Book Review: Mr Postmouse Goes on Holiday, by Marianne Dubuc, translated by Greet Pauelijn

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_mr_postmouse_goes_on_holidayWhen I was a little boy I used to read (or at least I had read to me) Richard Scarry’s wonderful series, especially What Do People Do All Day? and the Huckle stories. These were fantastic books with animals, dressed as humans, at the heart them. In every tale, they lived, dressed and talked just like we did but the most wonderful part was Scarry’s exploded and cut away drawings, which allowed you to see inside buildings, cars, firetrucks and even submarines. Coupled with exquisite details but a relaxed style, you really got inside the lives of these characters – to dream and imagine what they were like and let your mind wonder beyond the stories.

Reading French Canadian author/illustrator Marianne Dubuc’s new book, Mr Postmouse goes on Holiday, I felt just the same way I did reading Mr Scarry. Along with my six-year-old daughter, we poured over the brightly coloured, charming and detailed water colour illustrations, almost forgetting to actually read the story. Actually, it’s not hard because Dubuc has intentionally placed the text, single sentence blocks, in amongst her drawings, as if she wants you to discover them. Perhaps those who are a bit eye-sight challenged may have to grab their specs but the learner-readers in my house hold took great delight in picking their way through the 10-point font size, as if there were treasures to uncover. And on that point Dubuc’s language is simple enough for new readers, years 1 & 2, especially. The translation from French is clean and intelligent. No clunky sentences or odd phrasing to stubble over. It remains compelling enough to move the story along and keep the pages turning.

The plot is very simple. What does Mr Postmouse do when he goes on holiday? He continues to deliver the mail of course. Sound like a few parents you may know, who just can’t switch off their work phones when they go to the beach? This a return of Dubuc’s characters, the Postmouse family, this time as Globetrotters bouncing around the planet dropping off packages to their friends on the way; sailing on ships with opera shows on board; toasting marshmallows over a volcano; flying in hot air balloons and visiting Eskimos at the Pole. In amongst the narrative illustrations, Dubuc drops in a few visual jokes which the adults and caregivers will appreciate. For example, there’s a scene where they all stay at a campsite. While family pitching tents in the foreground, two children are dropping bread crumbs as they approach a house made of candy. In the trees, there’s a squirrel with sunglasses and a troupe of Boy Scouts on a trek. In the desert scene, there’s a snake living in a palatially appointed four room cactus apartment, whilst another serpent is sneaking around in the branches of an apple tree and a little Postmouse is taking a luxurious a dip in the hotel’s oasis, blowing water spouts like a Blue Whale.

I’d not come across Montreal based Dubuc before but I’d be keen to explore here repertoire further now. She has books, including Here Comes Mr Postmouse and the Lion and The Bird, in over 20 languages for many different age groups but, clearly, she really enjoys producing material like this. You can feel the joy in every page. You can see why she won the 2014 Governor General Award, a Canadian literary award for English-language fiction, for outstanding illustrations for her book The Lion and the Bird.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

Mr Postmouse Goes on Holiday
by Marianne Dubuc, translated by Greet Pauelijn
Published by Book Island
ISBN 9781911496045

Book Review: William Wenton and the Luridium Thief, by Bobbie Peers, translated by Tara Chace

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_willian_wenton_and_the_luridium_thiefWilliam Wenton and the Luridium Thief was a big hit in Norway, where it walked away with the Ark’s Children’s Book Award in 2015. It has now been translated into 30 languages (including, obviously, English) and is set to become a feature film.

Eight years ago, William’s father was badly injured in a car accident and his grandfather vanished without a trace. Now his family are maintaining a low profile “hiding out” in Norway. William doesn’t know why, but he does know he must not draw attention to himself.

However, the arrival of the “Impossible Puzzle” proves an irresistible lure… and William’s love of cracking codes lead him to expose his talents, and therefore his family. Before they get the chance to flee to a more obscure location, William is captured and drawn into the mysterious Institute for Post-Human Research. Here he meets a wide range of bizarre robots with highly specialised skills, is given a special globe puzzle to solve and learns the secret of luridium, a rare metal that if it fell into the wrong hands, could cause disaster. Unfortunately there is someone else who wants it and will stop at nothing to have it – and William – under their control.

