Book Review: Aotearoa, by Gavin Bishop

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_aotearoa_the_new_zealand_storyGavin Bishop’s Aotearoa has been atop the Nielsen Bestsellers list virtually since its release. I spotted Gavin at the Storylines Hui the day after it was launch and he said ‘It sold 140 copies at the launch! I’ve never written a bestseller!’

Gavin has been writing and illustrating books for over 40 years. He has gone through many phases of illustration – the illustrations in this book are most similar in style to his The House that Jack Built, which was re-published a few years ago by Gecko Press, but also bring in elements (particularly in the people) of the broad style he used in Mister Whistler.

Aotearoa tells the story of our nation, from the big bang, via dinosaurs, through Kupe’s discovery of Aotearoa (so named by Kupe’s wife Kuramārōtini) and so on. My first favourite page – there are many – is the Voyages to Aotearoa, which depicts each of the waka that we know sailed to settle in New Zealand from Hawaiki. Along with people, came gods, and the stories of our gods are flawlessly woven into the narrative.

As iwi settled the land, each named its sacred mountain, and set about naming the birds, fish and insects of Aotearoa – and the land: Te Waipounamu and Te Ika-a-Māui. On the following spread, came war: the Māori war god Tūmatauenga makes several appearances as our people go to war. While disputes over land led to fighting, the first Pākehā arrived. Gavin takes us inside their minds to show how they drew the coastline of New Zealand, and the illustrations give further information about what was introduced and traded.

Something notable if you have never read a history book that has an integrated world-view of New Zealand: the Treaty of Waitangi isn’t signed until page 20 – one-third of the way through the book. There was a lot of history in Aotearoa before Pākehā came and carved it up, and this book ensures the younger generation doesn’t forget it. I will also add, for me the best parts of the book are those which tell about the settlement of New Zealand by all its peoples.

From the late 19th century on, Gavin does break-out ‘survey’ pages telling about progress in different areas of life and society. Transport, employment, houses, education. Each of these are finely drawn, but as somebody who tends to view things in a linear manner, I couldn’t help but want the images to sit in a more time-oriented manner!

The things he brings out though are wonderful, and there are several juxtapositions that made me smile to myself – in housing, these three things are close together: 1937: State houses were built for those who could not afford their own; 2008: A house in Masterton designed by the Wellington firm Melling Morse Architects; 2015: The number of homeless people who slept on the streets increased.

Gavin has also very cleverly given potted histories of famous architects, significant visionaries, and so on throughout his illustrations. His war illustrations are majestic artworks of the sort that I hope go on tour through Painted Stories.

I will stop myself gushing over every page and think about audience for a second. There is nothing that Gavin has done that hasn’t got kids in the centre of his thinking. The lollies page is fantastic; the clothes page – which involves many members of his own family – could inspire a class study of fashions using old family photos; the sports section is brilliant – and of course the All Blacks are running across the South Island. The disasters section is a starter page for 100s of school projects in the future. He has chosen famous people that children can relate to (Jamie Curry, Annabel Langbein, Witi Ihimaera, Lorde) and singers, writers, actors, dancers and artists as well. I’m pleased to see he has drawn himself in there.

Gavin has not been afraid to put his worldview across. ‘1840: The Treaty of Waitangi gave Māori the rights of British citizens. But for over 100 years it was ignored and ruled irrelevant to New Zealand law and government’. He has told briefly of land marches, protests, Bastion Point and Moutoa Gardens, hikoi, and wrongful Anti-terror raids. He has also called out those who are destroying our land: ‘Careless use of the environment threatens all life.’ Possibly the cutest drawing of the south island has it turned into a possum…

But the book ends with hope. Electric transport is being brought in. Kāpiti Island is a bird sanctuary, the Southern Ocean is a whale sanctuary. There are good things happening in agriculture. And finally, we have children flying the flag for the future. Just perfect.
It doesn’t matter what age you are, you will learn something from this book. You will understand how history has formed our land. Gavin has used the academic work of our most important historians to focus his drawings, and he has done a superlative job. Step out of the way, everybody, the award goes to…

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story
by Gavin Bishop
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143770350

 

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Book Review: Today in New Zealand History, by Atkinson, Green, Phipps and Watters

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_today_in_new_zealand_historyOne of the joys of aging is picking up a book like this and recognising that nearly half of the events happened in my lifetime. I remember most of them too. This is not a highs and lows, shockers and disasters type of  book. Instead, we have a wonderful collection of events which include the quirky (introduction of Jockey Y fronts), the disasters, the political triumphs, cultural firsts (Anna Pavalova dancing here) and plenty of sports. My husband enjoyed the sports clips as they were often the lesser-known events. Interspersed with the events, are the birth of a variety of New Zealanders on this day. These little vignettes could be a book on their own, but included in the text and photos of the main items, they add another layer of enjoyment.

