Five Quick Questions with Tihema Baker
Tihema Baker’s debut novel Watched has just been released by Huia Publishers and follows Jason and Rory as they enter an intensive training facility for teens with superpowers. While they can manipulate gravity and harness dark energy the novel also focuses just as squarely on their friendship and the challenges that come with greater power and responsibility. We asked Tihema Baker a few quick questions about his novel.
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1. Is it true that the idea for Watched first came to you in a Graphics class at high school?
Mostly true – I used to love drawing but the drawing of Graphics class wasn’t really for me, so I would spend a lot of class time drawing random characters from stories I hadn’t even thought up yet. One day I drew a bunch of kids with superpowers and they just stayed with me. I would keep going back and adding to them or drawing them again in different situations or with other superpowered people. The story of Watched would grow around them over the next couple of years. But yeah, I guess it did all begin in that Graphics class.
2. You were accepted into the Te Papa Tupu Māori Writers’ Programme in 2012. What was it like being mentored by Phillip Mann?
It was great, Phil’s got a lot of experience and had lots of ideas, and I enjoyed bouncing my own off him. I think the most important lesson he taught me was more a professional one than a creative one. I was in my third year of university at the time and there were occasions where I struggled to balance the Writers’ Programme with my studies. Phil helped me prioritise and realise that it was okay to focus on things other than my writing when necessary. He helped me understand that some opportunities needed to be taken while I had them, like my studies, but my writing will always be there waiting for me when I’m ready to pick it up again. Learning that lesson allowed me to get through my studies that year and the Writers’ Programme with minimal stress, and now that I work fulltime, being able to balance my writing and my work is something I’m really glad I learnt how to do.
Read the full interview on Booknotes Unbound.
Bernard Beckett on the National Library's transformation of its services to schools
Bernard Beckett — award-winning author and teacher ponders the imminent changes to the National Library's Services to Schools and what these mean for young readers.
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This year the National Library is changing the way it provides resources to schools. It would style these changes a transformation; critics see them more as a financially motivated slashing of essential services. So, what exactly is going on, why do they say they’re doing it, and should we believe them?
The existing Curriculum Information Service is one that many will be familiar with. It’s been around for some seventy years. Under this outgoing system, the National Library made its vast resources available to schools by way of topic requests. So, if you were teaching six year olds in Gore and they were interested in studying the squid and octopus, then you put in the order, the Library searched its resources and a box of age-appropriate books would duly arrive. Ditto for the senior geography teacher whose students were studying the localised risk management of natural hazards.
The scheme was centred about the apparently sensible notion that there is no point in schools up and down the country attempting to purchase their own resources when a centralised public resource exists. Better to soak up a little librarian time and postage cost than see the vast, and inevitably inadequate, replication of school library resources.
The most striking thing about the new proposed system is the disappearance of this postal, topic-based ordering system. In its place, the Library will be concentrating on sending out packages of high-interest books, on one-year loans to schools and their libraries, in the hope of fostering the habit of reading for pleasure. At the same time, there is to be an attempt to provide guidance in the accessing of online resources. Roughly speaking, the National Library is moving from the goal of providing quality written resources to aid teacher and student-led research to the slightly vaguer aims of encouraging a love of reading and better digital research skills. Vagueness, I always think, is a worry, but let’s dig further.
Why might an existing service be cut? Broadly speaking, there are four reasons (if we exclude political incompetence from consideration). Either the service is no longer being used, or the service is no longer deemed relevant or important, or we have come across a better way of providing the same service, or we have come across an alternative service that represents a better use of the available funds.
In this case, the first two reasons can probably be dismissed. Nobody is claiming that usage has suddenly plummeted. The service remains very busy, with a claimed third of teachers nationwide making use of it in a year and many hundreds of thousands of titles being issued. Even more compelling is the case against a devaluing of the service. Anybody familiar either with the current education curriculum or trends in our local schools will be aware that student-driven inquiry is all the rage, and in the senior school NCEA research standards are ubiquitous. Although the Library still intends to get its books out into schools, the key notion that these books should be in response to the specific demands and interests of the students and teachers has disappeared. And that, in the tortuous language of education, is bad pedagogy. The value of the old system, from the education system’s point of view, has never been greater.