Aside from a few mild twists, the story followed fairly predictable lines. The pacing was good, with plenty of action and a few laughs, and, combined with the relatively simple language and short chapters, make it a good choice for the more reluctant or inexperienced reader. I did find it a bit disappointing that, despite being about code-breaking, there were no codes in the book for the reader to solve. Indeed, none were described in any detail, with William merely relying on his intuition to solve them.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

William Wenton and the Luridium Thief
by Bobbie Peers, translated by Tara Chace
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406371703

Book Review: Kill the Next One, by Federico Axat

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_kill_the_next_oneThis is a fantastic psychological thriller, about what we might consider when our own lives were no longer important. Ted has a terminal brain tumour, and as he attempts suicide, the doorbell rings – a stranger asks him to kill two deserving people (The first target is a criminal, and the second is a man with terminal cancer who, like Ted, wants to die), in return for an agreement to have another end his own life.

When I began reading, I was hooked…especially at the double-back. As Ted battles with the enormity of what he has done, and what he may do, we become increasingly meshed with the multitude of dilemmas in which he finds himself.

My head spun with the merry-go-round of events as his life unravels after attempting suicide. What was going to happen next? The puzzle is so enigmatic, I had to keep reading as events unfolded.

The more Ted learned, the more intricate the tale. His fouled relationship with his wife and daughters, his enmeshment in so many complications, the discoveries we find all keep us engaged in the story. Definitely a one-sitting read!

An unusual tale, told in a series of twists…which I’m afraid seemed (to me) to wrap up too suddenly, leaving something indeterminate unsaid. The final chapter seemed a bit of a let-down, but the fact remains, I’ve read no crime novel like this before, and I want more from Axat.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

Kill The Next One
by Federico Axat
Published byThe Text Publishing, Australia 2016
Originally published as La ultima salida (The Last Way Out)2016
Translation © Hatchette Book Group Ltd with permission of Little, Brown and Company, ISBN: 9781925355871

Book Review: Transit of Venus / Venustransit, by Hinemoana Baker et al

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_transit_of_venusFour years ago three New Zealand and three German poets went on a journey to Tolaga Bay to witness the transit of Venus, an event that occurs in pairs every 120-odd years. Famously, Captain Cook landed on that very spot during a transit of Venus some 250 years ago, for what is regarded as the first friendly encounter between Europeans and Maori.

Now the poems written on and around this trip in 2012 have been curated in a marvellous collection in German and English, some with a Māori component. A number of poems are juxtaposed with their respective translation, some remain within their language; an added air of mystery for monolingual readers. Many of the poems delve into the mysterious, pick up on the goddess theme, such as Uwe Kolbe’s total mythology mash-up Venus, Ein europäischer Transit … , or bring the surroundings into the poetry; and then there is the odd (very odd) shanty.

Just as the Transit of Venus can only be observed through a telescope, many of the translations involved an intermediary to aid with clarity between the languages. Translations were collaborated on via skype, which means the poems went up into space before landing back on earth in their altered form. It is this complex web of interaction and intermediacy, which makes this project so interesting.

The collection is rounded off with a profile of each poet and an interview with the three German poets, at least one of whom had never been to New Zealand before. Another first encounter for them.

This collection is exciting on so many levels. The reader does not need to know all the languages involved to be able to enjoy the interplay, but it sure adds another level. What we have here is a voyage of discovery, an experience of proximity and distance in time, space and language. A connection forged between two continents. May it persist and prosper.

Reviewed by Melanie Wittwer, English/German translator

Transit of Venus | Venustransit
by Hinemoana Baker, Ulrike Almut Sandig, Glenn Colquhoun, Uwe Kolbe, Brigitte Oleschinski, Chris Price
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9780864739797

Book Review: The Big Book of Animals of the World, by Ole Könnecke

Available now in bookstores nationwide.

cv_the_big_book_of_animals_of_the_worldMy family are all very familiar with Ole Könnecke’s style, with The Big Book of Words and Pictures being published in 2011, the year my eldest boy began learning to talk. Both boys have been utterly obsessed at various times with that book, so much so that we were guilty of occasionally hiding it when Dan went through a long stage of requesting us to make up a story every night, including all of the items/creatures on each page. Luckily that book, like this, The Big Book of Animals of the World, was designed for just this purpose.

