Book Review: Song of the River, by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Kimberly Andrews

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_song_of_the_river.jpg‘I wish I could see the sea’, Cam said to his Grandfather, who promptly replies ‘One day we will go there’.

But curiosity gets the better of the young boy and when he sees a trickle of water on the hillside among the trees he sets off to follow it down the mountain to see where it leads.

Cam takes us on a journey through the forest, farms, into towns, and past factories until he reaches the sea which ‘was wild and blue and beautiful.. and it went on forever.’

Song of the River is beautifully illustrated by Kimberly Andrews, who grew up in the mountains of Canada, and this is clearly reflected in the muted colours as well as the details among the pages. We see owls and squirrels hidden in trees, a sleeping bear, as well as beautiful forest flowers.

The story was originally published 25 years ago but this exquisite hard cover edition will bring joy to another generation of children as they learn how a trickle of water becomes a creek, a rushing stream, growing into a river which flows into the sea. Andrews’ art shows the reader where frogs and fish live among the rocks in the water, and the variety of boats included increases the children’s understanding of the importance of water transport.

Kimberley Andrews lives in a converted shipping container tiny house in Wellington. She illustrated Explore Aotearoa, and the first book she wrote and illustrated Puffin the Architect published in 2018, won the inaugural NZ Booklovers Best Children’s Book 2019.

Joy Cowley’s story is a wonderful tale which children can relate, and Andrews’ illustrations have breathed new life into all the pages, and I can imagine children and adults spending time exploring the details. The graphic map showing the river flowing from the mountains to the sea is also a nice inclusion on the inside front and back cover.

My grandchildren and I have loved this book, being drawn into the adventure as the voice of the waterfall sang, ‘Yes, yes. Come with me. I will take you to the sea.’

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Song of the River
by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Kimberly Andrews
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776572533

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: 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: Hush -A Kiwi Lullaby By Joy Cowley and Andrew Burdan

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_hush_a_kiwi_lullabyWe are so blessed in New Zealand to have writers such as Joy Cowley. She has continued over the years to provide appropriate, beautiful texts to share with our children. Hush is the latest addition and I think this book and song will quickly become a Kiwi classic.

The traditional lullaby by Brahms is given new words and a Maori translation. We have sheep and Mums, stars and tui, pāua and kauri in place of the traditional English images. The words fit the tune in a natural way and the illustrations use a soft palette to create an harmonious, restful scene.

I was delighted to see the book has an additional Māori text and even a glossary of Māori words. The next generation of Kiwis will be familiar with a bi-cultural approach at pre-school and school, so it is timely to see New Zealand publications acknowledging this.

This book would make a wonderful gift for a newborn, a toddler birthday or even to a Grandparent. It is a delight of word and image. As the final line states:
‘And when that silver fern’s no more….
You’re still the best baby in Aotearoa.’

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Hush: A Kiwi Lullaby
by Joy Cowley and Andrew Burdan
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433125

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

Joy Cowley: A Joyful Life, with John Allen

Joy Cowley is truly a living legend, and it was a privilege to be at this final event of NZ
Festival Writer’s Week. John Allen is himself a great speaker, and it was wonderful to hear the obvious admiration in his voice as he spoke with Cowley about her life and career to date.

Allen had a chat with one of Joy Cowley’s friends before coming to interview her, and she described her friend thus: “When I think of Joy, I think of Yoda: he is old, he is wise, he is strong, he is serene, he has seen it all, done everything, and loves it all.” Is this how Joy Cowley sees herself, asked Allen.

yoda

Cowley says, “I’m a very big container filled with stuff that’s come from other people, other places. There’s something within me that wants to process what people have given me. I relate to the world most strongly as a mother. But as far as looking in the mirror; as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing there.”

Cowley’s early life was covered briefly in her autobiography from 2010, Navigation: A Memoir. She has long been a risk-taker, she rode motorbikes, and was one of the first female Tiger Moth pilot in the country. There were frequent references throughout the chat to Cowley’s enjoyment of life on the wild side. She bungy-jumped to celebrate her 65th birthday, and got a tattoo to celebrate her 70th.

pingAllen wondered about her early reading life. “I was slow to come to reading,” Joy said, “My parents moved around a lot when I was young, I had been to 5 different schools by the age of 7.” At that stage in school, kids were taught reading by phonetics, which made no sense to her. The first book she remembers reading by herself was a picture book called Ping – a marvellous adventure of a duck. “And I finished it and started it again, and the story was the same. This was the first time I’d encountered the constancy of print.”

Her family were great storytellers, but of course stories changed as they grew. “The stability of story is very important, especially if you are from a muddly home, as I am.” When she was about 9, she started telling stories to her sisters, using universal stories but changing the details. These stories were always about powerful children, who could do anything. “I made these into our stories.” Cowley later noted that she wasn’t young as a child – she was the eldest, the responsible one, while her parents were often ill and unpredictable.

pp_joy_cowleyPowerless kids empower themselves through stories, says Cowley. “It’s very important that kids are made powerful. In their stories children may solve adults’ problems, but adults can’t solve children’s problems.” To give a child a positive, empowering world in a story is very important.

