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Reviews – spring 2016

Books for educators and students, apps and more

How did we get into this mess?

Politics, equality, nature

George Monbiot Verso

Whoever has a caring bone in their body is in for a treat. George Monbiot – he of the bon mot – parcels the world’s problems and their solutions in this collection of lively short essays.

He’s particularly good on the environment and children. His answer to the toxic political system that delivers relentless testing on our youngest is to look to ideas of “rewilding”. He marvels at how children unfold in the wild (and academic results improve) and rails when opportunities are lost or cut.

While his world is specifically English and generally global, enough of the meta-story echoes here. He names the big problems as neo-liberalism, consumer capitalism, corporates with too much power, and fossil fuels.

He says that solutions come from unpacking the silences that mean most people don’t even see what is happening – the collapse of the natural world, the crisis of inequality, the terrible cost of the obsession with status and self-advancement.

At the end of the book, he urges those who care to defend intrinsic values – self-acceptance, family, friends, community – and to stand up to cruelty and selfishness. Along the way, he shocks and delights. He supports nuclear power and describes how to cook and eat road kill. He makes wonderful portraits.

One of these is of the rich white men who set up foundations to limit population growth in the developing world. But the poor there, he says, consume almost nothing. It is the man who heats his swimming pool in the middle of winter to bath temperature so he can float on his back and watch the stars who is the problem. It is that level of consumption that condemns us all.

Monbiot is a newspaper columnist and holds visiting professorships or fellowships at five UK universities, including Oxford. Put a copy in the Christmas stocking. It’s good for the planet.

Teachers Voyaging in Plurilingual Seas: Young children learning through more than one language

Eds Valerie N Podmore, Helen Hedges, Peter J Keegan and Nola Harvey


This new research-based book echoes some of the findings of the 2016 Families and Whānau Status Report, for example, that 24 percent of New Zealand’s population were born overseas. 2015 saw a huge upsurge in new migrants arriving here, and the country is now considered “super diverse”.

Teachers Voyaging in Plurilingual Seas researches the ethos and culture of four uniquely different early childhood centres that engaged with and promoted te reo, Pasifika languages and immigrant community languages.

It offers theoretical insight into language acquisition, language preservation, pedagogy and how to improve working in tandem with an ever-increasingly diverse parent and whānau population.

Its perspectives on protecting indigenous languages and active bilingualism offer some encouraging conclusions for both parents and teachers: the ethos and culture of each centre is essential for generating an additive approach to teaching and learning.

It also reinforces that teaching “super diverse” children in ECE requires more than just cultural competency: cultural intelligence is essential for enabling cohesive communities. It ensures that every bilingual or multilingual learner knows that their culture and identity matters both at home and in the centre.

Better bilingual books

The advantages of bilingualism in children are documented and proven. Bilingual children outperformed monolingual children on a range of cognitive tasks, had a more diversified intelligence, a better mental flexibility, a superiority in concept formation and a more diversified set of mental abilities ( bilingualism an advantage). Bilingual speakers are, in short, smarter. All this validates the essential work being done in New Zealand by publishers, authors, illustrators and teachers to resource and promote the teaching of te reo Māori.

Major publishers like Scholastic have had a long commitment to publishing books in English and Māori, and Huia is dedicated to publishing books by Māori authors. Huia has also published te reo translations of versions of children’s classics like Te Anuhe Tino Hiakai (The Very Hungry Caterpillar) and Kei Reira ngā Weriweri (Where the Wild Things Are). It is at a “cottage” publishing level that some of the most exciting developments are happening though. The te reo Singalong books with CDs written by Sharon Holt and illustrated by Deborah Hinde, with music by Graeme Stewart (Tainui and Ngāi Tahu) and Stacy Walker (Ngāpuhi and Ngāi Tahu) are being met by a very enthusiastic school and pre-school audience.

Recently Dunedin mothers Kitty Brown and Kristen Parkinson, both Ngāi Tahu, launched a series of three bilingual board books (Kanohi My Face, Kararehe Animals and Kakahu Getting Dressed). These reinforce early language development under their Reo Pepi imprint. As publishing gets easier, we hope this trend grows.

Former teacher John McIntyre is a children’s bookseller and commentator.


Hold on to your dreams – best books for kids

Fuzzy Doodle

Melinda Szymanik and Donovan Bixley

From great things little scribbles grow. A beautifully illustrated and told story of the metamorphosis of a squiggle into a fully fledged book. Ages 5-adult

Frankie Potts and the Sparkplug mysteries

Juliet Jacka

Red-headed Frankie Potts is a sparkling new girl detective who’s funny and smart. The series kicks off when a dog called Sparkplug adopts Frankie outside a sweet shop. Age 7+

The Other Brother

Ko Tērā Atu o Ngā Tama

Stephanie Thatcher

Bertie pig is tired of being outshone by his clever brothers. But his little acts of kindness have not gone unnoticed. Age 3+

Speed King – Bert Munro, the World’s Fastest Indian

David Hill & Phoebe Morris

An inspirational story of the tenacious hero who realised his dream to race his motorcycle on the Utah salt flats. Age 5+