The next argument is much more interesting. What if the type of research the Library has traditionally supplied has become an anachronism in the digital age? Perhaps it makes much more sense in an internet-soaked world to teach students the skills required to find the information they are after online. There is cause to give this argument credence. There is a tremendously democratic flavour to the internet. Although access costs are a real issue for some, these have dropped dramatically (consider the cost of the cheapest smart phone, which can then access the internet via a free in-school connection). While teachers endeavour to match their programmes to the needs and interests of their students, in reality there is an awful lot of generalising and compromising going on. Internet-based research gives the student much more control, at least in terms of setting their own questions, and in that respect it is more inclusive. It’s also true that it is the type of research our students will continue to have access to after they move away from school. If we take the call to produce lifelong learners seriously, then maybe spending less time ordering books for them and more time showing them how to find the information online is a better bet.
While it’s often claimed that the internet is a poor research resource because of its unreliability, I wonder if this isn’t overplayed. Certainly I find it much easier to find reliable answers to my questions than I did ten, or even five, years ago. By way of illustration, ten years ago I wanted to explain to a group of students how to use the transit of Venus to calculate the distance from the Earth to the Sun, and the answer sat somewhere out beyond my search-competency frontier. Five year ago, I could find the answer but I had to hunt, and the explanation was poorly presented and of only middling quality. Yesterday, by way of experiment, I repeated the search and found exactly what I needed within a minute, laid out in a professional and engaging style. Universities around the world have started putting courses online and providing in-depth resources for the general public (the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a wonderful example). It’s still true that there are important skills required before the internet can be fully utilised, but from a school’s point of view that’s more of a teaching opportunity than a problem.
Against this case, however, some key points seem worth making. First, the National Library holds a great number of resources that cannot be accessed online. In particular, locally based resources (be these literary criticism of Baxter, or issues of local geographic or historical interest), so senior students in certain subjects are going to have their research wings clipped as a result of the changes. The National Library makes the point that a specific book can still be ordered by a school from its catalogue, but the logistics of this remain unclear. It should also be noted that the National Library’s catalogue is not simple to use, and if the search onus shifts to teachers or very often part-time librarians in schools access is likely to decline.
It is also clear that books and online resources are different in their nature. Complex arguments take a great deal of time to make, and online summaries cannot engage and instruct in the way an extended text can. Type ‘selfish gene’ into your search engine and you will meet a thousand summaries of a game-changing metaphor, but none will acquaint you with it the way reading the book of the same name will.
Next up, it’s not all clear that the screen can engage the curious young mind in the way a well-illustrated book does. Yesterday I watched my five-year-old sons turning the pages on a beautiful edition on volcanoes, and I am certain their experience was far richer than any screen could have provided. It’s in the way the pages fall, the way the image can be felt and engaged with, the way information is presented as a thing to hold and treasure. There is a resonance here with deep and basic instincts, and if you multiply that experience by thousands of classrooms there is an important loss to consider. It’s worth remembering, too, that at five a child can’t manage a search engine but they can manage a book, so learning sequence is an issue.
Finally, and I think crucially, it’s not at all clear that the National Library is preparing the way to take firm and decisive leadership in the area of digital literacy. This is one of those areas where we are asked to judge a current service we know well against a proposed service which may or may not work in practice. National Librarian Bill Macnaught says: ‘We plan to significantly increase and improve access to quality online content for teaching and learning and to guides that assist teachers to use online sources and resources effectively. Our online resources will also include more professional material for educators and librarians such as guidelines, research and exemplars.’ Given that we are not privy to the conversations that led to these changes, we are left to choose between competing narratives: is this a case of the Library having found a passion for assisting in the teaching of digital literacy, or rather does the story begin with somebody seeing an opportunity to trim a budget? Only those that were there can know. One thing we do know, however, is that the teaching of digital literacy is a new and rapidly developing field of expertise. My suspicion is that it will be those working in schools who will, through trial and error, stumble upon the most effective methods for doing this, which a service like the National Library may then be able to support. It seems unlikely, however, that an outside agency is going to be the leader in this field. In reality, we are going to have to wait and see. It will not have escaped the reader’s notice that politically speaking, this is a shrewd move, and a common one. By the time we are able to judge the value of the changes, the heat has gone out of the debate and public interest has moved on. It is worth asking why extensive trialling of the new digital services hasn’t taken place first, so that the relative values of the two services could be assessed.
