Book Review: Capsicum, Capsi Go, by Toby Morris

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_capsicum_capsi_goToby Morris is a cartoonist living in Auckland, New Zealand, whose insightful Pencilsword cartoons are a regular feature on TheWireless website. Capsicum, Capsi Go takes a more lighthearted approach, and is a fun rhyming book introducing the concept of opposites to youngsters aged 0-3.

The illustrations are simple and absolutely charming, rendered in bold colours appropriate for catching the eye of the child. The pages are colourful and sturdy; they should handle the frequent attention they will no doubt be subjected to. Take your child on a journey with Capsi (a super-cool, super-cute fruit*!), as he travels to the tropics. There is an extra level of cleverness to the illustrations, adding a collage-style appearance: a taxi is rendered using the M-section of the yellow pages, whereas bubble-wrap adds an intriguing effect as Capsi goes swimming (inadvisable, as it turns out capsicum are not strong swimmers! but don’t worry: “Capsi’s sweet, Capsi’s fine”).

Simple and sweet, Capsicum, Capsi Go should be a lot of fun to read aloud – again and again!

[* more frequently considered a vegetable, but officially a fruit]

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Capsicum, Capsi Go
by Toby Morris
Published by Beatnik Publishing
ISBN 9780994120557

Review: The Day The Costumes Stuck, by Toby Morris

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_day_the_costumes_stuckIggy leaves a costume party with his Mum, but something weird happens. He can’t take his costume off. Mum and Dad don’t believe him, and it looks like he might be stuck as the Boogie Monster forever. Iggy decides to investigate and wanders down a figurative rabbit hole. The other kids are stuck in their costumes too – but they don’t seem to realise it. What on earth is going on?

Toby Morris is an Auckland-based illustrator and writer, most familiar to me for his political cartoons for The Wireless.

The Day The Costumes Stuck is a whimsical picture book, with a non-traditional story arc. More like an independent art house movie than a Hollywood block-buster, the ending is open-ended and not at all what the reader might expect. This allows your own imagination to keep the story going on your own terms. The illustrations are wonderful, with a limited colour palette. The children are in colour, and everything around them is grey. The faces of the characters are really expressive, and convey beautifully the adult situation that each child has found themselves in.

I read this to my class of 5- and 6-year-olds, who had plenty to say about the book. There was debate over whether costumes could really get stuck, which transformed into a conversation about what they would do in Iggy’s situation, and what sort of costume would be fun or awful to be stuck in. Any book that promotes conversation amongst children is all right by me – recommended for up 8 year olds.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

The Day The Costumes Stuck
by Toby Morris
Published by Beatnik Publishing
ISBN 9780994138309


Book Review: Little Tables – Anytime Breakfasts from around the World, by Vanessa Lewis

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_little_tablesThis book is half-recipe book, half-cute photos of kids book.  Visiting the cuisines of 32 countries across the globe, each country gets two recipes, a “fun fact”, and a gorgeous photo of a child that goes with the country’s “theme”.

The recipes weren’t created by Lewis, but come from websites, books and magazines.  They are wide and varied, with the idea that they give the reader a little taste of the culture of each country.  For example, New Zealand is represented by steel-cut oat porridge, and mussel and potato fritters.  The fun fact for New Zealand is about the carrot statue in Ohakune; it’s then followed by the mussel fritter recipe. I found this a bit jarring – some of the facts bear little or no relationship to the recipes, and I wondered what the point was; however, the bulk of the facts do relate directly to the recipe, or the nation’s cuisine.

The recipes themselves are fairly easy to follow, and they cover the range from basic to more complicated, allowing the book to be accessed by a wide range of home cooks.

It’s the photographs that are really the star of the book. The food photography is appetising and well-styled, inviting the reader into their own kitchen to get creating. The photos of the children are pretty lovely, with the children dressed to represent the country in some way, and interesting props.

This would make a nice gift for a child or family, to encourage some food adventures.  I know in my family breakfast is often rushed, and Little Tables would be fun to work through over the course of a year of weekends, trying many of the wide variety of dishes, and making an occasion of the meal.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Little Tables – Anytime Breakfasts from around the World
by Vanessa Lewis
Published by Beatnik Publishing
ISBN 9780994120595

Book Review: See Play Do – A Kid’s Handbook for Everyday Creative Fun, by Louise Cuckow

Available now in bookshops nationwide.Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_see_play_doThis is a book with a difference. A book put together with a number of contributors, from a variety of backgrounds and ages, musicians, artists, radio hosts, teachers and children.

