Book Review: The Genius of Bugs, by Simon Pollard

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_genius_of_booksImagine you are a bug living in a bug world, where a blade of grass is as tall as a tree! All around you are other bugs with secret weapons on search and destroy missions. Lurking behind every leaf are mini-masters of disguise waiting to catch you out.

Bugs have been on earth for almost 400 million years. They were here before the dinosaurs and are still here, 65 million years after dinosaurs became extinct. What these critters do is really clever. The genius of bugs is revealed through their use of weapons, feats of engineering, scams and deceptions, and incredible teamwork.

This is a great book to introduce children to the magic of bugs. The use of in-built weapons by the Bombardier beetle, the marvel of miniature engineering of the Dragonfly and how a Portia jumping spider uses its exceptional intelligence to hunt other spiders.

I read this book with 5 ½-year-old Abby. We pored over the pages with her exclaiming ‘ooh yuk’a lot, but fascinated all the same. Afterwards, we took her magnifying glass outside with her net and bug catcher to see what we could find. We found a fine collection of moths, flies, spiders and snails, examined them at length and finally released them back into the wild.

This is a great book with lots of information and facts about bugs. It was great to see a page dedicated to genius bugs from New Zealand, and overall this is a great book for the aspiring biologist.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Genius of Bugs
by Simon Pollard
Published by Te Papa Press
ISBN 9780994136213

Book Review: Real Modern – Everyday life in New Zealand in the 1950s and 1960s, by Bronwyn Labrum

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_real_modern.jpgWhat a wonderful piece of work this book is! For those of us who lived through these decades as kids and teenagers, every page has something which rings a bell. We did think we were the cat’s pyjamas in our ever-changing fashions, and so hip and cool with all the new music.

For Gen X and Y, and on, it’s a wonderful way to get an idea of what your parents and grandparents read, listened to, watched, ate, played and so much more. As a social commentary, it works very well indeed. The layout and the gazillion photographs really bring the years to life.

I found that so many of the entries and comments triggered great memories – the section on Manual Training which happened in Intermediate schools in the late 50s reminded me of my fearsome cooking and sewing teacher who, being of vitriolic temperament, would hurl kitchen implements at us when we did not get things right. Once, even more memorably, she chased a friend around the cooking room with a carving knife for some perceived act of insubordination.

I remember the revolting dental chair – as a preschooler I had terrible teeth and spent far too much time in that horrible chair, with the foot-driver grinding drill.

As a student, I visited Wellington, and delighted in the Monde Marie coffee bar which was the heart of the folk music scene.

I “managed” a group of school students from Christchurch to Auckland  on the Interisland overnight ferry and the overnight train and can vouch for the sections on those modes of transport. The clothes, the shoes, the picnics beside cars on the side of the road, all so true of NZ “way back when!”

It’s a book to return to, with delight, and recognition, and amusement if you are old enough to remember 40-50 years back. And if you’re not, it’s still a great delight. I recommend it hugely – will make a wonderful talking point for family occasions, too!

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Real Modern: Everyday life in New Zealand in the 1950s and 1960s
by Bronwyn Labrum
Published by Te Papa Press
ISBN 9780994104175

Book Reviews: My New Zealand 123 Book, My New Zealand Colours Book, My New Zealand ABC Book, by Te Papa Press

Available now in bookstores nationwide.

These three board books from Te Papa Press are beautifully presented and published. cv_nz_colours_bookEach of them use objects from Te Papa Museum’s collection to illustrate the basic alphabet, numbers, and colour concepts.

The text is sparing, simple and playful. It encourages the reader to look more closely at the images shown, giving quips and quirky suggestions that accompany each image perfectly. Each of the key elements are indicated both in English and in Te Reo, an important addition for any kiwi version of these toddler staples – but one that is often overlooked. I, for one, never realised that the Maori word for ‘grey’ was kiwikiwi – what an appropriate word for the bubbling Rotorua mudpools that illustrate the colour grey. Pāua is a unique kiwi addition to the colours also, and a very important one – but it won’t stop kids arguing whether a pāua shell is mostly blue, mostly green, or mostly purple! cv_nz_123_book

The Te reo Māori pronunciation guide at the back of each of the books is important for parents as much as for children, to give the best start possible for learning Te reo at home.

I can’t think of any collection of basic-concept board books that do as well as these at providing children with real-life examples that they can relate to as kiwi children. Equally, they show the unique flavour of life here in New Zealand for those from abroad.

The breadth of art that the images cover is incredible. Modern and classical sculpture, cv_my_NZ_ABC_bookfashion, antique jewellery and artifacts, photography, model airplanes, modern jewellery, puppets, gold nuggets. This alone teaches children how broad and interesting our world is here in the deep south. The images are evocative and have the feel of something ‘found’ rather than something sought. Te Papa’s curators must have enjoyed contributing to these books, and I am certain authors James Brown and Frances Samuel enjoyed coming up with the accompanying words.