The last argument to consider is that of the alternative services. The National Library has noted that while a great many schools access their services a great many more do not. What’s more, the profile of engagement is predictable, with the higher achieving students from privileged backgrounds much more likely to come into contact with the service. Hence, they argue, might it not be better to move away from a demand-driven model, where those best placed to help themselves will be given more, to a supply-based model, where general collections of high-interest books are sent pre-emptively to schools, to be held by them for a year? An argument can be made that the students who need books most are much more likely to benefit from this service than from the current model, which has been failing to reach them. Here the National Library is at pains to reiterate that it is not cutting schools’ access to the collection, nor is it planning to reduce the amount being spent on the collection’s upkeep (more than $1 million per annum).
This is a superficially appealing argument but it is not without its problems. First, if you have a programme that you value, but you aren’t reaching your target audience, then the first thing to try is to increase engagement. If the concern for the lower-achieving student is genuine, then why not do all you can to get them using your service? While fostering an early love of reading is inarguably valuable, both the status quo and the proposed changes seek to do just that. Why should we think one method (an engaged and pro-active teacher choosing a topic to suit his or her charges) will have less impact than another (placing more books in the school’s library)? The second will get more coverage, certainly, but may equally get less enthusiastic participation. How should we judge this difference and, crucially, how did the architects of change make their judgement?
The second problem is that there is a flawed premise in play, a sneaky debating trick that is pulled whenever people want to withdraw support for a programme. It’s the old ‘How dare you ask to fund sports/arts/blue-sky research/teacher training/… when there are sick children who need treatment?’ game. It is simply an error to argue that we must cut a worthy programme just because a more worthy programme has been found. Why not instead pursue both (getting more books into school libraries feels like a good idea) and fund the second by cutting some other, less worthy pursuit (I can think of other public spending programmes that I would chop, I’m a little over some state sector CEO salaries for instance and you’ll have your own examples)? Even if no such budgetary trade-off can be negotiated, why see this as an either–or situation? How much extra will the sending out of annual packages cost? At first blush it would seem to be less resource-intensive than the searching and packaging of specific, topic-related, age-relevant resources. It’s not clear why you shouldn’t use this saving to keep some aspect of the request system running. If there is no inherent flaw in the current system (and I’ve not heard the argument that there is) then a hybrid model must be a good option.
Interestingly, very little has been heard from the Ministry of Education on this change, despite the fact that it is the delivery of its curriculum that is at the heart of the issue. It appears as if the restructuring of the Library’s school services clashes with the student-led ethos of the Ministry of Education’s curriculum. That surely suggests another funding option, where the research-friendly service is moved within the education budget, rather than having the Ministry of Internal Affairs foot the bill. It would seem to make sense to have the Minister who is most invested in the scheme’s success fighting for its share of the available funding.
For my part, then, I’m not convinced the changes have been guided by a sense of what will best serve our students. I would have been much more convinced if the National Library had led with their analysis of what was wrong with the current system, and if they had undertaken a controlled trial measuring the outcomes of the proposed new systems against those of the old. Evidence-based policy making – surely a teacher is allowed to dream.
Bernard Beckett is an author of children’s and young adult fiction, and secondary-school teacher whose knowledge of teenage culture is reflected in his credible adolescent characters. He has published numerous novels, and won many awards for his fiction, including the Young Adult Fiction Category of the 2005 New Zealand Post Book Awards and the 2005 Esther Glen Award at the LIANZA Childrens Book Awards. His novel Genesis, which won the Young Adult Category in the 2007 New Zealand Post Book Awards, made publishing history when UK publisher Quercus Books offered the largest advance ever for a young adult novel in New Zealand. Find out more about Bernard Beckett in his Book Council Writers file or visit his website.
KIWA Digital empowers students to tell their own stories in their own language
Stacey Anderson from KIWA Digital talks about the impact this New Zealand company are having on indigenous cultures and learning across the globe.
KIWA® is a New Zealand company founded in 2003. We have rapidly become a world leading production house for experiential digital books. Based in Auckland, we work with global trade publishers and other content owners to bring their stories to life, using innovative digital formats that are proven to deepen engagement and understanding. We believe that our production values are second to none, and we work hard to set the standard for accessibility across languages, and for readers of varying abilities and cultures.
