Musical Book Reviews: Angel Star, by Chris Sanders, illustrated by Kat Merewether; Nee Naw the Little Fire Engine, by Deano Yipadee, illustrated by Paul Beavis

Angel Star, by Chris Sanders, illustrated by Kat Merewether
Chris Saunders and Kat Merewether have teamed up to create this wonderful book.

cv_angel_star‘She looked up, into the sky,
to pick an Angel from the stars.
A shining light,
stood out that night,
so she reached out
to give it life.
And as her hand it touched the light.
it flickered down towards the Earth.
Just as if it was, all meant to be,
Like picking apples from a tree.’

This book comes with the added bonus of a CD with Chris Saunders singing and playing his guitar. The illustrations by Kat Merewether lend a whimsical and mythical air to a rather lovely book. A really wonderful way of introducing the idea of a new baby into a family with a small child.

My 2 ½ year old granddaughter Quinn was read this book and immediately grasped that this was about a new baby in a family and gave herself the role of the baby and the little girl as her big sister Abby, which I found incredibly cute.

Nee Naw the Little Fire Engine, by Deano Yipadee, and Paul Beavis
The idea began as a spark when Deano’s friend mentioned her son was always saying ‘Neeee-naw w w‘ and pretending to be a fire engine. I think a lot of children are fascinated by the sound of sirens, copying the sounds they hear.

cv_nee_naw_the_little_fire_engine‘There was a dinky little fire truck
hidden away,
with a dent on his bottom
and a door painted grey.
The new fire engines thought
he couldn’t help at all
because he wasn’t very shiny
and he wasn’t very tall.’

The newer fire engines may have been flasher, with shiny bodies, but Nee Naw saves the day when one of the big engines gets stuck in the mud.

This book also comes with a CD with music and lyrics by the author Deano Yipadee, along with rather fun illustrations by Paul Beavis.

I had to play the CD twice to my 2-½-year-old granddaughter as she rather liked making the fire engine siren noises.

Reviews by Christine Frayling

Angel Star
by Chris Sanders, illustrated by Kat Merewether
Published by Chris Sanders
ISBN 9780473356026

Nee Naw the Little Fire Engine
by Deano Yipadee, and Paul Beavis
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433927

Junior Fiction Shorts #3: Dragon Knight #6: Barbarians!, and Barking Mad

Dragon Knight #6: Barbarians!
by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley

cv_dragon_knight_barbaraiansThis is the sixth and final book in this frequently hilarious series about Merek, a dragon who wants to be a knight, so spends his days in boy-form, attending knight school with his best friend Brin at Lord Crumble’s Castle. Together, Merek and Brin fight bullies, regularly prove that smart beats big, and discover together that being a knight isn’t quite all it is cracked up to be.

In this episode of their story, the Barbarians are at the gate. But when Merek and Brin discover they have actually breached the castle walls, and are looting treasure unexpectedly carefully, they follow them out of the castle. When they are discovered, things go from bad to worse, until help comes from an unexpected quarter. Each of the Dragon Knight stories have occasionally factual inserts, and fantastic illustrations from Donovan Bixley. I recommend the full series as a must-read for anyone who likes the Horrible Histories, or the tales of King Arthur.

Dragon Knight #6: Barbarians!
by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433972

Barking Mad
by Tom E. Moffatt, illustrated by Paul Beavis

cv_barking_madIf you have the kind of kid that cracks up at absurdities, have I got a book for you! Granddad is behaving like a dog, so he’s being taken to hospital. Fingers doesn’t believe it at first – Granddad’s a tough old inventor who has been known to sew a gash in his leg up with needle & thread rather than go to the hospital for any reason – but when he and his sister get to his house and see Granddad being carted away, he knows something is definitely the matter. Fingers and his sister Sally are baffled, until they realise Granddad’s dog DaVinci is acting a little more sensible than usual.

So while Granddad gets committed for licking the postman and growling like a dog, Fingers and Sally are trying to put the world to rights. A trip to the dog pound for DaVinci doesn’t help matters any, and by the end of the book your head is spinning with how many identity-swaps there has been. This is a well-paced, ably-written book, with the round-about storylines nonetheless staying within their own rules & making for a satisfying read. Paul Beavis’ brilliant illustrations add to the fun. For ages 7-12.

Barking Mad
by Tom E. Moffatt, illustrated by Paul Beavis
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433743

All reviews written by Sarah Forster
This is the third in a series of reviews of Junior Fiction, here are number one, and number two, for your reading pleasure.

