• Alana Bird

Book Reviews: New Picture Books from Aotearoa


From curious noises to sneaky felines to whānau-focused native birds, we've got a cracker of a line-up of new Kiwi picture books in this set of reviews. Early childhood teacher Alana Bird gives us her takes.

header picture books

Hoihoi Turituri, by Soledad Bravi (Gecko Press)

Hoihoi Turituri is the te reo Māori edition of Soledad Bravi’s The Noisy Book. With 116 brightly illustrated pages, this compact little board book is great for infants and toddlers. Onomatopoeia is an excellent way to engage young readers and this book is chock full of noisiness, making it entertaining to read aloud. Alongside all the classic animal noises –'ka hīhō te kāihe', 'ka ū ū ū te makimaki', 'ka ketekete te heihei' – are other sounds that young children may encounter during their day, perfect for encouraging babies and toddlers to join in and support their oral language development.

Hoihoi Turituri is also a great introduction to those who are learning te reo Māori and could be used as a teaching tool with young children who are less familiar with the language. Children and the adults who read with them will have the opportunity to explore Māori kupu and become confident in the pronunciation and sentence structure of this wonderful language in fun way. I thought Hoihoi Turituri was very amusing and I had a great time playing with the words before sharing it with a small group of children from my preschool class who had a giggle as they tried to imitate the sounds.

It is fantastic that more and more children’s books are being translated into Māori so that young children can hear and see their language in books – and those who are new to the language can learn in a way that is natural and enjoyable.

avis and the promise of dragons

Hoihoi TUrituri

by Soledad Bravi, translated by Ruia Aperahama Gecko Press RRP $24.99

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Jiffy, Cat Detective by Catherine Chidgey, illustrated by Astrid Matijasevich (OneTree House)

Mr Bee has lost one of his shoes and even with the help of Mrs Bee and Alice Bee he still can't find it anywhere. It seems the only one who will be able to find it is the family cat, Jiffy, who has been watching the whole ordeal with amusement which quickly turns to boredom when he is called to help them look.

In this playful mystery, Jiffy the Cat Detective humours his family by checking in the letterbox, the shower, the freezer and even the bin but he knows the truth: the shoe will not be found in any of these places. At last Jiffy the Purring Sleuth finally gives them a clue and sure enough they find the shoe of Mr Bee high up in cherry tree. Mysteriously the shoe is covered in white fur...

Catherine Chidgey's first children's book is based on the antics of her own cat which of course shares the same name and unusual eyes (one blue and one gold) as Jiffy, Cat Detective. A story told through rhythm and rhyme is always a winner with young children and the internal monologue from Jiffy adds humour that conveys what we all imagine cats think about us clueless humans! This is mirrored through Astrid Matijasevich's depictions of Jiffy with his smug facial expressions.

Jiffy, Cat Detective invites children to participate in the mystery and the children in my preschool class enjoyed making guesses about where the shoe could be. When the shoe was finally found they put together the clues to figure out who was behind the mystery of the missing shoe all along. They were also delighted when they discovered the picture of the real Jiffy in the back with his different coloured eyes 'just like the cat in the story!'

A wonderful first children's book from Catherine Chidgey that encourages important participation from its audience. Jiffy, Cat Detective has all the things that young children love in a story; mystery, humour and a twist ending!


JifFy, Cat Detective

by Catherine Chidgey, illustrated by Astrid Matijasevich OneTree House RRP $30.00

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Mr Kiwi Has An Important Job by Heather Hunt (Potton & Burton)

We know that Mrs Kiwi has the exhausting job of growing and laying her giant egg but what about Mr Kiwi? In Mr Kiwi Has An Important Job we find out all about the role that the male kiwi plays in caring for his eggs. From using his poo to mark his territory and fighting of threats to incubating his eggs until they hatch it appears that he has a very important job indeed.

This is a true to life and informative narrative about the life of kiwi spun into a fun and exciting story. Mr Kiwi Has An Important Job flows like a poem and is a joy to read aloud. Heather Hunt uses short and simple sentences which contain gentle rhyming, alliteration and rich, descriptive language. The simplicity assures that the story and information doesn't get lost amongst too many words making it perfect for young children. Paired with the vibrant night time colours and Hunt's signature scribbly line work the white print pops on the page, wonderful for children exploring words and letters.

Kiwi are such unusual and secretive birds and I know from experience that young children are fascinated by these nocturnal creatures! After reading Mr Kiwi Has An Important Job I was very excited to share this book with my preschool class. It is clear Heather Hunt has an incredible knowledge about kiwi and creating stories for young children because this book has an excellent balance of information, playful words and beautiful imagery.

