Book Review: New Zealand – A Painted Journey, by Graham Young

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_new_zealand_a_painted_journeyGraham Young’s paintings provide a charming and idiosyncratic view of New Zealand life, mostly from the view of a summer tourist. The paintings are full of light and bold colours, and reproduced particularly well, with a sympathetic design.

The book has something of a classical, sometime rustic feel, as it highlights older structures, often restored, or the rusting corrugated iron of old garages and aging baches. Most of the settings are on the coastline, but Young begins his journey away from the sea, in Central Otago, in the Turner/Sydney country. Indeed, Young’s Omakau rail shed is very similar to Graham Sydney’s more famous Wedderburn ’75, except that Young’s paint brings brighter colours and deeper red to the old shed.

The Central Otago rail trail has brought parts of the region to life, and helped develop new facilities in otherwise ageing buildings and little sheds. But the corrugated iron shed of the Lowburn Collie Dog Club indicates how good Young is at reproducing signage, both in logos and writing, and providing a hint of humour within the image.

After a quick trip through the West Coast and Abel Tasman National Park we see some of the other things that Young likes to paint: modes of transport. There are kayaks in the Park; and a carpark with heavy-laden old examples of a Mini, a VW Beetle, and a Morris Minor next to each other. All three models appear again in the North Island, as well as the VW combi van, and the odd Holden Kingswood.

Following a few pages highlighting the Taranaki region, the rest of Young’s paintings come from the Auckland region, city and countryside, and from Northland. So there are more beach scenes with people on summer excursions; many old baches, caravans and garages for car and kayaks; and more old cars laden with luggage. The most effective painting involves a double page spread of three baches with a lot of characteristics details, including a variety of craft, surfboards and hanging towels.

Apart from all this summer bliss, Graham Young has a particular interest in the suburban dairy, and Auckland shop frontages in general. This is partly due to the architecture, and to capture the dairy’s feel before they disappear. But a closer look highlights his fascination with signage, especially the reproduction of magazine billboards, including some familiar celebrities with headlines he has made up.

So all in all this is a modest but fascinating slice of life collection, where Young celebrates the traditional or timeless summer holiday and some iconic Kiwi architecture. In a way his written commentaries are interesting but superfluous.

Reviewed by Simon Boyce

New Zealand: a Painted Journey
By Graham Young
Published by New Holland Publishers
ISBN 9781869664893


Book Review: New Zealand Adventures by Rail, by Denis Dwyer

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_new_Zealand_adventures_by_railWhen I first received this book my first thoughts were ‘what do I know about trains? I’ve hardly ever been on one,’ but how wrong could I be. This is an extremely entertaining account of Denis Dwyer’s fascination with all things trains and the amazing train journeys around New Zealand. And as it turned out, I actually have been on quite a number of the train journeys that Denis writes about in this book.

This book is divided into chapters detailing the different train journeys that Denis, and occasionally his wife Dale, have traveled on around the country. I have experienced the Capital Connection, Wellington suburban from the Kāpiti coast into Wellington, and I agree that it is a great journey with such contrasting scenery.

Glenbrook Vintage Railway is another that Dwyer describes his experience of, talking to the volunteers that happily give up their leisure time to spend hours talking to people and taking people on the wonderful railway that has been re-built and maintained by many volunteers over a lot of years. Thomas the Tank Engine weekends have been a great drawcard to families, including my own. My grandchildren absolutely loved the whole experience. Well worth a trip out there.

Driving Creek Railway is another wonderful rail trip. Travelling up to the Coromandel, Barry Brickell started this railway as a means to transport potting clay to his workshop. The bush had all been decimated by Kāuri logging. Barry had a vision of replanting and restoring the native bush. The railway was later developed to carry tourists. Brickell made sure his vision would carry on without him by putting the entire operation into a trust so that it will continue on into perpetuity.

One of my very favourite rail journeys, which Dwyer describes, was the TranzAlpine from Christchurch to Greymouth. This is a wonderful journey with so much incredible scenery to enjoy.

