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: Paraweta, by Stephanie Blake

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

Paraweta-cover-451x600This is a te reo Māori version of the well-known picture book Poo Bum. Little rabbit is rather rude and from the moment he wakes up little rabbit answers every question with ‘paraweta (Poo Bum)’ – until he meets a wolf who likes to eat rabbits!

Te reo Māori is growing in strength as we all see the importance of sharing our indigenous language with our little ones. Translations of classic stories that young children already know and love are a perfect way to introduce te reo Māori. Children can hear natural language patterns as they follow the familiar storyline and illustrations. It won’t be long before children will start shouting out ‘paraweta’ in all the right spots!

For nervous readers, you could start by changing out ‘poo-bum’ for ‘paraweta’ – however children tend to be a very forgiving audience when it comes to practicing a new language.

This book shows how much fun language can be. It will draw in the most book-shy child who will enjoy laughing at a parent or teacher saying ‘taboo’ words. The bold illustrations use blocks of colour and black lines to continue the absurdity – who has ever seen a green wolf or a rabbit in a suit?!

As an adult, you will either love or hate the storyline but young children are almost guaranteed to love the silliness! A book filled with toilet humour, familiar characters and a witty punchline – what is not to love? Just be prepared to read this book over and over again.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

Paraweta
by Stephanie Blake, translated by Karena Kelly
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572182

Book Review: The Mapmakers’ Race, by Eirlys Hunter

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_mapmakers_RaceThe Santander siblings – Sal, Joe, Francie and little Humphrey – have twenty-eight days to reach the finish line of the Great Mapmakers’ Race. With their father missing and their mother stranded, they have no choice but to carry on alone. Their task: find a route for a railway line between Grand Prospect and New Coalhaven. If they win, they will receive a large prize that will allow them to fund a search party for their father. If they lose, they will never be a proper family again.

Launching the adventure with a thrilling train ride, the four children and their talking parrot, Carrot, speed past ‘tunnels and bridges, fields, farms and forests’ to arrive at Grand Prospect. With fourteen-year-old Sal guiding her younger siblings through the bustling town, they join the Mapmakers’ Race with the help of their new-found friend, a fifteen-year-old boy named Beckett.

Against the ever-ticking clock, the Santander team contend with dangerous river crossings, bears, a kidnapping, illness, loneliness, wet clothes, dark caves, family squabbles, cliff falls and terrible weather – not to mention a dwindling food supply. Racing against five teams of adults who refuse to play by the rules, the Santanders find out what it means to survive against all odds.

A fast-paced adventure story, The Mapmakers’ Race is propelled along by an urgent deadline. With regular reminders of how many days remain, each chapter pushes the tension to new heights as the children fight to survive. A gripping tale with beautifully drawn characters, children and adults alike will empathise with at least one of the four Santanders. There’s Sal, the mathematician of the family, the one using trigonometry and her trusty altimeter to ensure their route is safe for a railway. There’s the eleven-year-old twins: courageous Joe and silent Francie. Joe speaks for the both of them, but it is Francie who has the secret talent – she has a special power of ‘flight’ that enables her to look at the world from above, her beautiful maps reflecting her visions. Joe is the brave (and reckless) route finder, and four-year-old Humphrey provides the comic relief with his made-up words (‘Busticated’ he exclaims at one point) and strange observations.

An adventure story with dashes of fantasy and a taste of steampunk, The Mapmakers’ Race is Eirlys Hunter’s seventh book for children. A London-born writer who now lives in Wellington, Hunter teaches children’s writing at the IIML at Victoria University. Complementing the beautiful prose are the stunning illustrations of Kirsten Slade, a Liverpool-born illustrator and comic artist who also lives in Wellington. Each chapter begins with a map illustration detailing the Santanders’ journey.

Unlike most modern-day children’s adventure stories, which tend to focus on internal conflict or traumatic events, Hunter’s novel harks back to children’s adventure books of the past. No adults feature in this story: instead, the children are solely responsible for their own survival. They make the decisions, and they alone suffer the consequences – but also the victories.

A heartwarming tale about the bonds between siblings and friends, The Mapmakers’ Race is a compelling read. When the reader is able to pull themselves away from the plot, they will also realise the delicate beauty of the prose – ‘The full moon hung so big and bright that he could barely make out any stars until he turned his back to the moon and looked towards the dark horizon where there were tens, then hundreds, then thousands of stars pulsing silently – chips of ice in an infinite, frozen world.’

A story full of laughter, thrills, storytelling and danger, The Mapmakers’ Race is destined to become a Kiwi classic.

Reviewed by Rosalie Elliffe

The Mapmakers’ Race
by Eirlys Hunter
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572038

Book Review: Sports are Fantastic Fun, by Ole Könnecke

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_sports_are_fantastic_funMy sports-loving seven-year-old, who incidentally grew up with both of the other big books by Ole Könnecke that Gecko Press has translated, was over the moon when presented with this book.

Sports are Fantastic Fun begins with a short rejoinder reminding us exactly why sports exist, then launches into the fantastic fun of football.

The style of the text is quite to-the-point, generally beginning with a statement about how fun it all is, then exploring the broad rules of each sport and how one could win. For football, for example: ‘When a team scores a goal, everybody is happy. (Actually, only the team that scores is happy. The other team is annoyed.)’

The sports represented vary widely, though I would point out there are considerably more ‘male’ looking figures playing the sports than female figures (they are all animals). Possibly as a balance, whenever there is a pronoun used, it is usually describing a female. Everything from rhythmic gymnastics and athletics, to skiing and mountain climbing, horse riding of all types, dirt bike riding, golf and racquet sports, as well as fishing, boxing and rugby are shown.