Book Review: Jingle Bells, Rudolph Smells, by Deano Yipadee and Paul Beavis

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_jingle_bells_rudolph_smellsThis is such a fun song and story. It has immense appeal for 6-12 year olds who love the naughtiness of bodily functions. The text, by Dunedin-born, now Manchester-based Dean O’Brien, follows the traditional tale but the nose is not the focus of Rudolph’s problems. Poor Rudolph has digestion issues and proves very unpopular with his trump. Yes, this is a polite phrase for a fart, but once you realise what it is the smelly story develops. While Rudolph is unpopular because of his flatulence, a problem arises which only he can solve.

This twist in the story provides a satisfying take on the importance of individual differences. It is shown in a light-hearted way but the message is clear. The illustrations give each of the reindeer their own character. Readers will enjoy spotting the details in each page even to the ends? Yes, a line up of reindeer bottoms adds a clever ENDS to the book.

The bonus is a CD. Dean O’Brien is known for his children’s songs and has performed on numerous occasions in the Kidz Field at the Glastonbury Music Festival. The musical version of the story will appeal to all ages and would make a great item at the end of year school concert. This book will prove a regular Christmas favourite in many a bookshelf.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Jingle Bells, Rudolph Smells
by Deano Yipadee, illustrated by Paul Beavis
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433859

Breaking the Rules, with Paul Beavis and Julia Marshall

So how do you get published by an award-winning children’s publisher?cv_mrs_mos_monster

Gecko Press are known for the quality of their books, both locally and internationally, but Mrs. Mo’s Monster is the first time they have taken on a first-time author.  One of the rules in children’s book publishing is that you shouldn’t have a yellow cover. Well, author Paul Beavis and publisher Julia Marshall broke this rule, and a few others…

It seems like a very good time to sit down and have a chat about breaking the rules and the journey behind Mrs Mo’s Monster.

Paul Beavis is reading at the Auckland Writer’s Festival this Sunday at 12 noon and 1.05pm. 


From sketch to final

The publishing journey with Gecko
Julia Marshall: What does it feel like, being published for the first time?

Paul Beavis: It’s like wearing a new pair of shoes; it still doesn’t feel like me. It doesn’t feel like it’s my book out there. My book is this kind of scruffy thing I sent in and we worked together on. I had been working on getting a children’s book published for close to 12-13 years.

PB: There was a cut-off date for unsolicited manuscripts on 24th April last year. And I had a version which was still very rough; and I was working on a better version, but I thought I haven’t got time, and they are just down the road, so I printed it out, rushed it down to Gecko and dropped it off.

JM: I was mortified to hear from Paul that you almost didn’t send us your manuscript. We were receiving so many manuscripts, and they were piling up and piling up … so we thought we would just test  to see what would happen if we said only send us your picture book MS if you’ve been published before, if someone in the industry says it’s worth a shot or if you’ve been through a MS assessor.  

All these ‘no’s’ were to try to whittle the rejections down. You didn’t fit any of those criteria.

The art of the rejection letter
JM: It’s a difficult thing, the rejection letter. We do have a standard rejection letter, mostly because it is not possible to give good feedback in a short time. 

PB: I could hold an email rejection letter up from about 50 feet and most authors would recognise what it looks like. [With Gecko] I got a postcard back saying I’ll hear back in 12 weeks time, and I thought well, I’ve heard that story before…

JM: Quite a nice postcard though…

PB: And I kept the postcard, it’s the Who’s Hiding one.

JM: Now we have a Mrs. Mo postcard for all our submitted  stories. 

pp_julia_marshall_singlePB: I really was at the end of my tether with the whole process of receiving rejections – I couldn’t make the book any better than the 4th version I had sent around (Gecko Press had the 3rd) – then one Monday night June 15 5.54pm this email came in saying; ‘we don’t normally do this, we don’t normally take unsolicited manuscripts, but we love Mrs Mo’s Monster, and we would like to publish it.’

JM: Aren’t we lucky? Just shows that it is good to be at the end of the road. I think it is interesting this business of being a first-time author. It is important to feel a trust with your publishing company. You did know about Gecko Press from…

PB: I had picked up Gecko Press books in the UK, but it wasn’t until I came over to New Zealand that I recognised the name. My girlfriend, a teacher, had taken me to Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie. And there I found I am strong and Death Duck and the Tulip and Poo Bum and I thought ‘who the hell is publishing all these? I really didn’t think you would be interested, that’s why I took so long to send something off.

