Book Review: Torty and the Soldier, by Jennifer Beck and Fifi Colston

Available in bookshops nationwide.

Torty and the Soldier is a finalist in the Non-fiction category of the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. 

cv_torty_and_the_soldier.jpgThis beautifully illustrated book tells the story of a tortoise who was found in a rather forlorn condition by a young New Zealand Soldier in Salonika during WW1, the developing relationship is told delightfully. It is a gentle, caring and nurturing relationship with a well-depicted backstory.

The real twist is Torty coming home with Stewart and settling into life in New Zealand, a life of adventure that lasted 60 years, the illustrations combined with a wonderful array of rich and vibrant language tell a beguiling story that will keep children’s attention, no matter what the setting. To say that the illustrations  are realistic and evocative of a time and place is to understate it: they are first class!

This book is a wonderful addition to our national collection of war stories, ensuring that those who served this country will not be forgotten. Inspired by a true story, it is clear that a lot of research has gone into this book and this makes it even richer.

Readers aged 10 upwards will thoroughly enjoy this, as will any adult who shares it with a younger child.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Torty And The Soldier
by Jennifer Beck and Fifi Colston
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433651

Add these authors into your popularity stakes this Christmas

While approximately half of all international book sales are made up by sales of books for Children and Young Adults, less than 1/3 of NZ book sales are in the Children and Young Adult category. Why is this? The talent is certainly here – perhaps it is a matter of name recognition?

Looking at the bestsellers charts for international Children’s & YA, parents and kids buy based on author name. Right now, Andy Griffiths is hovering at the top of the charts for his Treehouse series. David Walliams also sticks on the chart like glue: I didn’t even realise he’d written seven books until his visit to the Auckland Writers’ Festival made that clear. In the domestic market, names like Lynley Dodd, and Kiwi story author Bob Darroch stick around, with backlist sales being incredibly strong.

With this in mind, here are a whole load of still-living, possibly-overlooked amazing NZ authors that you should bring into your child’s reading world as early as you can.

Picture Book Authors

Donovan Bixley
cv_little_bo_peepDonovan is New Zealand’s king of expressive illustration. His sheep in Little Bo Peep and More (Upstart Press) are hilarious, and his illustrations of kid’s classics Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald’s Farm (Hachette NZ) are brilliantly original. With several original stories under his belt now – the award-winning Monkey Boy (Scholastic NZ, 2014), for one – I can’t wait to see more.

cv_ghoulish_getupsFifi Colston
Home costume creation must-have Ghoulish Get-ups (Scholastic NZ) is just the latest in a great range of books that multi-talented creative Fifi Colston has to offer. Her award-winning Wearable Wonders (Scholastic NZ)  is essential for any young creative soul, and she has illustrated more books than I can count, in a career spanning 30 years. The Red Poppy, written by David Hill (Scholastic NZ), was just gorgeous, and Itiiti’s Gift, with Melanie Drewery (Puffin), is another classic.

Juliette MacIver
cv_yak_and_gnuWith her latest picture book, Yak and Gnu (Walker Books), being her 12th picture book in 5 years, Juliette MacIver and her flawless rhyming verse have become one of the perennials of the NZ book world. Her first book, Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam (Scholastic NZ), is the boys’ favourite; my personal favourite from her backlist is Toucan Can (Gecko Press). Most of her books are illustrated by the equally wonderful Sarah Davis.

cv_trainsCatherine Foreman
Catherine Foreman has a way with words for the younger kids in your family. Her 2015 book, The Roly-Poly Baby (Scholastic NZ), is a lovely short tale for your adventurous baby. Her 2013 series ‘Machines & Me’ still comes out most nights in our family – Trains in particular. Take note, writers of NZ – we need more good books about trains!

Ruth Paul
cv_stompRuth’s latest is the third in a group of dinosaur books, What’s the Time, Dinosaur? (Scholastic NZ) Not only are Ruth’s illustrations delightful, she can even rhyme! Our family favourites are Stomp! (board book just released), Two Little Pirates , and The King’s Bubbles (all Scholastic NZ).