Following her illustration work on award-winning children's books: The Cuckoo and the Warbler, Kiwi: The Real Story and It's My Egg (And You Can't Have It!), Heather Hunt's latest story gives young readers a look into the lives of this elusive nocturnal creature. An excellent way to share true facts about kiwi with children in a fun and exciting way; they will love learning how kiwi parents share the job of caring for their eggs, and any reader will be drawn in to their nocturnal world by the gorgeous illustrations.


Mr Kiwi Has an Important Job

by Heather Hunt Potton & Burton RRP $19.99

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Nanny Mihi and the Rainbow by Melanie Drewery, illustrated by Tracy Duncan (Oratia)

When Nanny Mihi's moko arrive at her whare by the sea, she tells them that she has planned a special week for them. Each day they head out to the beach with their kete and, without telling them why, Nanny Mihi sends them off to comb the beach for treasures of all different colours.

On Sunday, they search for whero things, on Monday they search for karaka things, on Tuesday they search for kōwhai, and the colour for Wednesday is kākāriki. By Thursday, Nanny Mihi's clever moko know they will be searching for kikorangi and on Friday the colour will be tawa.

When they have collected all the colours and finish arranging them on the sand, they see that they have created a beautiful rainbow! Sadly, on Saturday, a storm sweeps across the beach and Tangaroa takes their rainbow out to sea – but Nanny Mihi assures them that the ātua always give something back. On Sunday, when the rain has stopped, Nanny and her moko race down to the beach to look for their present from the ātua and are given with 'the best present ever': a beautiful rainbow, just like the one they made, hanging in the sky.

Nanny Mihi gets a fresh look in this new addition to Melanie Drewery's bestseller from the Nanny Mihi series. Nanny Mihi and the Rainbow shares a lovely story about the importance of spending time with whānau. Finding joy in the simple things, like beach combing to find treasures, tend to get overlooked in our busy society full of technology and this story really hits home how important slowing down to spend quiet moments with your children or grandchildren in nature is for their learning and well-being.

The creating of the rainbow takes place over a week and each day Drewery introduces different Māori kupu and phrases, including ngā rā o te wiki (days of the week) and ngā tae (colours). Hearing and seeing te reo Māori woven through this story will be comforting for Māori readers and valuable for those who are learning the language. My preschool children are familiar with the ātua and were very excited when I read Nanny Mihi and the Rainbow because they could make connections between the ātua and how they fit into this story.

Nanny Mihi and the Rainbow is a positive and gentle story that leaves you feeling warm and happy after reading it. You might even be inspired to explore nature and collect treasures of your very own with your whānau.


Nanny Mihi And the Rainbow

by Melanie Drewery, illustrated by Tracy Duncan Oratia RRP $19.99

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I've Broken My Bum by Dawn McMillan, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird (Oratia)

The boy with a crack in his bum is back! And this time he's really done it, he's really broken his bum. There's not just a crack in it anymore, pieces of his bum have literally fallen to the floor! Not to worry though, heaps of glue and a tray to fix it on is all he needs to put it back together. Pink shapes to pink shapes, round bits to round bits... and just when you think he's got it all under control he goes and glues the tray to his bum and no amount of wiggling and jiggling can loosen it. How will he put his pants on? And will his mum want a son with a tray for a bum?

But it's not all bad because the boy soon learns that you can have all sorts of fun when you have a tray stuck to your bum: paintball, surfing and sledding all becomes a breeze with his new body modification.

I've Broken My Bum! is the hilarious sequel to I Need A New Bum! from Dawn McMillan. With equally funny illustrations as the original, this whimsical tale about looking on the bright side is sure to win over young audiences. The jaunty rhythm and rhyme teamed with wonderfully descriptive language demands to be read aloud and will certainly hold the attention of pre-readers. My four-year-old students had a blast listening to me read this book and the absurdity of having your bum fall off provoked some amusing conversations that had them sharing a laugh together.

A book about bums always goes down well with young children and I've Broken My Bum! is no exception; Dawn McMillan definitely knows her audience well. Guaranteed to get little ones giggling and bring hilarity to their day.


I've Broken My Bum!

by Dawn McMillan, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird Oratia RRP $19.99

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Alana Bird

Alana Bird

Alana is an early childhood teacher in Whangarei, who loves to share her love of reading and language with her young students. Art is her hidden talent; she especially enjoys drawing, which is one of the reasons why she always considers the illustrations as well as the words when choosing picture books for her preschool class. Alongside her extensive picture book collection, her bookcase also houses books about animals, early childhood education and ancient civilisations, along with thrillers, fantasy and historical fiction novels and more than a few titles by Jodie Picoult.

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