Book Review: We’ve Got a Boat, by Jay Laga’aia and Donovan Bixley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_we've_got_a_boatThanks to New Zealand’s recent history of America’s Cup challenges, most Kiwi’s are well-versed in our collective yachting endeavours. The cup has captured the heart of the nation and been at times extremely exciting. When it came to light the late Sir Peter Blake wore his lucky red socks in the final push for our first win, we all donned them to wish him well the next time.

We’ve got a boat that flies across the water,
We’ve got a boat that flies across the sea.
You know this boat, it’s sailed from Aotearoa
It stays afloat because it’s carried by Kiwis.

This is a great book with the America’s cup campaign starting in the next couple of years, and with New Zealand defending the cup. The illustrations by Donovan Bixley are bright and clear, and include native birds and farm animals filling in for the crew. The crews from other countries are depicted as a variety of other hilariously depicted animals.

At the back of this book are photos and facts about crew and the boats used in previous campaigns. Also accompanying this book is a CD, sung by Jay Laga’aia, who also authored this book.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

We’ve got a Boat
by Jay Laga’aia and Donovan Bixley
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775435303

Book Review: The Great Kiwi 1-2-3 Book, by Donovan Bixley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_great_kiwi_123_bookThe book begins with a challenge to count different objects – which is not as straightforward as it sounds!  A little snail tells us that he is hiding on each page – a challenge eagerly accepted by our young readers.

This counting book goes beyond ten and gets all the way to twenty. Each number is written with its numeral, English and te reo Māori name as well as a little description of what is happening. Text is limited, which is fine, because there is so much to talk about as you turn the pages.

Donovan Bixley has infused this counting book with his characteristic illustrations that are cheerful and full of life. Each page has something to make you laugh, for example, the dogs using a digger to find a very big buried bone or the cows in hot air balloons! The illustrations are certainly what makes Bixley’s books special. They encourage the reader to slow down and really look.

The book is modern kiwi in the language, animals and scenery throughout the book. The last page deserves special mention – number twenty is a class photo of a modern NZ classroom with the diversity of our communities represented.

Bixley tells us exactly what this book is in the title: A Great Kiwi 1-2-3 book and it lives up to its name.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

The Great Kiwi 1-2-3 Book
by Donovan Bixley
Published by Hachette NZ
ISBN 9781988516073

Book Review: Dinosaur Trouble – The Runaway Coat, by Kyle Mewburn, illustrated by Donovan Bixley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_dinosaur_trouble_the_runaway_coatMost children love stories about dinosaurs and this book is no exception. This particular book is slightly different in that it goes back to cave man time where animal skins (and not much else) were worn as clothes. Yikes, fancy that!

These skins, though, were not nice and soft and free of vermin, oh no these ones had ticks and fleas and other revolting things like maggots that crawled all over the wearer of the garments.

A little boy called Arg is cold, but not just cold, actually just about freezing. Arg is different than other cave people.  He has a lot less hair and is always cold. When cave people get really cold they wear furs – fresh ones from a mastodon. I had to google to find out what a mastodon was – similar to a woolly mammoth, but not the same – but they may have roamed the earth together, according to my source.

Arg has one coat made out of a skin of a sabre-tooth tiger.  It was not as warm as mastodon fur but at least this one didn’t have maggots crawling all over it… His sister Hng is not very nice to her brother – most aren’t, but she is meaner than most.  She won’t let her poor hairless brother get closer to the fire so poor old Arg is frozen – so cold he thinks his brain may freeze.

Arg keeps Krrk-Krrk, his pet dinosaur, under his coat – but dinosaurs are cold-blooded which makes Arg even colder. Poor Arg!!  To make matter worse Krrk-Krrk chucks up a wonderful geyser of vomit which explodes from under Arg’s coat. Being so cold, the vomit freezes.

This is a great story which I know our 3-year-old granddaughter is going to love.  Her love of toilet humour and dinosaurs is well known in the family.  They eventually grow out of this sort of humour – which to my mind is a bit of a shame!

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Dinosaur Trouble: The Runaway Coat
by Kyle Mewburn, illustrated by Donovan Bixley
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433682

Book Reviews: Dinosaur Trouble: The Lava Melt Shake & Dinosaur Trouble: The Great Egg Stink, by Kyle Mewburn, illustrated by Donovan Bixley

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_dinosaur_trouble_lava_melt_shakeIf you are trying to get girls or boys interested in reading and they just won’t budge, then have a go at these. Short, punchy and full of gross references like farts, dinosaur poos and eating vomit this series is about as kid-friendly as it comes. Better still the plots are mind numbing and dumb and completely without morals, scruples or any hint of a message of any kind.