Julia Paul Vida Kelly_Mrs Mo's launch

Julia, Paul, and Vida Kelly at the book launch for Mrs. Mo’s Monster

JM: : It was a very collaborative process publishing Mrs Mo. The whole thing was very, very nice, and we had enough time, and we also worked with Vida Kelly. When it arrived I thought ‘this is good’ and it made me laugh, and was light-hearted. I know you didn’t think it was about manners but it is to me, at least a bit. Paul says it is about children trying things out for themselves. So we were good with the ‘yes’, and it was a lovely process working with Vida Kelly.

PB: When first going in to Gecko to meet Julia and Jane, I knew that it was the right home. Occasionally I threw my toys out the pram on certain things, but some of the suggestions were just spot on. Particularly with the ending.IMG_0386[1]

JM: We cut out a gatefold and stretched the ending.

PB: The whole end line was all on one spread, and Julia, Jane & Vida wanted to take the end line and put it on a single page. I didn’t think it would work.

JM: I wanted to be able to turn the page and have the pause, because that’s important. We’ve been thinking about it with digital books vs physical books, the importance of the pause, and what’s on the page and what’s not on the page.

PB: Reading the book to a live audience, you do suddenly realise the power of the page turn; it’s one of the strong points of the book.

JM: And when you read it out at the launch. That can be a moment when you realise it is either a goer, or it’s going to be a nice book but… Sometimes you don’t know that until the last moment.

PB: In the latest reading in Gisborne, I actually brought two of the younger children up and they read the Mrs Mo part and the monster part, and I filled in as the narrator, and there is a dynamic to the story where it says; ‘and off he ran.’ That works well as a narrator. And you do the page turn, and the kid starts again, and you find all these extra levels, that may have been there, but they weren’t really planned, happy accidents, uncovered through editing, until there’s just the bare minimum of text.Mrs_mopage-4-final-version

JM: The genius of simplicity. There’s a wonderful bookshop in Newcastle, Seven Stories,  she/the owner  immediately connected Mrs Mo’s to The Tiger who Came to Tea and said it was going to work really well as a read-aloud, and they are very much a read-aloud kind of a bookstore.

PB: I think if you look at the final book, you think ‘this must have been an easy title for Gecko to publish. But I will send through the original version, and it shows Julia and Gecko Press’s vision saying; ‘there’s potential here.’

JM: We have never published a first-time author before because we normally choose books that are fully-formed. For me it was difficult to choose a half-formed book because it hadn’t got to its final stage. There is a leap of faith in there, and it’s only now that I am more confident about the leap of faith required.

PB: I understand looking at earlier versions, why rejections came back from publishers. It was quite empty-looking, there was not much text. And that is why reading Duck, Death and the Tulip filled me with so much confidence.

The cover and how not to over-egg the puddingmrs_mos_monster_v4
PB: Working on the cover was a really good collaborative process of sending stuff through to you and Jane and Vida. My friends in the UK who work on picture books said it took about 3 months to do the cover and I thought we seem to have a very tight timeframe to fit this cover in to. We turned it around quite quickly, I thought. Because it was a clear idea.

The cover from start to end 

JM: With the cover, I like it when it is my role to say ‘that’s not working for me. I don’t know what it is that isn’t working, but it isn’t working as it is’. That whole collaboration thing works well, especially when you are in the same town as the author.

We had to stop Paul overthinking things. I got taught that long ago by Jill Livestre from Archetype. At the last minute I said, ‘I’d like to change that word,’ and she said, ‘You just remember that and focus on that word and you won’t see all the other ones you’d like to change’.

PB: I had a black and white dummy I had worked up, and I have a notepad note saying ‘stop fiddling with it’.

JM: Well, there is a stage that you get to, when another change is not going to make anything better.

PB: You’re just over-egging the pudding.

JM: I love that expression, over-egging the pudding. We don’t want to over-egg the pudding.


An exclamation mark that didn’t earn its keep

I am always a bit careful about exclamation marks and I think they are very easy to overuse. There’s the line that sticks with me; ‘An exclamation mark is like ketchup, good meat don’t need it, and bad meat don’t deserve it.’ And so always I try to take away the ! and see whether the sentence is strong enough without it, or is it a really working-hard ! I took the story while I was editing to Julia Eccleshare who is a Guardian reviewer, and she said no, get rid of them. So I was happy.

Releasing Mrs Mo’s Monster out of the attic
JM: When the book was released, that was terrifying for you, wasn’t it?

