14 September 2008

Katarina is a classic

Katarina, one of Gavin Bishop's early picture books (first published in 1990), is back in print, now as one of Random House's New Zealand Classic series, and rightly so too.
This is the true story of Gavin's great aunt Katarina, a young Maori woman living in the 1860s, the time of the goldrush and the Maori wars. She falls in love with a Scot and follows him to Otago, leaving her family behind in the Waikato. She learns to live the pioneering way, but somehow never forgets her roots. She makes a trip home as the land wars are breaking out and must quickly find her way back to her new home.
Gavin's illustrations are sensitive and evocative of the times, sketched in pencil and sepia watercolours that take you back in time to share the experience of Katarina as she goes through the great changes in her life. The illustrations let us see the changes in accommodation - from whare to tent to colonial weatherboard. There's just the right scattering of Maori language - I understand what is meant even if I don't know the exact words. The final phrase - Mate kainga tahi, ora kainga rua - A person is lucky indeed to have two homes rather than one - sums up Katarina's life - she's moved into the new colonial ways, but never forgotten where she came from and the old ways. May we all go on remembering, thanks to those like Gavin who ensure we will always have stories to help us do so.

03 April 2008

Bernard Beckett is a Bologna superstar

Bookman Beattie has reported great news for New Zealand writer Bernard Beckett and his publishers, Longacre Press in New Zealand and Text Publishing in Australia. Bernard's young adult novel is doing great business at the Bologna Book Fair (gotta get there one day!). Genesis is taking off big time in Bologna with a £100,000 sale to Quercus and sales for Norwegian, Spanish, French and Italian rights, and also to Canada.
Bernard is a top-class writer New Zealand should be hugely proud of. His novels have been aimed at the young adult market so far, but will now maximise the crossover potential of Genesis by marketing to both YA and adult markets.
He's also a fantastic teacher and role model who effectively communicates his ideas, and his love of writing, story and science. All the best Bernard. And now I'll very guiltily go away and read the book... I loved Malcolm and Juliet and Deep Fried, but I've never really been a sci-fi girl. But when the writing is this good I've got to give it a go.
Pic of Bernard from Longacre Press website.

26 March 2008

Booknotes goes large

If you're a member of the New Zealand Book Council (www.bookcouncil.org.nz - a great source of info about NZ authors, both for adults and for children) you will receive their Booknotes publication. There's always quite a variety of articles about NZ books, including pages in the back entitled 'The School Library'.
I've always thought that this title doesn't do the column any favours - it limits immediately who will want to read it and deserves a more general audience than just school librarians. That's one complaint, another - perhaps just a natural problem that comes with only being a quarterly publication - I often feel like the books reviewed aren't particularly new, many I've seen in the shops and heard discussed in a number of forums before the review in Booknotes is available. Perhaps this is because I'm spoilt by having great access to new books in NZ, but surely the librarians who this is apparently aimed at, are in the same position. My other complaint is that all the reviews are by one person. While you can become familiar with an individual writer's likes and dislikes as time goes on I personally prefer to have a range of opinions and perspectives.
Previous columnist Emma Coley has moved on to pastures new and her successor, Sara Kolijn, has made a very enthusiastic start in the new mag just out. Sadly for Sara noone noticed that Emma's name was still on the header, (tut tut proofreaders), although she is credited at the end of the column.
My major complaint for this issue is the gigantic size of the cover images, significantly and unnecessarily larger than in previous edititons. Was this to fill empty space? How many more books could have been included if the covers had been reduced? I feel slightly done, that I haven't got my full quota of reading.
Personally, I like to read about as many books as possible, and a bit of other book-related info would be a much-appreciated addition - more information about the authors and illustrators, some insight into the books, and the book-making process, that isn't easily accessible from elsewhere. These do appear - the last issue had an excellent article about Gecko Press (www.geckopress.com) and a tale of self-publishing from Rebekah Palmer (Champ the Chopper). This issue has a most fabulous article about italics that got my brain humming.
One last thing - and perhaps I'm just having a bad day and feeling particularly picky, but why oh why have they closed David Hill's sharp short story by mentioning his book Black Day - perhaps, dare I say it, the least substantial of his literary output, no other books mentioned - apparently notable only for his publication of a Kiwi Bite.
I do enjoy Booknotes... really I do, there's just a bit of irritation, not enough to cancel my sub though, there's enough good stuff and potential for me to look forward to discovering what's in each new issue as I rip the plastic off it on my way back from the post box.

02 March 2008

My Story: Land of Promise

The Diary of William Donahue, Gravesend to Wellington, 1839-40
ISBN 9781869438494
Scholastic 2008

Lorraine Orman has another My Story book out and it was a pleasure to read. This was not what I had expected. I've enjoyed much of Lorraine's writing, particularly Hideout (Longacre Press) which had a good story and lots of emotional drama, but the My Story series have never been my cup of tea. Perhaps it's my aversion to reading history (after living through many long months of my husband writing a history book I was well over that genre!) or that so many facts are incorporated into the books in this series that the story is sometimes lost along the way. I haven't read them all, so this should not be taken as a judgement call on all My Story books, just my personal feeling after a sampling.

