Book Review: Gottfried Lindauer’s New Zealand: The Māori Portraits

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_gottfried_lindauers_nzGottfried Lindauer was a Bohemian immigrant with an artistic eye and a pragmatic business sense. A keen traveller, he combined his love of painting, photography, travel and an inquisitive desire to learn more of the Māori people. This book is a celebration of the 67 portraits of Māori completed from the 1870s on.

In 2016, the Auckland Art Gallery staged an exhibition of the Māori portraits by Lindauer and commissioned this book to accompany the event. While sometimes such publications are little more than picture books with captions, I was delighted to find this publication an extensive analysis of all aspects of the works. Here we can read the background, the setting, the sitter, the painter, the journey of the completed work and finally the place held by the painting among the people for whom it is taonga. This extensive research takes the reader far and wide. I was fascinated to read about a retrospective of his work held in his hometown of Pilsen, the capital of West Bavaria, in 2015. Here we see the training and development of his art. We also investigate the links with Goldie, another familiar portrait painter of Māori. The sharing of subjects and photographs is clearly shown in the illustrations, which make this book a pleasure to read.

Lindauer also did more than just draw what he saw. He was interested in the cultural practices of the Māori, in the meaning of facial markings, the hair, the dress and the person. He showed respect for the mana of his subjects and did much to foster positive relations between Māori and European. There was a desire among many tribes to record their respected elders in a painting and Lindauer was the chosen artist for many of these.

While the background information adds depth to the works, it is the quality of the paintings that I was drawn to. Each artwork is fully explained and linked to the overall story. While the ownership of some works is contested, so is the identification of the subject. This book was, I suspect, a work of careful diplomacy. Such portraits are far more than a picture on the wall and this is clearly communicated. I recall while staying on a local marae, being invited to the Big House. Here I entered a room with floor to ceiling portraits of the families through the generations. In the dark recesses at the top corner, I may have spotted a Lindauer or a Goldie. But that was not important in this context. Here was a living memory, a treasure, a taonga.

So too is this book.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Gottfried Lindauer’s New Zealand: The Māori Portraits
by Gottfried Lindauer, edited by Ngahiraka Mason and Zara Stanhope
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408565

Book Review: Patch and Ruby, by Anouska Jones, illustrated by Gwynneth Jones

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_patch_and-rubyA pony, a flock of gossipy chickens, a mouse couple with their children and a gardening ladybug and her family live happily together on a farm, along with Patch’s special girl, Sam. However, as the only pony amidst the groups of animal friends, Patch sometimes feels lonely. The first page says it all: “It wasn’t that he didn’t have friends. He did. But sometimes he felt like he didn’t quite fit in.” The illustration on this page rather cleverly enhances this feeling by showing only Patch’s leg – the other characters are there but poor Patch really doesn’t fit in the page.

Despite enjoying spending time with his friends, Patch feels something is missing. It is Sam who hits on an idea to help him… and along comes Ruby. After an initial stand-off, the two ponies become friends and “now life is different.” The daily routine remains the same, but is all the more enjoyable now that it can be shared by someone special.

The text is written to suit very young readers and its sentences, though simple, convey an important idea of friendship and belonging. There is also a gentle example of being a kind and thoughtful friend by watching out for and caring for others – Sam notices Patch is unhappy and thinks of a way to help him.

Gwynneth Jones’ illustrations work brilliantly together with the text. The characters are soft and friendly, and there are wonderful funny moments to look out for in the scenes (chooks with curlers and mice drinking tea – love it!).

Young readers will be drawn to the cute pony on the cover (as was I), and the story will appeal to those who love animals. Parents may find Patch and Ruby helpful for little ones who are still in the process of finding their special friends.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Patch and Ruby
by Anouska Jones, illustrated by Gwynneth Jones
EK Books
ISBN 9781925335224

Book Review: If I Was a Banana, by Alexandra Tylee and Kieran Rynhart

Available now (and on NZ Bookshop Day) in bookshops nationwide.

GIVEAWAY: Comment below or on this post on Facebook telling us what type of banana, mountain, bird or cow you would be…if you were one. Closes 12 noon 26/10/2016.

cv_if_i_was_a_bananaAs a child, I used to imagine tiny worlds in the cereal bowl; that with every spoonful I might be separating families of rice bubbles. I also thought that musicians on the radio were performing live in the studio. I wondered, if you stepped on an ant, would its friends be sad? If I Was a Banana was written for children like me.

Whimsically written and gorgeously illustrated, If I Was a Banana will appeal to anyone with a modicum of imagination. What if you were a banana, or an elephant, or a spoon? If you were a ladybird or a mountain, what might the ramifications be?

