Books about Books: Lucy’s Book and Maisy goes to the Bookstore

Both books reviewed are available at bookshops nationwide.

If you’ve been watching the picture book – or, indeed the adult book world for the past few years, you will have noticed that there is a trend quietly growing. That is: books about books. A recent favourite for many was A Child of Books, by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston. New Zealand examples include The Boring Book, by Vasanti Unka; A Book is a Book, by Jenny Bornholdt and Sarah Wilkins; and more creatively, Fuzzy Doodle, by Melinda Szymanik and Donovan Bixley.

Though many are favourites, the overall effect that all these books about books has ultimately had on me, is fatigue with the tropes about physical books: the well-meaning urges from the writer to love reading because it’s good. Which means I approached these two books about books – or bookstores (but books really) – with a wary, difficult-to-impress eye.

Lucy’s Book, by Natalie Jane Pryor, illustrated by Cheryl Orsini

cv_lucys_bookLucy’s Book, is about that special book that any reader will understand. That book, that takes hold of you, and won’t let go. Lucy’s book happens to be a library book – and she’s told all of her friends about it, so when she takes it back, they race each other to get it out again. So the story is shared – with their friends, with her neighbours, her dance class, and her neighbourhood.

‘Li-ya, Lucy’s friend from the park, flew with it to China…and Lucy took it with her when Aunt Sophie married the dentist.’

All we know about the book is that it has a red cover, with pictures of adventures on it. That frustrated 6-year-old Dan – he wanted to know what the book was. But I think he will understand, once he’s met that book, that it is different for everybody.

The emotions of reading, and the rich language used in the book are a wonderful window into the world of the book-lover. And I think this is where this book improves on others: it is about the joys that the book-lovers feel when reading, rather than concentrating on just what a book can do independently of its reader. It involves its audience, rather than commanding them to love books.

The illustrator Cheryl Orsini has done a fabulous job. She pushes the emotion of each page into the illustrations in an extraordinary way. No detail is spared. Look at the cover of the books when Lucy gets her book out for the first time – an ice cream, a plate with cake, a whole fish… Then look at the covers of the books when Lucy finds out her book has worn out, and is no longer able to be rented. A boy with bandages, fish bones, an empty plate, spilt milk.

Maisy Goes to the Bookshop, by Lucy Cousins

cv_maisy-goes-to-the-bookshopI’m pleased to say that Maisy Goes to the Bookshop is similar. While there is a more basic tone and language set, Maisy goes to the bookshop and revels in the choice she has of reading materials. She is the reader, and we are finding out why she reads. And all her friends happen to be there!

My 4-year-old loves Maisy – he learned to count and recognise numbers before he was 2, thanks to Maisy Counts the Chicks – but his relationship with books more generally is a little harder to pick. He’s read this with one of his parents every night since I brought it home.

You know from the title what happens. Maisy goes to the bookshop – where Ostrich helps her find a beautiful book about birds to share with Tallulah: then her friend Charlie comes out from behind the shelves. ‘”Ahoy, Maisy!” he says. I’m reading a book about pirates. I can imagine US as pirates!”’ As we find more friends we learn what they can imagine themselves as, until the reader is fully engaged with Eddie, who shows us in thought bubbles, what he is imagining himself as. Alex loves to match the thought bubbles with a book, and tell us what he thinks they are about.

I’ve seen Lucy Cousins reviewed negatively for her drawings, and yes they are simple, but they are bright and engaging for young eyes. She packs the detail in – and you always know what she has drawn. Another favourite page for Alex was the cafe page, where they all ate biscuits, muffins, cherries and strawberries.

More of these please, publishers! I love books about readers, not books that are only about books – because reading is magical in and of itself. Don’t over-analyse it!

Reviewed by Sarah Forster, editor of The Sapling.

Maisy Goes to the Bookshop
by Lucy Cousins
published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406369847

Lucy’s Book
by Natalie Jane Prior, and Cheryl Orsini
Published by Lothian Children’s Books
ISBN 9780734416605

Funny note: In the USA, Maisy Goes to the Local Bookstore (rather than the Bookshop) – and where do you think the first link came up to for this? That’s right – starts with A and ends with N.

