What a fantastic idea for a book. Museums are hives of story, both real and imagined. Things in museums all have something different to communicate, and these 22 authors have created new stories surrounding some intriguing objects from Te Papa Museum.
I am envious of the carte blanche the authors were given in the museum archives. I still remember being able to explore the archives of Coaltown, where my mum worked in Westport. I used to love going exploring in the attic – of course nothing was clearly archived, so it was really dusty and grimy, but there was magic up there.
Realistic dialogue between children is one of the major strengths of several of the stories in this book, with Anatonio Te Maioha writing about a disaster in a lift, and John McCrystal writing about two kids bickering as they go through the museum with their mum, learning about a dog-skin cloak whose owner remains a mystery.
The authors chosen have put their own recognisable imprint on their story, with Kyle Mewburn writing about a fold-up boy who is a bit of a dunderhead, Phillip Mann invoking the supernatural Sa-Li, James Brown giving us an acrostic poem about Britten’s bike, Joy Cowley writing a caper story featuring an errant cat, and Raymond Huber writing one of the most memorable stories in the collection, of a unique breed of humans who mature into insects (a highly original allegory for puberty).
While my children are too young for most of these stories, I still attempted the launch at Te Marae at the beginning of the month. I enjoyed the wonderful Jo Randerson reading her story, and so did my 3-year-old, but the 18-month old is a bit over-active for that sort of immersion in words!
The cover and the interior illustrations are all by Sarah Laing, who is a fantastic artist, and has some really neat interpretations of the stories. I am enjoying this trend at the moment of using cartoonists for cover illustration – Sarah has done several cartoon covers recently, and Dylan Horrocks also: both have an eye-catching style of lettering and illustration. The weight and feel of this book are also well-considered.
This is a wonderful collection for children aged 8-12. Both world wars and the holocaust come up in the book a couple of different times, as well as several Maori myths, so be prepared for some chances to explain Maori mythology and European history if they aren’t yet aware of it. I look forward to the next children’s book from Te Papa Press, especially if they collaborate with Whitireia Publishing further.
Reviewed by Sarah Forster
The Curioseum: Collected Stories of the Odd & Marvellous
Edited by Adrienne Jansen
Published by Te Papa Press