Cowley uses her lived experience in her fiction. “Fiction writers are dealing with reality, but taking it to another level. They are deconstructing and reconstructing the ingredients of their stories, and pouring them out, making something new.”

After a brief discussion of Cowley’s adult novels, the discussion moved on to young writers using writing as therapy – as Cowley herself did. “You go deep when you are writing. If it is bleak, good – write it, but not for children.” She is concerned by the bleakness in many YA novels. You can empathise, but not sympathise.

Dreams are a recurring theme in Cowley’s writing. “They are important to me, mainly because I remember my dreams. Sometimes they are just the muddle of the day, but then there are messages that take you home to yourself.” There was also a longer discussion about spirituality, and the place of religion in Cowley’s life.

If fascinates Allen that her books have travelled so well around the world, despite their clear kiwi character. Cowley says, “I like to see a strong sense of place in any book. It is important to see where the character is and what the child is doing there. “

As a child, Cowley read so many stories giving children serious messages about being good and responsible. “I used to wish I could be twins so one could be good and one could be bad. There are stories by adults that place adult expectation on children. But my first duty to a reader is to entertain.

“I work with children who are reluctant readers. No one can be tense when they are laughing.”

Her road to publication wasn’t exactly straight-forward. She says, “My writing was always invisible to me. I had no idea of how to evaluate my writing. I didn’t know until I got some feedback, how to begin.” The person who she owes her breakthrough to was Monty Holcroft, who edited The Listener when her first story was accepted – he asked her how many times she had reworked her stories. “Being a writer is one thing, but learning to be an editor is another. I still need a good editor to work on my manuscripts. I very easily go into self-doubt.”

cv_snake_and_lizardAllen wondered about her eponymous characters snake and lizard – are they Cowley and her husband Terry Coles? “Yes” she says, “I firmly believe that friendship is not made of sameness, but the accommodation of differences.” They married in mid-life, which was the right time for them – and now they are a unit. In Snake and Lizard, Terry is represented by snake and Joy is represented by Lizard. Joy Cowley and Gavin Bishop are currently working on a third in the series, to be called Helper and Helper, which she then read an excerpt from.

In contrast to Sally Gardner about the UK education system, Joy Cowley loves the kiwi education system. New Zealanders are in the top 10 in the world in many different areas, because our education system encourages individual potential. There issomething in the New Zealand character that will give anything a go, and that will persist.

cv_road_to_ratenburgTake heed, Elizabeth Heritage – Joy Cowley loves rats! The Road to Ratenburg is her next Gecko Press publication, about some rats that are made homeless. A bit like Pilgrim’s Progress, apparently – but for rats.

This was a fantastic look into the mind of a legend. I was second in the signing queue, with my well-loved copy of Just One More. It will be Cowley’s 80th birthday this year, and to celebrate this, everybody who attended received a greeting card from Gecko Press, featuring a print of one of Gavin Bishop’s illustrations for the next Snake & Lizard book.

Attended and reviewed by Sarah Forster
NB: I have just gone to Nielsen to find something by Joy Cowley, and come up with 1480 hits for her author name. Now that is a publishing backlist!

Booksellers NZ has been privileged to attend and report on twenty-five world-class events over the last four days. I’d like to give a huge shout-out to Elizabeth Heritage, who bore a full load beginning last Tuesday with Henry Marsh; to Sarah McMullan, whose account of the Robert Dessaix event was fantastic, and to Emma Shi, who attended the more poetry-focused events on the programme. Thank-you also to Kathryn Carmody and Claire Mabey, for being amazing organisers; and to the Radio NZ bloggers, Charlotte Graham and Ellen Falconer, who did an incredible blow-by-blow account of all the activities of the weekend.

Now we have the Auckland Writer’s Festival to look forward to!

Book Review: Hush: A Kiwi Lullaby, by Joy Cowley & Andrew Burdan

cv_hush_a_kiwi_lullabyAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

Joy Cowley is a much-loved New Zealand writer of adult and children’s books. She has written this rather delightful version of a well-known children’s lullaby.

Andrew Burdan is a Wellington based illustrator and speaker of Maori.

When I first flicked through this book I was rather drawn to the illustrations. They are fresh and rather beautiful – you could almost see them as art work adorning your walls. To have a book that New Zealand children can identify with is rather special. My singing is rather abysmal and so instead I more or less read it in a reading voice!

Hush little baby, and go to sleep,
Mama’s going to give you a woolly sheep

Are the opening words to this version with –
And when that silver fern’s no more ……..
you’re still the best baby in Aotearoa.

The second half of this book has the same lullaby in Maori. I did attempt to sing this, but again not being a singer or a student in Te Reo Maori my attempts were appalling. When I made this comment to 4-year-old Abby, she was very kind saying – “you’re doing it Grandma,” with total admiration in her voice. 4-year-olds aren’t always the most discerning of creatures. When Pa was reading this book to 7 ½ month old Quin, and then got to the Maori version, she leaned over to me and whispered “He’s actually rather good.” It was all I could do to keep a straight face.

This book would make a fabulous addition to any child’s library. The age range recommendation is 2 – 4 years, Quinn at 7 ½ months enjoyed having this book read/sung to her.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Hush: A Kiwi Lullaby
by Joy Cowley & Andrew Burdan
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775432968