• Lee Murray

Still More Books from the Backyard



In a renewed attempt to get the word out about our wonderful homegrown books, I’ve started this new rubric called Backyard Tales, featuring titles from my local colleagues, some of whom don’t write in my usual genres. So, let’s dive in….

Journal of a Junior Writer

Robin Lee-Robinson

Journal of a Junior Writer is the lively and engaging ‘Kiwi-as’ sequel to Diary of a Kiwi Kid by Whakatane writer Robin Lee- Robinson. For those who know her, Robin is a rush of warm salt air, full of enthusiasm and can-do attitude, a host of surprising skills, and a cheeky yet humble personality. And that voice comes through in her writing, although the text in Journal of a Junior Writer is pitched perfectly well for her middle-grade-teen readership. The book tells the story of Hamiora (aka Jack) Rondell, who is on the trail of his missing, rather flamboyant and feisty grandmother, Rosalyn, who disappeared while on a trip to Bangladesh. But Jack isn’t physically following her, just the clues left behind in her journal, discovered years later in a locked writing desk. Told in a epistolary style, I suspect the author intended the book primarily for youth readers, but it also offers a laugh-out loud read for adults, with keen observations and anecdotes told from the perspectives of both her young protagonist and his then ten-year-old grandmother. As the co-founder of youth writing programme Young NZ Writers. I LOVE that this book includes a youth writing group as a key aspect, which proves the importance of writing programmes for inspiring a love of books and writing in New Zealand children. Naturally, any story which showcases the development of youth literary talent and its importance in creating well-being, expressing feelings and reflecting on life experiences, and simply as a record of our time on earth for those who follow on, is going to resonate with me. As with the previous title, this book is unabashedly NZ-centric, with lots of words and phrases in te reo. In general, words are explained in context, but for readers unfamiliar with local terms, there is a handy glossary at the back of the book.

Overall, there is a lot that appeals here, including themes of friendship, family, and acceptance. While the mystery of the missing granny isn’t fully revealed, there is enough here to keep young readers turning the pages, and perhaps also looking out for the next book in the series. An entertaining and enjoyable read.

Title: Journal of a Junior Writer Author: Robin Lee-Robinson Publisher: Red Hen Books ISBN: 9 780473498436 RRP: $20 Available: Red Hen Books P.O Box 503 Opotiki 3162, robinleerobinson@gmail.com

For copies of this title, contact the author above, or ask for it at your local library.


Come Away With Me

Judith Callow


Just the cover of this book was worth its price, featuring this gorgeous original oil painting Drover’s Tack to Haast by Carolyn Watts, the richness and depth of the artwork setting the scene for Callow’s engaging travelogue. A gorgeous production including colour photographs and maps throughout, Come Away With Me chronicles two journeys taken by Callow from 1961-1962 in which she visited the South Island of New Zealand and also enjoyed an extended voyage from New Zealand to London, stopping at various locations en route. This book is pure escapism. Callow’s prose is personal, whimsical, lyrical, and where I had not visited the places mentioned, I was enthralled by the author’s insightful descriptions, which made me long to buckle up my suitcase and take a trip myself. And for those places I’ve been lucky enough to visit, those memories are made even more vivid through reading this book. I imagined Callow and I had seen the same sky for example, that we might have been standing in the same place when she writes of the way the ‘cloud bank billows in storm shades of grey then flushes rose, salmon, and coral’. I too have lain in bed trying to make patterns in floral wallpaper. We share a love of rich French daube, and also of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias. Yes, you can tell a book by its cover: Come Away With Me transports us back in time, taking readers with Callow on her travels, where we feast on colour and aroma. A delight.


For copies of this title, ask for it at your bookseller or library.

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© 2018 by Lee Murray