Books about Books: Lucy’s Book and Maisy goes to the Bookstore

Both books reviewed are available at bookshops nationwide.

If you’ve been watching the picture book – or, indeed the adult book world for the past few years, you will have noticed that there is a trend quietly growing. That is: books about books. A recent favourite for many was A Child of Books, by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston. New Zealand examples include The Boring Book, by Vasanti Unka; A Book is a Book, by Jenny Bornholdt and Sarah Wilkins; and more creatively, Fuzzy Doodle, by Melinda Szymanik and Donovan Bixley.

Though many are favourites, the overall effect that all these books about books has ultimately had on me, is fatigue with the tropes about physical books: the well-meaning urges from the writer to love reading because it’s good. Which means I approached these two books about books – or bookstores (but books really) – with a wary, difficult-to-impress eye.

Lucy’s Book, by Natalie Jane Pryor, illustrated by Cheryl Orsini

cv_lucys_bookLucy’s Book, is about that special book that any reader will understand. That book, that takes hold of you, and won’t let go. Lucy’s book happens to be a library book – and she’s told all of her friends about it, so when she takes it back, they race each other to get it out again. So the story is shared – with their friends, with her neighbours, her dance class, and her neighbourhood.

‘Li-ya, Lucy’s friend from the park, flew with it to China…and Lucy took it with her when Aunt Sophie married the dentist.’

All we know about the book is that it has a red cover, with pictures of adventures on it. That frustrated 6-year-old Dan – he wanted to know what the book was. But I think he will understand, once he’s met that book, that it is different for everybody.

The emotions of reading, and the rich language used in the book are a wonderful window into the world of the book-lover. And I think this is where this book improves on others: it is about the joys that the book-lovers feel when reading, rather than concentrating on just what a book can do independently of its reader. It involves its audience, rather than commanding them to love books.

The illustrator Cheryl Orsini has done a fabulous job. She pushes the emotion of each page into the illustrations in an extraordinary way. No detail is spared. Look at the cover of the books when Lucy gets her book out for the first time – an ice cream, a plate with cake, a whole fish… Then look at the covers of the books when Lucy finds out her book has worn out, and is no longer able to be rented. A boy with bandages, fish bones, an empty plate, spilt milk.

Maisy Goes to the Bookshop, by Lucy Cousins

cv_maisy-goes-to-the-bookshopI’m pleased to say that Maisy Goes to the Bookshop is similar. While there is a more basic tone and language set, Maisy goes to the bookshop and revels in the choice she has of reading materials. She is the reader, and we are finding out why she reads. And all her friends happen to be there!

My 4-year-old loves Maisy – he learned to count and recognise numbers before he was 2, thanks to Maisy Counts the Chicks – but his relationship with books more generally is a little harder to pick. He’s read this with one of his parents every night since I brought it home.

You know from the title what happens. Maisy goes to the bookshop – where Ostrich helps her find a beautiful book about birds to share with Tallulah: then her friend Charlie comes out from behind the shelves. ‘”Ahoy, Maisy!” he says. I’m reading a book about pirates. I can imagine US as pirates!”’ As we find more friends we learn what they can imagine themselves as, until the reader is fully engaged with Eddie, who shows us in thought bubbles, what he is imagining himself as. Alex loves to match the thought bubbles with a book, and tell us what he thinks they are about.

I’ve seen Lucy Cousins reviewed negatively for her drawings, and yes they are simple, but they are bright and engaging for young eyes. She packs the detail in – and you always know what she has drawn. Another favourite page for Alex was the cafe page, where they all ate biscuits, muffins, cherries and strawberries.

More of these please, publishers! I love books about readers, not books that are only about books – because reading is magical in and of itself. Don’t over-analyse it!

Reviewed by Sarah Forster, editor of The Sapling.

Maisy Goes to the Bookshop
by Lucy Cousins
published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406369847

Lucy’s Book
by Natalie Jane Prior, and Cheryl Orsini
Published by Lothian Children’s Books
ISBN 9780734416605

Funny note: In the USA, Maisy Goes to the Local Bookstore (rather than the Bookshop) – and where do you think the first link came up to for this? That’s right – starts with A and ends with N.

Why New Zealand literature deserves your support, by Melinda Szymanik

Children’s author Melinda Szymanik posted this on her blog this morning, and I immediately wanted to repost it. Melinda is the author of many wonderful books, most recently Fuzzy Doodle, illustrated by Donovan Bixley, which is still in my top 10 children’s books for this year.

pp_melinda_szymanikWhy New Zealand literature is necessary…

My parents were immigrants. World War 2 pushed them out of their home country Poland and brought them, via a truly circuitous route, to New Zealand. I was born here about seven years after their arrival.

