Book Review: The Marble Maker, by Sacha Cotter, Illustrations by Josh Morgan

 

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

the-marble-maker“Fire up the stoves! Wind up the cranks! Open the hatch! It’s marble-making time!” And what a marble-making session it is! The self-proclaimed Queen of the Marble Season is a girl on a mission – to be included as a marble-maker extraordinaire in the pages of The Book of Marbles. She has already created marbles following recipes in the book and her big dream is to join other Magnificent Marble Makers by coming up with her own creation.

But just what will be magnificent enough? Off she goes to her lab, joined by her trusty assistant Winston the sheep (because every inventor needs a sheep assistant!), and so begins a slightly chaotic and funny creative process. Readers will enjoy the crazy ingredients considered including: the teeth bling from a retired rapper, three pints of swooshy night air and one hefty snort from a yeti too tired to sleep. The colourful illustrations offer lots of action and details to giggle at, and the marble season scene under a pohutakawa tree evokes the author’s own childhood memories of school marble fun and magic – the inspiration for the story.

How brilliant! To see a young girl keen on invention and fully embracing her passion and dream. With concerns about the gender differential in STEM subjects (the number of girls continuing with science, technology, engineering and mathematics decreases as they progress through school), it is great to have an enthusiastic female inventor/scientist buzzing about her lab filled with beakers and cauldrons. Cotter and Morgan have shown that fun can be found in STEM fields and that it is cool to enjoy science – the Queen of Marbles displays her passion in the badge on her coat: an atomic whirl symbol containing a love heart.

Delivered with energetic and engaging text, there is a powerful positive message hiding within the fun language and crazy scenes:  a message of encouragement and of never giving up, even when you fail. Encouraging others to achieve, that they too may realise their dream is also a worthy message to pick up from Winston and also in the closing pages: “But there are lots of blank pages, too. That’s because there’s always room for more Magnificent Marble Makers. And you never know who might be next.”

This is the second collaboration by Cotter and Morgan; they have previously worked on the award winning Keys, also published by Huia and offered in Te Reo Maori and English. The Marble Maker is a fantastic creation; rich in detail, well written, fun and appealing – it’s sure to be a hit!

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

The Marble Maker
by Sacha Cotter, Illustrations by Josh Morgan
Huia Publishers, 2016
ISBN: 9781775502241

Junior Fiction Shorts #2: Life According to Dani, Rona, and The Sam & Lucy Fables

There are a number of strong independent publishers based in Wellington, and these three books prove the point. Each of them is individual and necessary, and a lot of fun.

Life According to Dani, by Rose Lagercrantz and Eva Eriksson

cv_life_according_to_daniThis is the fourth in this beautiful series exploring Dani’s life, and the emotional world our children have within them. Dani is in her happy place, with her best friend Ella on Ella’s part-time island, swimming in the sea, and making cookbooks, and selling buns and tea to the tourists who come by on the ferry. But the reason she is there is not so happy: her dad is still recovering from being run over by a car, and has been in hospital for months. Then one night, dad doesn’t phone…

As with many of Gecko’s writers, Lagercrantz and Eriksson have an uncanny way of getting under the skin of children and understanding their complicated lives – not underestimating them. I have most of the books in this series (and hadn’t realised I had missed one), and my son has benefited from them in times when he has been unsure of himself. The joy, and the sadness, of childhood is beautifully captured. Highly recommended for kids aged 4 – 9.

Life According to Dani
by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570713

Rona
by Chris Szekely and Josh Morgan

To be Released on 30 November 2016
cv_ronaIn contrast with Frankie Potts, Rona is a thoroughly New Zealand heroine, who when born was ‘so busy arguing she forgot to cry.’ She lives with her grandparents, and is part of a fantastic whanau. As the book opens, her cousin Jessie has come to stay for the school holidays. They go bridge-jumping and swimming in the local river, and Rona takes joy in playing pranks on her cousin, who is under her thrall. One of these pranks goes awry, with Rona’s pride & joy, a gold-trimmed Royal wedding mug, breaking in half as a result. Easy enough to fix, if it wasn’t for Granddad’s dog Snuffy…

There are two stories in this book, and the second story sees Rona tell some tall tales about her name’s origin at school, and deal with the consequences of plagiarising her uncle’s poem, while at home she helps nanna get the house ready for Christmas, with a brilliant bunch of family members. This is all about the comfort of routine, as Rona helps grandma bake the Christmas cake, granddad mow the lawn – and they go and buy a tree from the service station for once, which Rona keeps secret from grandma. Illustrations throughout from Josh Morgan add another element of fun to a very enjoyable story. This is a hugely relatable and comforting story, perfect to share with or gift to a child age 5-8.

