Book Review: A Kiwi Day Before Christmas, by Yvonne Morrison & Deborah Hinde

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_kiwi_day_before_christmasWe all know the classic story about Santa Claus living at the North Pole along with Mrs Claus and of course not forgetting those wonderful reindeer, but now we have our very own Kiwi version.

Santa was down at the bach fishing when Mrs Claus comes along and reminds him that he needs to get cracking as the big day isn’t far away. He then remembered that it was Christmas tonight so he had better get himself organised. He packs up his gear and heads up the hill at full speed on his quad bike after a quick brekkie of toast and yeast spread (maybe marmite??). Santa’s helpers were having lots of fun and all the gift wrapping was almost completed.

All the finished pressies were stuffed in a sack and he got out his tractor. It needed a spruce up first, so Santa took it to the petrol station taking it through the car wash. With everything organised it was now time to get the team together. Where were the sheep? The last time he’d seen them was on Main Street at the Christmas parade. They’d all gone off to have a break before the big day. Santa was starting to feel a bit concerned. Shaun had gone diving and swimming with the seals while Buffy had gone shopping to find the best deals. Jason and Flossy had gone wine tasting while Bossy went zorbing and onto a zip line.

This is one heck of a story and one that will be received with a bit of trepidation by young ones, as they know that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole and it’s reindeer, rather than sheep, involved in getting the sleigh through the night, delivering presents all around the world.

I read this story to 4-year-old Quinn. A look of disbelief on her face with lots of questions forthcoming. Where are the elves in this story Grandma? ‘I don’t believe this one’ – clapping a hand over her face very dramatically. ‘Are you telling porkies Grandma?’ Who knows, I might be, but then I may well not be!

A fabulous story and one that I think will be a hit this year with young ones. The illustrations are just great, capturing just the right tone, and bringing the story together.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

A Kiwi Day Before Christmas
By Yvonne Morrison, illustrated by Deborah Hinde
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434108

The blog to end our 20-day blog tour!

BookAwards_CC_900x320_v3_bannerWe have just finished a fabulous four-week tour around our authors inspirations, aims and achievements with their Children’s Choice finalist books. Now it is time for you to help your kids to vote their favourite book and author to win: they will be in to win a selection of finalists for themselves and their school if they do! Kids can select a winner in each category; the winning book of each category will win a prize at the Book Awards ceremony on Thursday 13 August. Thank you to all of the other blogs who have hosted these interviews!

Children's_choice_ya_fic_V2jpgDuring the first week of our tour, we heard from the Young Adult fiction finalists. We heard from Ella West (who, like any good super author, writes under a pseudonym) who dedicated Night Vision to Trish Brooking, because she still takes her out for lunch, after looking after her as Otago Education College Writer in Residence in 2010. We learned that Natalie King has not one but three pseudonyms, and was inspired by a dream of a lake to write the book Awakening, which begins with a mysterious necklace drawn from a lake. While Jill Harris sadly passed away in December, Makaro Press publisher Mary McCallum told us that she published her book The Red Suitcase because the opening chapter inside a Lancaster bomber had her riveted. I Am Rebecca was a return to a character that author Fleur Beale had written about before, in I am not Esther. She told us that the secret to her amazing characters is simply to “walk in the shoes of the character so that what happens to the character informs the story.” Our final YA author was Nelson-based Rachael Craw, who had two interviews in two different places! Spark was also inspired by a dream, which took 5 and a half years to come to fruition: she had to learn to write first! She was inspired by the power of DNA when she met her birth mother.

Children's_choice_picbook_v4Week two saw us jump back a few reading years to the Picture Book finalists. Scott Tulloch ran I am Not a Worm past fellow Children’s Choice finalist Juliette MacIver and her kids, and her oldest son Louis suggested what became the final line in the book: “I like butterflies.” Yvonne Morrison, author of Little Red Riding Hood…Not Quite, told us she was about to leave NZ for a new job in Vietnam, living on a jungle island and managing a centre for endangered primates! Donovan Bixley covered two finalist books in one interview, Little Red and Junior Fiction book Dragon Knight: Fire! and he said that working with the same authors again and again means he can just do a messy scribble at the early stage of illustrating, and they will trust him to flesh it out!  Jo van Dam wrote doggy rhymes for her own children when they were young, and this became Doggy Ditties from A to Z. This is illustrated by Myles Lawford, who had to do a lot of research to make sure he illustrated each breed accurately. Peter Millet answered his own question about pets in the army with The Anzac Puppy, illustrated by Trish Bowles, who used to get in trouble at school for drawing: she now gets rewarded for it! Juliette MacIver likes to feature things in her books that children see in their everyday lives – “monkeys, old wooden galleons, pirates, for example, things that children encounter most days on their way to kindy or school.” Marmaduke Duck and the Wide Blue Seas was the third in the series by her and Sarah Davis, who reckons Juliette sometimes writes things in just to annoy her: ”52 marmosets leaped on board”?!? Seriously!!? Do you know how long it takes to draw 52 marmosets? Much longer than it takes to write the words “52 marmosets”, that’s for sure.”