The Big Book of Animals of the World shows animals in their native environments, with  characters going about their business in towns, forests, cairns and arroyos at the bottom of the page. There is somebody off looking for gold in the hills of some chilly-looking grassland that reminds me of Central Otago (probably not: Ole grew up in Sweden), and there is a group of kindergarteners off on a scenic trip through the Swiss alps. There is even a tourist-photographer taking a photo of some of the wildlife in the African savannah. The different environments are easily identifiable for adults, without need for extra explanation, but there is a handy map at the back of the book with key animals in each continent.

Koennecke_24299_MR2.inddI’m not going to lie to you: this book does not fit into any book case we own. But that is just another reason the kids love it so much. It is designed to be used and pored over every day, not tucked away on the bookshelf. It is beautifully illustrated, handsomely designed and I would hazard a guess that the translation is spot-on. It was first published in Germany so I was curious to see what animals were represented on the German cover – see this to the left. As you can see, they are quite different, as the animals familiar / fascinating to German children and those favoured by the NZ/Australia and US markets must be quite different.

Each of the animals has a distinctly recognisable expression on their face, which is cleverly carried on through the way they hold themselves: taking the cover animals as an example, the secretary bird looks impatient, the fox looks shifty, the dog looks bemused, the meerkat mischievous, and the koala benign. I had a chuckle on the Amazon page at the bored jaguar, and on the arroyo we have the coyote looking back at the roadrunner. Excellent.

This book is the perfect book for a young child who is just learning to identify the world around them. As my children have grown with the previous book, they have built up their word knowledge, each time adding to their vocabulary. I am looking forward to many more evenings of entertainment with this book.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The Big Book of Animals of the World
by Ole Könnecke
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570126

Book Review: My Name is N., by Robert Karjel

cv_my_name_is_NAvailable now in bookstores nationwide.

In this mystery-come-crime novel, Karjel takes us back and forth between December 2004 in Thailand and 2008 in the US. Ernst Grip serves as security for the Swedish Security Police, but occasionally is called back to his former role as an agent. This time his boss sends him for the Swedish Foreign Ministry to work with the Justice Department of the US about a crime committed in Topeka .

Before the latest assignment, he worked with five people who met after the Tsunami of 2004 in Thailand. This group carries a grudge against the loud-speaking leader of a conservative church, and Grip assists them in taking revenge for his outrageous public derogatory spume against the tsunami victims.

His current assignment takes him to the US, then to a remote secure island in the Indian Ocean, under the “management” of an FBI agent. His task is to try and confirm whether a captive of the US security is a fellow Swede. The captive will not speak, but Grip manages to break through and learns enough of his background and suffering to put together the full picture.

Karjel uses time swapping to good effect. We gather the bits and pieces of the mystery as each part of the twisted plot is revealed. His dialogue reflects the thought processes of the characters, conveying their urgency, their doubts, their dreams. And we, the reader, become intent on sorting out the tangled threads that form a tight knot.

Karjel original published this as De Redan Döda in 2010. This translation (by Nancy Pick) was released in July 2015.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

My Name is N.
by Robert Karjel
Published by HarperCollins NZ
ISBN: 9780007586028
Imprint: HarperCollins – GB

Genius and Mimicry: the Art of Translation, with Dr Marco Sonzogni

I marvel at the ability of translators. Many timespp_marco_sozogni I have read a book by Haruki Murakami, or Umberto Eco, and been surprised to find that it was originally in another language. This goes double for good translations of children’s books, particularly those in verse – it is like magic, when it is well done.

Steven Gale was the chair of this event, and he did this admirably – Marco Sonzogni can really talk, and Gale gave him the space he needed to do so. Sonzogni is the Director of NZ Translation Studies, and is the second people in two days I have seen with more letters after his name than a DNA string.