Louise Cuckow, the creator, is a fabric designer who also loves making things with her daughter. She wrote this book to help others who share the same passions as she has with her daughter. The ideas in this book are a guideline so that you too can be creative and come up with your own.

I sat down with one of my grandchildren and went through the book with her. Abby is 5 ½ years old and is very creative, often sitting down with her parents with books that they or myself have bought. It’s a pretty important part of a child’s education – exploring the world and coming up with ideas of their own.

This book explores how to write your name and decorate what you have written to drawing or writing about your morning and what you hear, see, think and feel. Drawing what you had for breakfast and where you had it and what would be your absolute dream breakfast.
Putting together the ultimate outdoor investigation kit at very little cost (much better than a commercially made one!) and then exploring the world to see what can be found to float, sink or something find something furry, amongst other ideas.

I thought this was a very clever book, well presented and one that would be wonderful to sit down with a child making items and discovering the world they live in. I can see myself spending many hours with Abby having fun exploring her world.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

See Play Do – A Kid’s Handbook for Everyday Creative Fun
by Louise Cuckow
Published by Beatnik Publishing
ISBN 9780994120519

Book Review: Tail of the Taniwha, by Courtney Sina Meredith

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_tail_of_the_taniwhaThe gold hardcover of Courtney Sina Meredith’s short story collection, Tail of The Taniwha, catches the light in a magical way. The writing inside is just as beautiful. Meredith’s lyrical style stems from her background in not only prose but also poetry, and she’s not afraid to push at the boundaries between the two. In her story The Coconut King, Meredith tags the beginning of each line with a slash in a way that’s reminiscent of poetry, while retaining the kind of full-formed narrative expected of prose.

Other ways of telling stories are explored in this lovely collection. In Patriarch, Eldest Son, Ghost Son, Daughter, Meredith strips back the text to just its dialogue. Stylisation, such as the use of italics, is the only means of assigning parts of speech to certain characters. Dialogue is what uncovers the relationships between them. This backstory is crafted up in such a subtle way that by the time I got to the ending, I had to turn back a couple pages and read it all over again. My second reading was with this newfound knowledge of what these characters meant to each other.

I especially loved how Meredith worked with format in her story Aotahi. This story begins with five sentences, lyrical but seemingly unrelated to each other, from “You were very small, Aotahi” to “It’s like swimming back to yourself from a great distance”. However, with each page, Meredith added gaps to the story, edging out details and building up the plot. My assumptions were changed and expectations deformed. Each addition felt like a new star coming to the horizon, with all of these stars eventually creating a whole galaxy at the end, a whole new story.

The tension of this format was further evoked in the story Leaning Trees. Along with forming details about the central character, various news headlines were used to fill in these gaps. These headlines became a sort of distraction, or possibly even a solace to the narrator, who seemed to be trying to avoid the acknowledgment of her situation until the last crucial detail was revealed on the final page.

These little details brought complexity to the lives of Meredith’s characters. In The Youthful Dead, Meredith presents a girl called Ava who is dreams of someday being like her sister, of moving away from home and living her own life. Meredith crafts a haunting scene of loneliness where Ava is reduced to a shadow, forever following the orders of others. The moon becomes an eerie guardian in the sky as Ava “unfolds her bucket list in the moonlight”. “I will”, she thinks, “I will visit Greece… I will feel the sun on my face”.

Meredith’s style is poetic and beautiful, and Tail of The Taniwha is a striking collection of the many forms that the short story can take. Meredith’s style is also a voice that’s strong and fearless. In her stories, she dreams and wishes. But she is also a woman of action, who mulls over what these dreams mean, who wants to “find all the black holes”. It is a voice that is aware of what others expect of her, whilst acknowledging that she is much more multi-faceted than these expectations could ever be.