These two are the first in the series, with plenty more to come I expect. They are short ‘incident’ stories featuring Arg (a very clever cave boy); Hng (his teen-dumb sister); Shlok (Arg’s BFF); and his mum and dad.

The Lava Melt Shake: When the ground begins to shake and volcanoes spew flames, Arg’s tribe is in danger! Arg is confined to barracks (i.e. his bedroom) to sit out the lava-storm. But does he listen? Of course not. After all there’s dinosaurs to fight and triceratops snot to content with. Plus a heap of other gooey and sticky situations. Against the dumb advice of the adult, Arg and his friend Shlok save the day, but in a very messy way. I Really enjoyed the way that Mewburn stacks gross event upon gross event. They wants us to bring up our lunch! Throwing in something cringeworthy and icky at every turn they can. After all living in the dinosaur age was pretty ‘basic’ and er, ‘base’. I think the boys of my 6 year old’s class would be rolling upon the carpet after listening to this one. My little one was too!

cv_dinosaur_trouble_the_great_egg_stink.jpgThe Great Egg Stink: This one is more of the same. Arg our smart wonder kid discovers his breakfast when mum brings home a dinosaur egg. His food is too cute to eat. But saving his new friend gets mega-messy! And so we get to meet Krrk-Krrk, a cute and loveable microceratops, who has all the charm and manners of a new puppy. Arg has to hide the critter from his family so he won’t get eaten. But that’s not an easy task. Sticking him down his top the lil’ dino farts, wees and even eats vomit – eeeew! Cool, eh? Not exactly the way to stay inconspicuous. You’ll have to read the book to find out how Arg gets away with it.

Both of these books fit the Scholastic Books template to a T – they are designed to get kids, and I suspect mainly boys, reading. Even if they are giggling over the gross bits it’s better than burying their nose in a tablet or XBox game. With Bixley’s trademark cartoon humour and Newburn’s short snappy sentences these short chapter books are good gateways to other material like Andy Griffith and Terry Denton’s XX-Story Treehouse series, which in turn could lead toward David Walliams and even Roald Dahl. Who knows. Either way, it’s a good thing.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Dinosaur Trouble: The Lava Melt Shake
by Kyle Mewburn
illustrated by Donovan Bixley
Published by Scholastic
ISBN 9781775433675

Dinosaur Trouble: The Great Egg Stink
by Kyle Mewburn
illustrated by Donovan Bixley
Published by Scholastic
ISBN 9781775433668

The Top Hat, the Talent: Donovan Bixley talks at AWF Schools Fest

Donovan Bixley has been published in 28 countries, and is the author of over 100 books, many of them award-winning. He has been drawing, then writing the stories to go with the pictures, since he was eight (his mum was a school librarian) – but it was only in his late twenties that he realised that this may be a way to make a living.

donovan bixley

During this session, Donovan took his lucky Auckland Writers Festival school audience – the NZI Lower room at the Aotea Centre was PACKED – through the genesis of the Flying Furballs series, and the way in which his words and pictures grow out of each other.

When he began publishing, he realised that the rules to publishing implicitly stated that you were meant to write the story first, while months, sometimes years later, the pictures get added to the story. He doesn’t play by those rules.

He carried on to show a bit of live drawing, drawing a plane like that which Claude D’Bonair flies in Dogfight. He combines elements of things he loves drawing: he loves planes, he loves travelling (but doesn’t get to do much of it so likes to draw wonderful settings), and loves drawing animals: at this point he put a cat in the plane. The phrase “flying furball”arose in his head at that point: But “a pussy cat in a plane in Paris” is just an idea – he needed a bit more than just an idea for a series to grow.

FF4booksMany of the cats that star in Bixley’s series are based on his real cats, with their real characteristics. His inventor character C4 is based on his childhood cat – called C4 because he was the fourth cat in a short time, who ended up lasting quite a bit longer than the others on the busy road they lived on. The characteristic there was some odd sleeping habits. Manx is based on their current family cat, the lord of the neighbourhood. And Syd Fishious is based on an old fat cat with bad habits (mostly eating).

The advice that Bixley gave to his young fans was pitched perfectly at their level, and his tips were solid and valuable. He writes his stories (once he has drawn up his character ideas) longhand in a notebook. You can’t press a play button on a notebook. He says, “Writing longhand is a good way to get stuff straight out of your head and onto a piece of paper.”

When Bixley began writing junior fiction it was to combat the concept that when you start reading chapter books, you don’t want as many pictures. Being an author and an illustrator, Donovan doesn’t want illustrations to go away: “Pictures are an integral part of storytelling.”

Having read Bixley’s books, you understand how true this is for him– attending the Lauren Child session straight after, I understood that they had similar approaches to this. You are never without a visual anchor, whilst the story is also enhanced in more subtle ways by the detail of his illustrations.