I really enjoyed this book with Denis’s various anecdotes about people working on the rail lines, on the trains during the journeys and the passengers. In an era where everything is about rushing and getting places in record times it’s wonderful to be able to kick back and enjoy a more leisurely way of travel. It is a great way to see a country.

This book would be a great present for Christmas for someone in the family that you know enjoys train journeys.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

New Zealand Adventures by Rail
by Denis Dwyer
Published by New Holland Publishers
ISBN 9781869664916

Book Review: Down a Country Road, by Tony Orman

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_down_a_country_roadWhat is it that has made and still makes New Zealand’s back country – and in particular the South Island high country – so indelibly endearing to so many?

Tony Orman asks that question in the introduction of his collection of stories about some colourful personalities who have made the remote back country of the South Island their home.

He says ‘a couple of decades ago I set out to collect stories from rural New Zealand with a view to publishing a book. I got leads from friends and fellow journalists while others I just stumbled across while deerstalking and trout fishing.’

Down a Country Road includes twenty four stories of men and women whose lives are entwined in rural New Zealand from the swagmen of the 1930s to a third generation champion dog trialist.

Orman has included an interesting collection of photographs, some old black and white, as well as coloured, which add great interest to his stories and I love the ink drawings by Jim Ayers.

Having been in the farming industry for over forty years I have known a number of people who were very clever at putting pen to paper with a rhyme or verse to express  their thoughts, so I enjoyed the inclusion of the appropriate poetry in this publication. Jim Morris farmed in the Ahuriri Valley and has seen big changes in farming over his career, as he suggests in this verse,

‘They mutter of erosion
In their offices of glass,
And say this block should be retired
Before another season’s past.

They speak of soil and water
And the values they hold grand,
Then go and build another suburb
On some market garden land!’

Tony Orman lives in Marlborough and regularly writes for the Nelson-Marlborough Farming and other agricultural and outdoor publications. A life time interest in trout fishing and deerstalking has seen him publish a number of books on recreational fishing, deerstalking and the wilderness. His latest work will be of interest to anyone who spends time outdoors, it is an easy read, the stories are a good length and can be read individually as the mood takes one.

His final yarn about ghosts is fascinating, I don’t claim any connection with James MacIntosh but it is an interesting tale, and I have been in the Vulcan hotel but not seen the ghostly apparition in room one.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Down a Country Road
by Tony Orman
Published by New Holland Publishers
ISBN 9781869664947

Book Review: Gentle Giant – Wētāpunga, by Annemarie Florian & Terry Fitzgibbon

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_gentle_giantThis non-fiction meets poetic story about New Zealand’s largest insect is an amazing insight into the history and life of a wētā. It begins with some intriguing facts about the enormous size of wētā and how it came to make its home in Aotearoa before exploring its breeding, eating and survival habits, and taking a look at how human activity and the introduction of mammals has affected its way of life.

Young children are curious about the living world and seem to have endless questions about the many creatures that inhabit the earth. Annemarie Florian has created an amazing source of reference for children and adults with this book and it is clear that a lot of research and passion about New Zealand’s creatures has gone into Gentle Giant. The poetic narrative paired with the rich illustrations makes it a versatile teaching tool as it can be used as a story book as well as in-depth research tool.

If you were a fan of Florian’s award winning book KIWI: the real story or you have a young class or little explorer of your own who is curious about the wētā, you need to get your hands on a copy of Gentle Giant: Wētāpunga.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

Gentle Giant: Wētāpunga
by Annemarie Florian
Published by New Holland Publishers
ISBN 9781869664817

Book Review: Armistice Day: The New Zealand Story, by Philippa Werry

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_armistice_dayIt is heartening to see that the war years, while distant to the current generation, are still being recorded in an easily accessible way for children and young adults. Philippa Werry has been very active in writing and compiling stories from New Zealand. Her Waitangi Day and Anzac Day books are a must in every school library.

This title is a little harder to place. The idea of Armistice Day will not be familiar to most New Zealanders. We tend to remember the events of the wars in our ANZAC ceremonies and publications. This book looks at the ends of wars: what happened, how they were later remembered and the aftermath of war both abroad but especially in New Zealand. It also looks at our place both in the United Nations and in peacekeeping operations.