Beyond producing our technologies, we are also passionate about taking them into schools. KIWA has developed a learning programme for young people centered on the digital publication of their stories, called the KIWA SLAM™. Produced in correlation with education experts, it has since been utilized by the Ministry of Education in New Zealand, and by language preservation groups in USA, Australia and on home soil. As a result, KIWA has a growing reputation in the international education sector, particularly for our work with priority learners and for cultural storytelling.
KIWA SLAM™ is an intensive programme where students are empowered to tell their own stories in their own language. Run over the course of two days, students’ workshop their own experiential digital books, and work with elders, or in groups, to design their stories. They then write the content and record a narration, usually in both their indigenous language, and in English. Finally, they create illustrations and design the interactive elements that really bring their story to life. The KIWA team then use their know-how to compile these works into digital books, which are presented to the students and published to the world on the global App Store.
The first workshop was held in Alaska in 2012, where the KIWA team were closely involved in the revitalization of native culture and language, in partnership with the Alaskan Association of School Boards. In November of that year, fifteen high school students and seven adult advisors from four school districts gathered in Anchorage, Alaska to participate. Students were tasked with creating an entire twenty page illustrated book in just 48 hours. With an overall theme of “We Are Alaska”, each district team worked collaboratively to create a storyline representative of their community by telling a local story or myth. Teams were allotted five pages to present their story, illustrate, and record the story narration; the books were then assembled and published to the world on the iTunes App Store.
It is hard to express the impact that this initial project had in words, but this five minute Vimeo clip does it so much better. It tells the story of how our work helped an Alaskan village, striving to revitalize its native culture and language. It also explains the efforts of the Kashunamiut School District in Chevak, Alaska, and the Association of Alaska School Boards to revitalize the Cup’ik language.
In February 2014, Te Tai Tokerau Slam was hosted in Kawakawa, with the support of the Ministry of Education. Sixteen students from schools and kura kaupapa around the Tai Tokerau area, took up the challenge of conceiving, writing and illustrating four digital storybooks, in both English and te Reo Māori.
With only two days to learn and apply their new skills, the result was an innovative mix of creativity and imagination as well as the blending of culture, history and traditional stories. The rangatahi were split into groups and had the guidance of KIWA experts, as well as access to the mātaruanga, and guidance of kaumātua, kuia, and the creative input of local artists. Te Waihorori Shortland who worked on the project as a kaumātua said it gave the students an opportunity to test their skills in a format that is relevant and modern. “It’s important for our rangatahi to understand the technology industry because there are heaps of opportunities in the industry for people like them.” For further information check out page 8 in the Education Gazette, Ka Hikitia in action.
In December 2014, the KIWA team travelled to Melbourne and with the support of the Victorian Aboriginal Corpration for Languages, helped fifteen indigenous students illustrate and narrate three digital books in two days, in both the Woiwurrung language and in English. This SLAM was part of an ambitious project to produce innovative digital audio-visual resources, that would support language reclamation and revitalisation activities in Victorian schools and communities. The KIWA team is now working to finalise the resources before they are launched globally on the iTunes App store.
Along the way, we ourselves have discovered how our programme increases engagement with students. In June 2014 we held workshops at five schools within New Zealand for the Ministry of Education’s “Success for Boys” programme. The pilot was aimed at boys, who were having problems engaging with traditional education methods, with the goal of finding new ways to lift the boys’ level of achievement. These intensive two-day workshops were designed for boys aged between 10 and 15 years, and were run at Hora Hora School, Howick College, Wainui School, St. Paul's College and Windy Ridge School. The boys worked in groups of four or five, and with the help of facilitators created their own interactive digital books, which are now published for the world through the iTunes App store.
While these workshops took place, we undertook a comprehensive enquiry process to ensure the learning was captured for other teachers and schools.
Our key findings included:
• Independent observations revealed students fully engaged in the learning task, embodying the five key competencies in the New Zealand Curriculum.
• The programme provided them with behavioural, emotional, and cognitive success in communicating orally, visually and in writing.
• Their achievement was evident in making meaning, and creating meaning, core strands of the New Zealand Curriculum.
