Book Review: Around the world in 50 ways: A Choose-your-own Travel Adventure, by Dan Smith, illustrated by Frances Castle

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_around_the_world_in_50_ways.pngWe made it! And it was SOOO satisfying!

My 7-year-old son and I absolutely loved this book, which combines the fantastic kids travel writing that LP Kids has become known for, with an Amazing Race / pick-a-path format that is a total winner. I got to walk down memory lane and reminisce about my OE, while Dan enjoyed learning about new places, and figure out where he wants to go the most in the world. (Barcelona, apparently – I think it was the football, rather than Gaudi).

We start in London, then we are given three options – train, coach or boat – and land in different parts of the world accordingly. Each set of options is different, and you can choose by length of journey in hours and minutes, type of transport as with the first one or going East or West. Sometimes with a bit of knowledge the adult helping can hazard a guess at where you may end up, but most of the time it’s a complete surprise and all the better for it.

Each city we land in has several text boxes. The first is a brief introduction, and others are either a unique form of transport (one of the themes of the book) or a place you must visit while there. There are frequently short fact-boxes as well, though they could be better defined. It is written as though the boy leading the trip has organised a top-attraction visit of famous attractions, which is friendly and appealing.

As far as the pick-a-path aspect goes, occasionally you will hit a dead end and have to start again, but they aren’t too frequent, and when they happen it is never a ‘terrible death’ – an aspect of the more traditional pick-a-paths that upset my sensitive boy – more of an unfortunate circumstance, like your huskies coming un-hitched in Lapland.

The colours and illustrations are wonderful, but the formatting could occasionally be a bit more defined with lines and boxes. That said, it really doesn’t detract from the riot of colour and fun feel of the book.

As a first introduction to what world travel has to offer, along with a satisfying activity, I’d recommend this one for ages 6+. My son was just right for it, and was very happy to let me practise my tourism agent promotional patois.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Around the World in 50 Ways
by Dan Smith and Frances Castle
Published by Lonely Planet Kids
ISBN 9781786577559

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Book Review: I am Jellyfish, by Ruth Paul

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_i_am_jellyfish.jpgWhen you buy this book, make sure to take it into a darkened room to admire – the cover is wreathed with glow in the dark jellyfish and a fearsome swordfish’s eye.

Poor Jelly is being teased by Swordfish for not having a reason for existing, as she lives her peaceful existence: ‘Jellyfish shrugged, jellyfish sighed. “I go with the flow,” she softly replied.’ When Swordfish tries to eat her, she drops, into the deep, dark ocean; and swordfish follows, well beyond his comfort zone. Where other predators of the sea await.

Ruth Paul has been writing and illustrating books (and having them published!) since 2005, and this particular book reminds me of one of my favourites of hers, Superpotamus! The rhyme scheme is similar, with a phrase that repeats with mild variations, and the storyline is similarly delightful. This may be the first picture book I’ve ever read with a Giant Squid as the big baddie.

Swordfish learns a little more about himself, and a lot more about jellyfish, when he is saved from the predator (spoiler alert) by the very fish he was aiming to have for dinner. Jellyfish, in turn, and after teaching Swordfish a lesson, is reminded of her own usefulness and becomes more certain of herself as the book concludes, saying “I am what I am.”

The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, using dappled tones and bright colours to pop the fish against the background, which heads to absolute black as we dive many fathoms deep. The expressions of the fish are hilarious, particularly the lanternfish, who has the expression of a country yokel in every B-grade Western ever made!

I recommend this for those with curious children, who ask a million why’s and have an interest in what exactly goes on, under the surface of our great oceans. Age 2+.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

I am Jellyfish
by Ruth Paul
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143771159

 

 

Book Review: Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth, by Oliver Jeffers

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_here_we_areFrom the endpapers on, this book is an extraordinary display of Oliver Jeffers’ talent. It is a truly wonderful dedication to the new life of his son, written in the couple of months after he was born.

