Review by Trevor Agnew

Appeared in Magpies Magazine,

Homesick for her native New Zealand, Annie is amazed when an ancient effigy of an American eagle comes to life and sweeps her away from Wisconsin. The eagle (whose name turns out to be Ken) carries her to Mount Maunganui, in a New Zealand a thousand years in the past. In this alternative Aotearoa, Annie is welcomed as 'The Speaker' who arrives on 'a great bird', as foretold in prophecy, and discovers that she can not only speak Maori but she can also understand the birds. Annie becomes friends with Moana, a girl of her own age, whose uncle is the tribal chief, Ahuru.

Annie learns that a flock of predator birds – falcons, kea, black-backed gulls and laughing owls – has been behaving aggressively, and a baby has been carried off by a Haast eagle. It is agreed that a party will escort The Speaker (Annie) to a Council of the Birds, meeting near Mount Tarawera. The leader of the predator birds is Te Hokioi, a Haast eagle, who alarms Annie.

With four predators on the new council of eight birds, Te Hokioi feels he has the power to make himself king of the birds. Holding both Moana and the kidnapped baby as hostages, he orders that all the flightless birds be banished to the South Island. While Annie shows great initiative in resisting Te Hokioi, it is the flightless birds who rally when faced with Te Hokioi’s duplicity. The battle of the birds which follows is described in a way which is both exciting and moving. The moa, in particular, achieves remarkable dignity.

Battle of the Birds is an unusual fantasy and is extremely readable. (It is certainly not a war book.) Much of its charm comes from the relaxed dialogue. Instead of the usual mock-heroic tone of high fantasy, everyone here speaks naturally.

A Maori Glossary is included.
Trevor Agnew


Review by Ian Clarke

Ian is the author of  'A Very Fishy Business'

Unsolicited compliments from members of their target readership are the finest endorsements an author can hope for.

‘Battle of the Birds is the coolest book I’ve read,’ - a young reader’s remark during a school workshop certainly fits that criterion.

Tauranga author Lee Murray’s debut children’s novel is an original story in a New Zealand setting, and makes good use of her local knowledge. The plot includes several all-time favourite themes: a mysterious prophesy, a seemingly impossible quest, a showdown between the forces of good and evil. Add a little magic and a scene that could be from the Battle of Britain, stir well and out comes a thundering good yarn. Though its style is modern, Battle of the Birds has the feel of those classics of children’s literature: Treasure Island, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland.

The story begins with eleven year old Annie longing to be back in New Zealand. Her father has taken a job in Wyoming and her family have moved there. Understandably, she’s homesick and misses her friends and relations, not to mention jelly-tip-ice-cream. One day, Annie unwittingly wakens a giant American eagle, whose name is Ken. In doing so, she triggers an ancient prophesy and Ken flies her back to her homeland. Only, it’s not the New Zealand Annie knows, but one that existed a thousand years ago. Fortunately for Annie, Ken appoints himself her mentor and protector. He also serves as her wise-cracking flight attendant.

Annie has an exciting time adapting to the Aotearoa of yesteryear. She recognizes landmarks like Mauao, White Island, and the North Island lakes; but how different everything is. It’s a land where birds still rule the roost. A great conflict is about to start and, according to prophesy, Annie is the key to its resolution. Ken, her mentor, can only do so much; the rest is up to her. Will Annie be resourceful enough to take on the mighty Haast eagle? Can she outwit the crafty kea? The outcome will determine the fate of her new friends: the gentle giant moa and the small, flightless kiwi.

The only way to find out for sure is to read the book and take a wonderful flight of fantasy.

Battle of the Birds is published by Taramea Publishing and available in good bookshops.

Lee Murray writes in several different genres and has recently published A Dash of Reality, available as an e-book through Amazon.


Review by Paper Plus Bethlehem Reviewer

Review appeared in Bay News, Thursday 29 September 2011

Battle of the Birds is written by local author, Lee Murray, who lived in Wisconsin for four years before an effigy mound whisked her home. This is her first novel and is a great read for kids 9+. I enjoyed the local area flavour and the birds’ battle scene was great, along with getting to see our native birds in a different way, too.

Lee has done a terrific job taking us back to a time when the great Moa and the Haast eagle existed, and the fight between predator and prey... Her principal character, Annie, is like any typical school kid suddenly whisked off on the adventure of a life time. She is reminded along the way that having courage and faith in oneself and in others is a gift we all have and need to use often.
I really look forward to reading more from this author soon. Enjoy.

Review by Janet Keen

Review appeared in Sunlive on 25 August 2011 (

When I was asked to write a review for Lee Murray’s Battle of the Birds, I looked forward to it because I love birds. Feeding, drawing, painting, photographing, visiting them in sanctuaries and reading about them; that’s me.

I see birds every day in my garden involved in dramas. Although they can be loving, a large part of their time is taken up with establishing pecking orders both with members of their own and other species; this book is believable.

The cover of Battle of the Birds (Te Pakanga o Nga Manu) is bright and inviting. Illustrator Vonnie Sterritt depicts bird feathers in rainbow hues with Māori motifs. People pick up books often because of their covers. To have one that has the tactile bonus of being produced on velvety feeling board gave me the sensation similar to touching bird’s feathers.

I liked the black and white bird illustrations so much that I wanted to see more of them at the start and end of every chapter.

Lee wrote Battle of the Birds while being mentored by editor Barbara Murison and I feel this helped with its swift pace. A successful story needs to have an immediate hook and to be tightly constructed because younger readers don’t like waffle. There is plenty of conflict and drama especially in the battle scene, along with softer, humorous moments, which made me care about what happened to the characters.

There are twenty characters in the story, many of them with Māori names. This could be confusing to some readers, but Lee has solved this challenge by having them all listed at the front of the book. She has also included a glossary of Māori terms at the back, which is a great educational aid.

Lee’s ability transport me into different New Zealand scenes with her vivid word pictures and attention to detail are, in my opinion, her chief writing strengths. Descriptions of flying on top of Ken the American bald eagle and soaring in a hot air balloon, made me feel like I was there with Annie, the heroine.

For an exciting, fast-paced read that is educational and imaginative, you would be rewarded by buying your own copy of Battle of the Birds, which is being launched in September 2011. Birds are big at the moment, so it will be a popular choice for schools and the buying public. You can order your copy from

Tauranga Writers member Janet Keen is a Rotorua-based artist, teacher photographer and writer with a particular interest in birds.