• 91% of students interviewed finished the workshop with high self-efficacy, and belief that their skills had improved.
The workshops were captured in five inspirational videos that are designed to give teachers ideas and strategies they can implement with boys in their own classes. The videos each focus on one of the five key competencies: Thinking, Using Language Symbols and Text, Managing Self, Participating and Contributing, and Relating to Others. All resources are now freely available on the Ministry of Education website “Success for Boys”.
With the global shift toward digital consumption of content, renewed emphasis on the importance of language to cultural identity, and increasing recognition of the power of storytelling to share information, we think that KIWA is well positioned to achieve ambitious plans. We want to grow our global business as an innovative digital publisher, and make our mark on the world. One of the best ways we can do this is by helping students, teachers, parents, and elders to share their knowledge, and express their place in the world too.
Key Points about KIWA:
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We have patented a number of technologies that are designed to help with learning:
• sound that is perfectly synchronized with text, word by word, to reinforce understanding
• audio and text available in multiple languages, to make content more accessible
• design that supports special education needs, including for hearing-impaired, dyslexic readers, and those reading at different levels;
• Swipe-to-Read™ to highlight and playback the story at the reader’s pace
• Touch-to-Hear™ to have individual words spoken out loud
• Touch-to-Spell™ to hear the letters that spell each word
• Touch-to-Read™ to record the story in the reader's voice
• Colour Palette to paint each page and customize the book
• integrated pedagogical research and learning guides as part of our applications.
We have also been thrilled to receive numerous awards in the past year, which recognize KIWA’s hard work:
• GESS Award at the prestigious Gulf Education Suppliers and Services Conference in Dubai
• American Chamber of Commerce, New Zealand Exporter of Year Award
• Contributions to Literacy Award, Alaska Centre for the Book
• New Zealand Innovators Award for Innovation in Media, Music and Entertainment
• BETT Asia EdTech Excellence Award, Singapore, Finalists
Visit the KIWA Digital website
My View: Library Manager Ebenezer Moses on introducing e-books into a school library
Ebenezer Moses, Library Manager at Tamaki College, is part of the Manaiakalani Education programme that provides the tools for digital literacy to low decile schools in his region. The impact of this work in his library, and the community at large has been huge. We asked Ebenezer to share his experience and advice about introducing e-books into a school library.
Ebenezer Moses with his wife, Vasu.
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Tell us a bit about your school and your role.
Tamaki College is a decile 1 school with around 600 boys and girls, predominantly consisting of Māori, Tongan, Samoan, Cook Islands and Niuean children. I have a degree in Economics, and used to work in management positions back in India. I joined Tamaki College in 2004 as a Behavioural Support Worker of Mataora. When the funding for Mataora was stopped, I was offered a Teacher Aide position in the Learning Centre.
In 2007 the Librarian resigned and I got selected as the Librarian for the College, thanks to the Principal, Mrs Soana Pamaka, who supported me to do a postgraduate diploma in Library Sciences from the Open University.
When and why did you decide to invest in e-books and establish a digital library?
When I started, we had Alice from Soft Link as our library system. In 2009 I upgraded our system to Oliver 3.5, and loaded almost 9,000 books from our existing collection, learning slowly but steadily as I went. In 2010 I started cataloguing free e-books from Gutenberg, which the students could download and read using the school computers. However they could only do this after school and during lunch time in our school library computer room.
Then in 2012, Tamaki College joined the Manaiakalani Education Programme and most of our students were donated Netbooks by the organisation. Manaiakalani promoted new teaching and learning approaches across a growing cluster of decile 1 schools in low income, predominantly Māori and Pacific communities around Tamaki College (the East Auckland suburbs of Glen Innes, Panmure and Pt England). Suddenly the whole community had access to free broadband through our school, and the schools had access to new technologies, and were encouraged to use them throughout their learning practice.
What were the challenges of setting up your digital library? How did you overcome these?
I had many challenges and one of them was that the students’ Netbooks were not compatible to download Adobe and DRM eBooks from the e-platform we had set up with Wheelers, so they couldn’t access the e-books to start with. At the beginning of 2013 OverDrive was launched by Soft Link and we finally had a platform that was compatible with our Netbooks. I tried promoting e-books to our staff and students but they were very reluctant to switch over and it felt like an uphill struggle. I tried every trick in the book. I demonstrated that e-books can save the planet by reducing the number of trees cut down, prevent the spread of germs found on physical books, and can store almost an entire library in one’s pocket. The staff at Tamaki wanted to smell the print and feel the pages. I even suggested holding a printed page in one hand to feel and smell, while reading e-books with the other!
