Happy (Almost) Holidays!

It feels a bit ridiculous to say, once again, what a big year it’s been when every year has its challenges and the past four years have changed the way we live – and teach and learn – forever. Perhaps it’s best to just acknowledge that we’ve all well and truly earned the Christmas break.

The blog this month is a little different from usual; instead of the usual reviews of new release titles, this month we will be looking at some books that may have escaped your notice during 2023. So many new books come out every month that it’s easy to miss some, and this is your opportunity to revisit some hidden gems.

In case you missed them:

Mama’s Sleeping Scarf: From Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche comes this beautiful story about family and connection. When Chino’s mother leaves for the day, she lets Chino borrow the scarf she uses at night to protect her hair – her sleeping scarf – as a reminder that she will always come home. As Chino spends the day with her father and grandparents, the scarf comes along for the adventure, and visual echoes of the scarf’s design remind us, and Chino, of her connection to her family.

Being a Cat: A Tail of Curiosity: In this delightful picture book, we’re encouraged to be curious like a cat; to observe the world around us from unusual points of view and take the time to wonder about what we see. The reader is encouraged to take time to let those around us know when we’re happy, and to find constructive approaches to work through being angry or upset. This is another way to approach mindfulness for those who find sitting still difficult; to explore the world, and take the time to really look and learn.

Not-So-Little Red Riding Hood: Red Riding Hood has once again been sent to visit her grandmother, but memories of what happened last time linger and she’s determined not to be bested by the Big Bad Wolf on this occasion. This wonderful new take on a classic is begging to be read aloud; students will love spotting the hidden elements in the illustrations, while trying to figure out just who will win this round of Red Riding Hood vs Big Bad Wolf!

Wombats are Pretty Weird: In this incredibly thorough look at this weird and wonderful animal, readers are introduced to the three species of wombat and taken for a slither (our guide is a snake) through their world. From their habitats, armour-plated bums and famously cubed-poo, we see it all! This would make a great companion to picture books featuring wombats, or for students interested in understanding more about this distinctive inhabitant of Australia.

The Deep End: The depths of the ocean are the final frontier of exploration on earth, but what we do know is more amazing than many science fiction stories. This fantastic picture book takes the reader through a brief history of oceanic exploration and introduces them to some of the marvellous creatures that inhabit this dark and dangerous place. There’s the anglerfish which carries around its own light thanks to bioluminescence and the yeti crab covered in fine hairs to trap bacteria to feed on; both these animals live under pressure strong enough to dissolve bones. A fascinating introduction to the underwater world.

Tater Tales: The Greatest in the World: Rot and Snot Poe Tater are mutant potatoes, and both think they’re the greatest in the world. To determine which brother is the GOAT, they decide to have a contest with their baby sister, Tot, as the judge. But each brother has his own strengths, and what about Tot – have they both forgotten that their baby sister has skills of her own? This graphic novel is perfect for new readers with its vibrant illustrations and engaging text.

Pebble and Wren: It’s time for Pebble to leave the forest and live with humans for a while so he can release his proper monster skills. He’s not sure that he’s ready for this, but bravely ventures forth, and finds himself living with Wren and her dads. Wren is excited to have Pebble living with her. But it turns out that they both have a lot to learn. This funny, sweet graphic novel tackles problems both big – what makes a good friend – and small – don’t eat candy wrappers – as Pebble and Wren learn how to see the world through the eyes of someone very different for themselves.

The Travelling Bookshop: Mim & the Disastrous Dog Show: The residents of Puddling Mulberry are looking for help in getting their dogs ready for the Dog Show that is about to take place, and so they make their way to the surprisingly large caravan bookshop for help. While not everyone leaves with the book they thought they were after, the magic of the bookshop means they do leave with the book they need. This is a delightful addition to The Travelling Bookshop series, and once again Katrina Nannestad manages to delight with whimsy and humour, all while we learn some important lessons – this time about making the most of circumstances and approaching them with positivity and humour – without even knowing it.

Copycat: While Skye Starling loves her life in Seagulls Nest, there are some things missing: excitement, adventure and her parents. Longing for a bit of excitement, Skye has written a mystery novel, and after she leaves it in the library one night, it disappears. At first Skye’s excited to have the chance to be a detective and solve a mystery. It’s not long, however, before it becomes apparent that someone is using her novel as a guide to committing crimes all over Seagulls Nest, and Skye is the only one who can stop them! Can Skye stop the criminal before they do real harm?

The Sideways Orbit of Evie Hart: As if being in her last year of primary school and trying to keep up with a best friend who could speed talk as an Olympic sport wasn’t enough, it’s now been 12 nights since her mum had dinner with the rest of the family. A year-long science project on space has Evie questioning her place in the universe, and her mother’s job as an astrologist has her thinking about how much control she has over it all anyway. Cue anxiety through the roof. Is Evie about to discover there can be advantages to not always knowing what comes next?

D&D Dungeon Club: Roll Call: Making friends and growing up can be hard, but what if you have a game like Dungeons & Dragons to help? Jess and Olivia are best friends, and one of their favourite ways to spend time together is by playing Dungeons & Dragons. When Year 8 begins, Olivia is keen to meet new friends and thinks starting a D&D club could be the perfect way, but Jess is less sure; what if the wrong kind of people want to play, and what if Olivia likes them more than her? As the year goes on both girls have a lot to learn about being and making friends, and D&D gives them a way to figure it all out.

Project Nought: One afternoon in New Zealand, 1996, teenager Ren Mittal hops on a bus to visit a friend. When the bus stops suddenly, Ren hits his head and wakes up… in 2122. He has become a “subject” brought from an earlier time so that students can learn about the past from people who’ve lived it. But no one has asked Ren if this is what he wants. This brilliantly constructed graphic novel will keep teenagers on the edge of their seats as twist after twist is revealed, as well as posing some timely moral questions about the unregulated use of technology by private companies.

The Agathas: The Night in Question: Once again, unlikely friends and amateur detectives Iris and Alice, aka The Agathas, find themselves at the scene of a crime, moments after it’s occurred. And once again there’s an obvious suspect, Helen Park, former friend of Alice who moments before has had a very public argument with the victim of a vicious stabbing. After their dealings with the Castle Cove police last autumn, The Agathas know very well not to trust them to get to the bottom of a crime with an apparently obvious solution, particularly one where links to a crime that happened a hundred years ago just won’t stop popping up… Huge fun in this well-written, pacy novel with twists and turns that just keep coming.

The Towers: Fireflies in Flight: Ally has discovered a secret; the Administration have no interest in helping the poor and impoverished, they’re only interested in total control, even if it means using kids as lab rats. While Ally races against time to find the research that will expose the Administration and save her friends, a war is being waged in the city and suspicious eyes are everywhere. When Ally finds her way to a resistance group, can she trust them, or has she made one mistake too many?

Seven Percent of Ro Devereux: Ro Devereux’s mother may not be around, but Ro has definitely inherited her love for IT. When Ro develops an app, MASH, which predicts a person’s future for her Senior Project, one thing leads to another and soon she has a million downloads, an investment offer and starts to see how her dreams of a future in Silicon Valley could come true. But while human behaviour might be 93% predictable, that seven percent still leaves a lot of room for things to go wrong in ways no one could predict. From being matched through MASH to her former best friend, to losing control of the science behind the app, right through to the unintended consequences of predicting where someone’s life is going, can Ro live with the decisions she’s made and the impact they’ve had on other people?

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