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The Wonder of Words Update Part 2

This is part two of “Goodness me – where did those three years go?” As I mentioned in my previous post a few months ago, Candice, Gabrielle, Sandra, Tina, Yvona and I met through Julie Hedland’s 12 Days of Christmas and started a picture book critique group in 2017. Nine months later we started The Wonder of Words blog. I asked everyone to reflect on how far they’d come in their writing and reading since we started the blog. Candice, Yvona and Gabrielle’s answers are in my previous post and Sandra’s, Tina’s and mine are in this post. I hope you enjoy our reflections.

I asked everyone these questions:

  1. Compared to where you were two and a half years ago, how has your writing evolved?
  2. Compared to where you were two and a half years ago, how has your reading evolved?
  3. What is the biggest thing you have learned over the past two and a half years?
  4. Do you have any advice for readers and/or writers of children’s literature?

SANDRA

So much has changed in two and a half years – both personally and professionally – that I feel like a completely different writer at this point. This is partly due to an evolution in my writing style and experiences as a published author. However, it is also from the changes 2020 brought to my life and the new adventure I embarked on when opening Gnome Road Publishing earlier this year. I am a more efficient writer now (by necessity), more clearly tuned-in to the development of characters and story arc, and more patient with the publishing process. This critique group, and the support of other fabulous critique partners, were huge confidence boosts when I needed it most and a driving force behind improvements in my written work. 

I still read a lot of different stories, but now these are not only books from the library or my children’s bookshelves, but also in the form of hundreds of manuscripts submissions at Gnome Road Publishing. I also provide picture book critique services as time allows, which is to say, not very often at this point. And then, of course, there are the books sitting on my nightstand that cover non “work-related” subjects that have always interested me such as psychology, neuroscience, biological or natural disasters, and historical mysteries/treasures. Every once in a while, I might pile on something to do with law and ethics.

I don’t know that there is a single “biggest” thing I’ve learned during this time. But patience has certainly become my friend, in a love-hate sort of way. Although I still struggle with patience, it is definitely something I have learned to use (embrace?) more wisely now. 

My advice to other writers (and illustrators!) is to be open. Open to possibilities. Open to changes. Open to other people with other ways of seeing things. This will give you the greatest opportunity to grow.” 

TINA

During the last two and a half years, I have taken several writing courses, read many books, critiqued many manuscripts, and written more of my own. All of these activities have helped take my writing to a new levels. I have really dug deeper into a few genres that I would like to create more stories for. Picture books, chapter books and nonfiction are all very different yet have unlimited opportunities to share unique stories. Looking at story structures, reading other author blog posts, participating in professional writing groups continue to help me develop my skills. This past year, I became an agented writer which has introduced me to another community of writers within the industry and I am learning so much.

I continue to learn that writing is a journey that takes time. In the beginning, I wrote stories and truly improved them to the point that I felt I was ready to begin querying. Like so many others, I now look back and realize I was not as ready as I thought. I needed to develop and define my skills more. This all takes practice, patience, persistence, and passion. We all lead very busy lives and adding the desire to write for children is no small task. I continue to learn writing is one piece of a much broader picture as you also need to learn marketing, participate in writing groups, which all take time. Using a separate planner just for writing tasks to organize my weeks separate from my family or teaching planner has helped so much!

As you start your writing journey always remember your “why”. The road is filled with ups and downs, and believe it or not this is a great thing. It is through these that you learn so much about yourself. Be patient. Everything will fall into place over time. Become a part of some wonderful online writing groups and meet other authors. It truly takes a village to become a writer. So many others, in classes and in critique groups, have helped me when I did not know which way to turn. I enjoy doing the same for others because it is awesome to see others reach their dreams. There are so many incredibly talented people in this community to learn from.

KATHY

And now I get to answer the questions I posed to the others. My writing is continually evolving as I discover more about my own voice and read the great variety of voices from other writers. In fact voice has become a prime consideration not only in my own writing but also in my clients’ writing and in the writing of those who submit to my publishing house, Pavlova Press. Which brings me to two major new writing directions for me: not only have I become a publisher, but I have also left my teaching role at the local polytechnic where I taught creative writing and now work with clients from all around the world helping them write their own novels with a strong focus on voice.