The endpapers teach you to navigate by the stars, should you find yourself lost – with the front showing the constellations in the Northern Hemisphere, and the back showing constellations in the Southern Hemisphere. Then, Earth is placed in context within the solar system, and we get a quick tour guide patter started: ‘We’re glad you found us as space is very big.

‘There is much to see and do here on Earth, so let’s get started with a quick tour.’

The tour-guide patter reminds me a little of Marvin on a good day, from the Douglas Adams books. It is quirky and sweet, and perfect for a book intended as a guide for living. As we go through the types of land, Jeffers labels pictures: a volcano (hot), a snowy mountain (cold), a plateau (flat) – without needing to use language that is above a child’s level.

Sometimes, instead of labels, he has gone for a straight dive into the majesty of the world, for example, under the sea. My 7-year-old found plenty to see here, identifying as many underwater  characters as he could – including a ghostly Bluebeard on a sunken galleon.

From big-picture to small, we then go into a bit of biology, then sociology. There is a cut-out of a child with their vital organs showing – my favourite part of this page is the note that shows which bits will grow back  (nails, and hair). Then: ‘The most important things for people to remember are to eat, drink and stay warm.’His demonstration pages of the diversity of humans, and of animals are detailed and amazing. I noted that he no longer only puts sticks in place of legs (unless the animals have twiggy legs), as he did for many years.

The book of Jeffers’ that this reminds me of most is his previous title (written by Sam Winston), A Child of Books – it has a similar tone which could be read as a bit saccharine if it wasn’t for the way he pulls it off. The message though, is wonderful. It gives any child a lot to look forward to, without making them anxious about not fulfilling the ambitions of their parent for their future.

‘It looks big, Earth.
But there are lots of us on here
(7,327,450,667 and counting)
so be kind.

There is enough for everyone.’

Once Here We Are makes it into board book format, I’ll definitely be recommending it as a gift for any new baby (alongside something local, of course). In the meantime, this hardcover edition with the most gorgeous indented cover under the dust jacket, will join picture-book lovers’ collections worldwide (as well as staying on the ‘good shelf’ until baby won’t destroy it.)

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth
by Oliver Jeffers
Published by HarperCollins NZ
ISBN 9780008266165

Book Review: Aotearoa, by Gavin Bishop

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_aotearoa_the_new_zealand_storyGavin Bishop’s Aotearoa has been atop the Nielsen Bestsellers list virtually since its release. I spotted Gavin at the Storylines Hui the day after it was launch and he said ‘It sold 140 copies at the launch! I’ve never written a bestseller!’

Gavin has been writing and illustrating books for over 40 years. He has gone through many phases of illustration – the illustrations in this book are most similar in style to his The House that Jack Built, which was re-published a few years ago by Gecko Press, but also bring in elements (particularly in the people) of the broad style he used in Mister Whistler.

Aotearoa tells the story of our nation, from the big bang, via dinosaurs, through Kupe’s discovery of Aotearoa (so named by Kupe’s wife Kuramārōtini) and so on. My first favourite page – there are many – is the Voyages to Aotearoa, which depicts each of the waka that we know sailed to settle in New Zealand from Hawaiki. Along with people, came gods, and the stories of our gods are flawlessly woven into the narrative.

As iwi settled the land, each named its sacred mountain, and set about naming the birds, fish and insects of Aotearoa – and the land: Te Waipounamu and Te Ika-a-Māui. On the following spread, came war: the Māori war god Tūmatauenga makes several appearances as our people go to war. While disputes over land led to fighting, the first Pākehā arrived. Gavin takes us inside their minds to show how they drew the coastline of New Zealand, and the illustrations give further information about what was introduced and traded.

Something notable if you have never read a history book that has an integrated world-view of New Zealand: the Treaty of Waitangi isn’t signed until page 20 – one-third of the way through the book. There was a lot of history in Aotearoa before Pākehā came and carved it up, and this book ensures the younger generation doesn’t forget it. I will also add, for me the best parts of the book are those which tell about the settlement of New Zealand by all its peoples.