The strongest aspect of the book is the wonderful photos of memorials, events and documents related to the coming of peace. Philippa Werry’s research has seen her include some really interesting and unexpected images. I was at Akaroa when I read the book and was delighted to see the Akaroa Junior Red Cross represented. These images really help to put a face to the events after the wars.

The chapters clearly tell the story and are easy to follow. I think it would be wonderful to see students taking this focus and relating it to their local communities. They will see their local War Memorial,  Memorial Drive, Memorial Hall, Memorial Plunket Rooms in a brand new light. It helps to remind us all that while the wars ended, people’s memories of those wars did  not. This book helps us understand the continuing importance of peace in our time and the part we all play in this.

Armistice Day, while an unfamiliar term, is an excellent resource for students of war, but more importantly, of peace.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Armistice Day: The New Zealand Story
by Philippa Werry
Published by New Holland Publishers
ISBN 9781869664411

Book Review: New Zealand: A Painted Country, designed & edited by Denis Robinson

cv_new_zealand-a_painted_cuntryAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

“New Zealand is a country of outstanding natural beauty,” plainly states the Rt Hon. Helen Clark in her foreword to this book. “Generations of New Zealand artists have drawn inspiration from our spectacular landscapes for their paintings…”

Denis Robinson, the progenitor and designer of New Zealand: A Painted Country and a celebrated champion of the arts, agreed with these statements. The intertwined themes of natural beauty and artistic representation of that beauty led Robinson to invite more than thirty New Zealand artists of this generation to contribute works inspired by their chosen region along with a short written piece expressing their thoughts on the region. In Robinson’s words, the resultant book reflects a journey that takes the reader from South to North through the eyes of these contemporary artists, who number among this country’s most popular. The publication also acts as a portfolio, providing insights into the wider spectrum of styles and techniques used to capture colour and light, to illuminate personal connection to landscape.

Skilfully realised works of art certainly do consistently grace these pages, and the articulate written accompaniment makes explicit the connections felt by the artists, established names as well as emerging painters who are, according to Robinson, “beginning to gain large followings, by producing art that appeals to an appreciative market.” Is this to suggest that we as human beings are drawn to make, view, buy and display finely wrought landscape paintings (and the books containing reproductions)? And if so, why?

There are myriad possible answers to this question. Aesthetic pleasure, including an awed response to grandeur, plays a large part: the subject material is often a composed work of art in itself, harmoniously arranged in terms of colour, texture and spatial relationship. The painter is on to a winner. Nostalgia too may play a part for the painter and the viewer, provoking longing for a remembered past or an ideal future. (Artist Alison Gilmour recalls magical holidays on the Tutukaka Coast in Northland as the inspiration to return and paint this coast; Jane Puckey saw Mimiwhangata in a photograph and headed north. Her paintings might have such an effect on her audience.) There may be a lack of political and cultural controversy in landscape paintings that appeals to a wide audience. This is not to say that a meaningful rendering of place cannot inspire thought and analysis of important issues, rather that they may not be explicitly or confrontationally presented.

Another possible reason for such aesthetic and commercial success is connected to the pleasure principle, but approached from a scientific angle. In his 2009 book, The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure and Human Evolution, author Denis Dutton argues that since habitat choice was a life-and-death matter for early hunter-gatherers, it should not surprise us that human beings became innately sensitive to certain qualities of habitable landscape. Those who lacked this sensitivity were less likely to survive long enough to reproduce and, even if they did, their offspring might not have fared well. Factors such as the presence of water, lush foliage (and perhaps even climbable trees) were not merely aesthetic choices.

Dutton’s thesis is that universal features of our appreciation of landscape — our landscape aesthetic — were formed in this evolutionary theatre. As he puts it, “we are what we are today because our primordial ancestors followed paths and riverbanks over the horizon.” And painters, he suggests, have devised ways of triggering the pleasurable responses that arise from such evolved adaptations.

