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

AWF17: Three Empires – Miranda Carter

Miranda Carter’s event was from 1.00 – 2.00pm, on Friday 19 May 2017

Here is another wonderful sounding writer to explore further, and I did buy the book after the session. Miranda Carter is an English historian and biographer, who has published two biographies, and in the last few years two books of fiction under the name MJ Carter. She has received a number of prestigious awards and prizes for firstly, her biography of British spy Anthony Blunt, and secondly that of the royal cousins Kaiser Wilhelm, King George V and Tsar Nicholas III, grandsons of Queen Victoria. This book was first published in 2009, under the title The Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and the Road to World War One. It is this book that was the subject of her session, just going to show that good books stand the test of time and are well worth reviving for a new audience.

Miranda CarterThe session opened with the author flanked either side by photos of Donald Trump, latest crazy that the world has to deal with. Carter drew regular comparisons between Trump and the three men, in particular Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. She states she is not a royalist, but became interested in the three cousins as symbolic of a very dysfunctional family, attempting to keep their place as rulers in a world they were very ill-equipped to live in, let alone rule in. It is in the years since this book was published that she sees increasing similarities between the pre-WWI climate and what is going on in the US at present.

She was also interested in looking at the power individuals have over the path history takes. She cited the example of George W Bush who won his second term as president against Al Gore under a large cloak of murkiness. If Al Gore had become president, there may not have been the war with Iraq, and climate change would be high up on the agenda. We have yet to see what the murky election of Trump will do to the world we live in over the next few years, a point Carter came back to several times during her session.

cv_the_three_emperorsCarter traces much of the turbulence of these times back to Queen Victoria, and her grand plan to unite Europe through the marriages of her children into the various royal families of Europe. This started of course with her own marriage to Prince Albert. Even though she was an appalling matchmaker, her idea of a pan-European royal family was probably not a bad one, but it did happen at a bad time, with rising nationalism within Europe, industrialisation, an educated middle class challenging traditional ways of thinking and doing. The royal families did their utmost best to keep out the threat of the modern world by simply not changing, reinforcing further those long-standing traditions and etiquettes, digging their heels in further, but in the end going down.

She spoke about each of the three in turn beginning with probably the most boring of the three – King George V. The British royal family was pretty powerless, Parliament having the ruling control, so there really wasn’t much damage that George could do. George was a traditionalist, and worked hard at upholding that, as well as doing his best to maintain good relationships with his cousins, as his grandmother had worked so hard at.

Tsar Nicholas III was a total autocrat, had no interest or desire to modernise Russia or improve the lives of the millions of peasants he ruled. He truly believed that the day the crown was put on his head, magic rays from above entered his brain and turned him into an emperor. His father and Queen Victoria hated each other, but George and Nicholas from childhood had always got on well. Victoria changed her mind about the Russians when her favourite grandchild married Nicholas, becoming charming and embracing of Russia. Not that it did any of them any good.

Kaiser Wilhelm was a completely different kettle of fish, and I would say clearly the author’s favourite, because boy, was he bad. Carter likens him in every possible way to Trump, and you can’t help but wonder if Trump actually modelled himself on Wilhelm. He was an awful child, prone to tantrums, indulged, glorified. He was born with a wizened arm which despite all sorts of treatments over the years never improved and blighted his near perfect image of himself. Carter discussed whether Wilhelm was a true narcissist or if he was a product of his abnormal upbringing. He went through stages of hating everything English, incredibly jealous of Edward VII, writing inflammatory letters to Nicholas that England was starting a war with Russia, then once George became king doing the same to him about Russia invading England. He was determined to make Germany great again, greater than Britain, and to this end focused all his efforts on building a mighty army and navy. Quite simply he was all over the place, unpredictable, volatile, unable to distinguish reality from fantasy.

pp_KAISER_WILHELM.jpgNone of these men caused WWI per se, but through their inaction, inability to modernise, work together, or see what was going on around them, they did contribute to the events that unfolded. Wilhelm was clearly a nut job, his speeches the equivalent of Trump’s tweets, all of this adding fuel to the fire that led to war.

We are so lucky that every form of contact between people of these times was recorded in some way, either in journals or by letter. And what a trove of material Carter had to draw upon in her research. She read out some of the letter exchanges between Wilhelm and Nicholas, and Wilhelm and George – she could go on the stage, and even though she made apologies for her German accent, she was still very good! A most enjoyable, stimulating session, covering a topic that is scarily relevant to the world we live in today.

