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The NZ Series: Volcanoes and Earthquakes, and Pioneer Women by Gordon Ell, Sarah Ell


Recognising the need for attractive non-fiction books for intermediate-aged school children, Oratia Books has launched The NZ Series. These snappily designed and fact-packed books explore New Zealand’s society, history and geography.


The first two books in the series respectively plumb the mysteries of New Zealand’s earth movements and relate the history of early European settlers. The text is easy to understand, accompanied with numerous photographs, diagrams and ‘fact file’ boxes.


Volcanoes and Earthquakes, by Gordon Ell and Sarah Ell (father and daughter), looks at the causes and history of seismic activity in our country. It incorporates both the Christchurch and Kaikōura quakes, as well as historical activity. Colourful photographs and colour diagrams bring the world to life. As well as examining the impact seismic forces have had on our land, the duo look at how the lives of New Zealanders have been impacted too. Māori legends around volcanoes are also included, although it was disappointing to see macrons missing from place names and other Māori words.


The Ells do a fantastic job of taking away the jargon and simplifying scientific understandings, without feeling like they are ‘dumbing down’ the content. The Richter scale, Mercalli scale, geothermal technology, and rock formation are all explored.


A handy index at the back of the book makes research easy and the pair have also helpfully included lists of further reading and useful websites.


Sarah Ell has also edited the second book in the series, Pioneer Women.

This book presents extracts from the diaries and letters written by women who emigrated to New Zealand from Europe in the 19th Century. Their tales of hardship and happiness are accompanied by portraits, newspaper clippings, and markers like the Women’s Suffrage Petition.


The women’s writing offers glimpses into their lives as they travel to the other side of the world, and make a home here. Work, war, disasters, and explorations are all covered in the book.


Ell gives each woman the space to tell their own unique story. She scarcely interrupts, adding only a few bibliographical notes or expanding further on something mentioned in the writing. She does helpfully include breakout boxes exploring some unfamiliar terms used in the writing – such as fomentation (a poultice applied to the body to relieve soreness and inflammation), and ‘Mother Carey’s chickens, aka an alternative name for seabirds of the storm petrel family.


With two books a year planned for 2020 and beyond, The NZ Series offers readers a broad range of rich, visually appealing introductions to what makes New Zealand unique. There is a real opportunity for this series to cover topics not universally acknowledged or largely ignored– the New Zealand Wars for example - and I hope the publishers think carefully about these. I look forward to seeing what areas of our collective history are covered next.


Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser

Oratia Books, RRP $29.99 each

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