When I’m not reading submissions for Pavlova Press or the work of my clients, I am reading middle grade novels and non-fiction, primarily around psychology. There has been one diversion from this: Uprooted by Naomi Novik which is a glorious and original fantasy novel with a strong voice.

It will come as no surprise that the biggest thing I have learned over the past two and a half years is all around voice. I have been working with this concept for a long time and it is only in the last couple of years that it has all clicked into place. I have also discovered a concept that I call The Itch which is at the very heart of every story and the very reason a particular story has to be written. It goes beyond theme and idea, although it could be one or other of those, and goes to the very heart of the writer. I am not the first person to realise this I’m sure, but it has been a very exciting discovery.

In general, I am working to become someone who gives less advice and who listens more, so the fact that I asked the question about what advice we can offer is intriguing. Let me answer my advice question with a thought rather than advice: at some point you will have far more tools than you actually need to write your story, to the point that learning just one more thing becomes a wonderful distraction to writing. STOP! Stop collecting tools and just start writing. If you find there’s something else you genuinely need to learn, you can come back to it later once you know what it is.

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The Wonder of Words Update

Goodness me – where did those three years go? In 2017 Candice, Gabrielle, Sandra, Tina, Yvona and I met through Julie Hedland’s 12 Days of Christmas and started a picture book critique group. Nine months later we started The Wonder of Words blog. I can’t believe we’ve been writing here for over two and a half years. Crazy!

This week I asked everyone to reflect on how far they’d come in their writing and reading since we started the blog. Candice, Yvona and Gabrielle’s answers are in this post and I’ll post the rest of our answers next week. I hope you enjoy our reflections.

I asked everyone these questions:

  1. Compared to where you were two and a half years ago, how has your writing evolved?
  2. Compared to where you were two and a half years ago, how has your reading evolved?
  3. What is the biggest thing you have learned over the past two and a half years?
  4. Do you have any advice for readers and/or writers of children’s literature?

Candice

With the madness of 2020, I actually had to do math to calculate back two and a half years. And you know math isn’t my strong point, haha. So, we’re comparing now, March 2021, to September 2018. The six of us had been in our critique group for nine months at that point. We’d learned a lot about each other’s strengths, interests, and I know for me, I’d learned to rely heavily on y’all’s edit suggestions. And we were just starting this Wonder of Words blogging adventure together! Sandra and I had joined the Newin19 picture book debut group, though my book ended up getting pushed back to June 2021. Since then, I’ve sold another picture book, a YA Southern mystery (also coming out this June!) and signed with a new agent who has an MG and PB out on sub for me. I’ve given summer writing classes for kiddos, sold a story to Highlights Hello, work part-time at a local indie bookstore, and gotten more involved in SCBWI by becoming a Local Liaison.

Between the debut groups, our blog, and my bookseller job, I mainly read advanced copies now. I love being able to read books before they hit the market but it does have its drawback when I’m really excited to tell someone about a book I know they will absolutely love, and then have to be like, oh, oops, it’s not out yet…

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is how good it feels to help someone on their writing journey. Much of the publishing industry is out of your control if you’re going the traditional route, so it feels awesome to share books you’re excited about with others. I’ve been a judge/prize donor in a few Twitter contests these past couple of years, and I love being able to give back. Also, I learned I use ‘it’ a lot. On a self-editing level, I’m learning to look for my ‘its’ and strengthen my writing by being more precise. (Can you guess how many ‘its’ I expounded on, just in this one answer?)

My piece of advice is to find your kidlit writing community! Obviously, your personality won’t mesh with everyone you “meet” on twitter, facebook groups, or SCBWI critiques, and that’s okay. You will find a community of like-minded writers.

Yvona

I recently read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. She has great advice and I highly recommend it to other writers.  I’m still reading a lot of picture books – two recent ones I love are Green on Green and Blue on Blue both by Dianne White. My favorite authors keep changing. You can keep up with some of my reading on the My Reads page of my website: www.yvonafast.com.

I’m drawn to lyrical language and I love nature, and that is the direction my writing has taken. I have been writing more and more poetry. I’ve published 3 poetry chapbooks since 2017. I hope to have two new books coming out in 2021. I currently have six children’s books that I hope are submission-ready; another eight that are in the revision process; and five that are unfinished.

I have taken more classes too, but sometimes, between classes and critique groups, the writing time gets eaten up! I think from all the classes I have taken – and they were all good – I would most highly recommend Renee La Tulippe’s Lyrical Language Lab.