Attended and reviewed by Felicity Murray

The Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and the Road to World War One
by Miranda Carter
Published by Penguin Books
ISBN 9780141019987

 

 

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: Safeguarding the Future: Governing in an Uncertain World, by Jonathon Boston

Available now in bookshops nationwide.cv_safeguarding_the_future

Given the context of our world, with its 24/7 news cycle and incessant need to be ‘current’, the rise of populist politics that pander to reactive tendencies, a desire for quick ‘fixes’ (whether this be wall-building or oil drilling), and ‘perpetual election campaigning’, one could argue that we live a little too much in the now (which, as it happens, passes pretty quickly). The ever-widening gaps in society (both ideological and economical) and climate change mean that how we think about time and subsequently plan for the future could result in unprecedented consequences.

It follows that good governance is vital for keeping short-term thinking in check. In Safeguarding the Future: Governing in an Uncertain World, public policy expert Jonathon Boston makes a well-argued case for wise stewardship and ways to achieve this with economy and clarity. He starts by asking ‘How . . . can the chances of short sighted policy decisions – ones that threaten or undermine citizens’ long-term wellbeing – be minimised?’.

In response Boston proposes a design-based approach – one that is ‘more practical than ethical and more applied than conceptual’. He lays out the concept of safeguarding the future and does not shy way from the difficulties involved in achieving such an approach in the face of competing interests, before examining ‘The attributes of anticipatory governance’.

He goes on to assess how New Zealand is faring in light of this; it is a performance that is cause for both ‘celebration and lament’. Although there are some good frameworks and structures in place to protect long-term interests, such as Treasury publishing a report (independent of the Ministry of Finance) on the country’s long-term fiscal position, Boston emphasises that attempts to address environmental and socials issues have failed, grounding his argument in research and analysis.

The major hurdle he identifies is the ‘presentist bias in policy-making in the democratic world’ and the ‘excessive weight given to short term considerations’. This presentist bias plays out in a series of ‘Politically salient asymmetries’ or the time difference between the flow of costs and benefits. Yet this presentist drive is not the reserve of politicians alone, but shared across society: ‘On the whole, when individuals are confronted with intertemporal choices . . . biases tilt their preferences and behaviours towards the present.’

Both citizens and politicians find it difficult to pay for something now, when they personally might not see the benefits later. This might not matter as much for something like roading, which can be fixed at some point in the future, but it does matter for those long-term impacts that cannot be undone, such as the extinction of a species. This seemingly wilful refusal to heed massive long-term costs ‘reflects deeper pathologies within our democratic institutions, civil society and political culture.’

He illuminates the discord in our accounting, and what we, as a society and through our representatives, attribute value to. The types of costs and benefits typically reported on have the same old themes: capital, manufacturing, finances. But natural resources, as well as human and social cost-benefits, are not given the same treatment. Auditing these assets is important to ‘affect how policy-makers and citizens perceive the world, assess progress and judge governmental performance.’ Accountability is key. As Boston points out there are currently no requirements for government to consider whether their policy frameworks are intergenerationally fair – even when long-term impacts are highly likely.

In his agenda for reform, where the ‘aim is to shift the political context in which decisions are made by incentivising forward thinking and countering the presentist bias’, Boston sensibly advocates for change that is ‘evolutionary rather than revolutionary’ because this is cheaper, politically more expedient and less time consuming.

Crucially there is a need for durable, cross-party agreements for any meaningful change in policy and institutions to take place (otherwise things are undone, done poorly or stalled) – Boston cites superannuation as the most successful to date; political leaders need ‘to frame policy problems and proposed solutions in ways that can attract broad public support – perhaps because they appeal to long-standing cultural narratives and deeply held values’. Our parliamentary system needs examination (ones similar to ours show a similar lack of resolve) – he recommends commitment devices, the stating of long-term goals, and the strengthening of monitoring. And extending the term of governance to four years.

As Boston himself concludes in the book, the aim is not perfection, but betterment and this certainly available to us, not to mention critical. There is an implicit call to action for citizens within this – after all, citizens in a democracy have not only rights but obligations too.

Boston’s case for an intergenerational duty of care and ways to enable and better this are convincing and clear. Future generations are not able to advocate now, so we should. After all, as the philosopher Rawls is quoted in the book, ‘The mere difference of location in time, of something’s being earlier or later, is not in itself a rational ground for having more or less regard for it.’

Reviewed by Emma Johnson

Safeguarding the Future: Governing in an Uncertain World
By Jonathon Boston
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN 9780947518257

Book Review: Young Magicians and the Thieves’ Almanac, by Nick Mohammed

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_The_young_magicians_and-the_thieves_almanacNick Mohammed is a British actor and comedian, now turned writer. But despite similarities, he’s no David Walliams. He’s also a somewhat snarky narrator of his story, perhaps attempting to channel Lemony Snicket. Alas, I found these narrations a distraction in what was otherwise a fast-paced heist-style romp.