Bixley showed a few examples in his work of the way that his words and pictures work together. For instance, he uses maps frequently to show where his characters are going. He uses the pictures to extend his words – he draws castles, chateaux, Venice… “A picture says a thousand words in a blink of an eye.”

He also uses comic strips occasionally; “you don’t get confusion during big fight scenes in comic strips – you know who is hitting whom.” And he sometimes adds back-detail on a character through examples of how their character plays out. Major Ginger Tom is meant to be a “hero” – but is he really? Perhaps he may be a bit of a flash boy, say the pictures. This expands the world of the characters – General Fluffington’s schedule isn’t quite as busy as you might be lead to believe. And the world gets bigger yet when he uses newspaper clippings – you get snips of other stories that are happening in the same world, expanding the universe in which the pictures exist.

And you want the readers to want to turn the page: Bixley showed how he created a ‘page-turner’ – the cat flying towards you off the page, to keep the reader on tenterhooks, like with all good action adventures.

By using illustrations in all these important ways, he leaves the words free to do the bits they do: dialogue, moving the plot along, set the tone of the book.

When the formal session ended, there were kids flocking to the microphones, at least 30 kids per mike, hoping to ask Donovan questions. They teased out details such as his favourite book as a kid (The Lorax – it still is), what he wanted to be when he was a kid (a film-maker, but he was too much of a megalomaniac), and what his favourite thing is to draw (octopuses).

If you haven’t yet seen Donovan live, why not invite him to your school through Writers in Schools (NZ Book Council), or via his own website. Check out his work here, and see a couple of details of his latest books below.

Attended and reviewed Sarah Forster on behalf of Booksellers NZ

Flying Furballs: Unmasked!
by Donovan Bixley
Published by Upstart Press
ISBN 9781927262931

Fuzzy Doodle
by Melinda Szymanik and Donovan Bixley
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434061

The Great Egg Stink (Dinosaur Trouble #1)
by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433668

Book Review: Flying Furballs: Hot Air, by Donovan Bixley

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

See our review of Dogfight, number 1 in this series.

cv_hot_air.jpgThe second in the Flying Furballs series from Donovan Bixley is another laugh-out-loud action-packed read, set during the great war between CATs and DOGZ. The mission this time begins when Claude D’Bonair breaks a pigeon-message code:  he and his partner Syd Fishus are off on a top secret mission to supposedly neutral Switzerland.

Like all good secret missions, this one begins with a visit to the tech guys: in this case a canny cat called C-Four, who has a knack for inventing things that even he doesn’t know the real use of. This time, Claude & Syd take away an automatic hammock…but what could it be used for? As they begin their mission & figured that not everything is exactly going to go smoothly, it does come in handy for breaking the odd uncontrolled fall…

As Kyle Mewburn did in the Dragon Knight series, Bixley has made judicious use of the truth as applied to, for example, the types of planes flown in WW1. He also plays a little with the concept of goodies and baddies – we are frequently reminded via our hero Claude that “not all DOGZ are bad DOGZ.” And the secret weapon bears some resemblance to the Germans’ secret weapon in WW1.

Up and down gondolas, through the bellies of airships and into a handy one-seater plane, our heroes don’t have an easy job of saving the day. In fact, it’s not at all clear, once Major Tom gets hold of the facts, that they have. The next book is due in April 2017, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be figuring out who the spy is this time.

Highly recommended for action-loving kids aged 5-10.

Flying Furballs: Hot Air
by Donovan Bixley
Published by Upstart Press
ISBN 978927262542

Book Reviews: My First Board Book – Colours, and Animals, by Donovan Bixley

Both are available now in bookshops nationwide.

My First Board Book – Colours

cv_colours_bixley.jpgThis is a brightly illustrated board book perfect for a small child getting to grips with Te Reo. Colours are illustrated with clear pictures of a swan, a digger, a caravan and other objects and things that are all associated with being a small fascinated child. The swan is white (ma), the digger is red (whero) – going along the familiar words of the colour song many of those who grew up in the 1980s sang at school.

This is a fabulous book and Sarah our daughter-in-law with her perfect pronunciation reading it to little Quinn, saw Quinn firmly clutch it in her hand, “mine”!

This is a wonderful book to introduce young children to Te Reo, as is Animals, for which my review is below.

cv_animals_bixley.jpgOn the surface, Animals looks like a standard board book for small children but on opening and going through it you realise it is much more.

Starting with the cow, then the horse, sheep, goat, pig and a range of other farm animals all with their Maori names under them.

The pictures are clear and easy for a small child to follow – the trick is in the pronunciation.

It’s really good to see books celebrating the Māori language.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

My First Board Book – Colours
by Donovan Bixley,
Published by Hachette NZ
9781869713447

My First Board Book – Animals
by Donovan Bixley
Published by Hachette NZ
9781869713430