I’m in more critique groups now than I was then … perhaps too many. I’m learning to sift through the comments and advice I get, but also to trust my gut.

My advice for writers is – be patient. That is advice to myself too. I still believe it will come – if you keep writing, revising and submitting, you WILL have a book deal one day.

And be kind. Both to yourself and to others. Illness, caregiving, responsibilities will intrude on writing time, you just have to make peace with that.

Gabrielle

After having three picture book manuscripts written to what I considered “polished” I sent them to a professional critiquer.  I discovered one manuscript simply had no heart, so I pushed it back to the revision pile.  About that time, I found an awesome mentoring group that has helped me get a first draft written and now I am in the revision mode.  It has motivated me to concentrate on middle-grade for the moment.

Oh my gosh – how has my reading developed?  I decided to embrace the illustrious words of one of my favorite authors, Stephen King, who said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”  Now I don’t just read whenever I can, I schedule reading as part of my writing day. 

In terms of what I have learnt, there is so much information out there.  In the beginning, I would sign up for everything but gradually, I realized I was on writer’s overload, so I scaled back to focus on one thing at a time.  Right now I am concentrating on my middle-grade manuscript.

My advice is to figure out what works for you and don’t be afraid to ask for help in any area of your writing!  And find a phenomenal critique group or partner.  They are golden!

Book Reviews

Book Review – Mophead

Selina Tusitala Marsh is an Auckland-based Pasifika poet and scholar of Samoan, Tuvaluan, English, Scottish and French descent. Her first children’s book, Mophead, was published in October this year and won the supreme award in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. It was also the overall winner in the New Zealand Book Design Awards.

Mophead is the story of a girl who feels she needs to tame her unruly hair to fit in with the world. One day, an event at her school helps her recognise her difference, in all its wild messiness, as a beautiful thing and so she takes a stand. By releasing her hair, she makes a declaration: this is who I am and I will not change how I look to serve someone else’s vision of what I should be.

The tag line is, How your difference makes a difference which encourages all of us to embrace our uniqueness, our special brand of difference, and to celebrate everyone else for doing the same thing.

Mophead is not a picture book or a graphic novel or a memoir – it is none of these things yet it is all of these things. It is for children and it is also for adults. Another key aspect about this book is that Marsh insisted she do the illustrations (she isn’t a professional illustrator) and her publisher said yes! In the world of picture books as we know it, there are so many things about this book that “shouldn’t” work, yet together they produce a remarkable whole. It is “boundary-breaking” and goes against just about every publishing rule in the book except for one – it is a captivating story.

Below is the link to Marsh’s acceptance speech at the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults (an online event this year). She is remarkable. You are remarkable. Take a page from her book and make a difference with your difference.

Book Reviews

Book Review – The Bridge Home

Welcome back to our book review section. The book I’m reviewing this time is the middle-grade novel The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman. My hope is that this will be an interactive review, so if you have read The Bridge Home, please post your thoughts in the comments. If you know of a middle-grader who has read it, I would also love to hear their comments. Why? Well, I’m a bit on the fence with this one. Not in terms of how it is written; I think it’s fantastic. What I’m trying to determine is whether it would be a suitable gift for my cousin’s very sensitive 11-year-old daughter.

The Bridge Home is set in Chennai, India, and told in the form of a letter from 11-year-old Viji to her sister, Rukku. Initially, the letter details their time together on the streets of Chennai after running away from home to escape their abusive father. Life on the streets is hard but Viji and Rukku form a strong bond with two homeless boys and they work together to make ends meet. During this time Viji learns more about herself and Rukku, the older but more vulnerable sister. After Rukku dies, Viji’s letter becomes a way for her to come to terms with her life without Rukku in it.

During the writing of The Bridge Home, Venkatraman called on her own experiences as a child watching her mother work with less privileged children. As an adult, she visited schools in India where homeless children are offered support and assistance. She also drew on first-hand accounts and her own journal entries, and based the characters in her book on children she knew. Her experiences and research are evident on every page.

The overall topic is depressing and distressing, however, Venkatraman provides moments of levity: puppy antics, the eating of an orange, beadwork, the ocean. Publishers Weekly calls The Bridge Home “a poignant portrait of love, sacrifice, and chosen family in the midst of poverty”. I couldn’t have said it better.