The main gang of four are wanna-be magicians. Not the Harry Potter kind, but genuine prestidigitators, practitioners of the trick shuffle, and students of misdirection. It is their dream to join the illustrious Magic Circle. However, their hopes are foiled by the rather close-minded Circle President; their wily ways and lack of respect for the (admittedly rather weak) authority and (ridiculously confining) rules, all acting against them.

The quartet of heroes are lead by Zack. Somewhat rebellious, but skilled at the magical arts, Zack has already been expelled from the Circle once. Towering over him is Jonny, whose claim to fame is his grandfather – a skilled magician who taught him the tools of the trade. Then we have Sophie, hypnotist extraordinaire – and, finally, we have Alex. Alex is the one that I found easiest to identify with: awkward and nervous, but with hidden talents. The children work well together, their skills complementing each other neatly. However, they have some pretty difficult (and rather crazy) challenges.

Firstly, the Thieves’ Almanac has been stolen. It looks like Zack’s the culprit, but he denies all knowledge. And some dastardly thieves are using it: first in an elaborate plot to steal from the Bank, and then to steal the Crown Jewels. The latter encourages our quartet of heroes, the self-named Young Magicians to conceive an elaborate solution to save the day.

There’s lots of adventure, mysterious noises, madcap antics and a ridiculous scheme, guaranteed to entertain the younger reader. However, the constant narratorial insertions head off on a tangent, disrupt the flow and distract from the main plot, turning it into a somewhat extended read – especially if one were to attempt to read it aloud.

For a first novel, it’s fun and has potential, but Mohammed is certainly not the next Roald Dahl. For lovers of magic, there’s some insight into the process, including appendices containing a super-simple “trick” you might be able to try at home and an explanation of the “Any Card at Any Number” trick (warning: it’s written in science-speech).

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Young Magicians and the Thieves’ Almanac
by Nick Mohammed
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780141376998

Book Review: The Great War for New Zealand Waikato 1800-2000, by Vincent O’Malley

Available in bookshops nationwide

cv_the_Great_war_for_new_zealand.jpgEmotion is probably something to be avoided when preparing to review a book. However, having grown up in the King Country, learning next to nothing about the New Zealand Wars, caused a considerable pang of emotion for me when reading The Great War for New Zealand Waikato 1800-2000 by Vincent O’Malley. Because the story O’Malley tells is one that provides a comprehensive understanding of the foundations of modern life in New Zealand which many Kiwis, both Māori and Pākehā, would not know they were missing.

The King Country derives from the Kīngitanga Movement, which established not only a Maori King but also a defined geographic region south of Pūniu River in the Waikato.
As defined in Wikipedia: ‘The King Country (Māori: Te Rohe Pōtae or Rohe Pōtae o Maniapoto) is a region of the western North Island of New Zealand. It extends approximately from the Kawhia Harbour and the town of Otorohanga in the north to the upper reaches of the Whanganui River in the south, and from the Hauhungaroa and Rangitoto Ranges in the east to near the Tasman Sea in the west. It comprises hill country, large parts of which are forested.

‘The term “King Country” dates from the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s, when colonial forces invaded the Waikato and forces of the Māori King Movement withdrew south of what was called the aukati, or boundary, a line of pā alongside the Pūniu River near Kihikihi. Land behind the aukati remained native territory, with Europeans warned they crossed it under threat of death.’

O’Malley answers the question of ‘Why the King Country?’ with great detail on the politics of colonial greed, the savagery of warfare and land confiscation that led to the final retreat of the many different hapū of Waikato Māori into this area as war refugees.

At the very beginning of the book, O’Malley notes that the country is currently in the middle of commemorations of the centennial of World War 1 battles fought in by New Zealanders at Gallipoli, Sinai and the Western Front. However, he argues, as many do, that these battles were not the defining of New Zealand as a nation. Rather, on ’12 July 1863 the biggest and most significant war ever fought on New Zealand shores … as British imperial troops crossed the Mangatāwhiri River and invaded Waikato.’

O’Malley later notes that ‘the Waikato War does not fit within a comfortable nation-building framework. Accordingly, our nation was born at Gallipoli not Ōrākau’. This rings true to me: I had heard of Gallipoli as a school kid in Ohakune, but not Ōrākau.