My favourite rhyme is from the illustration for ‘C’ – a car made of corrugated iron:
C is for car
all rusty and crinkly.
Too long in the bath
has made it go wrinkly.

I expect these to be available at every bookstore, giftstore and kiosk in New Zealand as fantastic gifts for children, grandchildren and friends. My copies are going straight to my kiwi friend, who lives in Canada, for her baby girl.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

My New Zealand 123 Book
Text by James Brown and Frances Samuel
Published by Te Papa Press

My New Zealand Colours Book
Text by James Brown and Frances Samuel
Published by Te Papa Press

My New Zealand ABC Book
Text by James Brown and Frances Samuel
Published by Te Papa Press

Book Review: The Curioseum: Collected stories of the odd & marvellous

What a fantastic idea for a book.cv_the_curiousem Museums are hives of story, both real and imagined. Things in museums all have something different to communicate, and these 22 authors have created new stories surrounding some intriguing objects from Te Papa Museum.

I am envious of the carte blanche the authors were given in the museum archives. I still remember being able to explore the archives of Coaltown, where my mum worked in Westport. I used to love going exploring in the attic – of course nothing was clearly archived, so it was really dusty and grimy, but there was magic up there.

Realistic dialogue between children is one of the major strengths of several of the stories in this book, with Anatonio Te Maioha writing about a disaster in a lift, and John McCrystal writing about two kids bickering as they go through the museum with their mum, learning about a dog-skin cloak whose owner remains a mystery.

The authors chosen have put their own recognisable imprint on their story, with Kyle Mewburn writing about a fold-up boy who is a bit of a dunderhead, Phillip Mann invoking the supernatural Sa-Li, James Brown giving us an acrostic poem about Britten’s bike, Joy Cowley writing a caper story featuring an errant cat, and Raymond Huber writing one of the most memorable stories in the collection, of a unique breed of humans who mature into insects (a highly original allegory for puberty).

While my children are too young for most of these stories, I still attempted the launch at Te Marae at the beginning of the month. I enjoyed the wonderful Jo Randerson reading her story, and so did my 3-year-old, but the 18-month old is a bit over-active for that sort of immersion in words!

The cover and the interior illustrations are all by Sarah Laing, who is a fantastic artist, and has some really neat interpretations of the stories. I am enjoying this trend at the moment of using cartoonists for cover illustration – Sarah has done several cartoon covers recently, and Dylan Horrocks also: both have an eye-catching style of lettering and illustration. The weight and feel of this book are also well-considered.

This is a wonderful collection for children aged 8-12. Both world wars and the holocaust come up in the book a couple of different times, as well as several Maori myths, so be prepared for some chances to explain Maori mythology and European history if they aren’t yet aware of it. I look forward to the next children’s book from Te Papa Press, especially if they collaborate with Whitireia Publishing further.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Curioseum: Collected Stories of the Odd & Marvellous
Edited by Adrienne Jansen
Published by Te Papa Press
ISBN 9787877385926

 

Book Review: The Essential Audrey Eagle, by Audrey Eagle

This title is available in bookstores now. A good present for the gardener in your life?

There needs to be more people like Audrey Eagle. AudreImagey trained as a draughtsperson and then applied her professional skills to something she was really passionate about. The work that came out of is beautiful and important, significantly contributing to the understanding of New Zealand’s incredible plant life. People who use their professional skills to do great stuff for causes they are passionate about are awesome. And Te Papa Press has been hard at work to let us all know just how awesome Audrey is.

In 2006, a two-volume collection of all of Audrey Eagle’s work was published and won the Montana Book Award for Non-fiction. This has now been followed up by an elegant, slimmed down version The Essential Audrey Eagle. A very manageable size for picking up and admiring, this one is refreshingly light and affordable. Thankfully not another book for my overly subscribed coffee table.

Botanical illustration is alive and flourishing despite a world full of gadgetry. We expect photography would have rendered the process irrelevant but these carefully drawn works are as important and sought after as ever. Why? Firstly, they are an important resource for identifying plants as they contain a vast amount of detail and information. Characteristics of a plant that may be really difficult to photograph can be pulled out and shown in incredible detail and the different developmental stages shown next to each other. Secondly, these kinds of images can be breathtakingly beautiful and are still popular as works of art.

So of course, this book is gorgeous. Audrey Eagle is a master of translating the great natural beauty of plants to the page. The pp_audrey_eagleEssential Audrey Eagle shows off 163 illustrations selected from 60 years of work. It has covered the hit list of NZ plants, the household names — kowhai, pohutukawa, rata, manuka, cabbage trees, flaxes. But it also pays tribute to the huge variety by showing a representation of each woody species. This makes the book an excellent primer.

