Book Review: 1-2-3 Bird!, by Dave Gunson

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_123_birdAt the moment, we are so lucky to have many children’s books that tell our stories, sights and sounds of Aotearoa New Zealand.  This book is another much-loved addition to our book shelf that is proudly kiwi.

The focus, of course, is birds, as each number shares a new bird. What makes this book different is it doesn’t just focus on native birds (which we do not see everyday).  Instead, it includes the birds our children see in our backyard, at the beach or at the park too.  It makes the book really relatable – especially with the illustrations which include smart phones and other objects which clearly represent the world our children live in.

The text is simple and short, written in rhyme and moves quickly along.  This allows the readers to talk about the illustrations which contain so many prompts for conversation and discovery.  It is a picture book that allows the pictures to tell the story.  We love the emotion and scenes of what the birds get up to!

At the end of the book, the reader is encouraged to head back into the story to look for extra characters hidden in the pages.  This is a great extension for older children to explore further the numbers within the book.  This story can be revisited over and over again by readers of all ages.

Reviewed by Sara Croft, ECE Teacher

1-2-3 Bird!
by Dave Gunson
Reviewed by Scholastic NZ
9781775433941

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Book Review: A Wise Adventure II: New Zealand and Antarctica after 1960, by Malcolm Templeton

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_wise_adventure_2New Zealand has always had a close association with Antarctica from the very first. Early exploration often set out from New Zealand and continuing contact was based in Christchurch, in particular with the American Deep Freeze base.

In A Wise Adventure (VUP 2000) Templeton covered the period of 1920-1960.This included the establishment of the Antarctic Treaty system. In this companion volume, he looks more closely at the developments and negotiations since then. The Antarctic Treaty was set up to ensure access to scientific research and the peaceful management of the area and resources. While this seems a relatively simple premise, the actual process of establishing legal documentation, of getting the agreement of all interested parties and finally of enforcing these rules, is more complex.

Templeton is a former New Zealand Foreign Service Officer and has served at the United Nations and as Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs. Using archival materials and his own meticulous research, he has collated the information into this excellent record of the negotiations and decisions behind the treaties.

To the outsider, it appears a straightforward task to gather the interested parties and sign an agreement. In the case of Antarctica, where many diverse nations wished to have a say, it was complex. Both the fishing and more recently, the mineral resources of this area, are an important focus for countries far removed by geography. The treaties included environmental protection and management of living resources in a sustainable way while also ensuring that those countries, who claimed sovereignty and those who opposed such claims, were acknowledged.

In A Wise Adventure II we see the important role played by New Zealand since 1960. With the 60th Anniversary of the Ross Dependency at Scott Base, in December this year, it is timely to have this publication.

While this book is not light bedtime reading, it is an essential read for those interested and concerned about the future of Antarctica. It is by reading about the journey traveled, that we can be better prepared for the challenges ahead.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

A Wise Adventure II: New Zealand and Antarctica after 1960
by Malcolm Templeton
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561681

Book Reviews: Tinkering: The Complete Book of John Clarke, & A Pleasure to be Here: The Best of Clarke & Dawe, by John Clarke

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_tinkering_the_complete_book_of_john_clarkeMuch of what is presented in these two collections of John Clarke’s work has been published in similar forms before, but that doesn’t make either of these books any less essential. Clarke, of course, died suddenly and prematurely this year at the impossibly-named Mt. Abrupt, and it’s reasonable to assume there will be some demand for a career-spanning go-to as we head into Christmas.

Text has chosen to present the project in two parts. Tinkering features a wide range of Clarke’s writing, from Fred Dagg radio scripts to the farnarkeling reports to later essays and reflections. A Pleasure to be Here acts as Tinkering’s indispensable addendum, drawing together some of the best of the Clarke & Dawe scripts. The brief mock-interviews which Clarke and Bryan Dawe presented weekly for decades make up a large part of Clarke’s legacy, and they would have dominated a single-volume treatment. (A Pleasure to be Here runs over a hundred pages longer than Tinkering: The Complete Book of John Clarke.)

