Toroa himself, or, in the scene of him returning home as a small speck at the edge of the page, approaching Taiaroa Head from out at sea. If you go to the Potton and Burton website, you can see some sample pages online.I shared this book recently with a class of Year 4 and 5 children. They loved the foldout page demonstrating Toroa’s wingspan, and were much better than me at voicing the squeaks, croaks and other bird noises. They liked the life cycle aspect of the story, which starts with Toroa as a chick and ends with a new chick being born to him and his new mate. We talked about how to visualise the 3m wingspan of an adult albatross.
Things I learnt: that ‘albatross’ can be singular or plural; that albatross can cover up to 1000 km per day (a fact that also impressed the children), and that they can drink sea water and get rid of the salt though their nostrils.
Written by Maria Gill
Illustrated by Gavin Mouldey
Potton & Burton
Explore and Discover: Up the River by Gillian Candler and Ned Barraud
Another recent Potton & Burton title, Up the River, marks the continuation of the successful ‘explore & discover’ series by Gillian Candler and Ned Barraud. Their collaboration has already produced four titles covering animal, bird and plant life In the bush, At the beach, Under the Ocean and In the Garden, as well as an exploration of ancient New Zealand in From Moa to Dinosaurs.
This book would be a valuable resource for any family to have on hand as they set off on their own lake, river or wetland explorations. It could also serve as a private journey for a young reader, embarking on an individual journey of exploration from one section of the book to another.
This book would be a valuable resource for any family to have on hand as they set off on their own lake, river or wetland explorations.
The opening sections describe each habitat in turn (rocky creeks, wide or braided rivers, lakes and swampy wetlands) and show and explain the animals or plants that flourish in that environment. Page references linked to the pictures then link to later sections, set out by categories such as fish, insects, birds (common and less common) and plants. The last spread covers freshwater facts, problems and the water cycle, followed by the glossary, index and suggestions for where to find out more.
Gillian Candler has an interesting post on her blog about how she approached this subject, given the current sad state of many of New Zealand’s waterways, and how she hopes readers of the book will appreciate the amazing diversity of these habitats.
Ned Barraud’s sharp, clear landscapes and other illustrations make an excellent match for Gillian Candler’s equally clear and concise text. This series shows great imagination and I always wonder what this author/illustrator team will come up with next, but I’m sure they have more ideas brewing. As with Maria Gill’s book, teaching notes are on the Potton and Burton website, and both books are available in hardcover as well as paperback.
Ned Barraud’s sharp, clear landscapes and other illustrations make an excellent match for Gillian Candler’s equally clear and concise text.
Things I learnt: That ‘native frogs are quiet, so if you hear a frog calling loudly, it will be an introduced species’. And that diving beetles ‘need to breathe air, so they trap air bubbles under their wings, which allows them to stay underwater for longer’.
Up the river: explore & discover New Zealand’s rivers, lakes & wetlands
Written by Gillian Candler
Illustrated by Ned Barraud
Published by Potton & Burton
Explore! Aotearoa by Bronwen Wall, illustrations by Kimberly Andrews
Exploration is also a theme of Bronwen Wall’s Explore! Aotearoa, a book that will take you to places that you may otherwise never go. I can confidently say that I am as unlikely to ever scale the heights of Aoraki / Mt Cook as I am to reach the depths of Nettlebed or Stormy Pot, but I am fascinated to read about explorers who have done so.
Bronwen Wall has a gift for making these historic stories come alive so the people she is writing about do not come across as fusty old 19th century types, but real men and women with hopes, dreams and aspirations and memorable personality traits. The Graham brothers (mountaineering guides at the Hermitage Hotel and on the West Coast) sound very much like some of those mad keen trampers whom we all know today, who would think nothing of dashing over the Copland Pass (as Alex Graham did) to meet up with his brother in time to set off on an attempt on Mt Cook.
Bronwen Wall has a gift for making these historic stories come alive …
The book contains five chapters, each focusing on an adventure story of exploration, beginning with Kupe and the early Polynesian sailors of the 13th and 14th centuries.
I like the unusual stories that Bronwen Wall has chosen to tell. The mountaineering section does include two pages on Ed Hillary, but it’s refreshing to read about lesser-known people as well. Women played an important role in Polynesian and Māori explorations; we read about Kupe’s wives and daughters, and the wives of the Māori guides who accompanied Thomas Brunner on his adventures. Society pressures and expectations meant that European women were often more restricted in the days of early exploration, and trailblazers like Freda du Faur had to fight their own battles to be able to wear appropriate clothing and climb without chaperones.
There are many extra fact boxes and side-stories, as well as maps, illustrations, photographs, lists of references and a series of timelines that run as footers throughout the book but are different on each page. It must have been an impressive editing job to ensure that these were printed correctly – not to mention the 135 pages worth of proof-reading and caption-checking.
It must have been an impressive editing job to ensure that these were printed correctly – not to mention the 135 pages worth of proof-reading and caption-checking.
People don’t always realise the immense amount of work that goes into non-fiction books, including sourcing and getting permission to use images, on top of the researching and fact-checking of the actual writing. Credit is also due to students of the Whitirea New Zealand publishing programme who worked on editing, production, publicity and marketing; well done to Christine, Helena, Beth, Elle, Laura and Margot for doing such a great job!
Bronwen Wall describes qualities of determination, resilience and grit, and she presents exploration as something that is not limited to the past, but as an attitude towards life that is still relevant today. I can see it as the starting point for a class or group of children deciding to set off on an exploration of their own area or community. As Bronwen says in the conclusion, ‘The never ending story’:
‘Every time you go somewhere you’ve never been before; every time you try something you’ve never tried before; every time you return to a favourite place at a different time of year, in a different season, in different weather, with different people, you are an explorer. Anyone can do it. Get out there and give it a go!’
Things I learnt: I didn’t realise that Thomas Brunner was such a great explorer, and I especially liked the story of the pigeon post used by the mountain guides at the Hermitage Hotel in the days before they had telephones.
When you have a look at this book, please take time to read the dedication. It’s good to see this tribute to the influence of John McIntyre, generous as ever in his encouragement and support.
The Sapling has seen recent discussion about the growing genre of creative non-fiction, how it differs from traditional non-fiction and how to categorise it, and what an alternative, more interesting or captivating name for non-fiction might be. These books all serve to continue that discussion, and it’s great to see such high quality non-fiction being produced for the New Zealand children’s book market.
By Bronwen Wall
Published by The Kennett Brothers
Philippa Werry is a children’s writer who began her career writing for the School Journal. Since then, her non-fiction, stories, plays and poems have been widely published and several of her titles (including The Telegram, Enemy at the Gate and Anzac Day: the New Zealand Story) have been shortlisted for book awards or named as Storylines Notable Books.