Out in nature, overwhelmed by the whole, it can be difficult to get up close and see the finer points. This book provides the opportunity to drink in the details. I have grown NZ spinach for years but plate 26 made me aware of detailing of the tiny flowers that I had simply overlooked. I’ve spent a lot of time admiring and learning from the side by side comparisons of manuka and kanuka, or the Metrosideros pohutukawa and ratas or the miro and totara. And I’ve been completely won over by the beautiful arrangement of three very different Clematis (plates 13-15) and the detailed leaves of the hutu (plate 18).

Fine craftsmanship is a wonderful thing to behold, and this book displays a true artist’s love and dedication to NZ plants and their conservation. The Essential Audrey Eagle is a book you’ll learn so much from by simply looking at the pretty pictures.

Reviewed by Anna Butterfield
www.loveplantlife.com

The Essential Audrey Eagle
by Audrey Eagle
Published by Te Papa Press
ISBN 9781877385902

Book review: 100 Amazing Tales from Aotearoa by Simon Morton and Riria Hotere

cv_100_amazing_tales_from_aotearoaThis book is in bookstores now

I suspect the challenge of writing a book about a museum is nearly as hard as designing the museum itself. There is a tricky pathway to tread between inspiration and boredom, and always way more material than will fit into the confines available (in this case 225 pages). The authors of 100 Amazing Tales From Aotearoa have solved this by choosing 100 short stories featuring terrifically interesting exhibits. And Simon Horton and Riria Hotere bring a fresh approach to the book that allows their quirkiness and sheer fascination with the oddities of our cultural and natural history to emerge.

Museums are odd concoctions of competing interests at their very best and Te Papa, our national museum, has the challenge of capturing who we are in a single building. Capturing and preserving stories and artefacts of history, art, culture, and natural history (and more) is a noble pastime. But for the museum staff, this is serious and passionate work. It includes serious research and often years (lifetime careers) of commitment. And I think both the (television) series and this book celebrate this work well.

This is not simply a fact-filled book – although there are plenty of those and the supporting photographs are fabulous – it presents the serious information in a fun and enjoyable way. It’s a book that will appeal to adults and children because the mix of information and entertainment is spot on.

I particularly liked the way the important information (e.g. cultural history, modern art, sport, natural curiosities, etc) is presented largely from the perspective of human interaction. The stories are as much about the weavers as they are the weaving; about the soldiers as the war; and about the researchers and their work. And that’s why this book is so accessible.

There is a wonderful story about the restoration of a samurai suit and the individual layers of cloth, leather and hair that took over two years to complete.  The researcher (or should I say detective) used modern X-rays to detect small pieces of metal embedded in the leather suit in the mask. Vital pieces that would, otherwise, remain unseen by the uninformed viewer.

Viewers of TV7 will remember the short bites (Tales From Te Papa) that used to appear from time to time on New Zealand’s free public TV network. This new book covers some of the same areas, but is different enough that the two included DVDs enhance the stories not detract. I suspect our family will dip into this book for many years to come.

Reviewed by Gillian Torckler

100 Amazing Tales from Aotearoa
by Simon Morton and Riria Hotere
Published by Te Papa Press
ISBN 9781877385797

Book review: New Zealand Film an illustrated history

This book is in stores now and is a finalist in the New Zealand Post Book Awards.

For a little country we sure punch above our weight when it comes to film making, but parochial little scrappers yapping around the feet of the big boys we are not.

New Zealand’s film industry has long been sophisticated in what it creates even if what goes on behind the scenes isn’t as extravagant as studios in countries 10 times our size. So who better to compile a definitive history of New Zealand film than The New Zealand Film Archive?

Released in 2011 as part of their 30th year celebrations, this catalogues in detail everything from our first film screening (1896) to our first New Zealand-made film less than three years later right through to the experimental ’60s and ’70s, booming early ’80s, increasingly international ’90s; the early 2000’s that saw Peter Jackson ascend his throne and finally, the films we’re making these days, revelling in all things New Zealand but on a bigger international stage than ever before. It’s not surprising that this is a finalist in the 2012 New Zealand Post Book Awards.

Beautifully bound with a stunning design featuring gorgeous colour photos and an accompanying DVD, this is a tome that will appeal to both the casual Kiwi filmgoer as much as a dyed in the wool film aficionado.

Written by a range of academics, industry experts and devoted fans of the art form, it’s easy to read – not too academic yet not too plainly written. One thing is for sure, when it comes to learning about the history of New Zealand cinema, no other title comes anywhere close to this from both a research and analysis point of view. Every home should own this. No argument.

Reviewed by Sarah McMullan.

New Zealand Film an illustrated history
Edited by: Diane Pivac with Frank Stark and Lawrence McDonald
Published by Te Papa Press in association with the New Zealand Film Archive
ISBN 9781877385667


GIVEAWAY
In conjunction with this review we had four copies of the book to give away. Congratulations to Ben, Stephanie, Jacki and Penny who were our winners. We picked them using random.org – a random number generator.