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.