If you have read The Bridge Home, please let me know your thoughts in the comments, particularly around its suitability for a sensitive 11-year-old. I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say.

Book Reviews

Book Review – Swing Sideways

Welcome once more to our book review section. This month I am reviewing Swing Sideways, a middle-grade novel by Nanci Turner Steveson published by HarperCollins in 2016. In Swing Sideways, Annie Stockton and her parents leave the city for a summer in the country where Annie has been promised freedom. It’s a rare gift given her mother controls and over-schedules most of Annie’s life. When Annie meets California who is staying on her grandfather’s farm, freedom goes into over-drive. California takes Annie on wild and secret adventures, at the top of the list the quest to find the ponies California’s mom rode as a child. Once the ponies are found, surely California’s mother and grandfather will reunite. But too many secrets lurk underneath the surface for Annie and California to have a smooth ride. Friendships, parenting and the art of letting go are all examined through Annie’s emotional journey to growing independence.

Because I like to change things up a bit, I asked Nanci Turner Steveson to help me review Swing Sideways. Our conversation is in the video below.

Book Reviews

Author Review – Maggie Stiefvater

Welcome to the review section of Wonder Words. So far in this section, I have reviewed a book of folktales, a middle-grade novel, two non-fiction picture books and an illustrated book for children on Aboriginal culture. You can find the links to these reviews at the bottom of this post. This time I’m switching back to fiction, exploring YA and reviewing an author rather than a book.

A few months ago one of my blog partners, Candice, recommended Maggie Stiefvater. I have learned that Candice’s recommendations are always worth reading, so I searched out Maggie Stiefvater and, by my count, discovered she is the author or co-author of twenty books, all published since 2008! That is a phenomenal output. With that number to choose from it was pretty hard to narrow it down to the two I would base this review on. I knew I didn’t want to read a full series because that wouldn’t show me her versatility, so I picked the first book in the Raven Cycle series, The Raven Boys published in 2012. Then I looked for something that sounded completely different and chose The Scorpio Races, a standalone novel published in 2011 containing flesh-eating water-horses.

Here are snippets from the back cover blurb for each book:

“Even if Blue hadn’t been told her true love would die if she kissed him, she would stay away from boys. Especially the ones from the local private school. Known as Raven Boys, they only mean trouble.”

“It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.”


Such different premises from the same author, and her other books are equally varied.

This is a short description for shiver, the first book in The Shiver Trilogy: “Grace has spent years watching the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf – her wolf – watches back. He feels deeply familiar to her, but she doesn’t know why.”

This for Lament: “Sixteen-year-old Deirdre Monaghan is a painfully shy but prodigiously gifted musician. She’s about to find out she’s also a cloverhand—one who can see faeries.”

And this for All the Crooked Saints: “Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado, is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.”


If pulling crazy ideas into coherent stories isn’t enough, Maggie Stiefvater also develops interesting and engaging characters and writes beautifully. Her stories are compelling, mysterious, lyrical and quirky. If you can place a dead-boy-living in a story and have the reveal seem so natural and expected, then you are a master storyteller. If you can cause a reader to fall in love with a vicious, man-eating water-horse then you are a master in mood and character development. Maggie Stiefvater is this and much more. I stand by Candice’s recommendation 100% – Maggie Stiefvater’s books are worth reading!

Links to previous book reviews by Katharine on Wonder Words:
Once Long Ago (a book of folktales)
The Mapmakers Race (middle-grade fiction)
The Diamond and the Boy (picture book nonfiction)
The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown (picture book nonfiction)
Playground (children’s illustrated nonfiction)

Book Reviews

Book Review – Playground by Nadia Wheatley

Hi everyone and welcome to my fifth book review. Since I have just been on holiday in Australia, I decided that reviewing an Australian author would be a cool thing to do. Not knowing which book to review, I rocked up to the counter at a local bookshop and asked the assistant for a favourite picture book by an Australian author. She duly presented one to me.  The front cover held lots of promise, including a gold sticker proclaiming it as a short-listed book in the Australian Children’s Book of the Year award a few years ago, so I purchased it with some excitement and without opening it.

My philosophy is to always give an honest review. Unfortunately, while I love the quirky illustrations in the book I purchased, I can’t ignore the two very bad examples of forced rhyme and the cliché around which I suspect the whole book was built.