I read my review copy to a class of five-year-olds, and it took much longer than a “regular book”, because the children were so engaged and so keen to talk about each idea and share their responses. As a teacher, anything that gets children talking and thinking is alright by me. They particularly loved the illustration on the last page, and the book was in hot demand after I’d shared it, so that they could explore the cloud drawings in more depth.

Gecko Press continue to produce high quality books that deserve to be on the bookshelves of all children, teachers and in libraries. I’ve written many reviews of Gecko Press for this blog, and read many more of their books than I’ve written about, and I am aware that I probably sound like a total Gecko fan girl by now. But it’s not my fault. Julia Marshall and her team are doing extremely good, and important work. Long may they reign.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

If I was a Banana
by Alexandra Tylee and Kieran Rynhart
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570331


Book Review: In The Bush, by Gillian Candler & Ned Barraud

Available now at bookshops nationwide.

cv_in_the_bushMy two are keen bird watchers, and they have a good smattering of local bush knowledge, thanks to their excellent early childhood education. So when I gave them this book to mull over, they discarded it. “We already know about the birds,” they told me. But on visiting Rainbow Springs and the Redwoods in Rotorua during our Christmas break, the book was all too popular. “It was a Tui, no, a Saddleback, a Grey Warbler…. Daa-ad?” I found myself adjudicating with the help of the bird-identification card from the book, which features illustrations of 20 common local birds. Candler and Barraud’s book is not a revelation in our household, more an affirmation of our knowledge. But for others who are not so familiar with our most common birds and wildlife, it would be a great starting point.

For instance, did you know that a giant snail (Pupu) can live up to 40 years? Or, that not all bees are imports. We have a local, the Ngaro huruhuru, that lives in the ground and has no stripes, unlike the immigrants. Did you know that Grey Warblers unwittingly feed Shining Cuckoo chicks? Cuckoos lay their eggs in other birds’ nests so they don’t have to feed them – sneaky! And the creepy vine that hooks onto Supple Jacks and Birch is known as Bush Lawyer, though the reason for the name is still unknown. There are many more super-interesting facts to be found within these pages.

Gillian Candler has a teaching and educational publishing background, a keen tramper and pest trapper, so she knows her subject. Ned Barraud is a keen natural world illustrator and trapper. He might not be Raymond Ching but his work still paints believable, empathetic pictures that lead each page. It’s his brilliant watercolours that create each scene. Even for those who can’t read yet, it’s important that the colours and scale are right. Children know this and will very quickly dismiss anything inferior.

This is the fourth book in the Explore & Discover series by Candler and Barraud, many of which have been shortlisted for national book awards. For a readership aged from around 5 years to  10 years, it’s a simple, effective book that will remain valuable as a reference book in the homework library.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

In The Bush: Explore & Discover New Zealand’s native forests
by Ned Barraud & Gillian Candler
Published by Potton & Burton
ISBN 9781927213544

Book Review: The Healthy Country? A History of Life and Death in New Zealand, by Alistair Woodward & Tony Blakely


Available in bookstores nationwide.

The Healthy Country? A History of Life and Death in New Zealan
d is an intensely detailed book, broken into six sections. Otago University’s Tony Blakely and Auckland University’s Alistair Woodward have created a great reference book about the history of  public health in New Zealand.

The book covers everything, from our country’s health pre-Cook right through to 2010, and extending into the (healthier?) future. With life expectancy and mortality trends kicking off each section, The Healthy Country does make you think harder about your health habits. Looking at the effects and mortality of tuberculosis, ship-board disease, cancer, and suicide, it certainly made me very thankful for living with access to modern medicine.

Detailed graphs are sprinkled throughout the publication, helping you to understand highly detailed information. One that caught my attention is in the section Mortality Divergence 1980 to 2010. The graph shows details of cause-specific mortality by ethnicity (Māori, Pacific, European/Other, Asian) and gender. Depressing, yes, but really amazing to see the downward trend of the commonality of these diseases as modern medicine has advanced.

A huge amount of research and effort has been put in by the writers of The Healthy Country to create a solid and thorough history of life and death in New Zealand. While I greatly appreciate the nature of the book, there are probably one too many home truths for a general reader. That said, anyone with a keen interest in this area of New Zealand’s history will find it fascinating, and the book is a must-have for students and professionals in the health industry.

by Kimaya McIntosh

The Healthy Country? A History of Life and Death in New Zealand
by Alistair Woodward & Tony Blakely
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408138

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