Book Review of Gus’s Garage, by Leo Timmers and Q & A with James Brown

Hardback available this month from bookshops nationwide.

cv_guss_garageThe most magical picture books tell their story in images, as much as in words. Gus’s Garage, by Leo Timmers, is the best example of seamless storytelling I have seen recently, joining Timmers’ other wonderful books for early picture book readers.

Gus runs a garage, and sure he sells petrol, but what he really does is provide unique fixes for every possible situation he and his various animal drivers encounter. HHe reminded me a lot of my Uncle Jack, an engineer, who had a seemingly insurmountable ability to fix anything his friends brought him.

As Gus fixes problems, his pile of stuff gets smaller. My 5-year-old, Dan, caught on pretty quickly as to what was happening in the book, and was avid in trying to guess which unlikely object from Gus’s fix-it pile was going to be used to solve the drivers’ problems. He was particularly happy about predicting Miss P’s solution for her too-hot car: weld a fridge on top of her car, of course!

Timmers writes in Flemish, and to get the words just right for this book, not only did Gecko get Bill Nagelkerke to translate it; but they asked poet James Brown to adapt this translation to make it bounce along. The book is written in rhyming couplets in pairs, with the second pair as a refrain: ‘Let’s see, I have some bits and bobs. This goes with that. There. Just the job!’

I asked James a few questions about adapting this text, and his answers are below:

Picture books, poetry – same/same right? How closely *do* they relate?
Actually, there are connections. Being succinct, being able to work with rhyme and rhythm – both poetic skills that transfer well to children’s picture books.

In Leo’s pictures there are lots of small details that change gradually as the story develops.
Poets like particulars! I never tired of Leo’s pictures. In fact, I kept noticing more and more. They give you an overall picture of what’s going on very quickly, but then there are all those tiny details changing as the day passes. You really can look at them over and over.

I see Leo Timmers has admired your adaptation of Gus’s Garage – how did you find adapting a translation without understanding the original work? Do you think this gave you more or less freedom with language?
Well, I had a literal translation to steer by, and I looked closely at the language and could see that it rhymed and had a regular rhythm. Except with the refrain, I didn’t have too much freedom. The text had to agree with the images. The refrain was crucial. It had to be right because, well, it repeats, and it had to work for a US audience. Gecko Press gave me good advice – they said it’s got to rollick! So I kept that in my head. If the lines weren’t rollicking, they weren’t working.

Have you ever adapted a work – even in English – to a different form? Were there any similarities in this process?
I don’t think I have. I’ve done a few vague poetic adaptations – ‘Diary Extracts from Scott’s Voyage to Discover the West Pole’ parodies Scott’s diaries and Pooh Bear’s expedition to discover the North Pole. I’ve spent 10 years adapting some badly written museum labels into clear and occasionally engaging English.

What do you think that a well-adapted work, no matter the genre, can give us?
Well, it opens works up to new audiences. I love Yehuda Amichai’s poem ‘The Diameter of the Bomb’, but really I love Chana Bloch’s and Stephen Mitchell’s translation of it – I’d never have been able to read it in Hebrew. Wordsworth’s poem ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ – the daffodil poem – is possibly an adaptation of his sister Dorothy’s diary entry recording the same event. It depends on if he wrote it independently or used her diary to jog his memory. Her diary entry is good, but his poem is dazzling. Half of Shakespeare’s plays were adaptations of other plays.

Adaptations can show different points of view. Some are better than the original. Francis Coppola’s Dracula movie is a pretty good adaptation. Not sure about all those TV adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, though.

I know you were involved in the fantastic board book series that Te Papa Press put out a couple of years ago – what else is in the pipeline, Children’s books-wise from you? (or poetry-wise!) 
The board books were fun to do. I’ve recently done a few poems for the School Journal and one for [Gecko Press’s upcoming] Annual. I’ve just made some space in my life to focus more on my own creative projects – like my overdue poetry manuscript. I love Edward Gorey – I’d love to do something like him. I’d love to write a children’s book. I need a publisher! I need an illustrator! I need to write something.


While you are all waiting for James’ next poetry collection, pick up Gus’s Garage and put it in your ‘most treasured’ collection of picture books. It’s there in ours, alongside The Magical Life of Mr Renny.

Review and interview by Sarah Forster

Gus’s Garage
by Leo Timmers, translation by James Brown
Published by Gecko Press
PB ISBN: 9781776570928 (avail November)
HB ISBN: 9781776570935

Giveaway: Go to our Facebook page for a chance to win a hardback copy of Gus’s Garage, thanks to Gecko Press.

