Book Review: Rivers, by Peter Goes

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_riversWow, this is an astonishingly good book. Readers who have enjoyed Timeline won’t be surprised by this revelation, but if you’re new to Peter Goes’ work, you’ve been missing out. Get yourself to your book store, stat.

This is a large format non-fiction picture book. So far, so ordinary, right? Open it up. Goes covers the continents and their major rivers and seas with illustrations and facts (quite literally – the continents are almost covered up!). All sorts of facts and figures are given to the curious reader – all sorts of stuff that I didn’t know, and more that I didn’t know I’d be interested in! There’s also a line of environmentl awareness throughout the book – I’m looking at you in particular, Darling River.

This is the sort of book that a reader will look at over and over. There’s so much information that it’s almost overwhelming, and I certainly couldn’t take it in all in one sitting. It’s like an invitation to come back and play another day after a successful play date – there’s just So. Much. Stuff.

Each double page spread has a really pared-back colour palette – for example, one spread may be just shades of blue, and black and white; the next might be shades of yellow, or purple. This is a really good way of managing the amount of information on the page, as it keeps the page back from the cliff edge of information overload. The illustrations are great, quite often humorous, and easy to understand.

Peter Goes is Belgian, so I was interested to see how he approached the one New Zealand entry in Rivers, the Waikato. It was well-researched and dealt with both Māori and Pakeha experiences and world views.  I came away happy.

You’ll probably find Rivers in the children’s section of your bookstore. I’d definitely recommend it for any child from about 7 upwards. Don’t discount it for teenagers and adults though, especially as a gift for someone who likes graphic novels or is a curious but reluctant reader. Rivers will appeal to a really wide range of people.  And if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to dip back into it.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Rivers
by Peter Goes
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572168

Book Review: Harsu & The Werestoat, by Barbara Else

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_harsu_and_the_werestoatThis book is not the usual genre I am attracted to but I have to say this book fascinated me. I am also always on the look-out for books to inspire and interest my 12-year-old granddaughter Eden.

Harsu is a 12-year-old boy whose mother is Daama, the daughter of the Wind God. On the outside she looks like a woman but Daama is capable of changing into a stoat – hence the term werestoat.

When Harsu was 6 years old his father tried to teach Harsu about the world – also trying to teach him how to read.  Harsu developed a terrible fever-dream breaking out in a rash, and remembers his parents fighting.  By the time he recovered, his father was gone from the Palace.

Harsu’s mother started stealing babies as she wanted a perfect child, as thanks to the fever dream, Harsu wasn’t perfect anymore.  Daama’s behaviour continues to be of concern to Harsu as she constantly wants praise for her job as a mother and often doesn’t get it. Staff in the Palace walk out as her temper tantrums become worse.

Harsu is torn as while he loves his mother, he does not condone her behaviour. As he is part human and totally devoted to her, he can’t stand by and let her behaviour continue as she contrives to steal older children.  Moving via a mysterious portal, through history, finally settling in current-day New Zealand doesn’t seem to make any difference or contain her behaviour. It becomes even more bizarre.

The more I got into this book I realised that  this was a modern-day fairy tale. Not all fairy stories I grew up with necessarily had happy beginnings or endings. This has a great ending that most would be happy with.

Eden you are going to be the recipient of a new book! Enjoy, my darling girl!

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Harsu & The Werestoat
by Barbara Else
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572199

Book Review: Everyone Walks Away, by Eva Lindström

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_everyone_walks_awayThis is an eloquent picture book for children of all ages that deftly touches upon subjects of loneliness and exclusion.  We meet Frank who is standing alone while three friends are having fun. Frank goes home, cries into the pot and begins to cook. We don’t know what Frank is cooking and it is delicious to see the story emerge.

What is unique is the way the author has not made the hard topics soft and cuddly. Friendships are hard work and children know this. This book honours these emotions and children’s experiences by being honest about the sadness Frank feels. The ending wonderfully suggests the beginning possibilities of belonging, but doesn’t guarantee instant friendships.

The language is emotive; it provokes wonderful imagery and opens up conversations about how we experience emotions. Frank goes home and cries into a pot” is a sad statement to make about a sad event. I wonder how older children might also imagine the sadness our characters are feeling? The words are just enough to tell the story and gives space to talk about the issues the characters face.

Eva Lindströmis a comic artist and the illustrations wonderfully mirror the sparse text. At the beginning, there is only one scooter, one seat, even the leaves seem to be drooping. There is loneliness in the pictures. But, as the friends join Frank, we can find three bowls, three chairs and three pieces of toast. Every detail is thought about, including colour. Frank is seemingly downcast compared to the sunshine and brightness used to portray the three friends. Hope appears in the pictures as the characters begin a new, tentative friendship.

It is a quiet story that will touch the reader.  Everyone walks away is a real portrayal of friendships and belonging that deserves to be read aloud.

Reviewed by Sara Croft

Everyone walks away
by Eva Lindström
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571864

 

Book Review: Oink, by David Elliot

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_oinkSometimes all you want is some quiet time. Time to not hear your name, to have no one in your personal bubble, time for just yourself. I know it’s not just me!