However one explains it, the paintings in New Zealand: A Painted Country, and accordingly the book itself, are a success, to the extent that works such as the screen prints of Tony Ogle, which infuse with a divine glow the cliffs, pohutukawa, nikau and black sands of west Auckland’s coast, could lead a reader to sell up shop and head North to ingest some of that colour. Equally, Neil Driver’s crisply realised acrylic on board depictions of Central Otago or Nigel Wilson’s brush-stroked oil impressions of Clutha’s dams and lakes could drive a reader South in search of solitude.

However you see it, New Zealand is a painted country, and this book is a can of condensed milk pouring out light and colour. It could be particularly nourishing for a reader afflicted by suburban ennui or urban grind, perhaps in the thick of a grey winter. Or it could sweetly summon expatriates and budding migrants (back) to Aotearoa, to see and see anew a country that constitutes a sublime sequence of landscapes peopled with sense able inhabitants.

Reviewed by Aaron Blaker

New Zealand: A Painted Country Contemporary – New Zealand artists paint their favourite places
Designed and edited by Denis Robinson
Published by New Holland
ISBN 9781869664343

Book Review: Play In The Garden: Fun Projects for Kids to Enjoy Outdoors, by Sarah O’Neil

Available now in bookstores nationwide.

Most parents I know wish to get their children off ‘screens’ and outside to enjoy fresh air cv_play_in_the_gardenand creative play. This New Zealand childrens’ gardening book will achieve just that, with fun projects and inspiring activities.

The book is written for children, but there is advice for adults on how best to support children in achieving the activities and making the most of the garden. The author is realistic: ‘Most kids don’t have the kind of stamina you need to garden well and often give up quickly….but there is a better way. Instead of giving them a corner of your garden, make yours a little bigger and let the kids have fun with the extra crops you grow for them.’

The level of activities is well-suited for adults who are new to gardening, and the book has sections for spring, summer and autumn (although autumn has just one activity). There are some great basic science activities, too, like soil-testing to encourage junior botanists and microbiologists. I liked the ideas of trying to grow a square cucumber or making vegetable-based paints. For the crafty kids there are scarecrows, colourful bird scarers and corn-husk dolls. The author has clearly tried out these activities with her own children, and they are genuine and achievable projects which kids would get a kick out of.

The book is well-designed and features cute illustrations by Vasanti Unka. The photographs are instructional rather than aspirational, which is good for encouraging people to actually try the projects. Instructions for the projects are well-written and easy to follow, and the diagrams are also clear and helpful.

I liked the practicality of the projects and the many opportunities for hands-on learning. Often garden/craft books aimed at children offer projects kids are unlikely to achieve or want to achieve, with spurious educational value – this book is an exception to that. If the kids in your life undertake even a third of the great projects in this book, they will discover a love of gardening and have their curiosity about the outdoors ignited, well and truly. I asked my own non-gardening nine-year-old to have a look through the book, and he said he would like to try growing giant pumpkins, growing peanuts and making vegetable paint. That’s the beauty of this book, there is enough variety of project types in the book to appeal to all children.

This book would make a delightful Christmas present for any children in your life. It’s a practical, fun book which is sure to inspire the next generation of gardeners.


Author Sarah O’Neil has also written a gardening book for adults The Good Life: Four Glorious Seasons In My Country Garden. Her gardening blog is here.

Reviewed by Helen Lehndorf

Play In The Garden: Fun Projects for Kids to Enjoy Outdoors
By Sarah O’Neil
New Holland Publishers (NZ) Ltd
ISBN 9781869664138

Book Reviews: High Country in New Zealand, by Alison Dench, and Historic Places of New Zealand, by Dr Sven Schroeder – photography by Rob Suisted

cv_high_country_in_nzAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

Rob Suisted is a renowned photographer of New Zealand’s exceptional scenery and the wildlife and human structures that inhabit those landscapes. His partnership with New Holland publishing has spanned fourteen books to date, including the award-winning Majestic New Zealand.

In producing these two pint-sized glossy publications, Suisted has been teamed up with experts in their respective fields, researcher Alison Dench and archeologist Dr Sven Schroeder. With these reputations behind them, the books arrive at the reader’s fingertips freighted with a certain factual and aesthetic authority.