Has e-book lending changed your reading community, and how they use your library space?
The turning point came when nine other intermediate and primary schools, sponsored by the Manaiakalani Education Programme, decided to join on the condition that they had access to our digital library. Once again Mrs Pamaka was really supportive. She negotiated access for the other schools in return for a very small initial fee, which enabled me to upgrade our library system to Oliver V5 Plus. Now we have 1,584 borrowers across the community. There was no turning back after that. I can say that almost all my e-book readers are primary and intermediate students, staff and sometimes parents.
What are the positive impacts that e-books have had on your readers?
The Tamaki College library shelves are still full of physical books, but I have the faith that all of our staff and students will eventually get a taste for e-reading. So far, my promotional efforts have been more successful with the other schools in the Manaiakalani community, and the numbers speak for themselves:
‘Students borrowed 258 titles during 2013 and 1,816 in the first 6 months of 2014’ ̽
Have e-books changed the way you fulfil your role as a school librarian?
I have received positive feedback from the staff of all our Manaiakalani schools, telling me how they are downloading and reading e-books from our collection, including during the school holidays. Panmure Bridge School even received an iPad as a reward from OverDrive for reading the highest number of e-books in a short span of time last year. I am yet to experience this level of enthusiasm at Tamaki College, but with the support of our Principal, I have full confidence that my long-term vision will be fulfilled within the next couple of years.
What aspects of a traditional school library model do you think are important to hold on to?
I strongly believe that we as librarians should put aside our fears around what could happen to our jobs, and promote digital reading. My vision is that libraries use e-books to strengthen us as a place for people to congregate, to exchange opinions, and share a passion for reading; just like a Church, Synagogue, or Mosque, the library should remain a place for worshippers of knowledge.
What advice would you give to schools that are just starting an e-book collection in their library?
My dear fellow librarians, my advice is that e-books are so easy to manage. There is no need for repairs, no need for reminders to return late loans, no year-end stocktake, no need for security gates, no need to cover and barcode books. You can choose from a variety of e-platforms and e-book suppliers, as they all have different book publishers. I would start with cataloguing free e-books from Gutenberg and show your readers how they can download e-books from your library - the rest will follow…
̽Renee Lienhard’ Specialist Collection Development OverDrive, Inc.
My Top 5: World War One picture books
Desna Wallace, Librarian
Fendalton School, Christchurch
When you are looking to invest in your library collection, there's nothing quite like recommendations from colleagues and peers. Throughout the year, we will publish a variety of Top 5 and Top 10 review lists by school librarians. Desna Wallace contributed this wonderful list, and admits it was hard to limit her choice to just five books.
One Minute’s Silence
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David Metzenthen, Illustrator Michael Camilleri
Allen & Unwin - ISBN 9781743316245
Huge potential for discussions with the book, which shows both sides of the story and the realisation that we are not so different from each other.
In Flanders Field
Norman Jorgensen, Illustrator Brian Harrison-Lever
Fremantle Press - ISBN 9781920731038
This is the story of a World War One soldier who risks his life to rescue a robin which is caught in barbed wire separating the opposing armies.
Gary Crew, Illustrator Shaun Tan
Thomas C Lothian - ISBN 9780850919837
At the end of World War One a memorial tree is planted so people do not forget. See what happens generations later.
A Present from the Past
Jennifer Beck, Illustrator Lindy Fisher
Scholastic - ISBN 9781869437398
Aunt Mary travels far to bring Emily a present – a Princess Mary gift box. Aunt Mary’s mother was a nurse in World War One and was hit by a stray bullet while tending a wounded soldier. The bullet hit the tin in her pocket and miraculously saved her life.
Le Quesnoy: The Story of the Town New Zealand Saved
Glyn Harper, Illustrator Jenny Cooper
Penguin NZ – ISBN 9780143504566
During World War One the German army took over the French town of Le Quesnoy. This is the story of how New Zealand soldiers liberated the town.