Sally Suttoncv_zoo_train
All aboard the Zoo Train (Walker Books)! Sally is another fantastic picture book writer that isn’t anywhere near as well-known as she ought to be. Every child needs a copy of Roadworks (Walker Books). Be ready to hide it when it becomes a must-read Every Single Night. There are two follow-ups too – Demolition, and Construction.

Junior Fiction & Non-fiction

Kyle Mewburn
cv_dragon_knightKyle Mewburn has collaborated with Donovan Bixley for both of his recent junior fiction series’, Dinosaur Rescue (8 books, Scholastic NZ), and Dragon Knight. Begun early in 2015, this series is already 4 books strong. Both of these series are full of silly laughs for lovers of Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, with a bit of Horrible Histories for good measure. He also has a 24-title-strong picture book list too: Duck’s Stuck (Scholastic NZ) and No Room for a Mouse (Scholastic Aus) are family favourites.

cv_cool_nukesDes Hunt
Cool Nukes author Des Hunt specialises in action-packed, environmentally-conscious writing. He has written about glaciers (Shadows in the Ice), mining (Frog Whistle Mine) and treasure-hunting (Cry of the Taniwha). There is something in his 22-book strong backlist for every adventure-loving 8-12-year-old.

Elizabeth Pulford
cv_sanspell‘Bloodtree Chronicles’ author Elizabeth Pulford is an incredibly diverse writer, writing for every age range. Her Scholastic fairy series Lily was published worldwide, and her most recent picture book Finding Monkey Moon (Candlewick Press) is being feted all over the globe. Junior Fiction series ‘Bloodtree Chronicles’, beginning with Sanspell, is perfect for the magic-loving kids in your life.
Philippa Werrycv_anzac_day_the_new_zealand_story
Author of non-fiction titles Anzac Day and Waitangi Day (New Holland), Philippa is another multi-talented author, writing ably across age ranges. Her most recent books have focused on war, and the New Zealand experience of war, but an old favourite of mine is junior fiction title The Great Chocolate Cake Bake-Off.

WW1 series, Scholastic NZ
cv_1915_wounds_of_warScholastic has a current book series commemorating New Zealanders’ wartime adventures. This began last year, with 1914: Riding into War, by Susan Brocker (another great underrated writer), then 1915: Wounds of War, by Diana Menefy (you guessed it, another). It will go for another three years, and is good reading for kids who enjoy Michael Morpurgo and other war-focussed writers.

Ned Barraud & Gillian Candler
cv_in_the_bushNed and Gillian have paired up on four books about New Zealand nature so far, and each of them have been extraordinarily good. In the Bush is the latest from this pair, but there is also On the Beach, In the Garden, and Under the Ocean. All are published by Potton& Burton. So, no matter where you are going this summer, there is a book in this range for you. Another kiwi author who writes and illustrates in the same area is Andrew Crowe.

cv_new_zealand_hall_of_fameMaria Gill
Most recently, Maria is known for her ‘Hall of Fame’ books – New Zealand Hall of Fame and New Zealand’s Sports Hall of Fame; but she has also got a huge backlist of nature publishing under her belt. If it explodes (Rangitoto, Eruption), has feathers (Call of the Kokako, Bird’s Eye View) or indeed fins (Save our Seas), she is bound to have written about it. Get your eco-ranger onto her books now!

Young Adult Fiction
David Hill
cv_first_to_the_topMy Brother’s War and The Deadly Sky (Penguin NZ) are just the most recent in a very long list of books for young adults that the wonderful David Hill has produced. He has recently branched into picture book writing, with Red Poppy and First to the Top (Penguin, 2015). In his YA list, his sensitive portrayal of awkward teendom, and his wit, is what sets him apart from others.

cv_evies_warAnna Mackenzie
Author of the recent release Evie’s War, Anna Mackenzie has been an essential part of the YA scene in New Zealand for many years. The Sea-Wreck Stranger was the first in a series exploring the fate of a stranger in a close-knit community. Cattra’s Legacy and Donnel’s Promise took us back into history, and reminded me a bit of Tamora Pierce’s books, with their fierce heroine.