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Book Feature: Timeline, by Peter Goes (Gecko Press)

cv_timelineAvailable in bookshops from Monday 23 November

What an incredible, detailed, beautifully illustrated book. The visual style is arresting, and the use of colour sparing and effective. This is a book that fills a very important niche: history for lively, curious minds. If you have, like me, got a child who says “Instead of a story tonight, can you tell me about the history of the world? Like, the real history?” – This book is for you and yours. It will be one that your kids will go back to and back to, and as they encounter more of the context at school and elsewhere, they will delve into the relationships between historical moments further.

This book comes with no small amount of hype: Julia Marshall says it was her favourite book of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair this year. Given that the fair was in April, it’s fair to say that they have worked incredibly hard to get this out for the Christmas market, with Bill Nagelkerke being responsible for the translation from Dutch. Nagelkerke is a children’s author in his own right, and has been working with Gecko Press on Dutch translation since they began publishing.

The Publishers’ favourite bits
This is quite a publication, so I thought I’d get the publishers’ input about why it is they love the book to give some context, before telling you how my son and I experienced it. Julia says, “I like the way fact mixes with fiction: I like that Pegasus and ET and Harry Potter are in there with Putin and President Obama and Marilyn Monroe and Edmund Hillary.”

Julia_Marshall_Timeline

Julia presents ‘Timeline’ at the Booksellers NZ Conference in June

Julia goes on to say, “I don’t have a favourite page yet as it is a lovely long process of dipping and diving, and I find it is nice to read with a friend over a cup of tea – every time something new. I like the explorers’ page with the whales and penguins and turtles alongside Columbus and Drake and the great Chinese explorers, and the Polynesian explorers, and seeing all the little lines across the world.”

Rachel Lawson was also on the Gecko team this year – seconded from Whitireia Publishing – and she says, “My favourite spreads are early in the book – the First People and the First Settlements. These spreads encourage you to get up close to the illustrations and see the humour alongside the detail of the history.

“The First People has a fantastic Lucy – probably our oldest human ancestor – stepping out cheekily from behind a tree, shows Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens hunting with their various primitive weapons but also dragging around squalling babies and making cave art. The recent years are also great fun because you find all these things from your own childhood get dragged up from the memory banks. I particularly enjoy the caricatures of famous figures – Putin, Thatcher, Idi Amin, Freddy Mercury…”

Our favourite bits
Mine & my five-year-old Dan’s favourite spreads also occur early in the book – I loved the timeline between the beginning of life and the end of the dinosaurs, with the bones that carry on delving into the earth, to be found so many layers deep by paleontologists later on. He also shows those species that carried on, jumping out of the fiery tar-pit end for the dinosaurs. Dan spotted those that carried on, and enjoyed making the connections between now and all that way back in our pre-history.

Timeline_end of the dinosaurs

The end of the dinosaurs, from Timeline, copyright Peter Goes/Gecko Press

I recorded some of our conversations while we were sharing Timeline, and there have been some really interesting moments that have made me revise what I know of history. This is a book that will do that – and force you to think more deeply about connections you may not have considered as part of a whole. There are a lot of ways of explaining events that I hadn’t quite considered – for instance, the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand being ‘The first shot in World War I’. Some periods of our history just seem insane, looking back from our perspective. I’m pretty sure King Leopold II of 2015 wouldn’t have dreamed of taking over an entire inhabited country – the Congo – as his private fiefdom. Under the European Empire-building conditions of the 19th century, however, it seemed perfectly reasonable.

This is the conversation we had about Jesus, born on the Roman Empire page: “He’s really dead, isn’t he?” Probably less dead than others – you know his name, don’t you? God was his father, or that’s what many believe. “I thought God was a girl, because in my book that we’ve got, God was a girl. In the one that has the cow, the sheep, the pig, with a green cover – God was having a baby.”Ah… Mary. She wasn’t God, but she was how Jesus came to be born. “Why is everybody dead?” Well, the people who descend from them aren’t.

timeline_roman empire.jpg

The Roman Empire, from Timeline, copyright Peter Goes/Gecko Press

Also – the Roman Legionnaires look like Star Wars people (true, and possibly on purpose), at least gladiators had shields and nets and helmets and pitchforks (also true), Michelangelo: “did he turn into a ninja turtle?” (no), and “Why did they make the ships into pirate dragon ships?” To make people fear them “There’s no dragons now, so that won’t work.” (true) I’d never thought about that before, but that was quite a thing back in the day!