The popularity of translated works is on the rise, a fact which Sonzogni applauds – a British prize for translation recently received 126 applications in 30 languages. The most powerful language in the world is receiving other languages into it and embracing them – while we only have a few major languages, this needn’t mean the death of the smaller languages. A translation is a way of celebrating other cultures. And if you gain readers in different languages, you touch as many lives as possible – this is a very important process.

Sonzogni remarked on the tendency, outside of Europe, to stay within a monolinguistic culture too comfortably. If you read only work from within your own culture, how will you expand your mind? For Sonzogni, ‘the purpose of translation is to have access to other cultures’. Communication is important to promote the arts and share the richness of culture.

When asked to define ‘literary translation’, Sonzogni said ‘It is a craft, an art, an encounter with luck good and bad, like crossing the street blindfolded…but most of all it is a service, you are serving somebody else’s work, and it is a great privilege.’ While you don’t need to be a writer yourself to translate, you do need to be more than adept with the use of your lingua franca, he says. It helps to be able to involve the writer directly with the translation – on this topic, he mentioned being in Umberto Eco’s home once and seeing his two phones. Eco has one phone line entirely dedicated to communication with his translator. Sonzogni tries in his own translation to retain the important features of the work; whether the metre (with poetry), or the placement in the culture of the original country.

Sonzogni had a remarkably fertile place of origin for a future translator, with a mother who taught Greek and Latin (including to him), a scientist father who taught him chemistry language, and his grandparents who spoke local dialects in Italy. He is married to a German woman, which he says keeps the arguments to a minimum as they can claim not to understand one another!

The final portion of the discussion focussed on Sonzogni’s relationship with Seamus Heaney. He still speaks to his portrait every day on his desk, every time he needs help to take his ego out of translation, and though I am not familiar with Heaney’s work, I teared up near the end when he described the suddenness with which Heaney departed the world. It is clear that he had a massive impact on him as a translator, as well as personally. Heaney himself was a polyglot, something he would never have admitted to, as he was so humble.

In answer to a question from the audience, Sonzogni stated “Learning languages is like building windows on windows” – you get addicted to seeing out, so you keep on finding other ways to see.

Several times this week I have thought that certain writers would have a lot in common. I think Diarmaid MacCulloch and Sonzogni would get along well. MacCulloch’s emphasis on story, and Sonzogni’s emphasis on breaking down the barriers to telling each others stories dovetail nicely.

By Sarah Forster, Web Editor, Booksellers NZ

Book Review: Hannah’s Night, by Komoko Sakai

Some children’s stories feel destined for bedtime cv_hannahs_nightreading, and Hannah’s Night is one of them, with the framed images on each page becoming squares in a richly textured quilt. As the title suggests, the story is about Hannah, who wakes in the night to find everyone else deeply asleep. Accompanied by her feline partner in crime, Shiro, Hannah embarks on a quietly thrilling night of delights.

Komako Sakai is a well-loved and awarded children’s author, famed for books like Yoru Kuma (Night Bear), Emily’s Balloon and The Snow Day. She’s a graduate of the Tokyo University of the Arts, formerly a designer of kimono and traditional textiles. Her background is clear from the illustrations, and a real asset in terms of creating multi-layered images that are dense and touchable. The book’s images appear to be created from acrylic colour and oil pencils, with sweeping colours to produce a dreamy atmosphere, and more detailed drawings for objects and close-ups.

Sakai allows her images to take centre stage, with each framed illustration giving the sense of gazing through a window. This is particularly apparent when Hannah looks out from her bedroom at the neighbourhood, and we’re reminded about a child’s perspective on the world. The pictures perfectly evoke the pre-dawn light, formed around a palette of blues, greys and blacks. They provide a dramatic and carefully detailed depiction of Hannah’s surroundings. Also effective is the sense of movement created in both the cat and child’s forms, for instance as Shiro stretches out, or Hannah reaches across her sister’s bed.

The enchanting illustrations are complemented by a sweet narrative about Hannah’s minor transgressions in the night, stealing cherries from the fridge and borrowing her sister’s toys. There’s a sense of fun right through to the dawn break, at which point, young readers might rest their eyes and await their own nocturnal adventures.

Reviewed by Caitlin Sinclair

Hannah’s Night
By Komako Sakai
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781877579547