Book Reviews: Two great kiwi junior fiction titles

Split consciousness features in very different ways in these two wonderful junior fiction titles for opposite ends of the audience age group. Sarah Forster tells us what she thinks.

Between, by Adele Broadbent (OneTree House)

Between had me under its spell from the very start. Written in the first person, it investigates the tensions within the life of a 10-year-old boy who is just beginning to find independence, while looking closer at his own family and wondering about the missing pieces.

Olly is a good kid, living with his Mum in a regular town, somewhere in New Zealand. He’s got two best friends, Egg and Loon, and his mum’s sister Aunty Clare spends more time at his house than he would like. Olly is an regular boy, and loves soccer and pranks – and the Supernatural.

He feels drawn to Martha Mischefski’s house, which has a sign outside saying, ‘Spiritualist. By appointment only’, and this odd attraction only deepens after they make eye contact at the supermarket one day.

Martha herself is also well-drawn. On the outside she looks like every old person who entertains the kids of their neighbourhood by doing inexplicable things (in Martha’s case, pushing rubbish in a shopping trolley) and maybe yelling occasionally. But actually, there is nothing ‘mental’ about her – except that she can predict the future accurately. There was a welcome bit of Mahy in this character, a bit of the uncanny, something like one of the witches from The Changeover.

There was a welcome bit of Mahy in this character, abit of the uncanny, something like one of the witches from The Changeover.

‘Martha sat on her front porch. A covered tray sat beside her as if ready for a visitor. I pointed at it. ‘Sorry. Are you waiting for someone?’ … ‘Only you.’

Olly starts to become concerned about Martha when she realises something bad is going to happen to him, and calls and seeks him out to make sure he is warned. He has a series of near-miss accidents at his day camp, and thinks he is through the worst. But is he?

There are a lot of strands to this plot – the relationship with his mother is in a phase of change, he is learning more about his father who passed away before he was born, he is being bullied, his relationship with his friends becomes strained and there is a new friendship, a mature one, with a girl called Azara who he meets at day camp.

I think I liked Olly so much because of all the books he reads and treasures; this becomes the centre of his relationship with Martha as well. Once they meet properly, he visits her house and borrows her books, sharing them with a new friend at the day camp he is sent to as punishment for being seen at her house previously. He already believes in the paranormal, but this intensifies with everything he reads.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I’d recommend it to kids of all ages – I’d say 10+.

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By Adele Broadbent

OneTree House

RRP: $20.00

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The Mapmakers Race, by Eirlys Hunter, illustrated by Kirsten Slade (Gecko Press)

Eirlys Hunter invites all of her readers to come on an adventure with her, illustrator Kirsten Slade and the Santander family, across the hills and mountains of a land where the dots of towns have not yet been connected by road nor rail,where there are railway lines that run up verticals, and steam-powered tractors. Perhaps somewhere like New Zealand or Wales around the beginning of the 20th century.

This is a classic kind of adventure book, where the children are the heroes. We meet Sal, aged 14, who is the head of the family and a maths genius besides – she does the calculations; our primary narrator Joe, who is the way-finder, handy with silks and brave to boot; our artist (and secondary narrator) Francie, who cannot talk but has a psychic connection with her family; and 4-year-old Humphrey, who is little but clever. They also have a parrot called Carrot.

Illustration by Kirsten Slade, from The Mapmaker’s Race (Gecko Press)

As the story begins, their mum goes to find Joe to get him back on the train, only to miss the train herself. Their father is lost on an earlier adventure. But they need to complete this competition – they need the money so they can go and find their dad. They are competing against toffs with metal horses, scallywag cowboys, scientists with gas-operated cargo-carriers, and a seasoned group of mountaineers – with only 15-year-old Beckett to help them, along with a couple of donkeys to help carry supplies. Needless to say, the children are written off as no competition.

The joy of adventure is palpable in Hunter’s writing, showing a passion for cartography paired with a love of the outdoors. Slade’s beautiful illustrations take us ahead, as well as providing us with occasional images of the children as they travel. The tone of the writing and the illustration are matched perfectly.

The joy of adventure is palpable in Hunter’s writing, showing a passion for cartography paired with a love of the outdoors.

I really enjoyed the element of fantasy in Francie’s character. Francie is non-verbal, probably on the Autism spectrum, as well as being an auteur in the area of map-making illustration. She and her sister Sal create accurate, scaled maps of the regions they are exploring. Francie’s secret is that she can ‘fly’ out of her body (she needs an ‘I aten’t dead’ sign like Granny Weatherwax).

‘Far away: the glinting light of the River Prospect flows towards the ocean. The river’s a giant tree that grows out of the tree instead of the soil. Its trunk passes through the hazy smudge that is the town and across farmland and the forested plain, then the branches fan out and climb through the hills.’

The book is narrated mainly by Joe, but the section above is in Francie’s voice, which we hear from when she is flying. This is also a good example of the beautiful descriptive writing within the book, which is perfectly paired with Kirsten Slade’s gorgeous illustrations.

Illustration by Kirsten Slade, in The Mapmaker’s Race (Gecko Press)

Ever since I was young, I have had a tendency to spin stories around the names of rivers while travelling, so I thoroughly enjoyed the names that the characters gave to elements of their journey too, like ‘Impenetrable Cliffs of Doom’, ‘Camp Comeuppance’, ‘Mt Treacle and Mt Dumpling’.

I have read several tales of survival against the odds this year, and this one was remarkable for the power of its writing and the use of tension to keep the reader turning the pages. I would love to have heard from Sal, the head of the family on the exhibition (and the family’s mathematician), a little – we only learn about her from her actions. That doesn’t take away from the fact that this is an enjoyable family tale, pitting (fairly) pure-hearted children against the rude and selfish hearts of men.

But do they finish their journey and win their fortune? You will have to read the book and find out. Recommended for ages 7-14, I will be trying this one with my eldest child.

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The Mapmakers’ Race

By Eirlys Hunter

Illustrated by Kirsten Slade

Gecko Press

RRP $25.00

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Sarah Forster has worked in the New Zealand book industry for 15 years, in roles promoting Aotearoa’s best authors and books. She has a Diploma in Publishing from Whitireia Polytechnic, and a BA (Hons) in History and Philosophy from the University of Otago. She was born in Winton, grew up in Westport, and lives in Wellington. She was a judge of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in 2017. Her day job is as a Senior Communications Advisor—Content for Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.