Book Reviews: Brachio, by Jill Eggleton, illustrated by Richard Hoit; Don’t Think About Purple Elephants, by Susan Whelan, illustrated by Gwynneth Jones

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

Brachio, by Jill Eggleton, illustrated by Richard Hoitcv_brachio

Jill Eggleton will be familiar to many New Zealand teachers and parents for her literacy programmes and her huge catalogue of poems. Brachio is a picture book for up to 7 year olds which showcases Eggleton’s rich writing style.

Brachio is much bigger than the other dinosaurs and mouse lizards, so there’s bound to be a few problems when he heads out to join in a dance party. Being a kind and thoughtful kind of dinosaur, Brachio has a few solutions in mind.

Eggleton’s language is full of poetic language, with onomatopoeia, alliteration, rhythm and rhyme, and simile dripping off the page. This is helped by clever text design, which gives the reader lots of clues about where the emphasis should be, and adds visual interest for young readers. Not that visual interest is lacking – Hoit’s illustrations are vivid and colourful, full of the joy of dancing with your friends, and the problems that occur when dancers get a little too enthusiastic!

My class of 5 and 6 year olds love listening to the language as I read to them, and the book was in high demand afterwards, because, dinosaurs! This book also comes with a CD, read by Eggleton, with loads of expression and a fun backing track of dinosaur noises.

Don’t Think About Purple Elephants, by Susan Whelan, illustrated by Gwynneth Jonescv_dont_think_about_purple_elephants

Sophie is a busy, happy girl. She likes school, enjoys her loving family, and has good friends. The problem starts when she’s not busy. At bedtime, as she tries to go to sleep, worries crowd in on her, keeping her awake. All of the suggestions to help her sleep – a special book or teddy, or a drink of warm milk – just give her new things to worry about.
Children’s worries are often dismissed by adults; adults often don’t consider the things children worry about as important when compared to adult concerns. Most children do have worries, however, and to them they feel very real. A quick survey of my class of 5 and 6 year olds showed up common themes: not having someone to play with, someone being mean to them, something bad happening to a loved one, forgetting a book bag or lunch for school, not making it to the toilet on time, not being picked up at the end of the school day.

Whelan and Jones have put some thought into Don’t Think About Purple Elephants; they clearly know children, and they don’t dismiss Sophie’s worries, but try to resolve them. The illustrations are lovely – brightly coloured and happy when Sophie is busy, and grey and ominous with oversized objects when she is worried. The resolution to Sophie’s worries is relatively simple and one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” moments that parents and teachers have.

This is an enjoyable picture book to read together for children up to 8 or 9 years old, regardless of whether or not the child worries – but it would be a particularly good book to read with a child who is suffering from anxiety, it might just do the trick.

Reviews by Rachel Moore

Brachio
by Jill Eggleton, illustrated by Richard Hoit
Published by JillE Books
ISBN 9781927307809

Don’t Think About Purple Elephants
by Susan Whelan, illustrated by Gwynneth Jones
Published by EK Books
ISBN 9781921966699

Book Reviews: Maisy, Max and Moo and Moo

cv_maisy_goes_swimmingMaisy goes Swimming, by Lucy Cousins

How does a picture book become a classic? It is loved to bits by the little people who read it, and remembered across the years. So when they have children, they want a new copy for the next generation. Well, that is my theory because that is what happened in our family.

Maisy goes Swimming is a revamped, reissue of a classic Lucy Cousins title. It was such fun using the flaps to jiggle and juggle the clothes off to help Maisie prepare for her dip. The images are simple and bold with matching text.

This book lends itself to repeated readings, which is the very best way to encourage literate kids. My granddaughter not only enjoyed naming and removing the clothes, she also practiced the colours and even demonstrated her own undressing ability.

What a great idea to re issue this classic. I can see it entertaining another generation of Maisie fans.

cv_max_and_his_big_imaginationMax and His Big Imagination: The Sandpit, by Chrissy Metge

What a wonderful thing imagination is, especially in childhood.