Reviewed by Emma Shi

Tail of The Taniwha
by Courtney Sina Meredith
Published by Beatnik Publishing
ISBN 9780992264895

Book Review: Three Words: An Anthology of Aotearoa / NZ Women’s Comics, edited by Rae Joyce, Sarah Laing & Indira Neville

cv_three_wordsLike any good millennial, I’ve read some comics. At university, I studied Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus, and I’ve read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series with Dave McKean’s glorious covers. I have Alan Moore’s Watchmen on my book shelf, as well as Dylan Horrocks’ Hicksville. I’ve even read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. But this is a fairly small sampling of what comics today has to offer. The anthology Three Words showed me that the world of comics is more diverse, more stylistically varied, more wildly idiosyncratic and more weird and wonderful than I had ever anticipated.

It also includes a lot more women. Did you notice that the comic artists I previously mentioned were all men? Though I do know of some female creators of comics (Marjane Satrapi, Alison Bechdel), it looks to the uninitiated like men outnumber their female counterparts in comics by quite a lot. But it only looks that way. One of the striking things about Three Words is the sheer number of female artists who either came out of the woodwork or picked up a pencil for the first time (in a long time or in some cases at all) in order to contribute to this anthology of comics by women. Three Words shows that it’s not that there aren’t female makers of comics—it’s that they haven’t been visible. Space has not previously been made for them to spread their wings.

Some of the comics explicitly address just this issue (Indira Neville’s work, for example, which wraps up its rather pointed message in a style of cartoon you might see in the School Journal). Other comics don’t specifically comment on this but nevertheless couldn’t have been written by anyone except a woman, like Zoë Colling’s spot-on ‘boob envy’ comic. And some don’t seem to draw attention to gender at all – they’re just bloody good. Marina Williams’ “10 Things People Shouldn’t Overhear You Say In Work” is very giggle-worthy, as is Elsie Joliffe’s work.

I was also struck by the sheer breadth of styles I encountered in this collection. Though some looked stylistically mainstream, others were more DIY, and still others were like paintings or collages. One (by Sarah Lund) was made using cut paper to create the elements in each frame. Some were inked, some painted, some were riotous with colour, some black and white. What also impressed me was the storytelling these artists were able to achieve in such a short space. Though some of the comics were focused more on transmitting a single concept, tone or idea, those that were more story-driven repeatedly managed to encapsulate so much in so little.

Typically for an anthology, there were some comics I liked more than others. Some I found alienating; some I just didn’t ‘get’. In addition, the ‘three words’ conceit, where one comic writer supplied three words for another comic writer to interpret into a three panel strip (ala Chinese whispers), was also interesting and fun once I got my head around the layout chosen to present the strips. I initially got a little confused, trying to figure out which comic was supposed to be the three-panel strip, seeing as the first of these strips didn’t have panels per se. Perhaps a sign of my unfamiliarity with the genre, and if a second anthology is planned, perhaps the possibility of comparative newbie readers like myself can be taken into account.

Though Three Words was intended to create a space for women comic artists to be published, it could also be considered a place for potential (women) comic artists to gain familiarity with the scene, and, perhaps, inspiration to pick up their pencils too.

Reviewed by Feby Idrus

Three Words: An Anthology of Aotearoa/NZ Women’s Comics
Ed. Rae Joyce, Sarah Laing and Indira Neville
Published by Beatnik Publishing
ISBN 9780994120502

Book Review: Golden Month, by Jenny Allison

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_golden_monthGolden Month is a little yellow hardcover book with beautiful endcover art. It promises a satisfying reading experience while simply holding the book in your hands. The book is written by Jenny Allison, an acupuncturist who believes women in the ‘western’ world should follow the traditional practices of some cultural groups worldwide in respecting the forty days after birth with special health practices.

Jenny’s background is in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and there is quite a lot of detail about TCM concepts of health.There are a few recipes included that, from a TCM or ‘paleo’ diet approach, are considered healthy. My favourites though were the recipes of food considered healthy after birth from around the world. Having worked at a hospital in the past, I’ve observed post-birth foods from deli platters and sushi, to KFC. New Zealand recipes were not included.