One of the most interesting pages to me was that about ice hockey, mainly for this description: ‘Sad but true: sometimes ice hockey players fight. That’s one reason an ice hockey game has up to four officials to make sure the players follow the rules.’ On reading further, I realise these fights are sanctioned and indeed, part of the game. I guess it’s not too far removed from rugby at times!

The illustrations, as always for Ole Könnecke, are an absolute delight and the highlight of the book. The athletics page is hilarious, with the elephant doing a shot put, the penguin doing the long-jump, the cow doing a balletic high jump, and the octopus throwing the javelin. Then there is the giraffe on the pole vault. The illustration of her getting distracted by a butterfly halfway up then falling flat on her back makes you wince and laugh at the same time. ‘This time, the giraffe approaches faster than before. This should work. Too late she notices that in the excitement she has forgotten her pole. That wasn’t good either.’

The illustrations are also innovative in where they have sports being performed – in the case of swimming, he shows frogs doing the breaststroke, the freestyle and butterfly in a goldfish bowl, complete with goldfish.

I’d recommend this book for sports lovers of all ages. It is a great primer for ideas of what sports might be played, and would work for kids aged 3 and up. As always, the pictures can be read without the words, by a younger child reading alone. Sports are indeed, fantastic fun, when written and illustrated by Ole Könnecke and published by Gecko Press.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Sports are Fantastic Fun!
by Ole Könnecke
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572014

 

 

Book Review: The Visitor, by Antje Damm

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_visitorPoor Elise stays hidden from the world in her neat and tidy home. She never goes out, night or day because Elise is afraid of everything – spiders, people and even trees. No one ever knocks on her door. Until one day when she opened the window to let fresh air in something strange flies in and the next morning she hears a knocking at the door. Elise opens the door to find a visitor who will bring some colour her life.

The Visitor is a beautiful tale about loneliness and human connection. The story and dialogue is simple yet descriptive and full of emotion which is very appealing to young readers. Antje Damm did a wonderful job capturing the curious and innocent dialogue of a child and the hesitant gestures and speech of someone who has all but forgotten how to be with another person.

Damm’s diorama style illustrations portray the stark, lonely and anxious existence of Elise. She cleverly uses light and colour to change the mood of the book from poignant to cheerful. The illustrations alone tells a story of transformation and the growth of a friendship between carefree and fearful.

What a wonderful book! The cover art and title drew me in immediately. It made me curious to read so I could find out who the visitor was and I was not disappointed! The complimentary words and illustrations create a lot of emotion and sympathy making it a great story for young children.

Reviewed by Alana Bird

The Visitor
by Antje Damm
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571888

Book Review: Valdemar’s Peas, by Maria Jönsson

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_valdemars_peas.jpgValdemar LOVES fish fingers but he HATES peas! But Papa says ‘The peas go in the tummy. Then ice cream. Chocolate ice cream!’ Valdemar may be a little wolf but he’s a clever little wolf. He hatches a cunning idea to get the peas in the tummy without having to eat a single one.

Valdemar’s Peas is a tale about an all too familiar dinner time dilemma that I’m sure many young children and their parents have experienced. The back and forth between Valdemar and his Papa is all too relatable and both children and parents will find humour in Valdemar’s determination and trickery to get chocolate ice-cream. Although, I don’t think my own parents would have shown as much appreciation for such a cheeky and quick-witted response as Valdemar’s Papa!

Maria Jönsson’s adorable, black and white illustrations which are accented with reds, browns and greens suit her playful story perfectly, portraying well Valdemar’s distaste for peas, smugness at his own successful trick and Papa’s exasperation. I think Valdemar’s Papa will be more specific about which tummy the peas need to go into next time!

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Valdemar’s Peas
by Maria Jönsson
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571963

Book Review: I’m the Biggest, by Stephanie Blake

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_i'm_the_biggest.pngSimon is now so big he has his own self-named Netflix series! This little rabbit has taught our household how hilarious the words Poo Bum are, how brave you can be when wearing a cape, and how to negotiate swapsies with friends. He even went to school at around the same time as my youngest son.

So now it’s time for sibling rivalry. Simon has grown – but he hasn’t grown as much as Caspar (alias: Gaspard), and he’s not happy. The catch-phrase in this title is ‘No Way’. He accuses his mum of feeding Caspar more, then gets sent to his room for being cheeky, where he swears revenge.

They go to a park, where Simon is asked to keep an eye on his brother. He spots a big kid from his class trying to bully him, as he scores a goal in soccer.  Will he let it keep on happening? Or is he going to pretend like nothing is happening?

As a self-appointed connoisseur of Simon books, this one fell flat for me. First – modern parenting doesn’t look like this. I don’t send my kids to their room for saying ‘No Way’. If I did, they’d never be in the lounge (they say much worse, at times). And ‘No Way’ just doesn’t have the shoutability the previous catch-phrases have had.

That said, the rivalry between brothers certainly rang true, especially in the area of height. My youngest recently lost his 8th tooth, so they are now even in the number of teeth that have fallen out, to the chagrin of the elder brother! And they have the same size feet. And I could totally see the eldest seriously considering letting his brother be menaced, to get him back.

If you are a collector of Simon books, add it to the collection! But if you haven’t started on them yet, start with Poo Bum, and don’t forget A Deal’s A Deal. And if you want your kids to learn a bit about empathy, try 2017 title, I Can’t Sleep!

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

I’m the Biggest
by Stephanie Blake
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572021