Book Review: The Kiwi – Endangered New Zealand Icon, by Matt Elliott

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the-kiwi.jpgThe Kiwi has long held a special place in the hearts of most New Zealanders. Few of us have actually seen or heard one, but we know all about them. Or do we? Matt Elliott has embarked on an exciting journey to inform his reader about this amazing bird.

The subtitle gives you a clue to his approach. ‘Endangered’ allows him to look at the scientific facts. He describes all five species with illustrations and locations. He writes about sanctuaries both in New Zealand and overseas.  The dangers to the Kiwi include stoats, dogs and humans. His chapter on the use of 1080 is perhaps one of the clearest, most reasoned pieces of writing on 1080 use that I have read.

‘New Zealand’ includes kiwis importance to Māori as well as the use of the Kiwi on products and in advertising campaigns. The giant Kiwi in Eketahuna gets a mention, along with Kiwi pies and Kiwifruit.

‘Icon’ reminds us that we are known as kiwis ourselves when travelling. Who could forget the Buy NZ Made campaign that used the kiwi to remind us to support local businesses?

The Kiwi is the result of some extensive research, unearthing a wealth of little known information. I learnt that Roy Rogers sang about The Kee Wee Bird. I only remembered his song about the Little White Duck. Matt Elliott is an award-winning author writing for both adults and children. His love of history and skills as a researcher are evident in this book.

The illustrations and layout of The Kiwi make this an ideal introduction to our special bird. Both visitors and locals will discover a treasure trove of information between the covers. The final illustration by the author’s 5-year-old son begs the question: Will there still be Kiwi for his son to celebrate in 50 years.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Kiwi: Endangered New Zealand Icon
by Matt Elliott
Published by Imagination Press
ISBN 9780995110458

Book Review: Twinkle Twinkle Matariki, by Rebecca Larsen

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_twinkle_twinkle_matarikiRebecca Larsen continues to write and illustrate picture books with a true New Zealand flavour. She has already delighted young audiences with Row Row Your Waka and Tane Mahuta Has a Forest. In Twinkle Twinkle Matariki, we enjoy another musical tale. The appearance of Matariki, the Southern Cross, in our skies, has become the centrepiece of celebrations across the country. In Christchurch, we had a whole week of events. This book supports pre-schools and Junior classes in their activities. My own grandaughter already knew the story and song from her daycare centre. She was able to explain the ideas using the illustrations to help read the text.

Larsen uses simple illustrations based on New Zealand plants and animals. Her pictures are colourful and quirky. The text is in Maori and English so allows for a bi-cultural Reading. The inclusion of a CD song track allows the less musically inclined to enjoy the song. I found the music at a good pitch and speed to play to a class of 5 year olds.

Twinkle Twinkle Matariki is a new take on an old favourite. The pleasure of setting the song in Aotearoa allows an inclusive celebration of Matariki. This is a great addition to any family bookshelf.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Twinkle Twinkle Matariki
written and illustrated by Rebecca Larsen
Published by Imagination Press
ISBN 9780995114227

Book Review: Pioneer Women, edited by Sarah Ell

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_pioneer_womenPioneer Women is the first title in The New Zealand Series. These books aim to support Intermediate and Secondary students, following the Social Studies Curriculum. This first book looks at the lives of 18 European women as they lived and travelled in the early days of settlement. The book explains that while there are no Māori women included, they too were pioneers in the settlement and survival in a new land.

The greatest blessing of the book is the light editorial hand of Sarah Ell. She has used letters, journals, sketches and photos from a variety of sources. After a short introduction about each writer, Ell lets the women tell of their experiences first hand with very little editing. The voices are varied and authentic. Each Chapter deals with a different aspect of early life from The Voyage, A New Life, Adventure and Exploration, Disaster and War, to Work. Three or four women are included in each chapter. The very first writer, known only as Maggie, succinctly summarises the sort of people who should or should not take the offer of a new life. This is honest, heartfelt advice and would be a brilliant starter for a classroom discussion on who should go and who should stay.

