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 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

by Peter Goes
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570690

Book Review: First to the Top: Sir Edmund Hillary’s Amazing Everest Adventure, by David Hill, illustrated by Phoebe Morris

Available in bookstores nationwide.

cv_first_to_the_topThen Ed looked up. There was more sky above them than before. The ridge ended in a round dome a few metres away. They took deep breaths, cut the last steps, and…’

First to the Top follows the life of Sir Edmund Hillary from when he was ‘a small, shy boy’ growing up in the town of Tuakau, to his world famous mountaineering feat: at 11.30am on Friday 29 May 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first two people to stand on the top of Mt Everest, the world’s highest mountain.

While, I would guess, all New Zealand adults know this story, young children may not. The book – a handsome hardcover – is written by award winning author, David Hill who, among his many achievements, was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004. The illustrations are done by newcomer Phoebe Morris, and it’s a startling and exceptionally beautiful debut. Morris’s style reminded me of both Donovan Bixley and Shaun Tan, and she’s managed to capture the grandeur of the Himalayas, and the ‘everyday hero’ aspect of Hillary’s character. Hill’s retelling of the famous story made sure to emphasise the friendship between Norgay and Hillary, including when Norgay saved Hillary’s life after he fell into a crevasse: ‘They always worked together after that.’ Hill was also careful to note that it was both men – not just Hillary – who were first to the top: ‘They were on the summit.’

What I noticed while reading the book to my four-year-old son was a swelling of pride at, and there’s no other way to put it, the New Zealandness of the story. It led my son and I to talk about how to be in the world, which all of the best children’s stories do (and adult stories, for that matter). First to the Top: Sir Edmund Hillary’s Amazing Everest Adventure highlights a certain New Zealand identity: a desire to be in the outdoors, a curiosity that when combined with hard work drives us overseas and to greatness; our deep streak of sensibleness and humility. It is also quite funny in places; when Ed is knighted by the queen the book states, ‘He told friends, “Now I’ll have to buy some new bee-keeping overalls.”’

First to the Top was also a difficult story to tell without it becoming cluttered or boring – alongside the many facts, the story moves through countries, touches on different cultures, and spans decades. It’s also one of our most iconic stories. It is made relevant and enjoyable for most children by the perfect marriage between Hill’s words and Morris’s illustrations, and the depth of information they’ve included in these pages. It is easily the best children’s book I’ve read this year.

Review by Sarah-Jane Barnett

First to the Top: Sir Edmund Hillary’s Amazing Everest Adventure
by David Hill
Illustrations by Phoebe Morris
Hardback, 32 pages
Puffin New Zealand
ISBN 9780143506874

Huw Lewis-Jones at the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival

The Octagon seemed like the best place in the world to be this weekend. The autumn sun slanted down through the plane tree leaves, the shadows were deep, and Danish socialism ruled democratically in the Art Gallery.

They came from all over to honour the authors of the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival. Lovers of poetry, lovers of prose. Collectors of anecdote, participants in the human conversation. And along to the left, then up some stairs to the Dunningham Suite in the Dunedin Public Library, shortly after lunch, came those with a mind for mountaineering.

Huw Lewis-Jones is a bearded Englishman pp_huw_lewis-jones(picture from ODT, right). He is a graduate of Cambridge. He looks about twenty-five years old. His PhD thesis was entitled something along the lines of ‘The Geographical History of Thought and Ideas Down the Ages.’ Brilliant. He is an expert in maritime and polar exploration history, an advisor for television documentary makers, and a guide on Polar cruises. In short, he knows what he is talking about. And he talks about it with gusto.

This afternoon he was in Dunedin to shed light on George Lowe’s physical and pictorial contribution to his book The Conquest of Everest (Thames and Hudson) 9780500544235, and to present Lowe’s photos and tales (many of them previously unpublished and untold) from a recently published book of Lewis-Jones’s. That word ‘conquest,’ incidentally, the writer confessed to despising, quoting Edmund Hillary, who stated: “You don’t conquer a mountain, you conquer yourself.”

cv_conquest_everestHuw Lewis-Jones, showing no signs of jet lag, was introduced by a beaming Neville Peat – local natural historian and writer – who launched in by describing Lewis-Jones as “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” an accusation that could well be leveled at Peat himself. In fact, the atmosphere of the whole event was one of enthusiastic bonhomie. The audience members were swept along.

Lewis-Jones began by asserting that in the event of a fire, don’t leave the building until we had bought his book. He eased into his lecture proper by acknowledging the recent passing of George Lowe, whom he described as “a beautiful, wonderful man.” He then zeroed in on the origins and ongoing closeness of Lowe’s friendship with Edmund Hillary; it was a mountain climbing kinship that carried them from the Southern Alps to the Himalayas in 1952 and ultimately up Everest in May of the following year.

Hillary’s part in the ultimate ascent is fairly well known, Lowe’s less so. Lewis-pp_george_loewJones’s book, and lectures like this afternoon’s, sought to redress that balance a little. Not that Lowe (pictured right) was troubled by the omission. But if you consider the mind-boggling organization, teamwork and support that went into the 1953 expedition as a pyramid (350 porters, 17 tons of supplies, 15 climbers in the English team and many more Sherpas) then Lowe was at the tip of that pyramid. He spent ten days carving steps up to the South Col (nearly ruining himself) and set up camps for Hillary and Tenzing. He waited by himself and met them first on the descent, to have his ears warmed by Hillary’s famous line, “…We knocked the bastard off!” He photographed them coming down (a descent held in higher regard by Hillary than the ascent, “Going up a mountain is optional, coming down is mandatory…”) and he filmed many stages of the expedition. He really was, as Lewis-Jones noted, ‘the third man of Everest.’

There was a lot to digest in the Dunningham everest cakeSuite as Lewis-Jones lived up to his Cambridge nickname of ‘One More, Huw’ — rattling off opinions and facts, the stories behind the photos, and first-hand comments from the climbers (Hillary on why there isn’t a photo of himself on the summit: “It wasn’t the place to teach Tenzing how to use the camera.” Lowe on the pitfalls of fame: “We were given so many bloody Everest cakes.”) Mind you, nobody was complaining as ‘One More, Huw’ hove on.

Everything though must come to an end and this ended (almost) with the writer responding to questions from the audience about Everest today. He said, “You can’t tell a person NOT to climb if they want to. But I think you must be able to climb under your own steam.” He went on to say that while tourism is a critical part of Himalayan life, what he objects to is that now, people essentially pay money to get to the top, and that has led to other people dying while trying to make it happen. He then once more quoted a blunt Edmund Hillary: “It’s all bullshit these days.”

Then Lewis-Jones really did finish up, with a photo of Lowe and Hillary on a West Coast glacier. On the back of the polaroid is a short note from Lowe to his friend, a sort of haiku on friendship and exploration. It reads:

Shall we?
Can we?
Will we?
Should we?
Could we?
What do you reckon?

The applause wouldn’t die down; the audience clearly reckoned that George Lowe, not to mention the man before us, was the real deal. Neville Peat reckoned Lewis-Jones should come back soon with his wife and daughter. I reckon that in a Himalaya of high-quality Festival events, this was a lofty peak.

Event attended and reviewed by Aaron Blaker on behalf of Booksellers NZ 

Huw Lewis-Jones will be doing an event this evening in Christchurch with the Christchurch Writers’ Festival, and carrying on to the Auckland Writers’ Festival for an event on Thursday 15 May, and another on Saturday 17 May.