Pig is in the same boat – er, bath. The bathroom is free. The water in the bath is the perfect temperature. Silence is golden. Until there’s a knock on the door …

David Elliot has a gift for expressions. Pig’s face runs the gamut from blissed-out, to puzzled, to concerned, then annoyed, then heartily fed up. Everyone else in the story is in various stages of delight at the shared bath time experience. It’s a great time (except for Pig), until someone forgets their manners.

I enlisted the help of my trusty side-kick, 7-year-old Lucas, to help me review this book, as my class were enjoying their summer holidays so I couldn’t read it to them. Lucas LOVED being able to read the limited text all by himself (the only text is pretty much animal vocalisations), and as a teacher I loved that he used the punctuation to add expression! He thought it was very funny, but interestingly, didn’t pick up on the subtleties of the illustration, especially the bath went wrong.

It’s always one of those things I wonder about when reading to children – should I point out detail in the pictures if the children don’t see the joke? I don’t know if there’s a right answer to that question, I think it depends if it’s going to be one of those stories you read over and over again, so there are opportunities for children to discover the joke for themselves. And Oink definitely deserves to be enjoyed over and over again. It’s a wonderful book for all ages, and a perfect gift for parents of toddlers, who will totally get it.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Oink
by David Elliot
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572144

Book Review: Stories of the Night, by Kitty Crowther

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_stories_of_the_nightI’d seen a lot of positive media for Stories of the Night and had been hoping that it might cross my path for review, so I was delighted to be able to receive it and judge for myself. I resisted opening it until I was with my 7 year-old friend Lucas, who loves books and stories as much as I do. It was well worth the wait.

Lucas was utterly transfixed by the story, he was highly interested in both story and illustrations, and we had lots of discussions as the book went on. He loved that the stories came to life for Little Bear at the end of the book. I loved the way that the stories left plenty of room for imagination, individual interpretation, and conversation. When Lucas’s mum Louise came into the room halfway through the story, Lucas was excited to share Stories of the Night with her too, and they more or less read it again.

There are so many studies that validate reading to children as being the perfect launch pad for school-readiness, but I think there is much more to reading together than that. The safety and security of snuggling up to a loved one while they read to you has got to be important for brain development and mental health. Decades later, many of my strongest childhood memories are of my dad reading to me at bedtime, and it was a special time of day two have two songs and two stories at my own daughter’s bedtime. Stories belongs to that canon of treasured shared books.

Stories of the Night makes total sense as a bedtime story, but will be great to read at any time. In something I hadn’t noticed, Louise pointed out that by washing the illustrations with a pink palette, it takes the scare factor away from “night time stories”, which would be children who might be afraid of the dark.

It’s highly recommended by all three of us for reading to children from 4 or 5 years of age.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Stories of the Night
by Kitty Crowther
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571970

 

Book Review: Inside the Villains, by Clotilde Perrin

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_inside_the_villains.jpgWe know all about the backgrounds, skills, and cleverness of the “good guys” in our beloved fairytales. Inside the Villains provides a behind the scenes look at the top three ‘bad guys’ from well-known stories in this uniquely crafted and awesomely oversized book.

Children (and adults!) will delight in lifting the flaps to reveal the surprises hiding inside the villains. Peeling back the fur of The Wolf will reveal Grandma’s nightgown and his brilliant ideas. You can find an assortment of fairytale characters by pulling open his ‘misery guts’ and see that Fresh meat is always in his heart. Be careful when loosening the buckles on The Giant’s coat as he keeps sharp knives in his pockets alongside his magic harp and sack of coins. A heavily tattooed chest tells us that this Giant is HANGRY for meat and lots of it! When you push aside The Witch’s feathery cloak you will be met with a surprisingly sweet frock and an adorable black cat but don’t be fooled because when taking a peek under the frilly layers you’ll soon uncover her terrified captive and terrible trophy case as well as her knickers!

This book is truly amazing and needs to be read and played with in order to be fully appreciated. The dark but vibrant cover illustrations drew me in immediately but what I found inside was a real treat. After the amusement of lifting all the flaps I was happy to discover a fold out spread accompanies each villain which includes strengths, weaknesses, top foods, favourite pastimes, prized possessions and physical attributes. As well as a library of other stories that you can find The Wolf, The Giant and The Witch in, each villain character spread includes one full and uncensored story — The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats, Jack and the Beanstalk and Alyoshka and Baba Yaga — that are sure to capture the attention and stimulate the imagination of young audiences and readers. These tales are not for the faint of heart though, as our villains meet their untimely demise at the hands of their cunning victims in some truly gruesome ways. Which may leave you thinking who are the real victims of these stories?

The villains truly are the stars of these dark fairytales and Clotilde Perrin has made them come alive with this remarkable interactive book.  Children will be enchanted (and just a little horrified) by the three stories told in this book but the real magic and pleasure will come from lifting the flaps to reveal the villains’ darkest secrets. A perfect gift for for any child who loves fairytales!

Reviewed by Alana Bird

Inside the Villains
by Clotilde Perrin
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571987

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