From the late 19th century on, Gavin does break-out ‘survey’ pages telling about progress in different areas of life and society. Transport, employment, houses, education. Each of these are finely drawn, but as somebody who tends to view things in a linear manner, I couldn’t help but want the images to sit in a more time-oriented manner!

The things he brings out though are wonderful, and there are several juxtapositions that made me smile to myself – in housing, these three things are close together: 1937: State houses were built for those who could not afford their own; 2008: A house in Masterton designed by the Wellington firm Melling Morse Architects; 2015: The number of homeless people who slept on the streets increased.

Gavin has also very cleverly given potted histories of famous architects, significant visionaries, and so on throughout his illustrations. His war illustrations are majestic artworks of the sort that I hope go on tour through Painted Stories.

I will stop myself gushing over every page and think about audience for a second. There is nothing that Gavin has done that hasn’t got kids in the centre of his thinking. The lollies page is fantastic; the clothes page – which involves many members of his own family – could inspire a class study of fashions using old family photos; the sports section is brilliant – and of course the All Blacks are running across the South Island. The disasters section is a starter page for 100s of school projects in the future. He has chosen famous people that children can relate to (Jamie Curry, Annabel Langbein, Witi Ihimaera, Lorde) and singers, writers, actors, dancers and artists as well. I’m pleased to see he has drawn himself in there.

Gavin has not been afraid to put his worldview across. ‘1840: The Treaty of Waitangi gave Māori the rights of British citizens. But for over 100 years it was ignored and ruled irrelevant to New Zealand law and government’. He has told briefly of land marches, protests, Bastion Point and Moutoa Gardens, hikoi, and wrongful Anti-terror raids. He has also called out those who are destroying our land: ‘Careless use of the environment threatens all life.’ Possibly the cutest drawing of the south island has it turned into a possum…

But the book ends with hope. Electric transport is being brought in. Kāpiti Island is a bird sanctuary, the Southern Ocean is a whale sanctuary. There are good things happening in agriculture. And finally, we have children flying the flag for the future. Just perfect.
It doesn’t matter what age you are, you will learn something from this book. You will understand how history has formed our land. Gavin has used the academic work of our most important historians to focus his drawings, and he has done a superlative job. Step out of the way, everybody, the award goes to…

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story
by Gavin Bishop
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143770350

 

Book Review: I Can’t Sleep, by Stephanie Blake

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_i_cant_sleepMy son has recently re-discovered Simon the rabbit (or is that Poo Bum?) and all six of the books that we have are currently on the ‘read every night’ list. Alex likes them because they have the words poo and fart in them, and because Simon is a little bit like him. Set in his ways, prone to stubborn fits of determination, but ultimately brave and clever!

This year’s instalment in the series is I Can’t Sleep, and it is a sweet story of sibling dependence. Simon’s brother’s name has changed from Gaspard to Caspar, which made doubt my memory, but other than that, this is one of my favourite books in the series.

Simon and Caspar have played all day, building a ‘STUPENDOUS’ hut, and they are settling down to sleep, but suddenly… Caspar recalls that he has left his toy rabbit outside! Oh no! Simon tries to explain why blanky needs to stay out there overnight, but Caspar gets more and more upset. This is shown in a comic-book style of illustration, with several frames showing the build-up of frustration. Finally, Simon gets his Super-Rabbit cape and goes outside to get it.

Will the blanky be there? Will the monster get Simon before he gets back inside? Will their parents hear him as he is going out the front door? You’ll have to read this one to find out.

I like this instalment in the Simon series for its empathy. Simon is forced to think of somebody other than himself for a change, and manages to work it to his advantage, with Caspar left in awe of Simon’s bravery. The sort of ‘face your fears and do it anyway’ theme is frequently seen in picture books, but empathy isn’t as prominent as a theme, so well done to Blake for doing it so relatably.

ICan'tSleep_TreeAlex & I also realised that the design of this book is very clever. He likes to select his favourite pages by colour, which as the reader I hadn’t noticed was different for each page. Something that kids who aren’t focused on the words will see, of course. Then, we spotted that the words on most pages are in the shape of a tree or bush – in my favourite spread (above), mimicking the illustration on the right-hand side. Clever!