Daughter Lorin Clarke, on whose podcast John appeared as a comedy historian, writes in her introduction to Tinkering about witnessing her father’s creative process, which “reflected not much the industrial rigour of the factory as the natural rhythms of conversation. These little linguistic jokes proscribe any hierarchies or even formalities, suggesting a mutual adventure that might continue for some time”. That’s as good a distillation of the nature and the enduring appeal of Clarke’s work as you’ll get. More than any other satirist, he was constantly in conversation with his audience, encouraging us on a “mutual adventure”.

cv_a_pleasure_to_be_here

We get to see the origins of that adventure in a set of essays Clarke wrote about his parents and other dear departed. In the essay on his late mother, he recalls seeing an actress in Palmerston North pretending to be drunk and singing ‘Making Whoopee’. The young Clarke was aware that he was “learning about something by seeing it exaggerated”. This would seem to have made an impression on him. He does, after all, spend lines in an essay nominally about his mother on an amdram lady called Bunty Norman. The “learning about” aspect of this seems significant. Clarke is aware he doesn’t know quite what’s going on, realises that the real thing is different from what is being presented, but treats the whole thing as a learning experience about that real thing. It’s not enough to say Clarke was a decent bloke who had respect for his audience (which is true): he also had a profound understanding of – and curiosity about – the interaction between audience and performer. In the Clarke and Dawe interviews especially, but also with Fred Dagg and The Games, Clarke is not so much a star performer as your co-conspirator. All the time, of course, he’s teaching you about something by exaggerating it.
But Clarke’s exaggeration is likely several thousand shades subtler than Bunty Norman’s. There are many moments in Tinkering where Clarke’s sly, playful humour achieves a state you can only really call “beautiful” or “perfect”; for example, when he describes David Lange as “a man who only shaves because it provides him with an audience”. What a line. If Oscar Wilde had said it (and he would have been happy to) it would be on desk calendars and coffee mugs. But it’s for more than a well-turned phrase or three that you should buy this book. In those moments when you can sense Clarke burning to really make a point, he does so with measured, clear-eyed conviction. Here he is on ‘The New Zealand Sense of Humour’:

“…said to be laconic, understated and self-deprecating. Even if true this is not very helpful. As the same claim is not unreasonably made for the humour of the Scots, the Irish, the English, the Australians, the Russians, the Canadians and the ancient Greeks among others.”

Here he is writing in 2008, at the height of the Global Financial Crisis, in a piece he frames as advice from his recently deceased father:

“You can’t have companies borrowing these huge amounts and not have the bloke come round at some stage and say ‘We’ll have the money now, thanks.’ The whole house of cards will go over. You watch.

And I’ll tell you another thing. The world is being destroyed by greed… And this environmental disaster we’ve got on our hands. What’s caused all this? Greed. Same thing. Capitalism.”

And, of course, the ‘Howard Apology’. In John Clarke and Ross Stevenson’s The Games, the actor John Howard gave the apology that the Prime Minister John Howard was incapable or unwilling to give. In Clarke and Stevenson’s imagined present, John Howard uses the opportunity of having the world’s eyes on Australia for the 2000 Olympic Games to apologise to the country’s indigenous people. After acknowledging that his forebears “destroyed” the Aboriginal world, and that the country has allowed social and racial differences “to become fault lines” he concludes:

“I speak for all Australians in expressing a profound sorrow to the Aboriginal people. I am sorry. We are sorry. Let the world know and understand, that it is with this sorrow, that we as a nation will grow and seek a better, a fairer and a wiser future. Thank you.”

The force of ‘The Howard Apology’ has only grown in the seventeen years since broadcast. Much satire is temporal in nature, as Clarke himself acknowledged, and inevitably not all the pieces collected here land as well as this. This would seem to be the key obstacle facing A Pleasure to be Here, which takes in Clarke & Dawe pieces all the way back to 1989. It’s a fair bet not everyone picking up this book is going to remember all the newsworthy moments of Alan Bond, Tim Fischer and Kevin Andrews, and so it’s remarkable that the book succeeds as well as it does. Clarke and Dawe’s familiar cadences bubble up from every page, and reading the interviews en masse is hypnotising. The form is strong enough that the interviews become timeless meditations on the frustratingly opaque and pompous nature of public language. They’re absurd, but often very silly.