The collaboration between the Ministry of Culture and Heritage and the Alexander Turnbull Library has resulted in a book that is both informative and visually captivating. There is a photo of Michael Joseph Savage on the steps of the Social Security building. It is all art deco and serious but captures the amazing introduction in 1938 of the Social Security Act. The photo of the opening of the Christchurch Town Hall also made me nostalgic, for I sang at the opening and attended a meeting there on the morning of the quake.

By uniting two such esteemed groups, this team have produced a book that rises above the usual coffee table pretty. I found the clear and easy to read text gave me enough information without boring me through detail.

As a teacher, I am constantly saddened by the lack of historical knowledge shown by my pupils. I feel that a knowledge of the past enables us to truly face the challenges of the future. As New Zealanders we have travelled a long way in a short time. This book would be a useful aid to help students focus each day, on an event. My husband commented that he would be able to do this using just sports as there are often 2-3 stories for each day, and sports feature often. There is a pupil like this in every class.

Add to all this a hefty hard cover and wonderful photos. What a great Christmas present for those baby boomer parents who can relive their childhood and educate the grandchildren at the same time.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Today in New Zealand History
by Neill Atkinson, David Green, Gareth Phipps and Steve Watters
Published by Exisle Publishing
ISBN 9781775593003

Book Review: From Moa to Dinosaurs, by Gillian Candler and Ned Barraud

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

From Moa to Dinosaurs is a finalist in the Elsie Locke Award for Non-fiction, part of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. 

cv_from_moa_to_dinosaurs.jpgPotton and Burton have really taken on the task of ensuring quality nature texts are available in New Zealand for adult and child alike. This book is another in the explore and discover series.

Here we travel back in time to view the beginnings of life in New Zealand. The first section explains the formation of New Zealand from Gondwana. Clear diagrams and text lead us to the following chapters where we look at different habitats and their inhabitants.

Each section includes delightful illustrations that are bright and simple. I liked the separation of facts into boxes with easy bullet points. Likewise, there were boxes called How do we Know? These gave the scientific basis for the information presented. This is a successful format used in the previous titles and ensures that fact and fiction are distinguished.

The language is easy to follow but a useful glossary is included at the back for the more difficult ideas. An index also allows easy retrieval of information. Quality texts like this are essential in the classroom and allow research away from the Internet in manageable chunks. The format means the text is useful right across the primary levels. It provides a starting point for more detailed study but a good overview for a lesson.

This book would be an essential for a school library, but I think the whole series provides a great wealth of information for a family. Sometimes it is as easy as buying the set to start a love of the natural world in your kids. After reading From Moa to Dinosaurs I went and found my geologist’s hammer, grabbed a grandchild and headed off on a fossil hunt in the foothills.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

From Moa to Dinosaurs: Explore and Discover ancient New Zealand
by Gillian Candler and Ned Barraud
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9780947503109

Book Review: The Genius of Bugs, by Simon Pollard

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_genius_of_booksImagine you are a bug living in a bug world, where a blade of grass is as tall as a tree! All around you are other bugs with secret weapons on search and destroy missions. Lurking behind every leaf are mini-masters of disguise waiting to catch you out.

Bugs have been on earth for almost 400 million years. They were here before the dinosaurs and are still here, 65 million years after dinosaurs became extinct. What these critters do is really clever. The genius of bugs is revealed through their use of weapons, feats of engineering, scams and deceptions, and incredible teamwork.

This is a great book to introduce children to the magic of bugs. The use of in-built weapons by the Bombardier beetle, the marvel of miniature engineering of the Dragonfly and how a Portia jumping spider uses its exceptional intelligence to hunt other spiders.

I read this book with 5 ½-year-old Abby. We pored over the pages with her exclaiming ‘ooh yuk’a lot, but fascinated all the same. Afterwards, we took her magnifying glass outside with her net and bug catcher to see what we could find. We found a fine collection of moths, flies, spiders and snails, examined them at length and finally released them back into the wild.

This is a great book with lots of information and facts about bugs. It was great to see a page dedicated to genius bugs from New Zealand, and overall this is a great book for the aspiring biologist.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Genius of Bugs
by Simon Pollard
Published by Te Papa Press
ISBN 9780994136213

Book Review: Whose Beak is This?, by Gillian Candler

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_whose_beak_is_thisGillian Candler has a passion for nature and the great outdoors. She has written four books in the ‘explore and discover’ series, plus this one. She has a background in publishing and education and now writes full time. Gillian regularly leads walks for Forest and Bird and enjoys tramping. She also works as a conservation volunteer.