The son who loves them is off to school for his first visit next week: he has been reading and reading I don’t want to go to School, and I think he might be ready.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

I Can’t Sleep!
by Stephanie Blake
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571642

Book Review: The Ice Sea Pirates, by Frida Nilsson

Available from bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_ice_sea_piratesAre you ready for an adventure on the high seas (without Captain Feathersword?) Pick up The Ice Sea Pirates, and you are in for a treat: Siri’s adventure holds drama, unexpected sub-plots and exotic frozen worlds at every turn.

The Ice Sea Pirates is a sea opera, if you will. It has big, crazy plotlines writ larger than life that all coalesce to tell a story of essential humanity, within the bounds of a classic adventure story. Siri and Miki live with their Dad on a small island in the far North, where the sea freezes in winter. Their Dad is elderly and still suffers from the impact of a fishing accident many years earlier, so the girls need to help to get food. When they are searching for berries on another island, they are separated, and so starts Siri’s wild adventures across the wilds of the Northern Seas.

Siri knows exactly who has Miki: the Ice Sea Pirates, lead by Captain Whitehead, who shares his loot but captures young children wherever he sails. Everybody knows the stories, and most know somebody who has been lost to the Captain. But it takes a 10-year-old with a heart of gold (or at least guilt) and a mind of steel, to decide to go after them and get her sister back. She gets hired to work in the galley of the Pole Star, befriending Fredrik, the chef on the ship.

One of the strongest aspects of this book is the complex way in which friendships and relationships are described convincingly from the point of view of a 10-year-old. Fredrik’s sister was taken a decade or more ago by the Captain, and so after laying his story on Siri, he throws his lot in with her. But there is calumny, and they are separated, Siri being locked in a storehouse to ensure she misses the ship as it sails. She cautiously accepts help from a wolf-hunter of dubious moral integrity, before ending up back on the sea, then ashore again, this time becoming a surrogate mother to a merchild. Her next friendship is with the lonely boy Einar, who just wants to feed his family.

Siri’s inner life grows with every encounter, and she learns about herself and humanity through her adventures through the world. She learns to identify nastiness without a word spoken, and learns the way in which adults build up their stories to protect themselves from the truth. She also, once we reach our final destination through sheer bloody-minded tenacity, learns how quickly children can be taught through cruelty to do the same.

The illustrations from David Barrow are just perfect, and well-placed to enhance the mood of the story. The book bears quite a commercial cover for Gecko, but one that matches well the tone of the plot inside. It is dark, in tone and plot – the ice cracks with every page – so keep that in mind as you purchase.

This is an invigorating read, which delivers all the tenets of excellent story-telling, and the final scenes are unexpected and well-paced. I highly recommend it as a family read for older kids, and as a wonderful read to extend children aged 9+ with the appropriate emotional maturity. I reckon we’ll see this translation winning prizes worldwide.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Ice Sea Pirates
by Frida Nilsson
Illustrated by David Barrow
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571468

AWF17: Pakeha Oral Poetry, with Glenn Colquhoun

I first encountered Glenn Colquhoun as a school performer, so it was a pleasure to sit in on a schools session with him. His self-deprecating humour and judicious use of the F- word made him a hit with the students, and added to the already-great reputation as a speaker that meant he needed to move from the ASB Theatre to the bigger Lower NZI Room.

glenn colquhoun
Glenn was the first poetry writer in New Zealand to sell 5,000 copies of a poetry book, with his collection Playing God (Steele Roberts, 2003). I’m sure that Hera Lindsay Bird has now well and truly joined him on that parapet. Glenn is a medical doctor, children’s writer, poet, and an astonishing speaker and thinker.