Gecko_PaulBeavis_1303b_lrPB: I have friends in children’s publishing in the UK, they gave me all this advice, and…

JM: “We’ve only got two weeks’, you said, ‘we’ve only got two weeks ‘til we’re dead and

PB: This is what I was told by people I know who work for big publishers; they’ve got a book coming out every week, or two weeks. Whereas Julia and Jane have got one a month coming out. And they don’t over-egg the pudding with their books. That was a bit of a blind panic, but I panic easily.

JM: It was a blind panic, but you’ve got to have all your eggs in… all your ducks lined up, and if you are missing a duck, its hard to put it back again.

PB: Using the Facebook page to drive traffic, create downloads for people… all of that stuff is great, to build up interest.

JM: Doing all that stuff, like how to draw a monster, it’s been a really great thing, because its so teacher friendly, and its funny.

Editing the text
JM: We were reading it out a lot. I’m most comfortable with text, Vida with illustration. For me, not showing in the text what you are saying in the pictures, that’s what I’m busy with.

PB: At one point we were thinking of removing the line ‘And together they started to mix’, then we reinstated it and it became the perfect line. It was telling you the story, but there needed to be an introduction.


JM: It was a lot more waffly. We took out slight moralnesses. It’s nice that process, when the text is fully yours. The phrase that is repeated ‘What is this you do’ – technically you could edit that down, but it is necessary to the voice of the monster.

PB: I didn’t mind anything being changed, but I didn’t really want that line to go. When it got to that part of the discussion in the email, Julia said: technically this is wrong, but it sounds right. It was a real confidence booster finding those guys knew the story. It wasn’t just a matter of changing the pictures, but the text as well.

JM: Publishers aren’t always very good at saying what we do, but I think the process where you have more than one person working on something, and giving it their absolute best and their undivided attention… and that collaboration where everybody has confidence in everybody because there is no ego, but everybody bringing a special care and knowledge.

PB: Without the collaboration with Gecko Press, Mrs Mo’s Monsters wouldn’t be near this good. I still look at it and wonder how it got made.Gecko_staff_1257_lr

Thank you to Julia and Paul for this amazing insight into the first-time publishing process.

The full interview is available here for those who are interested. If enough people are intrigued by this piece, I will publish a follow-up about the submissions process for various publishers, as Julia and Paul both had a lot of interesting things to say about this process. Please leave a supportive comment below!

Interview recorded and edited by Sarah Forster

Check out, and follow the Facebook page here for more about the book and its creation. You can win a copy of Mrs. Mo’s Monster here. 

Book Review: Mrs Mo’s Monster, by Paul Beavis

This book will be in stores tomorrow, Friday 4 April
Website for the book:  
Facebook page for the book:

cv_mrs_mos_monsterMy first thought when I read this book was ‘really? This is by a first-time author? This is incredible!’ This book is so polished that I thought that perhaps Paul Beavis was an educational writer who had just broken into the trade market. While he is a graphic designer, he designs websites for a living, and this is in fact his first book. It is highly unusual for Gecko to gamble on a kiwi unknown, but this one has certainly paid off.

Mrs. Mo’s Monster is about a fantastic little monster who only knows one thing – how to ‘CRUNCH, MUNCH AND CHEW’. Through Mrs. Mo’s patience, the little monster realises there is more to life than this one behaviour, and that if he lets Mrs. Mo teach him, he will have even more fun.

The illustrations are a canny combination of hand illustration and computer manipulation. The style is perfectly matched to the story, and the use of colour is superb. I particularly like the place the monster goes to carry on his rampage in peace – the use of darkness in these pages clearly indicates his dilemma. The use of shadows is also intriguing in the final spread – hopefully my children realise that they could well be drawings of them. (Though my 3-year-old wanted to see the kids ‘properly’!)

The book design by Paul and Vida Kelly is as always, gorgeous. I was very happy to meet Vida at a Writer’s Week event recently, and she seemed a bit surprised I knew of her!
Well done Gecko Press for yet another gorgeous production. While the dust covers can be annoying, as there is a very high chance that my second little monster will CRUNCH MUNCH AND CHEW it, I figure if I put them away now, when the kids are older and appreciate how good their books were while growing up, it can look as good as new. Yes I know this is somewhat defeating the purpose, but it is much easier for them to destroy the dust cover for most books than the actual cover!

Review by Sarah Forster

Mrs. Mo’s Monster
by Paul Beavis
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781927271001

Book Launch: Wednesday, April 9 at 6:00pm – 7:30pm at the Children’s Bookshop, Kilbirnie, Wellington