Clarke’s only novel, The Tournament, is very enjoyable but maybe a little unfulfilling as a total piece. Even The Games is remembered more for individual scenes which read more like sketches than essential elements of a wider story. The Clarke & Dawe interviews, along with some of the Fred Dagg television material, remain the epitome of his work. He really was at his best in short form comedy, which makes him a great candidate for anthology. These books are a treat and a delight. I was familiar with a good deal of this material before picking either of them up, but was seduced by Clarke’s voice into that mutual adventure all over again. Presumably, Tinkering and A Pleasure to be Here have been released now so you can buy them both for your parents this Christmas. Given the quality of work compiled here, it’d be rude not to go and do just that. But get your own copies as well.

Reviewed by Jonny Potts

Tinkering: The Complete Book of John Clarke
by John Clarke
Published by Text Publishing
ISBN 9781925603194

A Pleasure to be Here: The Best of Clarke and Dawe 1989-2017
by John Clarke
Published by Text Publishing
ISBN 9781925603200

Book Review: The Ugly Kiwi, by Scott Tulloch

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_The_ugly_kiwiA delightful retelling of the classic The Ugly Duckling using New Zealand characters and drama.

A kiwi egg hatches in a duck nest, and out pops a bird which doesn’t look like, sound like or act like the other baby birds.  A cat appears and drama begins as the feline foe catches a tui … but, of course, our hero – the kiwi – saves the day.

The text is full of descriptive language, a rich treasure trove of words to extend children’s vocabulary and explore creative storytelling.  However, children can still confidently follow the story with the rhyming melodies of the text.  There are lots of opportunities to slow down and predict what might happen next.

The story is beautifully accompanied by watercolour illustrations.  The pages are not cluttered with background, and focus on the key elements of the story.  They clearly convey movement, emotion and anticipation as the plot thickens.

We also love how the author has been true to how birds react.  As a teacher it is hard to find picture books that share scientific knowledge with children within a narrative tale.  However, in The Ugly Kiwi, our hero uses her claws to kick away the predator.  It will be used when we are exploring kiwi to provoke conversations about predators and protection.

The story weaves in the moral of being true to who you are under your feathers in this refreshing spin on a classic tale.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

The Ugly Kiwi
by Scott Tulloch
Published by David Bateman Ltd
ISBN 9781869539764

Book Review: Gather the Daughters, by Jennie Melamed

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_gather_the_daughtersTold by four young girls, this is a story of life in a cult where men rule and females obey.  Their stories unfold as each girl grows into an awareness of what life will be like for them once they reach puberty and begin childbearing.

At the start of the book it appears that the members of the cult have retreated to an island after an apocalypse of some sort has destroyed most of civilisation, but as one reads on, it seems more likely that men of a certain proclivity have taken themselves out of civilisation so that they can live the lives they want, free from censure and punishment.  The book is well-written and engaging, with details of the horrors the girls undergo being slowly revealed throughout the book.

One keeps reading, after coming to know the girls through their narration, hoping that all will turn out well. As the story becomes darker and more is revealed, it is almost impossible to cast the book aside, even though the subject matter is horrific.

The author is a person who works with abused children in a psychiatric role, and when I learned this, I was surprised that she could write about such things: not because she has written the book badly, but because she has written so well. I was upset to the point of wanting to put it away from me but I had to know how things turned out.

Gather the Daughters should come with a trigger warning, especially since we now know how many children are sexually abused and the effect this abuse has on them all their lives. Some may be able to read this book just as a novel with disturbing content, but for others it may bring up memories and feelings that are all too real.

Reviewed by Lesley Vlietstra

Gather the Daughters
by Jennie Melamed
Published by Tinder Press
ISBN 9781472241719

Book Review: Watch out for the Weka, by Ned Barraud

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_watch_out_for_the_wekaWatch Out for the Weka is the latest superb children’s book from independent publisher Potton & Burton, adding to their list of high quality, informative books which highlight New Zealand’s many natural treasures. Although primarily an entertaining story based on a campfire yarn heard by the author back in the day, there are plenty of details within it that tell you a bit about our cheeky weka – for instance, I had no idea they liked to steal shiny things!