Chrissy Metge has continued her stories of Max at the beach and the safari, with an adventure in the sandpit. She takes a simple setting, Max digging in the sandpit, and adds a flight of fancy.

The illustrations by Dmitry Chizov use animation style characters which contrast nicely with the soft focus backgrounds. Faces are expressive and details add to the story. The dinosaur skeletons are used cleverly in front and end papers of the book. The text is designed to be read aloud by an adult and is kept to the bottom of the page.

Children are born with amazing imaginations and we have a responsibility to encourage their development. Creativity as adults often stems from the daydreams of childhood. I loved joining Max and the dinosaurs in his sandpit. I think you will too.

cv_Moo_and_moo_and_the_little_calf_tooMoo and Moo and the Little Calf Too, by Jane Milton, illustrated by Deborah Hinde

Sometimes we are captivated by an image and want to know more. This was certainly the case in the conception of this delightful true story.

While the powerful Kaikoura earthquake of 2016 caused devastation and fear, it also gave rise to some amazing stories. When the quake struck around midnight, large earth slides resulted in two cows and a calf becoming stranded high on a section of hillside. While the small plateau moved down the hill, these three remained high and dry above the mud. By the next morning a passing helicopter spotted and photographed the trio. This story tells of their stranding and eventual rescue.

The media quickly adopted the photo of the cows and it spread around the world.
Jane Milton, on whose farm this happened, has written a lovely rhyming tale of the stranding and rescue of the fearless trio. The Kiwi ” can do” attitude is reflected in the colourful illustrations by Deborah Hinde. Her simple images with expressive faces, Kiwi touches in the detail and a little bird hiding on each page, are sure to delight children. Similar artwork was seen in her Kiwi Night Before Christmas.

I would have loved a reproduction of the original photo to show young readers the reality on which the story was based. Perhaps copyright prevented this.

As Quaky Cat told the Christchurch earthquake story, so Moo and Moo tells of the Kaikoura event. What a positive and gentle way for children to remember the Kaikoura quake.

All three books reviewed by Kathy Watson

 

Maisy Goes Swimming
by Lucy Cousins
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406374049

Max and His Big Imagination: The Sandpit
by Chrissy Metge
Published by Chrissy Metge
ISBN 9780473387297

Moo and Moo and the Little Calf Too  
by Jane Milton and Deborah Hinde
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781877505928

Book Review: Portholes to the Past, by Lloyd Geering

cv_portholes_to_the_pastWell know theologian, Lloyd Geering, takes the reader on a journey into the twentieth century, as he shares a wide range of experiences in his memoir, Portholes to the Past.

At nearly 99 years old Lloyd Geering is well qualified to look back over the last century, discussing the massive social changes he has lived through and evaluating the progress the human race is making.

Born into a world at war on 16 February 1918, he was the youngest in his family, and his three brothers all left home while he was in primary school. The family moved a number of times to enable his father to gain employment. Despite this, and the struggles of the Great Depression, Geering had a good education and went on to University, ultimately training as a Presbyterian minister.

He remembers “men tramping the highways with swags on their backs” during the 1930s, looking for any odd job in return for a meal and a bed in the hay barn, which all changed with the passing of the Social Security Act in 1938 creating the New Zealand welfare state. Geering stated, “the welfare state was founded on two basic principles: that every citizen has a right to enjoy a reasonable standard of living, and that the community is responsible through its elected representatives to ensure that this is achieved.”

Of course one of the greatest changes which occurred during Geering’s life time has been in communications, and young people today would struggle to comprehend how the family was told of the death of his brother. A messenger was sent from Dunedin to the farm at Allanton to inform the family of the passing of Ira due to TB, as they had no telephone. Lloyd then had to travel to Dunedin to let another brother Fred, know of their brother’s passing.

I enjoyed reading this book; it brought back lots of memories of my parents, who talked about many of the same issues, as they were born in the same era. They also had a Presbyterian background and followed Geering’s Christian journey.