So, I have abandoned that review and have decided to review instead Playground, a collection of indigenous stories from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compiled by Nadia Wheatley, an Australian writer with an extensive publishing background in picture books, novels, biography and history.

Playground isn’t a picture book, it’s a book with pictures. The pictures are illustrations or photographs interspersed throughout the text. The text is dense but engaging. The title refers to the notion that playing and learning are one: “As kids journeyed with their families from place to place, it was often impossible to tell the difference between playing and learning” (from the Introduction). And from the section The right way of learning: “Older kids also pass on knowledge to the younger ones, especially in the playground of the bush.”

The book is divided into sections that roughly follow a child’s learning journey. Nadia’s introduction to each section and each storyteller is in a rust colour to differentiate it from the actual stories. The stories themselves are written in the voices of the storytellers. There are stories from elders who remember the old ways, stories from the stolen generation and stories from young people growing up in the twenty-first century; some of them don’t make for easy reading. The connection to land, family and tradition is a strong thread throughout the book. In the introduction Nadia writes, “The culture that underlies these narratives is holistic: everything connects no matter which way you come at it.”

While the suggested audience for this book is upper primary, secondary and adults, the stories are accessible for younger children, especially if read aloud by a parent or caregiver.

I appreciate that this blog has a primarily US audience and this book may seem far removed from America. However, I believe that books like this are crucial for all of us who live in a land first occupied by indigenous people. Nadia Wheatley, while not Aboriginal nor a Torres Strait Islander, has compiled these stories with care and empathy, allowing the voices and emotions of the storytellers to shine.

Footnote: Except for the cover, the images on this page are general images from Australia intended to give a feel for the book but they are not from the book itself.

Book Reviews

Book Review – The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown

“Here and now, we say to Barnett and Jacoby: We SEE what you’ve done. You’ve paid tribute to a woman who changed picture books. Forever.”  —Kirkus Reviews

Margaret Wise Brown by Consuelo Kanaga 

The important thing about The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown by Mac Barnett and Sarah Jacoby is that it’s a book. It is one of the most interesting and unusual picture books I have read. If you pick it up expecting to read about Margaret Wise Brown’s life in chronological order, prepare to be surprised. If you pick it up expecting to read a fully formed snippet of one aspect of Margaret Wise Brown’s life, prepare to be surprised. If you expect this to be a book just about Margaret Wise Brown, prepare to be surprised.

This book is in chronological order – sort of. We are told the date of Margaret’s birth, what she did as a child, a bit about her as an adult, what she did as an author and how her life ended, all in order. In between, there are tangents and side stories. You never know quite what you’re going to get on the next page: perhaps it’s Margaret Wise Brown swimming naked in cold water or having a tea party with Ursula Nordstrom on the steps of the New York Public Library. Or perhaps it’s something that doesn’t seem to be about Margaret Wise Brown at all.

It has a pick-and-mix feel; it can be opened at almost any page and the event savored, much like Margaret Wise Brown’s own books. Nothing is what it seems. From the first page the reader is set up to be told a list of important things about Margaret Wise Brown, but turn the page and there is more about books in general than there is about Margaret Wise Brown. Turn the page again and there is more about writers in general than Margaret Wise Brown. There is a quick summary of Margaret Wise Brown’s childhood focusing on her pets and particularly her rabbits, short précis of three of her books, a bit about her dog Crispin’s Crispian and other short snapshots of her life. There are three double-page spreads devoted to the librarian Anne Carroll Moore and another three devoted to Margaret’s interactions with Anne and the New York Public Library in general, including her tea party on the steps with Ursula Nordstrom.

A surprising thing about this book (or perhaps it is an important thing) is that it is about more than Margaret Wise Brown. It’s about books and writers and challenges. It’s about taking risks and being free to explore storytelling in unusual and unexpected ways, just as Margaret Wise Brown did. This book pushes picture book boundaries. Perhaps you can only do this if you’re Mac Barnett but I hope not.

Barnett and Jacoby, I also see what you have done. And the important thing about The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown is that it’s a book.

Book Reviews

Book Review – The Diamond and the Boy by Hannah Holt

Welcome back to the book review section of The Wonder of Words. For those who don’t know me, I trained as a chemical engineer before I started writing. I also have a science-obsessed daughter who had us read The Natural History Museum Book of Dinosaurs to her when she was four, and who was receiving adult books on astronomy, science and nature for her birthdays from an early age. My favourite of her birthday books is The Elements by Theodore Gray. It is visually spectacular and the text is very readable, challenging and, at times, funny. The page on carbon is fascinating.