For me the book highlighted just how difficult it is to provide a culturally appropriate service to women in New Zealand who are pregnant and give birth. Our funding system does not allow for the lengthier postnatal stays in hospitals/ birthing units that are familiar to other cultures. We are lucky to receive midwife visits in the home, but support with meals and housework are not available under normal circumstances. Women in New Zealand are encouraged to write their own birth plans, but I’ve never seen a ‘template’ for one that starts off with ‘What is birth like in your family?’ ‘What treatment do you need during and after birth to feel as though your health is restored and strengthened?’ ‘What foods would you need provided to you if you birth in a hospital/ birthing unit?’

In some sense the book is too short. I wanted a lot more detail about the cultures mentioned rather than a few short narrative accounts of the experience of some women. I felt perhaps that there was an oversimplification that women in the groups discussed were healthier than ‘western’ women by virtue of their traditional practices. Some comparisons of relevant health indicators might have been useful.

However, narrative-based approaches are familiar in women’s health and I hope that it will encourage further work on ‘golden months.’ I think it is a text that is useful to prompt discussions among people with an interest in birth and culture, as well as health professionals involved in pregnancy and birth. It definitely made me reflect on cultural concepts of health and well-being.

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming

Golden Month
by Jenny Allison
Published by Beatnik Publishing
ISBN 9780992264840

Launch of Three Words: An Anthology of Aotearoa/NZ Women’s Comics

three wordsI have been looking forward to this book – an anthology of Kiwi women’s comics – for a long time. At the last Writers Week in 2014, which I also reviewed here, I attended a panel discussion on NZ comics. From Earth’s End: The Best of New Zealand Comics by Adrian Kinnaird had just come out, and the way it ignored comics by women was staggering. Three Words: An Anthology of Aotearoa New Zealand Women’s Comics is in part a response to this sexism, as well as being a celebration of some extraordinary Kiwi artists.

This event – the Three Words Wellington book launch at Meow – attracted a notably different demographic from the rest of Writers Week, where the audiences have been largely white middle-aged women. Meow was packed with all kinds of people; lots of different genders, ages, races, hair colours, and clothing styles (including several very cool hats). Several people had brought their children. The atmosphere was relaxed and convivial.

As per established best practice for a book launch, there was plenty to eat and drink and not too many speeches. Editors Sarah Laing and Indira Neville spoke about how Three Words had come to be. Neville, who describes herself as “a NZ comics granny”, made the important point that “the NZ women’s comics community is suddenly visible but is not new … this book is part of a process that stretches back decades and represents something that lots of women have been working towards for a really, really long time. No one can ever say again that women just don’t make comics.” She introduced the next speaker Robyn Kenealy as “the goddess of the comics community”.

Kenealy said she had reached burn-out with being asked ‘the women comics question’. She never sat down to be a woman cartoonist and, at first, didn’t want to talk about it. Then she started to ask why women are the exception, before finally “getting bummed out” and stopping talking about it at all.

Being bummed out is putting it lightly. I am a member of the NZ Comics group on Facebook and have witnessed the abuse heaped on women who have dared to suggest that the comics community has a problem with sexism, or any other prejudice. It was frightening. Kenealy was one of those who always spoke up, always tried to establish a civil and productive dialogue, was always approachable and responsive. If any headway has been made in addressing sexism in New Zealand comics, it is due to her and people like her.

It’s hard work, though. Kenealy quoted the song Bread and Roses: “hearts starve as well as bodies”. Prejudice “has a material cost and also a very real emotional cost”, but “the Three Words project gave me hope that might not always be the case”. Kenealy said that the great thing about Three Words is that “artists who have been working for ages are finally recognised a little bit, and artists who wouldn’t previously have felt that they had the right to stand up and call themselves cartoonists are coming forward too.”

As with any anthology, Kenealy anticipates criticism: “Nothing can be done in comics without intense nerd shit-fights”. But, she says, “I apologise for my previous cynicism. This has now officially been replaced with tentative optimism.”

This optimism seemed to be shared by the dozens of people who had turned up to cheer the book on. I ended up staying longer than I had anticipated, chatting to all kinds of interesting people (Mallory Ortberg showed up! Not that I dared approach her) and getting my copy of Three Words signed by lots of the artists. Politics aside, it’s also a beautiful book full of a wide range of excellent and strange homegrown artwork and storytelling. Highly recommended.

