Book Review: Cook’s Cook (The Cook who Cooked For Captain Cook), by Gavin Bishop

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_cooks_cook.jpgChristchurch based author and illustrator Gavin Bishop is one of New Zealand’s top writers for children right now. He’s also won a ton of awards for his books, has been honoured with a NZ Order of Merit for Children’s literature and most recently, took out the top prize at the Children’s Book awards (The Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award) for his project Aotearoa: A New Zealand Story.

Over the years he’s illustrated Mahy’s books along with those of Joy Cowley and many other Kiwi authors. If you browse through his work you’ll notice his penchant for bringing history, particularly Colonial, to life. Aotearoa was not only an opportunity to bring our own past to life but to make it shine with elegant, personal , sparkling artwork that almost borders on a cartoon style. That, in turn, really appeals to children and lets them feel at ease with the stories he’s telling.

Carrying on the template he created for Aotearoa and also for an earlier successful book The House That Jack Built (the Kiwi retelling), Bishop places the reader as close to the action as possible. He knows that kids will relate to history if they can wear the clothes, taste the flavours and smell the aromas of history.  And so he’s chosen to write about Captain James Cook, not in the usual way but from the point of view of his cook, the one-handed John Thompson.

Thompson is not a man of airs and graces. He’s completely the opposite. Though he may not mind his Q’s he certainly knows his Pease Porridge – a sludgy soup made of split peas, favoured on alternate days to make the provisions of fresh food go further. This is just one fact we learn along the way. Bishop loves to throw in nerdy facts such as how many pigs, bottles of vinegar or sacks of flour are taken on board the Endeavour during its famous journey through Pacific waters in 1768. He relishes in providing these fantastic little details, information drawn from extensive research. Naturally, he also adds a bit of colourful sailor-talk and few sordid recipes like what to do with an albatross and how to serve sheared shark fins, Goose Pie (with a seabird substitute) or make Yorkshire pudding during a heavy storm.

Cook was determined to keep his crew and passengers fit and healthy so Thomson has his work cut out. His stories alone are worth the price of admission but this book is really more of a vehicle to tell the overall narrative around Cook’s famous voyage. Actually, the book tells multiple stories, of social class, hierarchy and race; stories of explorers and the people of the land (we are there during the first encounters with Maori, for example); the story of one of the world’s most famous explorers told through a fresh new lens – just in time for the 250th anniversary of the Endeavour’s journey.

This is a short but surprisingly heavily -packed book. There may only be about 40-odd pages but everyone deserves a re-read, as there are many little jokes, facts or secrets hiding in the illustrations. Children from 8 to 80 will love exploring this book and maybe even trying out a recipe or two – at their peril.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Cook’s Cook (The Cook who Cooked For Captain Cook)
by Gavin Bishop
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572045

Book Review: Summer Days – Stories and Poems celebrating the Kiwi Summer

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv-summer_daysSometimes a very special book comes in to my possession. Summer Days is one of these. I love the feel of it, the weight of it, the colour, the size, the blue ribbon bookmark and especially the sun-golden page edges. The inside is just as wonderful. Here is summer packaged for Kiwi kids. There are Pohutukawa trees and buzzing bees, jandals and sandy seashore, Jesus in the cowshed and Grandpa on the beach.

Puffin have published this collection for young Kiwi kids just in time for a family Christmas present. Every poem, story and illustration reminded me of the special nature of summer in New Zealand. This is the very best of the very best. Joy Cowley gives us the Nativity in a cowshed with a collection of animals beloved by New Zealanders. Gwenda Turner was a wonderful artist who captured the reality of beach time. She even included the named creatures found on the rocky shore. Margaret Mahy makes a special Christmas Cake, while Brian Turner watches the bees.

It is not easy to select a collection such as this. Keep it simple, keep it local, keep it varied and keep it manageable. Every page was a delight as I found there was enough variety to enjoy the short poems between the longer picture stories. This is a sturdy publication with an embossed hard cover and just the right size to pack for the holiday. It is the details which so delighted me. There are ice-cream cones on the end papers, a bookmark attached, a stitched spine and the final touch is the sunshine yellow edges to every page. Truly, it is summer in a book.

I see this being the perfect family present. It will become a classic treasure on the bookshelf creating heated debate when it has to be passed on to the next generation. My copy is already wrapped and under the tree for my granddaughter. Maybe I need a copy to keep for myself?

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Summer Days: Stories and Poems celebrating the Kiwi Summer
Puffin
ISBN 9780143771593

Book Review: Aotearoa, by Gavin Bishop

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_aotearoa_the_new_zealand_storyGavin Bishop’s Aotearoa has been atop the Nielsen Bestsellers list virtually since its release. I spotted Gavin at the Storylines Hui the day after it was launch and he said ‘It sold 140 copies at the launch! I’ve never written a bestseller!’

