Book Review: If I Was a Banana, by Alexandra Tylee and Kieran Rynhart

Available now (and on NZ Bookshop Day) in bookshops nationwide.

GIVEAWAY: Comment below or on this post on Facebook telling us what type of banana, mountain, bird or cow you would be…if you were one. Closes 12 noon 26/10/2016.

cv_if_i_was_a_bananaAs a child, I used to imagine tiny worlds in the cereal bowl; that with every spoonful I might be separating families of rice bubbles. I also thought that musicians on the radio were performing live in the studio. I wondered, if you stepped on an ant, would its friends be sad? If I Was a Banana was written for children like me.

Whimsically written and gorgeously illustrated, If I Was a Banana will appeal to anyone with a modicum of imagination. What if you were a banana, or an elephant, or a spoon? If you were a ladybird or a mountain, what might the ramifications be?

I read my review copy to a class of five-year-olds, and it took much longer than a “regular book”, because the children were so engaged and so keen to talk about each idea and share their responses. As a teacher, anything that gets children talking and thinking is alright by me. They particularly loved the illustration on the last page, and the book was in hot demand after I’d shared it, so that they could explore the cloud drawings in more depth.

Gecko Press continue to produce high quality books that deserve to be on the bookshelves of all children, teachers and in libraries. I’ve written many reviews of Gecko Press for this blog, and read many more of their books than I’ve written about, and I am aware that I probably sound like a total Gecko fan girl by now. But it’s not my fault. Julia Marshall and her team are doing extremely good, and important work. Long may they reign.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

If I was a Banana
by Alexandra Tylee and Kieran Rynhart
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570331


Book Review: New Hokkaido, by James McNaughton

cv_new_hokkaidoAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

An unusual and original concept, this short novel offers a New Zealand different from our own, answering the question: what if Japan claimed us (New Zealand) during World War 2? The answer: a country in which Pakeha “Kiwis” are second-class citizens and the Japanese culture has permeated the country, suffocating its British heritage.

This is a bleakly humorous book designed to inspire slight feelings of discomfort. It is darkly satirical, the characters cast in a manner stereotypical with their racial heritage. From the gumbooted, swandri-wearing supporters of Free New Zealand to the proper and polite Japanese (who remain proper and polite until crossed, and then become coldly vicious). The characters that break these over-exaggerated typecasts are our main characters: Hitomi, Chris’s student and the “love interest” of the story, and Chris himself, to a point. Chris is the sort of slightly bumbling, naive fellow who allows himself to get swept up in events beyond his capabilities. Added into the plot is a rather dramatic and violent mutiny.

Whilst an intriguing and compelling read, at times I did feel a little uncomfortable, especially regarding the relationship between Hitomi and Chris. Their first encounter on the ferry felt unsettlingly sudden and distinctly crude. Whilst I could identify with Chris’s plight, I never really empathised with him much as a character. Overall, an interesting take on what New Zealand could have been, had our history taken a different turn.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

New Hokkaido
by James McNaughton
Published by VUP
ISBN 9780864739766

Book Review: I Can’t Imagine How that Happened, by Aimee McNaughton, illustrated by Dominique Ford

Available now in bookstores nationwide. 

Aimee McNaughton grew up in Wellington, and her mother Iona McNaughton is a writer also. In 2009, she gained an cv_i_cant_imagine_how_that_happenedhonours degree in English Literature from Victoria University with a particular focus on Children’s and young adult fiction. Aimee won the Joy Cowley Award in 2013. This is the first picture book she has written. The illustrations by Dominique Ford are in pen and watercolour.

When I first received this book, I sat down to read it through. I couldn’t stop laughing – the humour is wonderful. Grandpa and Meg have a very special relationship. Grandpa decides to take Meg camping one weekend. They take with them a tent, which they put up together, with Meg being the expert at banging in pegs. Meg puts her hammer down, which Grandpa then proceeds to steal. “Grandpa” Meg said. “I can’t image how that happened” said Grandpa.

Grandpa continues to tease Meg throughout their camping adventure, from putting a tine of tuna on the end of Meg’s fishing line to hiding a plastic spider in Meg’s sleeping bag. Meg then turns the tables on Grandpa by getting her own back. Meg does a number of things with one being putting tomato sauce in his drink bottle. “I can’t image how that happened” Meg giggles.

On reading this book to my 3 year old granddaughter Abby, I had lots of “whys” throughout. Abby thought the ending was hilarious but wanted to know why the Poopeeko (her pronunciation of Pukeko) was making a mess. 

This is a fabulous book with wonderful illustrations. I had “can you read me the Grandpa book” at least 10 times from my granddaughter, which in my mind gives final approval from her age group, but is also suitable for older children who are able to read it to themselves.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

I Can’t Imagine How that Happened
by Aimee McNaughton, illustrated by Dominique Ford 
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775432043

Breaking the Rules, with Paul Beavis and Julia Marshall

So how do you get published by an award-winning children’s publisher?cv_mrs_mos_monster

Gecko Press are known for the quality of their books, both locally and internationally, but Mrs. Mo’s Monster is the first time they have taken on a first-time author.  One of the rules in children’s book publishing is that you shouldn’t have a yellow cover. Well, author Paul Beavis and publisher Julia Marshall broke this rule, and a few others…

It seems like a very good time to sit down and have a chat about breaking the rules and the journey behind Mrs Mo’s Monster.