Attended and reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Three Words
Beatnik Publishing 

ISBN 9780994120502

Blog for Three Words


Book Review: Whole, by Bronwyn Kan


Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

Whole is a collection of recipes assembled to showcase wholefoods, and how growing, preparing and cooking foods in their most natural state, processed and refined as little as possible can lead you to a better state of health and well-being.

The women who have donated groups of recipes to the Whole cookbook are (mainly Auckland-based) leaders in the wholefood and wellness movement. They are popular bloggers, adept at social media and many own their own successful cafes and food related businesses.

The recipes shine when you view them from the idea that you are cooking from scratch, using foods that you recognise the sources of – it helps you understand what you are eating, and the knowledge that better and fresher foods will yield a tastier result. However, Whole is not the kind of cookbook that is likely to form the staple of your cookbook collection. The recipe ingredients are not always what you’d have handy (Almond milk, coconut nectar, cacao butter, rice malt syrup to name a few), so following the recipes from this book requires a kind of dedication to wanting to explore the idea and culture behind the book, as much as the desire to make yourself something nice to eat.

A few of the Whole recipes nod to the paleo diet and using healthier fats, but the liberal use of coconut oil makes a lot of the cakes and treats in the book seem like things you should approach only occasionally or you’d find yourself on the wrong side of your bathroom scales.

The book is beautifully produced, with bite size recipe sections for each of our inspirational women, loads of pictures to show off their style and the beautifully presented food. It’s a treat to sit down with this book on the couch on a rainy Sunday afternoon and dream of the Mango & Turmeric Cheesecake or the Beetroot & Blackberry Chocolate Cakes that you could whip up to impress your friends and family.

Whole is a nice exploration into the possibilities of food, and helps you to consider how you might change the way you think about food and where it comes from, giving you new ways of approaching how you cook. For the average person who isn’t excited by fancy recipes in general, you might still take away a few ideas about how to think of foods differently, using alternatives to processed food, and being mindful about what you eat. If not, well then – it’s still a beautiful book to look at.

By Amie Lightbourne

Compiled by Bronwyn Kan
Contributions from Mondays Wholefoods, Heal Thyself , Monique Satherley, Sophie Carew, Buffy Gill, Kelly Gibney, Hannah Horton, Danijela Unkovich, Olivia Scott and Jordan Rondel
Published by Beatnik Publishing
ISBN 9780992264864

Book Review: A Little ABC Book, by Jenny Palmer

Available in bookstores nationwide.

Jcv_a_little_ABC_bookenny Palmer is an Auckland poet and illustrator. She has written A Little ABC Book using
crowd-sourcing in an interesting way – the animal for each letter of the alphabet was voted on by children, and the winner has made their way into the book. I think it’s this concept that lifts the books above others in the genre – the animals aren’t your all your usual dogs, rabbits, tigers and whales.

Including kakapo and wombats, the book covers an international pantheon of animals, including some that are more magical than others (unicorns, yeti!). Other interesting variations include tadpoles, flying squirrels and crustaceans. I’m surprised that Palmer chose to illustrate craneflies rather than spiders for Daddy Long Legs – both animals can be called Daddy Long Legs, but spiders are more commonly associated with the term.

The poems are clever, and each follows the same format of ABCB quatrains, which will make them easy to read aloud as the rhythm is generally consistent. Palmer is able to squeeze in both a sense of humour (the poems are often quite punny – a unicorn has a unique horn) as well as some interesting facts about the animals. She also makes full use of poetic devices like alliteration, which children love. For example:

“Side-stepping scatter crabs,
shrimp swiftly flee,
spikes scuttle smugly past
stuck anemone!”

As someone who teaches new entrants, the only quibble I have with the book – and this is true of so many ABC books and friezes – is that it only focuses on capital letters. It’s really important for children to be able to recognise both forms of each letter of the alphabet, and I wish more authors, illustrators and book designers would accommodate this in their work.

Don’t let that stop you from purchasing the book though. With charming line drawings and fun rhymes, I think many children from 2 – 5 would enjoy receiving A Little ABC Book for Christmas.

A Little ABC Book
by Jenny Palmer
Published by Beatnik Publishing
ISBN 9780992264802