High Country in New Zealand presents images and written descriptions of landscapes that might be relatively foreign to most New Zealanders, at least in terms of personal encounters. The reader who is moved by images of the types of structures that signify a pragmatic, humble engagement with a vast and energetic world (tents on plateaus, huts in the tussock) will be drawn in. As will the reader who responds to images of wild horses in the Kaimanawa Ranges or the karearea/falcon on the wing. The side-effect seems to be an instinctive longing for the conservation of the habitat, the structure, the species, followed, perhaps, by an urge to witness it all for oneself. One senses that Suisted would be at ease if the reader was affected thus.

Alison Dench’s introductions and photograph-accompanying short texts contribute to the allure of this book. The written style is poetic and factual, and consistently reflective of the bilingual naming of the land. “On a clear day, the sacred peak of Tapua-O-Uenuku, standing tall above the Inland Kaikoura Range, can be seen from as far away as Christchurch to the south and Taranaki in the north.”

cv_historic_places_of_NZHistoric Places of New Zealand follows a similar format − images of gorgeous places allied with informative and insightful text − though the photographs do not appear to have been reproduced as crisply: there is the odd warp or elongation, and the photographer Suisted does not appear to be as comfortable amongst monuments and leisure seekers as he is when surrounded by mountains and working people.

Nonetheless, as the book moves the reader from north to south, from Ruapekapeka Pa to the whaling artifacts on Stewart Island via the old wooden Government Buildings in Wellington, an effect can be registered. The reader may well reach for a map of New Zealand and a calendar, start dreaming of being out under blue skies with white clouds in constant movement, of treading on historic piers and the Bridge to Nowhere.

The effect of both books could be summed up as follows: You’ve seen it in a book, now experience it for yourself, and most importantly, conserve it for all to come.

Reviewed by Aaron Blaker

High Country in New Zealand
by Alison Dench, photography by Rob Suisted
Published by New Holland Publishers
ISBN 9781869664152

Historic Places of New Zealand
by Dr Sven Schroeder, photography by Rob Suisted
Published by New Holland Publishers
ISBN 9781869664169

Finalist Interviews: The origin of Anzac Day: A New Zealand story

books_anzacdayIf you have ever wondered where authors get their ideas, this is your chance to find out. We have asked our fantastic finalists for the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults all about their work, and they have been very generous in their responses!

Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story is a finalist in the non-fiction category of the awards.

Thank you to Philippa Werry for her responses:

1.    As an author, you must have a lot of ideas floating around. How did you decide to write this book?
The idea behind Anzac Day came from my experiences of going to our local Anzac Day community service. Every year, people are waiting to hand out service sheets, and they collect them again at the end to re-use them on the next Anzac Day. That means that the format of the service – the words that are spoken, the music that is played, the songs that are sung – remains much the same.

I started to wonder why that was so, and why we always spoke those same words and played that same music, and I thought that exploring those ideas might give more meaning to an Anzac Day service for children who attended one. But then I realised that there was a lot more to find out: not just what happens in the service, but also how Anzac Day came about in the first place, and why we have the dawn service and the red poppy, and how memorials of different sorts help us to remember. I tried to put together a history of Anzac Day from many different viewpoints, without glorifying war but honouring the memory of those who served and died for their country, to show why it has been important in the past and why it still matters today.

2.    Tell us a bit about the journey from manuscript to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in publishing this book?
There were two big hurdles. One was condensing the huge amount of information available, and working out what to leave in and what to take out.

The other was the question of images. We wanted the book to be richly illustrated with a wide range of images – modern and historic photographs, paintings, maps, diaries, even stamps. So that was a huge process in itself: tracking down the images, emailing institutions and museums and libraries to find out if they were available for use, negotiating payments, keeping track of a budget. Some people were very generous and let me use their photographs or images for free, as long as they were properly acknowledged. We’d have unexpected hiccups, like an image we thought had been cleared suddenly becoming unavailable so we had to quickly find a replacement. And then there were captions to write and the acknowledgements page, which had to be tied to the page numbers and was very complicated to draw up.

I thought at the time there must be an easier way, and I did work out a few practical steps to help improve the process but I’m going through it again for another book and it is just as complicated the 2nd time round!