Paul Beavis is reading at the Auckland Writer’s Festival this Sunday at 12 noon and 1.05pm. 


From sketch to final

The publishing journey with Gecko
Julia Marshall: What does it feel like, being published for the first time?

Paul Beavis: It’s like wearing a new pair of shoes; it still doesn’t feel like me. It doesn’t feel like it’s my book out there. My book is this kind of scruffy thing I sent in and we worked together on. I had been working on getting a children’s book published for close to 12-13 years.

PB: There was a cut-off date for unsolicited manuscripts on 24th April last year. And I had a version which was still very rough; and I was working on a better version, but I thought I haven’t got time, and they are just down the road, so I printed it out, rushed it down to Gecko and dropped it off.

JM: I was mortified to hear from Paul that you almost didn’t send us your manuscript. We were receiving so many manuscripts, and they were piling up and piling up … so we thought we would just test  to see what would happen if we said only send us your picture book MS if you’ve been published before, if someone in the industry says it’s worth a shot or if you’ve been through a MS assessor.  

All these ‘no’s’ were to try to whittle the rejections down. You didn’t fit any of those criteria.

The art of the rejection letter
JM: It’s a difficult thing, the rejection letter. We do have a standard rejection letter, mostly because it is not possible to give good feedback in a short time. 

PB: I could hold an email rejection letter up from about 50 feet and most authors would recognise what it looks like. [With Gecko] I got a postcard back saying I’ll hear back in 12 weeks time, and I thought well, I’ve heard that story before…

JM: Quite a nice postcard though…

PB: And I kept the postcard, it’s the Who’s Hiding one.

JM: Now we have a Mrs. Mo postcard for all our submitted  stories. 

pp_julia_marshall_singlePB: I really was at the end of my tether with the whole process of receiving rejections – I couldn’t make the book any better than the 4th version I had sent around (Gecko Press had the 3rd) – then one Monday night June 15 5.54pm this email came in saying; ‘we don’t normally do this, we don’t normally take unsolicited manuscripts, but we love Mrs Mo’s Monster, and we would like to publish it.’

JM: Aren’t we lucky? Just shows that it is good to be at the end of the road. I think it is interesting this business of being a first-time author. It is important to feel a trust with your publishing company. You did know about Gecko Press from…

PB: I had picked up Gecko Press books in the UK, but it wasn’t until I came over to New Zealand that I recognised the name. My girlfriend, a teacher, had taken me to Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie. And there I found I am strong and Death Duck and the Tulip and Poo Bum and I thought ‘who the hell is publishing all these? I really didn’t think you would be interested, that’s why I took so long to send something off.

Julia Paul Vida Kelly_Mrs Mo's launch

Julia, Paul, and Vida Kelly at the book launch for Mrs. Mo’s Monster

JM: : It was a very collaborative process publishing Mrs Mo. The whole thing was very, very nice, and we had enough time, and we also worked with Vida Kelly. When it arrived I thought ‘this is good’ and it made me laugh, and was light-hearted. I know you didn’t think it was about manners but it is to me, at least a bit. Paul says it is about children trying things out for themselves. So we were good with the ‘yes’, and it was a lovely process working with Vida Kelly.

PB: When first going in to Gecko to meet Julia and Jane, I knew that it was the right home. Occasionally I threw my toys out the pram on certain things, but some of the suggestions were just spot on. Particularly with the ending.IMG_0386[1]

JM: We cut out a gatefold and stretched the ending.

PB: The whole end line was all on one spread, and Julia, Jane & Vida wanted to take the end line and put it on a single page. I didn’t think it would work.

JM: I wanted to be able to turn the page and have the pause, because that’s important. We’ve been thinking about it with digital books vs physical books, the importance of the pause, and what’s on the page and what’s not on the page.

PB: Reading the book to a live audience, you do suddenly realise the power of the page turn; it’s one of the strong points of the book.

JM: And when you read it out at the launch. That can be a moment when you realise it is either a goer, or it’s going to be a nice book but… Sometimes you don’t know that until the last moment.

PB: In the latest reading in Gisborne, I actually brought two of the younger children up and they read the Mrs Mo part and the monster part, and I filled in as the narrator, and there is a dynamic to the story where it says; ‘and off he ran.’ That works well as a narrator. And you do the page turn, and the kid starts again, and you find all these extra levels, that may have been there, but they weren’t really planned, happy accidents, uncovered through editing, until there’s just the bare minimum of text.Mrs_mopage-4-final-version

JM: The genius of simplicity. There’s a wonderful bookshop in Newcastle, Seven Stories,  she/the owner  immediately connected Mrs Mo’s to The Tiger who Came to Tea and said it was going to work really well as a read-aloud, and they are very much a read-aloud kind of a bookstore.

