Book Review: Stripes! No, Spots! by Vasanti Unka


cv_stripes_no_spotsAvailable in bookshops nationwide.

Vasanti Unka is an all-round creative from Auckland who has written and illustrated her latest book Stripes! No, Spots! From end-paper to end-paper the design is strongly optimistic and beautiful. Each page of the book is so thoughtfully designed, that each time I opened it I wished that the book came with an associated range of gift-wrapping paper and cards.

Stripy Tiger and Spotty Leopard have a minor disagreement as to which is better – stripes – or, spots?! The disagreement escalates into progressively worse fights, all out jungle war and then, of all things, a fashion show. The number of references in the book subtly linking to popular culture were hilarious – and the unstated tendency of the animals to follow the human tendency for cycles of unnecessary conflict was clever. There is even a special guest appearance by a human!

My five-year-old enjoyed the story. While she couldn’t work out why the animals’ fights would escalate so quickly (strange – because for parents of more than one child the fight feels somewhat familiar) she thought the fashion show to settle the conflict was the fairest way to resolve matters.

Vasanti Unka has written and/or illustrated a number of other books – I’ve always loved the illustrations in Hill, not Hole. She is also the author and illustrator of The Boring Book, which was the 2014 Margaret Mahy Book of the Year. I’ve also just clicked that a favourite craft book of mine – Weird Wabbit & Friends, is one of hers. Children aged 2-6 will enjoy the story and pictures.

Reviewed by Emma Wong-Ming

Stripes! No, Spots!
Written and illustrated by Vasanti Unka
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143506966

Book Review: Play In The Garden: Fun Projects for Kids to Enjoy Outdoors, by Sarah O’Neil

Available now in bookstores nationwide.

Most parents I know wish to get their children off ‘screens’ and outside to enjoy fresh air cv_play_in_the_gardenand creative play. This New Zealand childrens’ gardening book will achieve just that, with fun projects and inspiring activities.

The book is written for children, but there is advice for adults on how best to support children in achieving the activities and making the most of the garden. The author is realistic: ‘Most kids don’t have the kind of stamina you need to garden well and often give up quickly….but there is a better way. Instead of giving them a corner of your garden, make yours a little bigger and let the kids have fun with the extra crops you grow for them.’

The level of activities is well-suited for adults who are new to gardening, and the book has sections for spring, summer and autumn (although autumn has just one activity). There are some great basic science activities, too, like soil-testing to encourage junior botanists and microbiologists. I liked the ideas of trying to grow a square cucumber or making vegetable-based paints. For the crafty kids there are scarecrows, colourful bird scarers and corn-husk dolls. The author has clearly tried out these activities with her own children, and they are genuine and achievable projects which kids would get a kick out of.

The book is well-designed and features cute illustrations by Vasanti Unka. The photographs are instructional rather than aspirational, which is good for encouraging people to actually try the projects. Instructions for the projects are well-written and easy to follow, and the diagrams are also clear and helpful.

I liked the practicality of the projects and the many opportunities for hands-on learning. Often garden/craft books aimed at children offer projects kids are unlikely to achieve or want to achieve, with spurious educational value – this book is an exception to that. If the kids in your life undertake even a third of the great projects in this book, they will discover a love of gardening and have their curiosity about the outdoors ignited, well and truly. I asked my own non-gardening nine-year-old to have a look through the book, and he said he would like to try growing giant pumpkins, growing peanuts and making vegetable paint. That’s the beauty of this book, there is enough variety of project types in the book to appeal to all children.

This book would make a delightful Christmas present for any children in your life. It’s a practical, fun book which is sure to inspire the next generation of gardeners.


Author Sarah O’Neil has also written a gardening book for adults The Good Life: Four Glorious Seasons In My Country Garden. Her gardening blog is here.

Reviewed by Helen Lehndorf

Play In The Garden: Fun Projects for Kids to Enjoy Outdoors
By Sarah O’Neil
New Holland Publishers (NZ) Ltd
ISBN 9781869664138

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