For kids – and who else?
While most spreads are dealing with a particular part of, mainly European history, there are a couple that simply talk about great Explorers, or the Space race. The pictures making up the stream across time are labelled, often humorously; there are many more details that you spot every time you open the book. As Julia says – it is nice to read with a friend, in fact I found myself wheeling it out every time I had adult visitors at home, and I will probably keep doing so!

The time and effort that has gone into creating this thing of beauty is massive, and I thank Gecko Press for again delivering a book that will last the test of time. I hope it sells on and on, all over the world.

Get this if you have a curious kid, or if you are a curious adult: whether you have studied history, have a passing interest, or just love big luxurious books. Just get it. If you are wondering about age range – my son is 5. I had to change the language a little to improve his understanding, but if you are looking at a gift, I think from 8 to 99 is a good recommendation.

Feature by Sarah Forster

Timeline
by Peter Goes
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570690

Book Review: The Day No One Was Angry, by Toon Tellegren, illustrated by Marc Boutavant

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_the_day_no_one_was_angry

This is a truly beautiful book, delivering the full package of wonderful illustration and amazing writing / translation, with not a word out of place. The author, Toon Tellegren is Dutch, and known in his own country for his stories about ants and squirrels. Marc Boutavant is French, known for the Mouk series. Kiwi author Bill Nagelkerke is the translator, and he has done a masterful job.

The first thing that strikes you about the book is the quality of its illustration. The style is almost vintage, with a wonderful paint and wash feel. This is preserved by the wonderful production standards, and a luxurious choice of paper stock. My first instinct upon bringing it home was to wish I could paper my walls with the pages, while still preserving the book in all its glory!

Each animal featured in the stories within these pages is dealing with a facet of anger. Poor Hyrax rails impotently against the sun setting, while Elephant rails against his own clumsy determination to climb a tree. Sensitive artist Mouse is sold sorrow by a lobster, after a Pandora’s Box of anger is opened for him to choose from; while Hedgehog realises that he hasn’t yet experienced anger, so goes out of his way to make himself angry.
There are also relationship-related angers, including irrational rage, irrational stubbornness, seeming insanity, and general irritation (all of which I am very familiar with).

My favourite story in the book is a rather gentle one involving best friends, ant and squirrel. While my son is only 4, the type of slightly circular conversation they have is very familiar.

“If I told you I was going away on a trip,” the ant asked the squirrel, “would you be sad?”… “Yes, I’d be sad,” said the squirrel. “But if I said you couldn’t go, would you be angry?”

This is a collection of stories to share with everybody you know. Rather than seeing anger as a weakness, it celebrates its strength. It acknowledges that every person will react to things differently, but that this is natural and good. Some are supremely calm, like squirrel, while some just cannot be pleased when they are in a certain frame of mind – or, y’know, upright: like the Aardvark. The final story sees that a world without anger is a homogenous world: at this point, the only emotion is a general worry, as each animal tries games to kick-start a new emotion.

I urge you to buy this book for your family for Christmas, whatever their ages. It is reminiscent of no other book, a unique gem.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Day No One Was Angry
by Toon Tellegen, and Marc Boutavant
Translated by Bill Nagelkerke
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781927271575

Book Review: Where is Rusty?, by Sieb Posthuma, translated by Bill Nagelkerke

Available in bookstores nationwide. cv_where_is_rusty

Sieb Posthuma is a Dutch author, illustrator and designer. This particular book has been translated from Dutch to English.

Rusty, his mother and his two friends Henrietta and Toby are going into town on the bus. They get off at the stop near the department store. Rusty’s mother gives clear instructions that they are to all to stay together. The department story is a busy and interesting place. Rusty soon gets distracted and as a result gets lost. The two watchdogs on patrol are on the lookout for stray pups on the loose. Rusty ducks into the ventilation system and as a result a new adventure begins. His mother reports him missing at the Lost Dogs department. Rusty tries to blend in, hiding amongst various items in different departments within the store – at times not very well.

I read this book to my 3 year old granddaughter. Abby laughed at Rusty’s antics, and of course the “whys” came thick and fast. The amount of detail in each one meant we paused and spent a considerable amount of time really looking into each illustration and then discussing how they related to the particular part of the story. This book reminded me a little bit of the Where’s Wally series of books.

The character of Rusty is based on the author’s own dog, Rintje.

This book is one that would appeal to a wide range of ages – from as young as 18 months up to a self-read of over 5 years of age. A really lovely book and one I know the young ones in our family are going to enjoy.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Where is Rusty?
by Sieb Posthuma, translated by Bill Nagelkerke
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781927271469, HB 9781927271452