PB: I think if you look at the final book, you think ‘this must have been an easy title for Gecko to publish. But I will send through the original version, and it shows Julia and Gecko Press’s vision saying; ‘there’s potential here.’

JM: We have never published a first-time author before because we normally choose books that are fully-formed. For me it was difficult to choose a half-formed book because it hadn’t got to its final stage. There is a leap of faith in there, and it’s only now that I am more confident about the leap of faith required.

PB: I understand looking at earlier versions, why rejections came back from publishers. It was quite empty-looking, there was not much text. And that is why reading Duck, Death and the Tulip filled me with so much confidence.

The cover and how not to over-egg the puddingmrs_mos_monster_v4
PB: Working on the cover was a really good collaborative process of sending stuff through to you and Jane and Vida. My friends in the UK who work on picture books said it took about 3 months to do the cover and I thought we seem to have a very tight timeframe to fit this cover in to. We turned it around quite quickly, I thought. Because it was a clear idea.

The cover from start to end 

JM: With the cover, I like it when it is my role to say ‘that’s not working for me. I don’t know what it is that isn’t working, but it isn’t working as it is’. That whole collaboration thing works well, especially when you are in the same town as the author.

We had to stop Paul overthinking things. I got taught that long ago by Jill Livestre from Archetype. At the last minute I said, ‘I’d like to change that word,’ and she said, ‘You just remember that and focus on that word and you won’t see all the other ones you’d like to change’.

PB: I had a black and white dummy I had worked up, and I have a notepad note saying ‘stop fiddling with it’.

JM: Well, there is a stage that you get to, when another change is not going to make anything better.

PB: You’re just over-egging the pudding.

JM: I love that expression, over-egging the pudding. We don’t want to over-egg the pudding.


An exclamation mark that didn’t earn its keep

I am always a bit careful about exclamation marks and I think they are very easy to overuse. There’s the line that sticks with me; ‘An exclamation mark is like ketchup, good meat don’t need it, and bad meat don’t deserve it.’ And so always I try to take away the ! and see whether the sentence is strong enough without it, or is it a really working-hard ! I took the story while I was editing to Julia Eccleshare who is a Guardian reviewer, and she said no, get rid of them. So I was happy.

Releasing Mrs Mo’s Monster out of the attic
JM: When the book was released, that was terrifying for you, wasn’t it?

Gecko_PaulBeavis_1303b_lrPB: I have friends in children’s publishing in the UK, they gave me all this advice, and…

JM: “We’ve only got two weeks’, you said, ‘we’ve only got two weeks ‘til we’re dead and

PB: This is what I was told by people I know who work for big publishers; they’ve got a book coming out every week, or two weeks. Whereas Julia and Jane have got one a month coming out. And they don’t over-egg the pudding with their books. That was a bit of a blind panic, but I panic easily.

JM: It was a blind panic, but you’ve got to have all your eggs in… all your ducks lined up, and if you are missing a duck, its hard to put it back again.

PB: Using the Facebook page to drive traffic, create downloads for people… all of that stuff is great, to build up interest.

JM: Doing all that stuff, like how to draw a monster, it’s been a really great thing, because its so teacher friendly, and its funny.

Editing the text
JM: We were reading it out a lot. I’m most comfortable with text, Vida with illustration. For me, not showing in the text what you are saying in the pictures, that’s what I’m busy with.

PB: At one point we were thinking of removing the line ‘And together they started to mix’, then we reinstated it and it became the perfect line. It was telling you the story, but there needed to be an introduction.


JM: It was a lot more waffly. We took out slight moralnesses. It’s nice that process, when the text is fully yours. The phrase that is repeated ‘What is this you do’ – technically you could edit that down, but it is necessary to the voice of the monster.

PB: I didn’t mind anything being changed, but I didn’t really want that line to go. When it got to that part of the discussion in the email, Julia said: technically this is wrong, but it sounds right. It was a real confidence booster finding those guys knew the story. It wasn’t just a matter of changing the pictures, but the text as well.

JM: Publishers aren’t always very good at saying what we do, but I think the process where you have more than one person working on something, and giving it their absolute best and their undivided attention… and that collaboration where everybody has confidence in everybody because there is no ego, but everybody bringing a special care and knowledge.

PB: Without the collaboration with Gecko Press, Mrs Mo’s Monsters wouldn’t be near this good. I still look at it and wonder how it got made.Gecko_staff_1257_lr

Thank you to Julia and Paul for this amazing insight into the first-time publishing process.

The full interview is available here for those who are interested. If enough people are intrigued by this piece, I will publish a follow-up about the submissions process for various publishers, as Julia and Paul both had a lot of interesting things to say about this process. Please leave a supportive comment below!

Interview recorded and edited by Sarah Forster

Check out, and follow the Facebook page here for more about the book and its creation. You can win a copy of Mrs. Mo’s Monster here.