However, my favourite story comes from Jane Maria Richmond who arrived in Auckland in 1853. It is subtitled, “In my element”. She writes about the joy of hard work, the freedom from social constraints and the delight she feels in coming to New Zealand. In her words, “I can say most emphatically that I am disappointed in no single particular, that as far as I can see we acted most wisely in coming here”. Hers is a story of the success many women made of the terrible conditions through hard work and a dogged persistence.

As a short read, this book is a window into the world of our early New Zealand pioneering women. It shows fortitude in the face of hardship and delight in the comfort and happiness of families. For students it provides material to begin the search into their own journey to New Zealand.

reviewed by Kathy Watson

Pioneer Women
Edited by Sarah Ell
Published by Oratia Books
ISBN 9780947506599

Book Review: Landfall 237, edited by Emma Neale

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_landfall_237.jpgEstablished in 1947, Landfall continues to play an important role in supporting and showcasing writing and art within New Zealand. This autumn edition is no exception. Like unwrapping presents on Christmas Day, opening Landfall 237 reveals a wealth of artistic delight. The announcement of the winners of the 2019 Charles Brasch Young Essay Writing Competition gives this edition extra joy. The Judges’ remarks on the overall standards and in particular about the three winners, give insight into the future of writing through our talented youth. Jack McConnell’s The Taniwha, Moderation of Our Human Pursuits is included.

While I enjoyed new works from some of my favourite, established writers like Cilla McQueen’s Poem for My Tokotoko, and Peter Bland’s America, I enjoyed new ideas, rhythms and clever language constructions from some new writers.

This edition celebrates the centennial of Ruth Dallas, one of the poets most published in Landfall from 1947-66. John Geraets in Ruth Dallas’ poem Turning cleverly combines her writing with an historical and literary timeline. I liked the way this opened up her work afresh. Her poetry is all but neglected these days so it was a pleasure to see such a beautiful tribute.

The featured artists in Landfall 237 are Sharon Singer, Ngahuia Harrison and Peter Trevelyan. Again, their portfolios show a fresh approach in painting and photography.

orthodoxy
Peter Trevelyan’s work orthodoxy (as above) featured on the last page. To me it summed up the precision and beauty of the printed word. Therefore, from the first page with promising new writers, to the final visual statement of orthodoxy this Landfall is a present worth unwrapping.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Landfall 237: Autumn 2019
Edited by Emma Neale
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781988531731

 

Book Review: Jobs, Robots and Us – Why the future of work in New Zealand is in our hands, by Kinley Salmon

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_jobs_robots_and_us.jpgWinter is a good time to take stock of our own lives, issues in society and the purpose of life, work and technology. It is a time of reflection to enable us to look ahead. Kinley Salmon provides an excellent resource to help with our musings. Here is a book that includes social history, science, statistics, expert opinion and personal experiences. What part does technology play in the future of our nation and are we ready to embrace change? This book gives a balanced and very well-organised response. The chapter topics are clearly outlined in the introduction and so enable the reader to gain an overview before further reading. I found this helpful as the summary of content allowed me to select the areas of my own interest to read first. Are we prepared for changes and how best can we enable these?

Kinley Salmon grew up in Nelson and now works as an economist in Washington DC. His qualifications in Public Administration in International Development from Harvard, combined with his New Zealand upbringing, give him a unique perspective on the issue of work and technology.

In this book, he addresses ideas such as the speed of adoption and diffusion of technology, the lack of know-how to enable change and how to sustain such change. This book is made accessible by the use of examples from New Zealand. The Novopay debacle is given as an example of innovation without good preparation. Likewise, a taxi driver using Tom-tom rather than Google Maps or Waze, which give real time traffic information, shows an unwillingness to adapt new technologies.

I was interested in his discussion of the impact of new immigrants and recent returnees as bringing new ideas back to our shores. He gives evidence that they do make a difference in our ability to take up new technologies.

In the concluding chapter, Salmon states that the future of work in New Zealand is not yet written, but sits with individuals, businesses, iwi, communities and government to be shaped. As a teacher, I found this work challenging but hopeful. My students will play an important part in deciding what work will look like but the environment that enables such changes, lies with my generation.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Jobs, Robots and Us: Why the future of work in New Zealand is in our hands
by Kinley Salmon
Published by BWB
ISBN 9781988545882

Book Review: Finding Frances Hodgkins, by Mary Kisler

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_finding_frances_hodgkins.jpgThis year marks 150 years since the birth of artist, Frances Hodgkins. Mary Kisler, Senior Curator, Mackelvie Collection, International Art at Auckland Art Gallery has written a remarkable book on the life and works of Frances Hodgkins. Her decision to travel to Europe and visit as many of the places where Hodgkins painted has resulted in a travelogue of Hodgkins’ work and the landscapes that inspired her. Kisler also uses Hodgkins’ diary to give us an understanding of the people and events which were so important in the paintings.