Gavin has been writing and illustrating books for over 40 years. He has gone through many phases of illustration – the illustrations in this book are most similar in style to his The House that Jack Built, which was re-published a few years ago by Gecko Press, but also bring in elements (particularly in the people) of the broad style he used in Mister Whistler.

Aotearoa tells the story of our nation, from the big bang, via dinosaurs, through Kupe’s discovery of Aotearoa (so named by Kupe’s wife Kuramārōtini) and so on. My first favourite page – there are many – is the Voyages to Aotearoa, which depicts each of the waka that we know sailed to settle in New Zealand from Hawaiki. Along with people, came gods, and the stories of our gods are flawlessly woven into the narrative.

As iwi settled the land, each named its sacred mountain, and set about naming the birds, fish and insects of Aotearoa – and the land: Te Waipounamu and Te Ika-a-Māui. On the following spread, came war: the Māori war god Tūmatauenga makes several appearances as our people go to war. While disputes over land led to fighting, the first Pākehā arrived. Gavin takes us inside their minds to show how they drew the coastline of New Zealand, and the illustrations give further information about what was introduced and traded.

Something notable if you have never read a history book that has an integrated world-view of New Zealand: the Treaty of Waitangi isn’t signed until page 20 – one-third of the way through the book. There was a lot of history in Aotearoa before Pākehā came and carved it up, and this book ensures the younger generation doesn’t forget it. I will also add, for me the best parts of the book are those which tell about the settlement of New Zealand by all its peoples.

From the late 19th century on, Gavin does break-out ‘survey’ pages telling about progress in different areas of life and society. Transport, employment, houses, education. Each of these are finely drawn, but as somebody who tends to view things in a linear manner, I couldn’t help but want the images to sit in a more time-oriented manner!

The things he brings out though are wonderful, and there are several juxtapositions that made me smile to myself – in housing, these three things are close together: 1937: State houses were built for those who could not afford their own; 2008: A house in Masterton designed by the Wellington firm Melling Morse Architects; 2015: The number of homeless people who slept on the streets increased.

Gavin has also very cleverly given potted histories of famous architects, significant visionaries, and so on throughout his illustrations. His war illustrations are majestic artworks of the sort that I hope go on tour through Painted Stories.

I will stop myself gushing over every page and think about audience for a second. There is nothing that Gavin has done that hasn’t got kids in the centre of his thinking. The lollies page is fantastic; the clothes page – which involves many members of his own family – could inspire a class study of fashions using old family photos; the sports section is brilliant – and of course the All Blacks are running across the South Island. The disasters section is a starter page for 100s of school projects in the future. He has chosen famous people that children can relate to (Jamie Curry, Annabel Langbein, Witi Ihimaera, Lorde) and singers, writers, actors, dancers and artists as well. I’m pleased to see he has drawn himself in there.

Gavin has not been afraid to put his worldview across. ‘1840: The Treaty of Waitangi gave Māori the rights of British citizens. But for over 100 years it was ignored and ruled irrelevant to New Zealand law and government’. He has told briefly of land marches, protests, Bastion Point and Moutoa Gardens, hikoi, and wrongful Anti-terror raids. He has also called out those who are destroying our land: ‘Careless use of the environment threatens all life.’ Possibly the cutest drawing of the south island has it turned into a possum…

But the book ends with hope. Electric transport is being brought in. Kāpiti Island is a bird sanctuary, the Southern Ocean is a whale sanctuary. There are good things happening in agriculture. And finally, we have children flying the flag for the future. Just perfect.
It doesn’t matter what age you are, you will learn something from this book. You will understand how history has formed our land. Gavin has used the academic work of our most important historians to focus his drawings, and he has done a superlative job. Step out of the way, everybody, the award goes to…

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story
by Gavin Bishop
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143770350

 

Book Review: Helper and Helper, by Joy Cowley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

Helper Helper is shortlisted for the Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. 

cv_hleper_and_helper.jpgI am almost ashamed to say that I had not read any Lizard and Snake stories before this collection. In my defence, my work was mostly with older teenagers, so I think I can be forgiven!

However, what quirky, credible characters these two are. A bit slippery, on the one hand, but good friends working mostly together. Sounds familiar? Joy Cowley has a very accomplished way of working a little morality, a lot of humanity and a great understanding of human behaviour into each story in this collection. There’s also much clever humour, and occasionally a small measure of sadness.

The fabulous illustrations by Gavin Bishop contribute a great deal to the book, picking up on small details and bringing the characters to life in a delightful way. The endpapers are particularly worth a look!

It’s a wonderful collection and brings to mind the gentle fables of Aesop. It also brought to my mind the less gentle Cautionary Tales by Hilaire Belloc. I wonder if they are still popular, with their grim punishments for bad behaviour? I imagine that modern children will prefer Snake and Lizard.