How to make a gift for a Prince

When we heard that the Royal Visit to New Zealand was timed for April, we saw the perfect opportunity to gift 9-month-old Prince George with the wonderful Picture Book finalists selected in this year’s New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. The idea quickly expanded to annually gifting the young Prince and his family the finalists that most suit his age until he reaches the age of 18. By the time Prince George grows up, the Cambridge family will have a superb collection of New Zealand literature, all personally inscribed.
Prince George Book Wrapping_1_square
So how do you make a gift for a Prince? When you work in an industry where everyone loves what they do, it’s no trouble at all to put together something really special.

The first thing to do was to get the publishers and authors on board. We approached the finalist publishers Scholastic NZ, Penguin, Gecko Press and Page Break to see if the authors and illustrators would like to write a personal message to Prince George on their finalist books. The result was some wonderful and creative messages including an illustrated bear from Donovan Bixley and a personalised poem called ‘Prince George’ by Catherine Foreman. She even made a gorgeous wee origami-styled envelope for the poem.

Prince George Book Wrapping_Boats envelope for P George
We spoke to our friends at Clemenger BBDO design agency based here in Wellington, and they were as excited as we were about getting creative with the new Awards logo and Prince George Book Wrapping_Front cover of carddesign to create some colourful wrapping paper and a personalised card. They presented
us with 5 fabulously fun colours of wrapping paper, one to carefully wrap each precious book in, and a personalised card with George on the front.

Clemenger BBDO donated their time free of charge and worked with Service Printers to create the best looking wrapping paper and card you could hope to see and we thank them both for their time and contribution.

We sent the card (with a second copy in case of mistakes) to our Board Chair, Random House Publishing Manager Nicola Legat, where she put pen to paper and addressed the card and present to Prince George. With the card back in hand, our PR Advisor Adrienne Olsen put her gift wrapping skills to good use and carefully wrapped each book.

Prince George Book Wrapping_3Little did we know this idea of ours was going to result in international media coverage, with our gift of picture books featuring in any number of Royal Visit articles across the world, as well as in New Zealand. Back here at home, the picture book finalists flew off the shelves as book store staff catered to people coming in store ‘wanting to buy the books that Prince George received’.

The books gifted to Prince George included: Machines and Me: Boats, by Catherine Foreman (Scholastic NZ), The Boring Book, by Vasanti Unka (Penguin), The Three Bears…Sort of, by Yvonne Morrison and Donovan Bixley (Scholastic), Toucan Can, by Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis (Gecko Press), and Watch Out, Snail! By Gay Hay and Margaret Tolland (Page Break Ltd).

Prince George Book Wrapping_2

by Amie Lightbourne, Awards Manager
Photographs by Adrienne Olsen, Awards Publicist  adrienne@adroite.co.nz

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Book Review: The Boring Book, by Vasanti Unka

Available now in bookstores.

The first thing I thought when I opened thiscv_the_boring_book book was – wow, this was published by a New Zealand publishing company! It is very rare you get a book with this many bells and whistles – several books within the book – published by a New Zealand publishing company. Mainly because usually the quantities we print in here mean they cannot make enough of them to be economic – somebody has to fold these things, after all.

The Boring Book is a very clever book. Similar to Oliver Jeffers’ The Book Eating Boy, it uses graphic effects to give the impression of being an old cancelled book from (in this case) Whakatane Public Library (see p2). Vasanti Unka is a designer, a craft-person, an illustrator and a writer. And she is one very talented lady.

The theme of the book is how words come to life for different people in different ways. Starting with the very boring book (which is actually not boring at all if you are a person who likes witty books about typography and suchlike), the words then break free and dance all over the pages in a wonderful explosion of colour. Until everybody gets sick of them, and reins them in.

My favourite page has the words ‘slimy slop’ and ‘sloppy plop’ on it. My favourite spread has a ‘Hug Stop’, ‘Don’t Walk, Boogie’, and a ‘Stop and dance’ sign. This book succeeds beautifully as a celebration of words.

While it is fun and fantastic to look at, the audience is a bit indistinct. It is pitched somewhere between a picture book and a sophisticated picture book, and it doesn’t feel like anybody really quite made their mind up. The theme is certainly for everybody, so perhaps that is okay. I urge you to go and pick it up in a bookstore. If you fall in love with it instantly, it is for you!

Well done to Penguin NZ for showing they are world-class, in publishing such a stylish piece of work. As Unka develops her craft further, I hope we see more exciting designs, with strong stories to go with them.  Age recommendation 5+

Reviewed by Sarah Forster, Web Editor, Booksellers NZ

The Boring Book
by Vasanti Unka
Published by Penguin Books NZ
ISBN 9780143505754