Have you ever thought about the way in which the poetry traditions of the Pakeha and Māori differ? Glenn has, and he is here to bring them together. He noted that the Pakeha tradition is “a written poetry taught in school, while the other is sung, chanted and intoned. Performed with the body, punctured in the skin.” He was inspired by this to write oral poetry, sung poetry – and so he promised to sing to us, “Not that I can sing.”

Glenn says, “If you look at a written poem, inside it is a sung poem. Like when I look into your ear, there are three bones from a reptile inside it.” He suggests picking up the study of oral poetry in schools to teachers – why not do a close reading of KaMate?

Glenn explored the traditional song-formats for Europeans, and has written a series of songs about characters from European history that intrigued him, writing them into a combination of Māori and European formats.  He wrote these oral poems to tell his European stories, his migration stories. “My experience of Māori is that they are waiting for pakeha to sing them their songs. When you sing a song you reveal something right at the heart of what you are.”

Glenn then invited students up to choose a character from his set of around 20, for him to sing about, bribing them with chocolates (these are teenagers after all).

Ernst Dieffenbach was the first to be chosen by a student. Dieffenbach was one of the first scientists to live in New Zealand. He surveyed the land for the New Zealand Company. He collected rocks, flowers, plants. He renamed the plants, he named stones; he was the first Pakeha to climb Mt Taranaki – and he kept a pet Weka which followed him around like a chicken. He was also one of the first Western doctors in New Zealand – he treated people after a battle on the Kapiti Coast, where Glenn now practices. Glenn’s interest in Dieffenbach was extended when he realised he was treating descendants of those treated by Dieffenbach after this battle.

Dieffenbach also wrote the second grammar of the Māori language – and Māori thought he was the strangest Pakeha they’d ever seen, collecting rocks and hiring them to carry them for him. Glenn has written a sea shanty for him, in the form of a haka: he calls it a ‘Shaka’. Listening to Glenn sing is a pretty unique experience – his daughter is right in thinking the tune doesn’t always hold, but he really can sing. And he does so from the heart.

The second character chosen was a skeletal character called William Strong, the Master of the Orpheus, which stranded in 1860’s on the bar outside Manukau Harbour, within about 500 metres of land. None of the sailors and soldiers could swim, so 60-70 soldiers died that day in the worst maritime disaster in New Zealand’s history. These soldiers were intended to support the NZ government in the Māori Land Wars, so one would assume there wasn’t anybody on shore prepared to help. Anyway, 17–18 years after the Orpheus drowned, as the story goes, a whole skeleton washed up on the beach: it was identifiable as William Strong, because it had a captain’s jacket on. This song was a pure sea shanty.

All of his characters have stories that are tied with New Zealand history, and they form part of a collection he is working on called Myths and Legends of the Ancient Pakeha. Colquhoun says, “We can look at our written poem and find the oral heart of it, yet our poets have rarely ever crossed over.” This is what he is doing: he wants to make the poetic forms talk to each other.

Students at the high school sessions were a lot more hesitant in coming forward for questions, but there was an excellent question from a person who writes their own spoken word poems. Glenn’s advice to them was to play – play around, like a kid does playing with toys and telling stories: “If you use your imagination, the thing is alive. Tell the stories of your own life, be playful.”

The final song was Glenn’s choice, and it was a song about Jackie Price, a Pakeha man who married a Maori woman, but turned out to be a rogue. He stole a lot of sealskins, and as punishment he and his wife were stranded deliberately on the Solomon Islands in Foveaux Strait (with the expectation they would die there). Price created a coracle and made it back to New Zealand, and we joined in with the chorus, urging Price on through the Foveaux Strait.

I’ll leave you with Glenn’s final words: “If you want to write, don’t ever let it die. Don’t let anybody tell you it is a frivolous thing to do. It is more important than accounting. Don’t give up.”

If you have the opportunity to see Glenn: do it. He is on three more times at the festival: at the Gala Night – True Stories Told Live on Thursday night; at Walk on High on Friday night; and with Dr David Gellar and Sue Wooton talking Matters Medical on Saturday.

Attended and Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Glenn’s latest book is:

Late Love
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN 9780947492892