In his concluding porthole he is optimistic about the future: “It may not be too much to hope that from the fragments of dismantled Christendom we may rediscover and reinvigorate the moral values of justice, truth and environmental guardianship. Together with the spiritual forces of faith, hope and love, these qualities may yet enable us to create a viable human future.”

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Portholes to the Past
by Lloyd Geering
Published by Steele Roberts
ISBN 9780947493332

Book Review: Wolf, by Elizabeth Morton

cv_wolf_MortonAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

Wolf by Elizabeth Morton is an atmospheric and breathtaking collection that explores all the strange and mysterious parts of life. It’s all about the sharp edges, the rough shadows, the things that sit in the back of your mind and fester. It’s the uncomfortable, the estranged, all tightly packed into a world where the moon never seems to set and the sun never seems to rise.

It begins with Wolf. He is wild and he is also lonely. Morton’s language is sharply attuned with the wild world of Wolf. She describes how “as a pup Wolf had mewed / tender words… taller now, Wolf barks consonants.” He walks through forests, visits suburbia, travelling with a feeling of loneliness that presses on him the whole way. In Wolf has a dream, this feeling is brought to the fore as Wolf howls “Mo-ther / Mo-ther… but she does not hear”. The way Morton contrasts the eerie wanderings of Wolf as well as Wolf’s own heartache leaves an unsettling feeling of melancholy.

Then Morton expands out from Wolf into her own world, although it’s still not a world removed from the strangeness of the wild forest. Morton’s metaphors are raw and her words are tough. One of my favourite poems of the collection, 17, is a beautiful yet eerie piece. Morton begins, “it was March. / we had city grit in our gums, / and heads violent with stars”. Descriptions such as these made me pause, consider her words, and imagine in new ways. Morton continues with more of her peculiar and unique imagery: “and at seventeen / we were the final flashing synapse in a wrecked brain. / the last dry thrust of a fish”.

In this world, although things are not as wild as Wolf’s forest, the presence of Wolf still lives on. In The Dream, Morton and her dog walk through a landscape filled with “steel-wool bushes, the bones of manuka”. Morton manages to turn even the everyday into something strange and almost menacing. In Sirius, Morton finds the presence of the canine and the wild again in the deep sky: “I found the Dog Star / winking white and black”.

Another poem I really loved in Wolf is Poem in which i am a zombie. It’s written in the same vein as others in this collection—menacing and melancholic— and the imagery is still absolutely beautiful. It feels like Morton has dropped me in an alluring world, but she has also pressed pause. With the remote in her hand, Morton is free to show us around while trapping us in a strange state of being in between. Morton describes “powerlines heavy with starlings”, how she walks “in dactylic hexameter”. Then the loneliness creeps in: “i remember my name. / it leaves a bad taste.” This loneliness reaches its height in the final poignant lines of the poem: “now and then / i turn on all the lights / and pretend somebody’s home”.

Wolf is an absolutely breathtaking collection of poetry that Morton has crafted together with perfection. There is a little bit of Wolf in her and in all of us: the jagged parts of the heart, the strangeness of the night, and ultimately, the sadness. And Morton touches on this all in a heartbreaking but alluring way that kept me enraptured all the way through.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Wolf
by Elizabeth Morton
Published by Makaro Press
ISBN 9780994137821

Book Review: 4 3 2 1, by Paul Auster

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_4321.jpgPaul Auster’s novel 4 3 2 1, his first in seven years, is a sweeping river of a book, taking us on a ride through the heady events of America’s 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s, and all told through the eyes of one young man called Ferguson. Or, rather, told through the eyes of four different versions of that young man Ferguson. Ferguson’s genetic makeup and personality stay the same, but from the moment of his birth, Ferguson’s life splits four different ways and the novel travels down four increasingly divergent paths, following four increasingly different Fergusons. In so doing Auster writes four versions of the great American novel, all running alongside each other at the same time.

