Book Review: Hello Boys & Girls: A New Zealand Toy Story, by David Veart

Available in bookstores nationwide.

Toys are for children to play with, and adults to make money out of, right? Not so says David Veart, in this fascinating look at toys in New Zealand.cv_hello_girls_and_boyx

The author’s approach is basically chronological, starting with pre-european Maori toys, and then the early colonists. Toys were important in Maori culture for both children and adults. Once the Europeans arrived the two peoples played together, sharing their toys and ideas. It is hard to believe that when my knuckle-bone champion sister made me practice with her we were playing a version with features of both European knucklebones and Maori koruru.

Toys came with all arrivals to New Zealand, and of course were made here, often by the users. Shanghais, bows and arrows, trolleys and dolls were often crude, sometimes dangerous. More refined toys were imported – before the First World War they were imported mainly from Germany.

Depression and both World Wars changed the toy world of course. The 1950s and 60s were possibly a golden age, then the toy market became more international. The author takes the story right up to the current tsunami of cheap plastic from China and the development of virtual games. He includes many asides, with snippets on landmarks from cereal box toys skateboards and protests against war toys. The author comments that he made a special effort to understand girls’ toys but this coverage is perhaps a little light apart from the dolls.

Its great fun to wallow in the nostalgia captured here. I found once again the toys that I had many decades ago – and those that I envied when my friends had them. Then later, the toys that my children played with, and even later those my grandchildren enjoy. But the book is more than a collection of stories about toys: much more. Two themes stood out for me.

First, the important role that toys have played in our lives both as children and as adults. Toys were intended, by adults at least, to amuse, to educate, and to tame children. Marketing tricks were used to capture children’s imagination: the Hornby Railway Company was world wide and seemed to be run by children. Of course adults did not always have the last word, and at times children took control as the many broken ceramic insulators on power lines can testify.

Second, the ways in which our economic fortunes have changed our toys. Wealthy colonists brought toys with them and the less well-off made their own. As the economy developed we began importing toys in colossal volumes, mainly from Germany and Britain. After the great Depression, these imports stopped, driving the development of a local toy industry, which became increasingly sophisticated. And following the magic of the Rogernomics reforms, toys became another global product, closing local factories once again.

David Veart is a historian and archaeologist, who has done a great job of digging up stories both large and small. We meet the schoolboys who helped support their family by making jigsaws in a bedroom. And the Auckland store that hosted the largest Meccano club in the world, with over 1000 members in 1927. And the strange, to me at least, practice of “Barbie Torture”, which turns out to pre-date Barbie dolls by many decades.

The book is lavishly illustrated, and there are suggestions for further reading as well as a full set of notes on the sources.

Reviewed by Gordon Findlay

Hello Boys & Girls: A New Zealand Toy Story
by David Veart
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408213

Book Review: Digging Up The Past by David Veart

This book is in bookshops now and is a finalist in the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.

Digging Up the Past is a 106 page hard-cover book on New Zealand Archeology by David Veart, but written with inquisitive young people in mind. However, in saying that we all enjoyed the book, especially the fascinating photography. The chapter on Kauri trees is amazing.

My seven year old daughter read a chapter a night with us and this is what she had to say on the first chapter:

‘Title of Chapter One: Leave nothing but footprints. In chapter one, I was really interested in how they left their footprints behind. I mean, we can’t leave our footprints behind, the water washes them away. It’s a really good book because kids learn new big and hard words.’

She was fascinated by the first chapter about Rangitoto Island and how footprints, made in the then soft ash, had hardened over time and can still be seen today. The photographs and illustrations captivated her.

It is a wonderful learning tool that really gets children involved in our country’s history and how many treasures have been unearthed over the past years. There are harder words which need explaining as she mentioned above, so it is a nice book to read together. Now when we visit the museum next, she will have a better idea of what those historical objects we see are all about, and how they have been unearthed.

Reviewed by Vicky Marshall, Facebook fan

Digging Up The Past: Archaeology For The Young & Curious
by David Veart
(Auckland University Press)
ISBN 9781869404659