Which brings me to the non-fiction picture book, The Diamond and the Boy by Hannah Holt (who, incidentally, is also an engineer). The Diamond and the Boy is a remarkable book about graphite (aka carbon), diamond (aka carbon) and Tracy Hall (the man who created the first diamond-making machine). The book is popular in review circles and Hannah has also discussed her process on a number of blogs, so I will try to bring something new to the discussion.

Creating non-fiction picture books that engage the child is no easy task. There are facts you can’t fudge for the sake of a story and in the past, those facts have been presented in a relatively dry manner – facts must be boring, right? Thanks to the wonderful selection of non-fiction children’s books on the market this has changed and we are seeing books that stay true to the facts and also present an engaging text for children. I could have chosen any number of remarkable non-fiction books to review, so why The Diamond and the Boy?

The Diamond and the Boy appeals to the engineer and the parent in me. It’s a book that humanises science. It’s a book I wish I’d had for my science obsessed daughter so I didn’t have to wade through dry facts each night. The lyricism creates evocative reading. The parallel narratives set up a metaphor for Tracy Hall being as tough as diamonds without being clichéd. But it also shows that you don’t have to be tough to succeed. It demonstrates key attributes parents would like for their children: curiosity, determination, patience, perseverance and resilience.

The Diamond and the Boy is also a book about grandparents. Tracy Hall is Hannah’s grandfather. This isn’t apparent in the main text, however, the back matter on Tracy’s life shows the relationship they had and the relationship Hannah wanted. In fact, all the back matter in this book is excellent reading. Hannah doesn’t shy away from the issue of blood diamonds and she presents the history of diamonds and Tracy Hall’s legacy in a timeline.

The incorporation of science, engineering, biography, history and human relationships and traits in one short picture book is a marvel. To present it in a way that feels authentic and natural is what makes this book remarkable.

Book Reviews

Book Review – The Mapmakers’ Race by Eirlys Hunter

Welcome back to the Wonder of Words book review section. Last time I reviewed Once Long Ago and talked about the importance of traditional tales as part of a child’s book collection. This time I am reviewing New Zealand author, Eirlys Hunter’s middle-grade novel, The Mapmakers’ Race.

Sal, Joe, Francie and Humphrey Santander’s father hasn’t returned from his latest expedition. Worn out with worry and with no money left, their mapmaking mother chooses to enter the family in the Mapmakers’ Race. Contestants have 28 days to find and map the best route through the unchartered wilderness from Grand Prospect to New Coalhaven. With a prize pool that will solve almost all of their problems what have the Santanders got to lose? Unfortunately, a lot. When the children’s mother is left behind at a train station en route to the start line, the children are stranded in Grand Prospect not knowing what to do. Finally, they decide to embark on the race by themselves, hoping their mother can catch up.

What ensues is a madcap adventure as the Santander children do their best to make their parents proud in spite of dangerous terrain, terrifying beasts, villainous adults and each other. Every day provides a new challenge for the children and they overcome each one through quick thinking, experimentation and perseverance. While not set in our world, the story is not completely fantastical either: perhaps the best way to describe it is magical realism set in a world similar to our own with just a splash of steampunk. Some of the scenes could be a little scary for younger children but I am a firm believer that in the safety of a book children need to see dangerous and scary scenarios worked through and overcome.

Eirlys Hunter has devised a strong cast of characters and an engaging plot to create a true adventure story where overcoming obstacles to meet the final goal is key. Not only does she write adventure with skill, but in the story’s down moments she also has a beautiful way with words. Here is a taste:

The moon hung so big and bright that he could barely make out any stars until he turned his back to the moon and looked towards the dark horizon where there were tens, then hundreds, then thousands of stars pulsing silently – chips of ice in an infinite, frozen world.

Alongside Hunter’s rollicking text are illustrations by Kirsten Slade whose map drawings add shape to the story.

If you are interested in investigating further, there is the Look Inside feature on Amazon plus an extract in the New Zealand online magazine The Sapling. The Mapmakers’ Race can be purchased at Amazon or the Book Depository. If you are in New Zealand please support your local bookstore or order online at The Children’s Bookshop, Wellington.