So well done Lorraine, you drew me in and kept me going back for 'just one more chapter' until I'd consumed the whole thing and now know a whole lot more about early life in Wellington, what a shambles it was when the excited immigrants arrived, and - what I liked most - the story of what it was like travelling on a ship for weeks and weeks.

I only occasionally sighed at the facts included as an unlikely part of a young boy's knowledge, and relished the discovery of how the people who came here made their way through times of great difficulty - most admiring those who came from upper classes and got down to the work of building their new lives, leaving their rich ways behind them.

28 February 2008

New Zealand Post Book Awards Finalists

The news was out a few days ago, easing the anxious wait for all those authors, illustrators and publishers out there waiting to find out who the NZ Post Book Awards finalists are. The following will now have until May to agonize about who the final winners will be. The judges will also have to deal with all those who consider their taste in books superior and can't understand why they picked these ones and left other treasures out. The fact of the matter is that there are three judges and none take their task lightly, these choices will have been made after much discussion and thought. I, myself, had made a few predictions about who might be on the final list and only chose six of the final 20. I'll be back to inspect the unexpected ones to see if I can appreciate why they were chosen.

And so to the finalists...

Picture Book

The King’s Bubbles by Ruth Paul (Scholastic New Zealand)

Out of the Egg by Tina Matthews (Walker Books) - I was surprised at this as Tina lives in Sydney, though born in New Zealand. It sent me back to the eligibility criteria. I'm sure one of the rules used to be that you had to be resident in NZ for the past two years, but that must have been in the 'old days'. Now if you are NZer by birth you are elegible.

Rats! by Gavin Bishop (Random House New Zealand) - Yay! This is one of my top favourites, and so good to see the publisher produce a large hard-back, with French -fold dust jacket and all, it somehow gives the book more dignity and weight all round.

Tahi – One Lucky Kiwi by Melanie Drewery, Ali Teo (illus), John O’Reilly (illus) (Random House New Zealand) - some confusion here as I had thought this title would be in the non-fiction category - in fact when I checked library catalogues there were an assortment of choices - non-fiction, picture book and junior fiction.

To the Harbour by Stanley Palmer (Lopdell House Gallery) - more a work of art than picture book. Stanley Palmer is one of New Zealand's top artists and he's taken a step back into his childhood and created gorgeous monoprints to illustrate. The exhibition of the original artwork (large works, with all the text, and other content, backwards) is well worth checking out. There's been a bit of debate around as to whether this book is indeed for children, I say let's let the children themselves decide, just because it's from the past and told in old-fashioned language don't underestimate their ability to appreciate and enjoy the piece of Palmer's boyhood life.

Non Fiction

A Mini Guide to the Identification of New Zealand Land Birds by Andrew Crowe, Dave Gunson (illus) (Penguin New Zealand). Well here's the question - how do you define what makes a non-fiction book a children's book. I love that you can fit it in your pocket but...

Reaching the Summit by Alexa Johnston, David Larsen (Penguin New Zealand). Very timely with the death of Sir Ed, although apparently chosen before that event.

Weather Watch New Zealand by Sandra Carrod, Karsten Schneider (illus), Richard Gunther (illus) (Reed New Zealand). Good on you Reed, for putting out this champ before they powers-that-be shut you down. (In case you're not aware, Reed Publishing - in the year it celebrated 100 years of publishing - was sold into the Pearson group and the Reed name can no longer be used. The new name of Raupo will take over from here and will be managed from the house of Penguin).

What is a Fish? by Feana Tu’akoi (Scholastic New Zealand). I don't know how the judges could pick just one out of this fabulous series.

Which New Zealand Spider? by Andrew Crowe (Penguin New Zealand)

Junior Fiction

Dead Dan’s Dee by Phyllis Johnston (Longacre Press)

The Dumpster Saga by Craig Harrison (Scholastic New Zealand)

The Mad Tadpole Adventure by Melanie Drewery, Jenny Cooper (illus) (Scholastic New Zealand)

My Story Sitting on the Fence: The Diary of Martin Daly, Christchurch 1981 by Bill Nagelkerke (Scholastic New Zealand)

Snake and Lizard by Joy Cowley, Gavin Bishop (illus) (Gecko Press).

Young Adult Fiction

Salt by Maurice Gee (Penguin New Zealand). One of my favourite reads for the year.

The Sea-wreck Stranger by Anna Mackenzie (Longacre Press)

Tomorrow All Will Be Beautiful by Brigid Lowry (Allen & Unwin) - Quite a lot of the content of this book has been published before (in magazines & anthologies) so wondered about elegibilty because of this - but it has obviously passed the test. This will be a treasure for many a teenage girl.