Children's_choice_JUNIOR_V4We began the Junior Fiction category with an interview with Kyle Mewburn, author of Dragon Knight: Fire!, the first in a new series for the younger Junior Fiction age-group, and a finalist in both the children’s choice and the judges’ lists. Kyle doesn’t let his ideas float around “in case they escape, or some sneaky author steals one.”  The lead character in 1914 – Riding into War, by Susan Brocker, was inspired by her grandfather, Thomas McGee, who served as a mounted rifleman in WW1. Desna Wallace lived through the Canterbury Quake, and the character of Maddy popped into her head on the way home from work as a school librarian one day. “It was a bit crowded in there, so I sat down and wrote it out,” she said. Stacy Gregg‘s story The Island of Lost Horses began when she fell in love, with a picture of an Abaco Barb horse, the breed featured in this story; which is inspired by real events. Suzanne Main won the Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon award for the manuscript for How I Alienated My Grandma. This came with an offer of publication from Scholastic NZ, which enabled her to keep backing herself and her work to succeed.Children's_choice_NON_FIC_V3

The Non-fiction category tour began with the double-nominee (in judge’s and children’s choice lists) Māori Art for Kids, written and illustrated by the husband and wife team, Julie Noanoa & Norm Heke. Their aim was “to create something for families to connect with and appreciate Maori art.” Poet Sarah Jane Barnett featured poetry title The Letterbox Cat & other poems by Paula Green and Myles Lawford on her blog The Red Room. Paula says, “When I saw the way the zesty illustrations of Myles Lawford danced on the page, I cried!” Maria Gill followed up her New Zealand Hall of Fame of 2011 with New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame: 25 Kiwi Champions – she says the toughest task was to decide who to leave out. Gorgeous illustration guide book A New Zealand Nature Journal, by Sandra Morris, was featured next on NZ Green Buttons. Sandra’s favourite thing to do when not drawing or managing her illustration agency, is tramping, unsurprisingly!  Philippa Werry was in last year’s awards with her great Anzac Day book, and this year she was a children’s choice finalist for Waitangi Day: The New Zealand Story, featured on Barbara Murison’s blog. Philippa focused this book on the day itself, as opposed to the treaty, and she enjoys doing cryptic crosswords while contemplating writing.

While this tour is ending, we will be carrying on our celebration of the book awards, promoting the judges’ list in the Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in the run-up to the awards announcement at Government House on 13 August 2015. There will be giveaways and reviews, and fun besides, so watch this space!


For the full links list for the Book Awards, please head here.

Other blogs involved were: NZ Booklovers blog, Booknotes Unbound, Around the BookshopsThrifty Gifty, My Best Friends are Books, NZ Green Buttons Blog and The Red Room.

Book Review: Little Red Riding Hood (Not Quite), by Yvonne Morrison, illustrated by Donovan Bixley

Available in bookstores nationwide.
I will admit to being a little dubious about sequels to popular books (or movies), but this book runs the risk and comes out alongside The Three Bears (Sort Of) in pure brilliance. Both books feature a true and ingenious interaction between illustration and text, thanks to the talents of Yvonne Morrison and Donovan Bixley.

Vote for this book for Children’s Choice here (you must be 18 or under).

I have extolled the virtues of Donovan Bixley previously, and the joyful feel of this book leads me to do so again. He is fine illustrator working at the top of his field in this style of illustration. Cheeky people and animals absolutely bursting with character set this story up beautifully, while his” child’s drawings”, encyclopaedia entries, wolf forms and even the map to grandma’s house show his breadth as an illustrator.

As with The Three Bears (Sort Of), this is the story of an adult telling a traditional fairy tale to their endlessly questioning child. This is the type of child who will not go straight to sleep after a story because they are still trying to place everything in their mind and make sense of it all. The fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood is tested to its limits of veracity, and many of the points this child picks up on are ones I used to wonder about myself as a kid, before putting them down to the need to tell a good story!

I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to read this aloud alongside me, as my ‘questioning child’ voice sounds a little too much like my ‘I have just got home from work why hasn’t a wine materialised yet’ voice! I was particularly pleased to see at the end, the child ensuring the wolf is safely rehabilitated in a ‘sanctuary for wolves where he made a lot of friends and lived happily ever after.’ Poor old wolves, they do get a bad rap in fairy tales. My 4-year-old also loved this ending.

My pick for the next book? Please, Yvonne and Donovan, do Jack and the Beanstalk – there are so many elements of that story that deserve a good questioning.