Brian Falkner

cv_recon_team_angel_vengeanceRecon Team Angel (Walker Books) is the most recent series from Falkner, and it is a must-read for lovers of the ‘Cherub’ series. He began his writing career with junior fiction, incorporating the Warriors (The Flea Thing) and Coca Cola (The Real Thing); then moved into future-tech YA, with Brain Jack and The Tomorrow Code. He is a master of fast-paced action-packed adventure fiction.

Finally, a few you ought to know by now: Kate De Goldi, Elizabeth Knox, Fleur Beale, Mandy Hager, Bernard Beckett, and Ella Hunt. Introduce your teens to them, and they’ll read all of their books. They are brilliant. See my post from a couple of years ago for more about teen fiction writers in NZ.

by Sarah Forster

Book Review: World of Wearable Art – 30 designers tell their stories, edited by Naomi Arnold

cv_world_of_wearable_art_30_designersAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

The World of Wearable Arts competition is nearly 30 years old, and the small show that started in Nelson is now a major event hosted in Wellington. Designers and passionate crafters from all around the world compete in categories such as Creative Excellence: Architecture, Performance Art or Bizarre Bras. The finalists are selected and a beautiful stage show is compiled. It is truly a magnificent event.

This book, World of Wearable Art, tells the stories of thirty designers who have been involved in the competition. My appreciation for the work involved, and creative process is so high. Some designers have an ephemeral concept, some have an entry that is a triumph over a material, and others produce entries that are a complex mixture of symbols and story. Many of the finalists have created garments so original and startling that their images remain in the national consciousness long after the competition has ended.

This is a beautifully produced book. The photos are all high quality, and the layout of the book (white, uncluttered, good space for images and texts) makes this book so very readable. The only thing that I did want was more photos – sometimes the story told by the designer emphasised entries that were not included in the accompanying photos. It is though, a small criticism.

I’ve followed Fifi Colston’s work for a few years now so it was really nice to see her story included in here. I was very taken with the Peter Wakeman and David Walker stories as well. Designers who have competed many times, as well as those with only one entry are included. The passion of the designers really came through. Many learnt completely new skills in the process of creating their entries, while others display niche skills that they bring to their designs – such as saddlery.

The audience for this book is wide. If you enjoy learning about how experts make things I think you will enjoy this book. Crafters and lovers of design will also appreciate this book. My older daughter enjoyed seeing the pictures and learning about how artists create wearable art. A really engrossing read.

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming

World Of WearableArt: 30 Designers Tell Their Stories
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9781927213506

Book Review and author Q & A: Ghoulish Get-Ups: How to Create Your Own Freaky Costumes, by Fifi Colston

cv_ghoulish_getups

Available in bookstores nationwide.

Fifi Colston is the Jamie Oliver of the costume world. Give her a cupboard of recycling and art supplies, or even a bag of them, and she is certain to come up with something incredible-looking, at pretty well zero cost. This book, which is the second of its kin after the bestselling, award-winning Wearable Wonders, has truly got something for everybody.

I am not a great crafter. In fact, though I have been involved in Storylines Family Days since 2007, I have never once put my hand up to manage one of the craft stands. This book has costumes at my beginners’ level (I managed to make ladybird tights from red stockings with holes over black tights), but it also has costumes that somebody who sees a fancy dress party as a chance to strut their crafty stuff, can make and be proud of. It is the perfect book for desperate parents, as well as older school kids who are discovering their own creative abilities.

costume fyna arteryThe layout of the book sees several ideas for full outfits, combined with ‘quick costume’ hints; followed by techniques to use to achieve these looks. I particularly liked the ‘quick costume hint’ to hang a name tag on yourself saying ‘Book Awards Judge’. My favourite full costumes were Fyna Artery (left) – wonderful and very simple-looking to achieve, and Fundorsaurus, which looks great but may well be beyond my painting abilities! I passed this to 4-year-old Dan to tell me which he would like me to make for Halloween, and he put it down and said a ‘Skeleton’. There is no skeleton in there. Kids, huh.