3.    Did you tailor this book to a particular audience – or did you find it found its own audience as it was written?
The publicity info says it is aimed at 8-to-12-year-olds, but a lot of adults have told me that they’ve read it and enjoyed it, and they all say they have found out something they didn’t know before.

4.    Can you recommend any books that you love, that inspired or informed your book in any way?
There are so many books written about war, World War One and Gallipoli in particular, and about New Zealand’s place in war. I found the oral histories very moving, like Nicholas Boyack and Jane Tolerton’s, In the shadow of war: New Zealand soldiers talk about World War One and their lives.

I also loved Anna Roger’s book While you’re away: New Zealand nurses at war 1899-1948 because my great-great-aunt, Louisa Bird, was one of the first group of WW1 nurses to leave for the war in 1915.

5.    Tell us about a time you’ve enjoyed relaxing and reading a book – at the bach, on holiday, what was the book?
We usually spend New Year at my husband’s family’s bach in the Bay of Plenty. There are always lots of people – adults and children, and lots of books lying around. People bring books that they think others would like to read and we stock up supplies from the local library. This year, one book that fascinated us all was Tūhoe: portrait of a nation by Kennedy Warne, published by Penguin. It has stunning photographs – many of places that we have visited, and gives an in depth look at Tūhoe history.

6.    What is your favourite thing to do, when you aren’t reading or writing, and why?
Swimming for exercise, walking because it helps me get ideas, movies because we have a wonderful local cinema just around the corner and cryptic crosswords because they provide a lot of fun with words.

– Philippa has a Children’s War Books Blog


Book Review: Bringing Back the Birdsong, by Wade and Jan Doak

Wade Doak was a pioneering scuba diver cv_bringing_back_the_birdsongin New Zealand in the early 1960’s. Along with fellow ‘oceanauts’ Jan Doak, Kelly Tarlton and others, Wade Doak strapped on Cousteau’s aqualung and set about “exploring a blue continent,” starting with Poor Knights Islands off the coast of Northland.

Fifty years on, having explored, photographed and written about that blue continent (funded in part by coins found in shipwrecks and other treasure salvage) the Doaks “emerged from the sea and entered all the lovely forest worlds of Northland.” This transition, mimicking the evolution of our fishy ancestors, impelled the husband and wife to “create a record of the wilderness of [their] locality.”

pp_wade_and_jan_doakBringing Back the Birdsong chronicles this process. As they gradually move up out of the blue depths and into the tidal zone and so on up onto the headlands of the Tutukaka coast and so into the forests proper, Wade and Jan Doak have their ears and eyes open, minds poised and cameras ready. The observations are gathered during the passage of four seasons but the written details are rendered primarily in present tense. Readers may be led to feel as if the leaf is unfurling before their eyes, the cicada twitching and singing now, the kereru’s wing beating overhead as the pages are turned. The other effect of this style of writing is an absence of narrative drive. This could be disconcerting, until the reader allows that Bringing Back the Birdsong might be best thought of as a passionately conceived reference book.

This is not to say that this book is without a definite point of view. Its subtitle reads: ‘Two dedicated conservationists work to restore the natural balance of their slice of coastal New Zealand.’ This is indeed the subplot, visible in glimpses throughout the text but not stated so explicitly until the final chapter, ‘Towards Gondwana – Or Bird Silence?’ The Doaks have not only been acutely observing and describing the natural world, a labour of love in its own right. They have also been actively attempting to return their own patch of land to its former pristine pest-free state. Their action and this book are a plea to New Zealand’s citizenry and its elected representatives to take ever more seriously the role of ecological guardianship. In the final chapter, the Doaks outline the challenge issued by the late Sir Paul Callaghan. To connect existing sanctuaries and pest-free reserves to one another to make of New Zealand “a series of protected wildernesses, stepping stones and corridors to tomorrow.”

That is a gorgeous phrasing of what many may consider a chimera. Not so Wade and Jan Doak, who conclude the text with these words: “We really think it can be done. We hope that this book has shown what is at stake and what there is to gain.”

Reviewed by Aaron Blaker

Bringing Back the Birdsong
by Wade and Jan Doak
Published by New Holland Publishers
ISBN 9781869664015