A highly recommended take on the traditional fairy tale, for ages 4+.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Little Red Riding Hood (Not Quite)
by Yvonne Morrison, illustrated by Donovan Bixley
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775432630

Book Review: Wacko Kakapo, by Yvonne Morrison, illustrated by Donovan Bixley

This book is available in bookstores nationwide. cv_wacko_kakapoBy the same team who brought you The Three Bears (Sort of.)

This is such a gorgeous book to read to a small person. Written in style of the well -known children’s story “Henny Penny”, but with a completely Kiwi twist. Yvonne Morrison has written a wonderful read-aloud book and one that Kiwi children can call their own. Wacko Kakapo yawned and pulled his wings over his beak, snuggling down to sleep, when the wind picked up, shaking the colossal Kauri. The winged seeds began to fall, with one falling on his head. Awp, the sky is falling. And so this tale begins.

The characters are right up there, with absolutely wonderful names, such as Peewee Kiwi and Non-Truer Tuatara. The villain in this story is a stoat who cunningly lures them into his den.

This is such a good story.How do I know this? I was told, “read it again, Grandma” by one 3-year-old granddaughter. The tongue twister names were a bit of a challenge but by reading them slowly I got the hang of it pretty quickly. My granddaughter also tried to sneak it out of my bag and into her bookcase, so obviously in her eyes, a book worth keeping.

The pictures in this book are gorgeous with lots of detail which makes it a story that keeps a small person interested. They are hand-drawn on textured paper and coloured in photoshop by Donovan Bixley.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Wacko Kakapo
by Yvonne Morrison, Pictures by Donovan Bixley
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775432562

Book Review: The Three Bears… Sort of, by Yvonne Morrison, illustrated by Donovan Bixley

web_three bears sort of coverThe Three Bears…Sort Of is a finalist in the Picture Book Category of the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. 

Nearly anyone who reads books to children regularly will be familiar with the scenario being played out in The Three Bears… Sort Of. Rather than being a passive listener, like most children the child in this book gets involved – asking questions and challenging the grown up teller of the story. And this is a particularly precocious child.

Unwilling to accept the fiction of a family of bears living in a cottage, eating porridge, talking, and failing to catch a small human child, the listener forces the storyteller to adapt and explain the familiar Goldilocks and the Three Bears story, sometimes with a reasonably plausible scientific explanation, and sometimes with an exasperated ‘just because!’ And by the end, we know certainly know a lot more about bears than the original fairy tale ever told us.

The book is written as a dialogue between the adult storyteller and the child listener. On the page this is quite clear, as the font and speech bubbles clearly show which character is talking. It is a little more problematic for one person to read aloud, however. I found this with 2010 Children’s Choice winner Baa, Baa, Smart Sheep too, which is written in a similar style. Perhaps the best way to read this story would be with a relatively confident young reader taking the child’s lines, and reading it together. I read it aloud to my nearly 6-year-old and found the easiest way on my own was to use two different voices. This worked okay, but I’m not sure she always knew which character was talking.

The Three Bears… Sort Of is a delicious picture book grown-ups will love as it is familiar – the frustration of interruptions and difficult questions – and also makes you laugh at the implausibility of the original fairy tale in a way most of us have probably never done before.

My main issue with the book is that the level of sophistication required to understand what’s going on in this story is beyond the level that the style and execution of the book indicate it is for. I imagine a child of 9 or 10 would get most of the jokes and understand why it is funny, but it looks more like a picture book aimed at a 5 or 6 year old. Having said that, most kids movies these days have as many jokes for the parents as for the kids, so why not books too?

The illustrations, by Donovan Bixley, certainly deserve a mention. They are in a mixed media style and are absolutely gorgeous, and like Baby Bear’s porridge are just right for the story.

My daughter enjoyed listening to the story but on questioning she did not really understand the concept behind the book, although she has fairly sophisticated comprehension for her age. I imagine it is a book we will keep coming back to, however, and I like the fact that it encourages critical thinking, questioning and curiosity. And, much like Jill Mansell’s Five Minute’s Peace, it allows adult readers to poke gentle fun at their child audience, without the little darlings ever being aware that it’s happening.

Reviewed by Reneé Boyer-Willisson

The Three Bears… Sort of
by Yvonne Morrison, illustrated by Donovan Bixley
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775430681

Finalist Interview: The illustration of The Three Bears…Sort of, by Donovan Bixley

If you have ever wondered where authors get their ideas, this is your chance to find out.

We have asked our fantastic finalists for the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand Young Adults all about their work, and they have been very generous in their responses.

The Three Bears…Sort of, by Yvonne Morrison and illustrated by Donovan Bixley (Scholastic NZ) is a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the awards.

Thank you to illustrator Donovan Bixley for his generous responses:

1. What was your approach to illustrating this book?
Actually I didn’t know what to make of it at first. A very daunting proposition, as usually I have at least a few clear visions in my head and start working out from those. This led to a rather different approach than I usually take.