One of the most useful sections of the book is ‘Get Creating’. This gives you handy tips on what to save. Egg cartons are a no-brainer. Fifi recently posted a photo on facebook of her towering stack of them (below). I have now become obsessed with washing and saving all of our recycling – yoghurt pots being a particular nuisance for my husband, whom I need to remind not to throw them out.

In ‘Look in the Laundry’ I learned how egg_cartonsmany ways you could tie a T-shirt, how many ways you could use stockings (I donated a very bright stocking to Fifi’s collection which is used in the ‘Terrifying Tightacle’), and how many different things could be created from rubbish bags. And if the costumes aren’t enough, there are even some recipes for gross-looking snacks for Halloween parties. I have just today been invited to one and asked to bring a themed snack: zombie fingers should hit the mark, I think.

Fifi also gives good tips for some gruesome make-up. The grossest thing in the book, to my mind, is the ‘Bursting Boils’ made using a large bubble wrap bubble and some natural yoghurt. Ick.

I am looking forward to future Halloween parties, as a chance for me to dress my boys in some nasty-awesome creations, based on this essential book. This needs to be part of every mum’s secret box of essentials. Perhaps you could even get a second copy for the kids to use.

Ghoulish Get-ups
by Fifi Colston
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775432470

Q & A with Fifi Colston, author, illustrator, creator of wearable arts…

  1. Did your kids fully appreciate that they had a genius mother when they asked for difficult dress-ups for parties and Halloween? What was your proudest dressing-up your kids moment?
    I don’t think they truly appreciated my efforts − I have a son who refused point blank to dress up at all, although he did request a full scale Furbee head for a school production the day before. I still have it and take it to schools − kids love it. It is probably my best effort and my son actually wore it − so that’s my coup! My daughter totally had her own style and still does − she appreciated that I had a large resource (read attic) of clothes and props and still raids it. On holiday, my sarong doubled as all kinds of costumes, from hippy outfits to hula girl and she let me dress her up in that when she was a kid. I spent hours making an Cherokee outfit for her once when she was at kindy but she absolutely wouldn’t wear it. I was so cross I sort of threw it at the teacher and said ‘good luck with International dress up day!’ and stormed off to find coffee.

    Fifi's Attic

    Fifi’s Attic

  2. In terms of crafting costumes, do you have an absolute favourite thing to do?
    I have this dress that I wore pre motherhood to a family wedding about 30 years ago. That dress has since become a 17th century milkmaids outfit, a pirate gals dress, a vampire dress and now currently a steampunk dress. It has been added onto, bleached, dyed and repurposed so many times and what’s more it still fits! (because it has elastic in the waistline!) So upcycling rocks!
  3. Talofa_lavaTell us about your most recent ‘Eureka’ moment when looking at a pile of craft materials / recycling!
    Probably my 2014 wearable arts entry where I looked at painters drop sheet made from felted recycled material and thought…that’s cool, I bet I could make something out of that. And I did − it became lava flows on a dress inspired by lava fields in Samoa. (Left: one of Fifi’s entries to 2014 Wearable Arts, Talofa Lava, credit: World of WearableArt)
  4. How do you keep your studio organised?
    I have a big clean up after each project before I start the next one but it’s a running battle to keep organised. I actually have many studios- they are my messy place studio in Owhiro bay at Nautilus Creative Space; this is where I do splattery paint and smelly glue stuff, my home office where I do my computer graphics and writing, my kitchen table where I do my sewing, the attic in our house where I store things and my family say, everywhere else in the house too because I’m always making stuff!

    studio messy

    Featuring part of the steampunk costume, as well as some terrifying tightacles

  5. What do you love most about working with students on crafts and costumery?
    Their unparalleled enthusiasm for cutting, glueing and experimenting, without being afraid that something isn’t good enough. They just get stuck in and we all have heaps of fun. Recently we made fake wounds from my recent book and they wore them home to terrify their mothers!
  6. What books or website do you have near you at all times?
    My sketchbook and google images. With those two resources, I can make anything!

Review and Q & A by Sarah Forster

Fifi Colston will be promoting the book on What Now on Sunday 26 October, and Good Morning on Wednesday 29 October- keep your eyes peeled!