The Transformation of Minna Hargreaves by Fleur Beale (Random House New Zealand)

Zillah by Penelope Todd (Longacre Press)

20 February 2008

Big Fish Little Fish

Big Fish Little Fish by Melanie Drewery has just landed on my desk and it's a little treasure for a recently independent reader, and the keen young fishing enthusiasts. Mums, dads and other adult readers could also learn a thing or two, as I did, about how to catch a fish, what sort of fish it is (when you finally get one on the line) and all about whales (which hopefully you won't have on your hook).
A great little tale about a boy entering a fishing competition who takes to the ocean with his grandad, instead of in his mate's speed boat. He's rewarded, not with the biggest fish (and the coveted prize of a 'spinning sure-catch reel and a super twangy snap-resistant rod') but with a tale that reaches back into his family's past, and a pride in his background. It was quite a surprise to suddenly find a friendly tale of fishing with grandad turning to harpoons and whale slaughter, but a nice job is made of showing how things were different in the old days, the excitement and challenge of catching the whale, and why it's no longer a good thing to do.
Some nice playing with words too, phrases repeated then turned around, reliable wisdom from the grandfather.
The story is just the half of it though. There is comprehensive, but simple, info about equipment you need for fishing, how to tie a whole lot of different knots, and types of fish you might catch. Melanie has done her own illustrations too and they balance out the text nicely.
I'm even tempted to have a go myself having made it through several decades and never yet caught even a sprat.
I expect this is the last new book with the Reed imprint on it that I'll find too, now that Raupo is on its way and Reed put to bed forever.

18 February 2008

Self-published books

I've taken a look at a number of self-published books lately. As always they vary in quality hugely. There is often a good reason why a book has not been taken up by a publisher and before going ahead with the expense and agony entailed in trying to get your book out there yourself there should be as much consulting and consideration of feedback before going ahead. I'd never say 'don't do it' because there have been some great successes in self-publishing, people who have gone on to have successful publishing businesses, but you've got to do your homework and make it the best it can possibly be.
Apart from the quality of the writing/illustration/production there are also some basics of publishing that seem to be missed along the way by DIY publishers.
Like the picture book I received yesterday that certainly had its good points. It looked inviting, it was quite simply written (though not a story line I cared for myself - I won't make a judgement about if others would enjoy it). However the most basic information was missing - no copyright page at all - no information about who had published it, when, where, or how one could contact them if you did want to get more copies. The ambitious placement of pricing for NZ, US and UK is quite redundant if no one can trace where to obtain it from. A self-published novel I read on the same day had a copyright page but again no information about the publisher, or any contact details.
So if you're going down the track of publishing your own book you have to get the basics right, apart from whether your book is actually worth publishing or not. If you want to sell then you have to make it possible for people to contact you. Maybe your book really is great and a major publisher would like to pick it up... or a bookseller would like to stock it... but you're out of luck because they don't know how to find you. Let's get professional!

10 February 2008

My Brown Bear Barney is a much-loved book

The 2008 Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award for a much-loved book has been awarded to the classic picture book by Dorothy Butler and Elizabeth Fuller - My Brown Bear Barney.

Barney is a favourite around the world, this book being the first in a series that sees a young girl going through her everyday life with her teddy bear companion. Young children love to see their own lives reflected in the books they read and that's a major reason for the popularity of these titles. Dorothy is a great advocate of keeping stories for young children simple and her many picture books have strived to do just this - creating books that are treasured and re-read many times.

My Brown Bear Barney was published by Reed Methuen in 1988, followed by two sequels, My Brown Bear Barney at School (1994) and My Brown Bear Barney at the Party (2001).

Dorothy Butler, who lives at Karekare Beach in West Auckland, has been a foremost author and advocate for children’s books for more than 40 years, with her children's bookshop in Auckland providing quality books for children for many years, and her acclaimed books on reading to babies and young children Babies need Books and Five to Eight offering guidance to parents on how to share books with their children and her many picture books including the Barney series. Dorothy's in her eighties now but still writing with two new picture books in the Tales of Old New Zealand series published in the last two years.

Elizabeth Fuller is well known for her images for Joy Cowley’s international best-seller Mrs Wishy-Washy, along with many school reader titles and her other bear stories by Diana Noonan - The Best-dressed Bear and The Best-loved Bear and another of Dorothy's books O'Reilly and the Real Bears.

The award will be presented at the Storylines annual Margaret Mahy Day in Auckland on Saturday 29 March 2008, which will also include the Margaret Mahy Lecture from Kids' Lit Quiz quizmaster Wayne Mills, and other Storylines awards. An enjoyable day for anyone interested in children's books. See www.storylines.org.nz for more info about this event.