2. Tell us a bit about the journey from storyboards to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in illustrating this book?
Three Bears was a particularly interesting project. Scholastic had a very funny manuscript but they didn’t know how on earth it could be illustrated, or who could illustrate it. When they offered it to me, I fell about laughing and immediately ran inside to read to my family. But I could see that it was going to be very difficult to illustrate.

cv_the_three_bears_sort_ofThis book was most unusual for me in the fact that I didn’t do any roughs or storyboards. Instead I did some very vague stick figure drawings and sent Scholastic a long letter about what I was THINKING I might do with this very funny post-modern text. The challenge was, interpreting the ever-changing voices in the text – which I envisaged as many different styles of illustration.

As often happens with good ideas, turning them into reality is often much harder than the vague foggy picture in your head. Normally I work out a whole book in advance, get those roughs approved, then the final illustrations are just a matter of knuckling down and making it happen – which can be a mainly technical process. For Three Bears, I had a tremendous amount of fun the whole way through the process, because each page was trying to figure out a new style, technique, composition and way of making it fit the text AND make it fit together with the previous pages. All that problem solving is the most fun part of my work. I had plenty of moments of self doubt – wondering if the whole thing was just going to be a huge mish-mash of styles and disparate ideas as I tried to visualise this journey from traditional storybook bears to realistic non-fiction bears and everything in-between.

3. How closely were you able to collaborate with the writer? Do you prefer to work this way?
In all of the picture books I’ve illustrated, I’ve never had much correspondence with the author. In some cases none at all. Funnily enough, I really love working this way. I like not being influenced by any preconceived ideas that the author (or publisher) might have. It requires a lot of sensitivity and understanding on part of the illustrator – and it could all go horribly wrong. But it also requires a lot of trust – that the publisher has chosen the right person to bring this particular text to life. I like that both creators are entrusted to contribute our artistic speciality – and maybe, just maybe, it might just have that strange alchemy that no one can predict (thank goodness, otherwise we’d all be replaced by robots!) and then the finished book becomes something magical and not some middling design-by-committee production.

4. Can you recommend any illustrators whose work you find yourself particularly influenced by?
As a kid of my generation it was hard not to be a fan of Dr Seuss. cv_the_weather_machingThe Lorax is one of my all-time favourite books – it was responsible for my desire to become an illustrator and an inspiration for my 2013 book The Weather Machine (right). I was also a big fan of Guillermo Mordillo and later discovered Graham Oakley’s Churchmice series – the influence of both can be seen in my work like The Looky Book and Dashing Dog, with all the background hidden images and in-jokes and layers that are there to be discovered or understood on subsequent readings. When I went to art school I discovered comics and became a big fan of this new young comic writer called Neil Gaiman and his long time illustration collaborator Dave McKean (the Picasso of comics). As well as those above, my favourite artists include Norman Rockwell, Edgar Degas, John Howe, Edmund Dulac, Bill Peet, Shawn Tan, Gennady Spirin and Chris Riddell.

5. What was your favourite thing to draw when you were at primary school – did you have a “party trick”?
Mum read me The Lord of the Rings when I was seven. I spent years obsessed with bringing Tolkien’s world to life, until about 16 when I discovered John Howe’s illustrations (which are just perfect) and I’ve never done a Middle Earth picture since.

don martinMy best friend (also one of the top drawers at school) and I were into recreating the big nosed Mordillo cartoons and Don Martin’s characters from MAD Magazine (pictured left, copyright Don Martin and MAD Magazine). Our projects were always dotted with colourful characters and elaborate hand-lettered fonts. We could get away with anything at primary school with work like that. Unfortunately in those days everyone used to get beaten up at least a few times a week by one bully or other. Luckily for me, I discovered that drawing trucks was a good way to keep the school bully on side. Funnily enough (just writing this now), I realise that I’ve always hated drawing cars and trucks. I’m much more into people and animals.

6. Tell us about a time you’ve enjoyed relaxing and reading a book – at the bach, on holiday, what was the book?
This past summer at my parent’s bach at Ohiwa,cv_cloud_atlas just south of Ohope, I spent a few days sitting under the trees, with a soundtrack of native birds as I FINALLY got round to reading David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. It really moved me, and I was glad that I could just sit there for hours afterwards in the cooling late afternoon and absorb it all (going through and reading passages entire again) – then spending hours talking about it all with all my family over dinner. My daughters went on to watch the movie and my eldest read the book (her first foray into serious literary fiction – and she loved it). It’s got a 5 star rating in my Book Book, along with Mitchell’s Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

Straight after that I read another long term ‘must read’ – William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. This was given to me by my eldest daughter, who is always bringing books for me to read. She’s great at predicting what I might like and both of us are big fans of Charlie Higgson’s The Enemy zombie apocalypse series.