My Polish heritage informed so much of my early life. The food we ate, the people we socialised with, the traditional folk dancing I learned, the national costume I owned and sometimes wore. To my regret, I didn’t learn the language. In my tender years I didn’t appreciate the value of doing so. I found it hard. And I eagerly embraced the language of my peers (I love the English language. We are always doing gymnastics together). But at school I enjoyed having this exotic Eastern European background. I was the only Polish kid in class. It felt special. So I wore it with pride.

I was a booky kid. I read a lot in school right from the beginning. I hung out at libraries all the time. The Lion,The Witch and The Wardrobe (although I started with The Silver Chair after picking up the hardback for a bargain price at a school fair), The Famous Five, Paddington Bear, The Moomintrolls, Baron Munchausen, The Moon in the Cloud, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Little House on the Prairie, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, The Hardy Boys, The Hobbit, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, Flambards, The Outsiders, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Dark is Rising, Fairy Tales, The Odyssey, Robin Hood, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and many, many, many more. Are you sensing a theme to my reading yet?

The only New Zealand literature I was exposed to as a child was what the School Journal provided. There was no Margaret Mahy or Joy Cowley, Maurice Gee, Fleur Beale or David Hill back then. I read one short story by Witi Ihimaera and didn’t understand it at all, because it was a single drop in a vast ocean of the European and US literary heritage I was consuming in vast quantities.

It became difficult to sustain the atmosphere of Polishness as we all grew up. We had to get on with our Kiwi lives. We didn’t forget but wore it more on the inside than the outside. And the pre-war Poland of my parent’s experience was unreachable, existing in memory but no longer in reality. And my empathy and understanding of people and the world learned through books filtered everything through a foreign lens. What is it to be a New Zealander? I’m still figuring it out. I can’t help always feeling a restlessness that can’t be answered, predicated as it is on a nostalgia for a lost heritage that can never be recovered, and a literary education built on cultures to which I can never belong.

If you want New Zealand children to understand their own culture, to feel it in their bones, then it must be provided to them in their literature. It helps ground them, makes them feel strong in their roots, connects them to this place and to each other. It reflects their experience back at them, reinforcing its value. We must embrace our own literature. It is a tremendous gift that must be protected and encouraged. We can’t just measure it as a product with sales, because its impact is lifelong, far reaching and life changing. It needs to be everywhere and we need to pay it way more respect then it gets now.

by Melinda Szymanik

Melinda blogs here regularly about children’s writing and other things as they arise. Some great pieces recently include her post on getting through the mid-career doldrums and how to stay sane/hydrated/not-exhausted during launch week.

Book Review: Fuzzy Doodle, by Melinda Szymanik and Donovan Bixley

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_fuzzy_doodleThis book is one to treasure. From the first squiggle to the final page, Fuzzy the doodle leads you on a playful word adventure as he grows…and grows…and grows.

This is The Hungry Little Caterpillar redux, but instead of fruit & picnic treats, Fuzzy craves writing, ink and colour. And as fuzzy eats, he is redefined. The fonts change, the words shine glossily from the page, and eventually the metallics see a royal tinge added to Fuzzy’s fur.

As well as the growth of Fuzzy the caterpillar, this flawlessly rhyming story tells us about the growth of a book, the growth of a writer and artist, and the growth of a reader. The story grows in confidence as Fuzzy ‘hoovers’ up words, sentences and paragraphs. It took me a few reads to understand the brilliance of this book, and I was grateful for this. I do like a good book about books and booklovers, but that story is being worn out: telling it in this way was fresh for me, with a familiar transformation story for the kids to hang on to.

The style of the illustrations is walking a fine line between brilliance and chaos, but of course, Donovan Bixley is one of our most adaptable illustrators – and with him designing the book as well, every splash, whoosh and nibble has been carefully designed to sit on the page just so. Fuzzy Doodle displays flawless interaction between an author and illustrator, and good on Scholastic for putting the money into the printing to make this book shine.

Parent, buy this book and read it to your kids as they learn to read, write and squiggle.
Just remember:

‘Fuzzy started as a scribble,
just a scrawly little doodle,
a smudgey sort of ‘something’
at the bottom of the page.’

He’s been through a lot since, and now he is splendid.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Fuzzy Doodle
by Melinda Szymanik & Donovan Bixley
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775432500 HB / 9781775434061 PB