Rona
by Chris Szekely and Josh Morgan
Published by Huia Publishing
ISBN 9781775501985

The Sam & Lucy Fables, by Alan Bagnall & Sarah Wilkins

cv_the_sam_and_lucy_fablesSam & Lucy are some pretty darn wise pigs. These are their stories, slightly reminiscent in format of Snake & Lizard, but with a fable that sees us learn something new about why the world is as it is at the end of each story. Every story has a guaranteed ‘is that true?!’ at the end of it, and Sarah Wilkins’ illustrations add wistful joy to each of the tales, each of which is more outlandish than the next.

My favourite fables are those with just the pigs, putting the world to rights – my absolute favourite being the Bus Stop story (hint: there’s always a bus there.) I highly recommend this for a book to read this holidays, perhaps in the back of a car on the way to a camping trip, where you may just see some flying carpets.

The Sam & Lucy Fables
by Alan Bagnall & Sarah Wilkins
Published by Submarine, with the help of Whitireia Publishing
ISBN 9780994129987

 

There are a couple more books I’d like to mention in the independent vein of things, which have landed on my desk more recently. Snails, Spells and Snazzlepops by Robyn Cooper is another from the Submarine imprint of Makaro Press, and looks like great fun; and if Lily Max: Slope, Style, Fashion from Luncheon Sausage Books is as good as the first Lily Max, (Satin, Scissors, Frock) it’s sure to be a hit. Jane Bloomfield has created an addictive character in Lily Max, and I look forward to reading this excerpt in her adventures.

All books reviewed by Sarah Forster 
And check out the first part of her junior fiction round-up here! 

 

Book Review: Keys, by Sacha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_keys

My four-year-old refers to this book as ‘Daddy’s Jokey Book’. She clearly understands the ‘special’ imagination all fathers to twist everyday objects, like a set of keys, into a clever narrative device – a prop on which to build a tall tale or two; spin a yarn as long as a Taranaki fence line.

In this charming picture book, Dad is tucking his daughter in for the night. But she’s distracted by his demanding job and the hours he must keep, away from her. So he tells her these fantastical little stories around each of the keys on his ring-set and, more importantly, what they unlock! There’s a “zippenburger” that takes him to work every day; an amazing rocket which he uses to harvest and collect space noodles; he uncovers an incredible treasure box buried in a dense a creepy jungle; he gains access to a chocolate biscuit factory and taste tests all the products; and he visits a paddock where he takes rides on a huge woolly mammoth that only eats yellow coloured food.

Masterton’s Josh Morgan is an illustrator with a modern but retro touch. His illustrations added levels of familiarity and a twist of quirkiness to the story, without distracting from the topic at hand. Fans of the band Urban Tramper might recognise his style from their album artwork. He’s branching out into children’s books with refreshing originality. The pictures are bright and colourful without giving too much away. His use of watercolours was a bold choice, but warranted here, as other illustrators could be tempted to go overboard on the detail and spoil the child’s right to use their own imagination to fill in the gaps.

I love Sacha Cotter’s vibrant and vivid imagination. Cotter works in libraries and she has a Graduate Diploma in Teaching and Learning, with experience teaching both here and in Spain. So she knows about the love of a good story, what it can do for children, to expand the mind whilst focusing on the everyday and mundane – like keys. She’s also done some film work, including the screenplay ‘Wasabi Peas’, which was a semi-finalist in the LA Comedy Shorts Film Festival 2013.

This might be Sacha’s first book but it won’t be the last and I’m looking forward to seeing where she goes next. And so is my four year old! (Incidentally, this one’s available in te Reo as well. Extra bonus!).

Reviewed by Tim Gruar and his daughter

Keys
by Sasha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775501619