It’s another great publication from Gecko Press, and I hope that there are more stories still to come from Joy Cowley about these unlikely best friends. Most deservedly a nominee for the NZ Children’s Book Awards.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Helper and Helper
by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Gavin Bishop
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571055

Book Review: The Road To Ratenburg, by Joy Cowley and Gavin Bishop

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_road_to_ratenburgJoy Cowley is one of the world’s best-known authors. She has written and published hundreds of books, and I have grown up listening to and reading these stories. But this is the first longer novel of hers that I have ever read. Joy Cowley seems to have a wonderful imagination where exists every world that she has created.

The Road To Ratenburg follows the adventures of Spinnaker Rat, his wife Retsina and there 4 ratlets. They travel to find the city of Ratenburg, after their home (the basement of an apartment building) is destroyed. The road to Ratenburg has always been a difficult journey and no rat knows if others have made it there. This family faces many challenges on their journey, including getting stuck in a bog, and crossing a lake full of giant eels.

I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure and drama of this story, and would recommend it to anyone that enjoys a good adventure story, with a general readership age of 10 – 14. Just don’t read it in the middle of the night under your blankets!

Reviewed by Isabelle Ralston (14)

The Road to Ratenburg
by Joy Cowley, with illustrations by Gavin Bishop
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570751

Book Review: Quaky Cat Helps Out, by Diana Noonan, illustrated by Gavin Bishop

Available in bookshops nationwide.cv_quaky_cat_helps_out

Quaky Cat has appeared in an earlier picture book by Diana Noonan. This book was written in response to the Christchurch earthquake and has raised more than $150,000 for Christchurch charities. All author royalties from this book Quaky Cat Helps Out will go to supporting the work of Orphans Aid International.

Diana is an award-winning author of more than 200 publications including young adult novels, picture books, non-fiction, poetry, stories for radio, material for television and short film scripts. Gavin Bishop is an award-winning New Zealand children’s author and illustrator. He has published more than 40 books.

The dedication at the back of this book –

“In memory of the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, Quaky Cat Helps Out is a tribute to the brave children and families who have opened their hearts and homes to help a broken city”.

Tiger the ginger cat can’t sleep. He feels uneasy but doesn’t know why.
It’s six in the morning, and Tiger can’t sleep.
He tosses and turns at his friend Emma’s feet.
It isn’t the cold that keeps him awake,
Or the shudder and rumble and bump or a quake.

Even though his house and surrounds are mended after the Christchurch earthquakes in 2011 he just can’t settle. Things are not what they seem. A number of cats have lost their homes. Tiger goes around issuing invitations to his displaced friends to come and settle at his and Emma’s house.

This is a fabulous story with lovely illustrations. I had to be very careful reading this story to 4-year-old Abby as she has a rather overactive imagination. We have to be very mindful when the television news is on that she doesn’t hear about a house fire or about any sort of crime. She has a lot of questions about things and broods on them. This isn’t unusual for this age group, but sometimes you have to be careful when broaching different subjects i.e. earthquakes.

Abby did respond very well to this story and was totally engrossed with Tiger and his friends and how they all came to his and Emma’s house. We also talked about sharing and how it’s really good to be nice to people when something bad has happened to them. It’s hard to explain an earthquake to a child that has no concept of what an earthquake involves – it’s hard enough for an adult who hasn’t experienced them first hand either. Abby has two cats of her own, so came up with some good suggestions about what you could do to make sure the cats were safe.

At the back of this book there are comments from children that lived in Christchurch during the quakes.
“Just like Quaky Cat’s friends, my house got cracks and we had to get a new floor. We had to live in a caravan…..our house is still getting fixed from the earthquake.”
– Regan, age 9

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Quaky Cat Helps Out
by Diana Noonan, illustrated by Gavin Bishop
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775432975

Book Review: Teddy One-Eye, by Gavin Bishop

cv_teddy_one-eyeAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

Telling the story of a boy’s life using his Teddy Bear as the narrator takes the reader on a rather unique and magical journey. This book is a warm and engaging tale that shows just how very special our childhood ‘friends’ are and the role they can play in our lives, especially when change and growth seem rather scary and frightening. Although he his rather battered and tatty and has only one eye, Teddy is a much-loved companion and this is reflected in the warmth of this story.

Life might not always be easy, but Teddy is brave and courageous. He might sometimes be forgotten and even left outside overnight, but in his special Teddy way he is always needed. Teddy, of course, is the heart of this story. He is the friend we all need when things are not quite right and who better to tell the story of this author’s life than Teddy: after all, there is nothing he doesn’t know about him.

This is one of those books that will become a favourite, one of those special books
that is recalled with love and passed down through generations. As usual, Gavin Bishop has done a fabulous job, and like his other books, this one will create precious memories and bring magic into its readers’ lives.

I thank Random House NZ for this lovely book.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Teddy One-Eye
by Gavin Bishop
Published by Random House NZ
ISBN 9781775537274