The Secret Horses of Briar Hill



The Blitz, England. Black-outs and bombings. Death, loss, illness, fear. It’s a broad and powerful canvas.

Sick and grieving young Emmaline finds purpose and magic when she discovers that winged horses live in the mirrors of a grand English manor-turned-children’s hospital.


Megan Shepherd’s award-winning middle fiction book “The Secret Horses of Briar Hill” (Walker Books 2016) isn’t really about horses but your young reader won’t care.


Levi Pinfold’s illustrations bring this world to life with incredible, almost photo-realistic sketches created from his imagination.  Intense and evocative.



If your reader loved The Secret Garden and The Chronicles of Narnia – they’ll enjoy this.







Okay so I was dubious about an adaptation of R. J. Palacio’s New York Times bestseller, WONDER. Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson? Could have gone either way. But Director Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Beauty and The Beast) and co-writers Steve Conrad and Jack Thorne have brought this story to the screen in a way that (for the most part) avoids sentimentality. Okay so the obligatory scene takes place at the end of year school assembly (gah) and there’s that teary high school play and the fight by the lockers – but the strong performances and Chbosky’s compassion and restraint combine to make this film genuinely moving. And let’s not forget the target audience. This is tween family drama – our ten and twelve-year-old kids loved it.


Wonder is the inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman (played by Jacob Tremblay). Born with a genetic abnormality, August (Auggie) has endured endless surgeries and hospitalisation since birth. But he’s an ‘everykid’ in so many other ways; He loves astronomy, Minecraft, Starwars – and burping. He wants to be a normal kid and live a normal life. And that’s where the beauty and power of this story lies – it examines why that’s so hard. And not just for Auggie.

Having home-schooled Auggie all his life, his loving and committed Mum (Roberts) gently pushes him to start fifth grade at local school. It’s a giant step. Auggie and his family are only too aware of his vulnerability to ridicule and bullying at this decision. And from the moment he removes his space helmet at the school gates and walks in, it begins. As his classmates struggle to find compassion and acceptance, Auggie’s courage and determination is inspiring.


The narrative is simple and strong but not without its contrivances – Auggie’s hipster home room teacher (who chucked in a big Wall Street career to pursue his passion to teach) who challenges and inspires his mid graders by exploring precepts. One of which is “if you have to choose between right and kind, choose kind.”  There’s the mean rich kid, the shy loner girl. But again, this is a kid’s film and it sets about presenting strong and simple truths. These gentle themes – kindness, acceptance, friendship and community of course necessarily venture into parallel territories of bullying, judgment and isolation.

Check out the Choose Kind Movement in all it’s guises (#choosekind, tumblr, twitter, facebook) to see what the R.J Palacio and the clever folk at Penguin Randomhouse have been doing with the phenomenon that is Wonder.  Kids, classrooms, entire school communities have joined the Choose Kind movement. A marble in a jar, a moment of choice between doing what is right and what is kind. Teaching kids they have the power to change lives? Transforming the way we see? That’s wonderful.

Submit a pledge to be kinder HERE



The Changeover – in all forms

Always good to read the book before watching the movie – I’ve just embarked on Margaret Mahy’s Carnegie Medal winning novel The Changeover (1984).
Stuart McKenzie’s and Miranda Harcourt’s film version (Firefly Films) releases on 28 September.  Check out the trailer HERE.

Miss Twelve and friends are meanwhile entranced by the you tube clips on #MakingTheChangeover.

Nice moves by Radio New Zealand who are presenting the original 15-part adaptation of the book read by Miranda thirty years ago (adapted for radio by Carol Dee). Marvellous.

Find it HERE. 

RNZ also features an review of the re-realeased book by Hannah August HERE.

“BIM BAM BOOM” by Frederic Stehr




Early picture books often strive for pleasing rhythm but author Frederic Stehr celebrates the discordant mess it can be in his new book “Bim Bam Boom” (Gecko press, Sept 2017).

Bashing things together to create sound and rhythm is a primal drive – the very young understand this perfectly but grown ups lose touch with this simple pleasure.




Mother Owl certainly fails to find the joy in Baby Owl and friends thrashing a miscellany of her cookware. Or as the young birds rightly assert – “making music!”. Stehr captures their delight (and the cacaphony) perfectly with his simple line drawings and clever layering of text.




Baby Owl gaily bangs a pot with wooden spoons – BIM BAM BIM BAM BIM. One by one her friends join her. Canary finds pot lids – TISH TISH TISH. Sparrow returns with a bowl and ladle – BOOM BOOM BOOM. Chick and Raven join the band!




But it’s all over when a slightly wild-eyed Mother owl confiscates the instruments, telling the dejected little birds she’ll be back.




She’s somewhat redeemed when she flourishes a delicious cake.  Replete, the youngsters wonder what to do next… and the story ends with a twist and an amusing finale on the back cover.




“BIM BAM BOOM” is a simple, playful board book for toddlers. We love it.




With thanks to the Gecko Press for the review copy : )

“Accumulated Power”

Just found this treasure – Margaret Mahy on the power of books and memory here in her piece on childhood favourites.  “The voices of my dead parents come to me out of the story, setting up profound sympathetic resonance in that echoing inner library, both voices mingling with mine as I read..”.

From the March/April 1997 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Family Reading.

Source: “Accumulated Power”