Written in alternating chapters, the first Ferguson’s life story focuses on his romance with Amy Schneiderman, the great love of his adolescence and young adulthood. By contrast, Amy never even enters the story of the second Ferguson, and in the third Ferguson’s story, Amy is much longed for but eventually set aside in exchange for the confusing and exhilarating experiences Ferguson 3 experiences in Paris, where he eventually moves. In Ferguson 4’s story, his home life is vastly different — eventually his family becomes a blended melting pot of step-siblings and step-uncles.

Having said that, each Ferguson stays in many ways the same — baseball and books seem like the most important things in all the Fergusons’ lives, as well as his family, especially his mother. As such, Auster doesn’t seem interested therefore in seeing how much he can make each Ferguson’s path diverge from the others (though they do in some cases diverge widely). Rather, Auster is interested in the ‘what if?’ What if I had journeyed down the path less traveled? What if that relationship I wanted so badly had actually worked out? What if I had moved to Paris like I always wanted to? What if I had been born rich? What if I had been born poor? What if my father, or my grandfather died, or I died when I was a child? How would things be different? Who would I be, and what world would I be living in?

4 3 2 1 always gives you the feeling of movement – flowing or running through the years like a boat borne on a swift tide. Auster’s long spinning sentences, some of them lasting a full, hefty, paragraph, contribute significantly to this effect. But these sentences never become annoying or tiresome. They only speed you along, making this novel something of a page turner (which sure helps to make this 800-page tome more digestible). And the pace of the book itself is quick without being rushed. We move swiftly through the fifties, sixties and seventies but we still manage to get a good sense of how those decades felt — especially the sections set in the late sixties, where scenes of young anarchists marching on campus and disenfranchised black New Jerseyans rioting in the streets were hair-raising to read, and in some ways hair-raisingly familiar.

I cannot pretend that I didn’t get a bit confused between the different Fergusons, especially in his adolescent years when the Fergusons were all living fairly similar lives. But that confusion was never enough to make me want to stop reading. And amazingly, after having made my way through all 800 pages, my first thought was: I want to read it again. A great plot, written in an athletic style, with above all the central character of Ferguson, a Jewish everyman whom you grow to love. Why wouldn’t I want to read it again? I can’t think of a single reason. Very highly recommended.

Reviewed by Feby Idrus

4 3 2 1
by Paul Auster
Faber and Faber
ISBN 9780571324620

Book Review: The Truth about Language, by Michael C. Corballis

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_The_Truth_about_language.jpgThere are wonderful variations in the way we tell our stories, seen even in the smallest parcels of language. In Turkey, there are over two million forms of each verb – each word-form a complex interplay containing not only tense but the subject, object and indirect objects of the aforementioned verb. Walpiri, an Australian aboriginal language, can be scrambled: you can shuffle the words and it does not change the meaning.

How does this work then? Is it first things, then words? We have been looking at these sorts of questions for some 3000 years, beginning with the linguistic traditions in India and then in Ancient Greece. The Truth about language –what it is and where is came from adds to this ongoing conversation, one that has been dominated in recent times by Noam Chomsky, who argues that language arose suddenly and ‘in a way that cannot be explained by ordinary evolutionary process’.

In this engrossing book Professor Michael C. Corballis tames an array of findings, theories and disciplines to provide context for his take on the matter. What results is a highly digestible and enjoyable account of language for the general reader.

A look at our current world reveals that there are some 6000 languages spoken, over one hundred of which are spoken in Vanuatu alone. Our open-ended means of communication is far more evolved than that of other animals; it is a ‘Rubicon’ that our species has crossed. These things we know. But this gives rise to more questions and the central themes of the book: What do all of these languages have in common? What is language? Is it something we are born with or something we learn? Or both? And where did it come from?

Corballis tells us that any person can learn any languages ‘in spite of the extraordinary differences between the languages of the world’. Regardless of what we speak, we follow rules of how we put language units together to form meaningful content. We can recognise something is correct on an intuitive, but cannot tell you why. So how did we get to here? This is potentially the ‘hardest problem in science.’