The illustrator Fraser Williamson’s work ranges from large illustrative paintings to quirky children’s books. He regularly exhibits his paintings at the Flagstaff Gallery in Devonport, Auckland.

How many birds can you recognise by their beaks? We were doing quite well until we got further into this book. I read this book to our four-year-old granddaughter Abby. I was amazed just how many beaks she recognised – she was able to name most of them, too! Around where she lives there is a great assortment of bird species.

From the Kiwi, to the Tui and to harder ones like the Wrybills (I hadn’t heard or ever seen one of these in the wild). This is a great way of introducing the idea of being able to identify birds by their beaks and also a lot of fun. It’s also a wonderful introduction to small children about what birds are in our environment and where they live.

The illustrations are sharp and clear with a vibrancy that is sometimes hard to capture with some of our not-so-colourful native birds. I really loved this book and judging from the reaction I got reading this book to Abby, it will be a much-anticipated addition to her growing library.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Whose Beak is This?
By Gillian Candler, illustrated by Fraser Williamson
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9781927213612

Book Review: Play In The Garden: Fun Projects for Kids to Enjoy Outdoors, by Sarah O’Neil

Available now in bookstores nationwide.

Most parents I know wish to get their children off ‘screens’ and outside to enjoy fresh air cv_play_in_the_gardenand creative play. This New Zealand childrens’ gardening book will achieve just that, with fun projects and inspiring activities.

The book is written for children, but there is advice for adults on how best to support children in achieving the activities and making the most of the garden. The author is realistic: ‘Most kids don’t have the kind of stamina you need to garden well and often give up quickly….but there is a better way. Instead of giving them a corner of your garden, make yours a little bigger and let the kids have fun with the extra crops you grow for them.’

The level of activities is well-suited for adults who are new to gardening, and the book has sections for spring, summer and autumn (although autumn has just one activity). There are some great basic science activities, too, like soil-testing to encourage junior botanists and microbiologists. I liked the ideas of trying to grow a square cucumber or making vegetable-based paints. For the crafty kids there are scarecrows, colourful bird scarers and corn-husk dolls. The author has clearly tried out these activities with her own children, and they are genuine and achievable projects which kids would get a kick out of.

The book is well-designed and features cute illustrations by Vasanti Unka. The photographs are instructional rather than aspirational, which is good for encouraging people to actually try the projects. Instructions for the projects are well-written and easy to follow, and the diagrams are also clear and helpful.

I liked the practicality of the projects and the many opportunities for hands-on learning. Often garden/craft books aimed at children offer projects kids are unlikely to achieve or want to achieve, with spurious educational value – this book is an exception to that. If the kids in your life undertake even a third of the great projects in this book, they will discover a love of gardening and have their curiosity about the outdoors ignited, well and truly. I asked my own non-gardening nine-year-old to have a look through the book, and he said he would like to try growing giant pumpkins, growing peanuts and making vegetable paint. That’s the beauty of this book, there is enough variety of project types in the book to appeal to all children.

This book would make a delightful Christmas present for any children in your life. It’s a practical, fun book which is sure to inspire the next generation of gardeners.

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Author Sarah O’Neil has also written a gardening book for adults The Good Life: Four Glorious Seasons In My Country Garden. Her gardening blog is here.

Reviewed by Helen Lehndorf

Play In The Garden: Fun Projects for Kids to Enjoy Outdoors
By Sarah O’Neil
New Holland Publishers (NZ) Ltd
ISBN 9781869664138

Book Review: A New Zealand Nature Journal, by Sandra Morris

cv_a_nature_journal

Available in bookstores nationwide. 

A nature journal is a way to record your observations of the natural world around you. In this informative guide, Sandra gives many suggestions of artistic and creative ways to start noting down what you see. While the book has some cool facts on plants, animals and New Zealand terrain, its aim is to inspire young nature lovers to go out and explore the world around them. The activities Sandra has demonstrated will help the reader develop their own ideas and interests.

I would recommend this book for 8−10 year old nature fans who enjoy art and being outdoors. A younger child could read and enjoy the book too as it is not too complex and there is an informative glossary at the back.

As an eleven-, soon to be twelve-year-old, I found this book quite basic. I did like however that Sandra covered a range of environments, including cities and zoos, making it relevant to anyone. Although I do not plan to start a nature journal after reading this, the artwork is wonderful. Personally, I have been inspired by the level of detail in her colouring and have started to look more closely at the birds around me.

Overall it is a lovely book and an excellent one for your young nature-lovers bookshelf.

Review by Maia Gasson

A New Zealand Nature Journal
by Sandra Morris
Published by Walker Books AU
ISBN 9781921977657