Once he has laid the foundations of his book, O’Malley then describes ‘early Waikato’ from 1800-1852, a largely peaceful and prosperous region with a ‘confident Māori world’, embracing British style commerce, including international trade, and Christianity within a framework of Māori traditional beliefs and practices.

No doubt, the different views of sovereignty and land ownership were the crucible from which war between Māori and Pākehā eventually poured with savage heat. Waikato Māori were reasonably happy to sell land for small-scale or individual settlement, while the Colonialists saw the Treaty of Waitangi as providing the means by which large tracts of land could be bought by the Government, carved up and then on-sold to settlers. And the New Zealand Constitution Act of 1852 could only have exacerbated the situation, particularly as it was designed to allow only the then minority of Pākehā the vote, an intolerable situation for Māori.

The descriptions of the subsequent battles, including bush warfare, are extensively detailed, inclusive of lists of iwi and hapū involved in each, along with complete information on the colonial regiments and militias. This creates an opportunity, particularly for Māori today, to understand the connections their ancestors may have had with particular battles and incidents.

One thing we kids in Ohakune did come away with from schooldays was an understanding that Māori had fought with huge skill, courage and, in many cases, Christian chivalry. Using contemporary material, eyewitness accounts and records, O’Malley provides us with a clear view of what lies behind this understanding. And he pulls no punches, with much of the honour belonging to Māori and much of the treachery and dishonour belonging to the Pākehā side.

The battles are meticulously described and this 600+ page book, extremely well published by Bridget Williams Books, contains superb reproduction of photographs, maps and documents.

After the battles comes the land confiscation (raupatu) which is probably what motivated the Government to invade Waikato in the first place. This is a really messy period of venality and double-dealing, which of course has a considerable impact on the late-20th Century and 21st Century New Zealand politics and economics. Some may say that Māori have been compensated, with the millions of dollars spent on settlements with iwi plus settlement back to Māori of land and public buildings, fishing rights and similar. That this isn’t a widespread view among Māori is backed up by the 2015 petition to parliament calling for a national memorial day for the victims of the New Zealand Wars, delivered by Honey Berryman of Otorohanga College.

Because I spent all of the ’70s and early ’80s away from New Zealand, my knowledge of the various mid 19th-century conflicts was from a 1950s-60s perspective – not very enlightening. Michael King’s History of New Zealand and James Belich’s The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict were very important in improving my understanding of what really are the foundations of New Zealand. The Great War for New Zealand extends that understanding greatly.

Obviously the book is a tome which could be used as a text at university level. But it should also be available in some form or another at secondary school. Bridget Williams Books are good at publishing short texts. It would be very helpful if they were to come up with a means to make this important history more accessible.

For this book not to be in the shortlist for the Royal Society of New Zealand Award for General Non-Fiction at the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards is a mystery.

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould

The Great War for New Zealand Waikato 1800-2000
by Vincent O’Malley
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN 9781927277577

Book Review: Southern Gold, by Jude Thomas

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

souther.JPGOne of the fascinating aspects of historical fiction is its ability to restore our understanding of the past and present. Capturing the delights and trials of colonial New Zealand life is Southern Gold, the debut novel from local author Jude Thomas (pen name of Judy Tindill) and the first in a planned series.

The story begins at the home of a privileged Scottish family on Royal Terrace, Dunedin. It is the start of a new year, garden parties are held with the town’s social elite, and routines continue to be maintained in pristine order. But things turn amiss when fourteen-year-old Eveline Fraser unexpectedly gives birth out of wedlock, causing outrage in the strict Presbyterian household. Distraught with the idea of giving up her child, Eveline runs away with the baby and finds herself taken in by a loving couple in the slums of Dunedin. Southern Gold chronicles the young mother and child’s new life on Mclaggen Street as they find their place in society and navigate the riotous scene of the Otago gold rushes.

Thomas’s experience of growing up in Dunedin rewards the reader with evocative and detailed descriptions of the Otago region. As someone who has yet to travel to the South Island, it was interesting for me to learn about the varied landscapes and some of the country’s most pivotal moments in history during the 1860s. A cast of strong female characters, whose intelligence and determination help them overcome their own adversities, also provide the heart of this story and make for an enjoyable read.

If I had to fault the book, there were points where I felt that things were too convenient or simply unexplained, and that further editing is required to restructure awkward sentences. Having said this, I’ll be looking out for the sequel, Fool’s Gold (and I hope one day to be able to explore the streets of Dunedin for myself!).

Reviewed by Tracey Wong

Southern Gold: Survival and Desire in a Raw New Land
by Jude Thomas
Published by Silvereye Press
ISBN 9780473365554