Set in the beautiful Abel Tasman National Park, the illustrations showcase the colours and textures of the New Zealand bush and coastline. The story features Alf, a DOC ranger who spends his summers looking after the tramping hut and visiting trampers. While cooling off in the stream, a weka takes off with the watch his dad gave him. Alf leaps out of the water giving chase but to no avail (cue lots of giggles at that particular illustration). Later that evening, the moonlight on the water gives Alf an idea of how to get his watch back.

Author Ned Barraud spent many childhood summers camping in the Abel Tasman National Park and his love of it is evident in this book. Many young New Zealanders don’t get the opportunity to encounter the weka (or other native birds for that matter) in its natural habitat which makes books such as these so important, as they help bring children closer to their environment, and an understanding of the unique flora and fauna which they share the country with.

The text is well balanced with the illustrations and reads well. Coupled with some weka facts at the end, the book would make a great resource to add to any classroom. Potton & Burton seek to share stories that ‘inspire and matter’, and with Watch Out for the Weka, I would say they and Barraud have got it spot on.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Watch Out for the Weka
by Ned Barraud
Potton & Burton, 2017
ISBN: 978091450354

 

Book Review: Ordinary Time, by Anna Livesey

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_ordinary_time‘Peter Singer believes we are all equally valuable and I believe him,’ Anna Livesey writes in the titular poem of her new collection, Ordinary Time. The poem is wonderfully casual, like a structured train of thought. ‘This means I should do more,’ Livesey continues. She then muses onwards and, wondering about the future, thinks, ‘One day there’ll be no book of mine left on the earth’.

These musings on the passage of time are what form the backdrop of Livesey’s collection. She specifically focuses on the time that passes with pregnancy, birth, and childhood. In doing so, she explores the world of parenthood. In the poem Speech and Comprehension, Livesey perfectly describes the innocence of new life that her baby has, the simple ‘infinitesimal knowledge of less than two weeks’. At this stage, parent and child speak in their own silent language.

However, the wonderful innocence of children also needs protection. In the poem Artificial Intelligence, Livesey portrays the worries that come with being a parent. She describes the earthquake drill procedure at Playcentre, which includes instructions to ‘fold over your child like a turtle and hold on’. When Livesey describes how the parents ‘give ourselves up, bend-bridge-wise / over small hearts that judder and fear’, Livesey highlights a vivid image. Each parent acts as both a physical and metaphorical buffer to the world’s dangers. In this way, Livesey perfectly describes both the care and worry that comes with parenthood. She softly ends the poem with a sentence that is simple, yet carries mountains of emotion: ‘One month post-partum, I find, you’ll cry at anything’.

Livesey’s wonder at the growth of her children also carries its own innocence. In the poem Your Mind Like a Pearl, Livesey ponders how she and her child were once together, telling her child that ‘before you were born, you, coalescent, bathed inside me’. Now the two are separate entities, parent and child both carrying their own thoughts within their own bodies. As her child thinks and moves, Livesey addresses her child and states how she can see ‘the physical presence of your mind, working’. Through her observations, Livesey herself seems struck with awe as well.

The bond between parent and child is also a relationship that plays out through Livesey and her own mother. Her mother suffers from time; Livesey brings out the image of her mother’s hands as she last saw her, in ‘the claw-twists of dementia’. She also describes her mother’s hands as they used to be when she was younger, the hands that taught her how to sew as well as the hands that held her close.

It seems that ordinary time has a firm grasp on those both in youth and in older age. Livesey’s own awe as her child grows reveals how inspiring this passage of time can be, even if it is not quite so comforting on the other side of the spectrum. And even if time rolls onwards and all the books we write are to disappear, as Livesey states at the end of her first poem, ‘Having started as a poet I suppose any contribution is a positive mark on the ledger’.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Ordinary Time
by Anna Livesey
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9781776561605