Cleve-van_construction-tower-babel.jpg

Tower of Babel, by Hendrick van Cleve, from Wikimedia Commons 

Detective-like, Corballis pieces all the parts together, accommodating the findings of various disciplines – from anthropology and archaeology, through to zoology, linguistics and genetics. He guides the reader through this vast puzzle by laying out his points in a series of stepping-stones: physical characteristics, grammar, speech, how children learn, and how animals differ and are similar in communication, to name a few.

Then there is Chomsky’s theory of universal grammar, a general linguistic principal. Chomsky argues that there was first a new way of thinking, which was available only to humans (the I-language), and that the languages we speak or sign are secondary and external (E-languages). The way we form language is an unbounded merge where elements (such as phonemes or basic sounds) merge into larger units (such as morphemes or elements of meaning) and those larger units merge into still larger ones (phrases and so on). ‘The merges occur within I-language, the language of thought itself, but are manifest in the external languages we actually speak’. He explains language’s emergence in the human experience as a miraculous leap in evolution, due to a change in brain size or a minor mutation.

Enter Corballis. He argues that it came to us by ‘incremental process of Darwinian evolution, and not as some sudden gift that placed us beyond the reach of biological principles.’ He guides us through the precursors to language and the gradual changes along the way, tracing the transition from gesture to speech. Our ancestors achieved bipedialism and the hands were freed; gesturing accommodated the need to communicate information effectively in more dangerous surrounds, such as the exposed savannah. We needed to be social for survival.

Then there is speech – a triumphant culmination of fine motor skills, breathing, and the larynx. And don’t forget grammar. Corballis also takes us via the hippocampus – the part of the brain that allows us to understand scale and has a generative capacity to mind wander or to ‘time travel’ by imagining future possibilities – something other animals also demonstrate. This shared capacity lays the groundwork for the unique generative property of thought processes that language communicates. So, as Corballis concludes, it is the ability to communicate our mind wanderings, not the mind wanderings themselves, that makes us different from animals. The difference is one of degree not of kind.

Corballis writes ‘Language thrives on variation. And so does evolution’. It is a pleasure to read about the intersection of the two.

Reviewed by Emma Johnson

The Truth about Language
by Michael C. Corballis
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408633

Michael C. Corballis will be speaking at the Auckland Writers Festival at 10.30am on Saturday, 20 May. 

Book Review: Peak. Reinventing Middle Age, by Patricia and Don Edgar

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_Peak_reinventing_middle_age.jpgHaving recently turned 60, I have been interested in the changing perceptions of what middle age is. My father retired at 60 and has been an active member of a rural community for 30 years. While he still farms, his community involvement has finally ebbed away, but he just turned 91.

So do we need to change the categories of middle and old age? According this book, the answer is an overwhelming yes.

Patricia and Don Edgar are in their late 80s. This Australian couple explore the key aspects of aging in the first part of the book. This includes perceptions of middle age, family, work, housing, learning and alternative work. I was impressed by their research and the evidence they provided both on the current situation and on what the future looks like. As the Baby Boomers reach their mature years there are implications across all aspects of society.

I know that my own community has wonderful examples of older people making valuable contributions in the paid and voluntary workforces. Likewise, education, travel and recreation are firmly on the agenda for those wishing to pursue life after retirement.

The call made by the Edgars is for government to start planning alternatives to the traditional views of old age, such as encouraging employers to continue a different work model, where the experience of older workers is matched with reduced hours and mentoring programmes. Continuing to work contributes to taxes and engagement in work allows a longer more productive old age.

The second part of the book is a collection of life stories. These were superb little vignettes. Each story explores the possibilities for living a rich and varied life into and beyond middle age. These people are not heroes. They are tales of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

My copy of Peak is about to have its own long and varied life. I have friends and family lined up and we will make an action plan to follow.

Watch this space..

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Peak. Reinventing Middle Age
By Patricia and Don Edgar
Published by Text Publishing
ISBN 9781925355963