Arriving in 1901, Hodgkins was to spend most of her life in Europe with only two brief visits home to New Zealand. During these years she moved on average six times each year, only pausing during the wars when she could not visit her favourite places in France, North Africa, Holland and Spain. She enjoyed the company of others on her travels and accepted offers from friends and acquaintances to stay in new places. Kisler makes wonderful use of Hodgkins’ diaries to describe not only the landscapes, but also the social events that influence her life. Armed with photographs of Hodgkins’ paintings and her diaries and letters, it was a mammoth task to try to match each work to a specific place. While sometimes, this is achieved, a growing awareness of Hodgkins’ clever manipulation of form and space, helps Kisler to understand the way works are often composed of various elements rearranged by the artist.

I was impressed by the gentle patience of Kisler, who also chose companions for her travels. Language, lack of signage and the ravages of time, made her task daunting. The colour plates that sit alongside the text help the reader to follow the development of Hodgkins’ art. Her fascination with shapes and light, and the way she reduces a scene to blocks of colour, helped me better appreciate her work.

Here is a tribute to a truly great New Zealand artist. By melding her diaries, artworks and the actual landscape together, we arrive in awe of the output and quality of work that Frances Hodgkins produced. This was her life, and she worked hard at her craft, which was not always easy. My hope is that the touring exhibition of her work allows us a chance to truly stand in wonder at her works.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Finding Frances Hodgkins
by Mary Kisler
Published by Massey University Press
ISBN 9780995102972

Book Review: Historic Sheep Stations of New Zealand, by Colin Wheeler

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_historic_sheep_stations_of_new_zealandSheep, mountains, rugged people and painting. All these are important parts of the New Zealand psyche. They help to define us and the original publication of this book drew them together in a wonderful way.

It is now 50 years since Colin Wheeler and his wife, Phyllis, took to the road and travelled North and South Islands meeting with the owners, talking, sketching and painting the sheep stations of New Zealand. The three original books are now combined into one and in this limited edition; we can once again enjoy the stories and images captured between 1967 and 1972.

Colin Wheeler retired from teaching art at Waitaki Boys High School to paint, sometimes spending 70 hours a week at his easel. His artworks capture both the huge magnificence of mountain and sky, but also the oft-missed details in the woolshed or cookhouse. Each book included a detailed map showing location, a summary of the people and the history of the station, a large coloured painting and finally a number of smaller sketches. In the original publication, the plates were on glossy paper and separate to the text, but in this edition, they are part of the book. Changes in printing techniques ensure the quality of the original plates is maintained.

I was the proud owner of the first edition of Historic Sheep Stations of the South Island. Aged 11, I copied the flyer for the book in a painting and my teacher, Sister Winifred, arranged a local man to frame it. I gave it to my parents and they were astounded. I still have that painting and for my next birthday, they bought me the book. It was an expensive publication and I treasure it still, 50 years on. So this book set me on an artistic path for the rest of my life. Thank you, Colin Wheeler.

Over the years, I have looked for copies to complete the set of three books by Colin Wheeler, but unsuccessfully. This new edition is a joy to own. It still holds the magic of mountain and farm. These were the years when sheep farming was the most important agricultural industry in New Zealand. It was also at this time that Mona Anderson wrote her record of station life in A River Rules my Life. The country was in awe of the people who chose to live and work on sheep stations, often in remote parts of New Zealand.

My sister worked at Grasmere station for one season and my brother now runs one of the stations. This book captures for them the stories and the landscape. It is a great gift for anyone who has grown up in the 60’s and 70’s with the stories of the backcountry as their heritage. I cannot think of a better present for a 60th or 70th birthday.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Historic Sheep Stations of New Zealand
by Colin Wheeler
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9781775541325