23 September 2009

Aunt Concertina and her Niece Evalina

Written by Paula Green
Illustrated by Michael Hight
Random House
ISBN 9781869790110
Hardback $34.99
I so love it when publishers go the extra mile and produce a book in hardcover. It’s the sign of a book that you’d expect to have a long life with many repeat reads and this is certainly the case with Aunt Concertina. This is a sophisticated picture book with extensive and complex text, written in prose but with poetic elements at every turn, making it a delicious, and lengthy, read-aloud. Aunt Concertina loves to spend time in junk shops adding to her collections, but her niece Evalina wants to go on adventures. Whilst out shopping they find a kite which takes them off on their adventures around the globe. Each double-page spread is a work of art in itself – as you’d expect coming from a fine artist of Michael Hight’s pedigree. Fine artists don’t necessarily translate into great illustrators but in this case he’s done a fine job of taking the text beyond the words themselves and create a complex international panorama with familiar places and things waiting to leap out from every page, along with pieces from old maps, all created with the glorious depth of colour and texture of oils. I particularly love the kite which has a personality of its own. Many of you will remember this duo from their fine poetry book Flamingo Bendalingo, one of my all-time favourite poetry books (and one of the few by NZers for children) and this is another treasure to add to your library.

07 September 2009

Old Hu-Hu by Kyle Mewburn, illustrated by Rachel Driscoll (Scholastic)

A treasure appeared in my mailbox today - Old Hu-hu written by the irrepressible Kyle Mewburn. If you've ever met him on an author visit you'll know he's full of life and bursting with enthusiasm for his chosen career of writing books for kids. On his website he talks about being inspired to write this book by the death of his cat. Even though she was very old and getting sick it was still very sad. He also thought a lot about his grandfathers who were always telling stories, and says that he thinks Old Hu-hu looks a bit like one of his grandads. Kyle thinks Rachel's illustrations are brilliant and I'm inclined to agree, though I always have an unquiet murmur in the back of my mind when I see animals with human characteristics (have you ever seen a hu-hu bug with a moustache?). But I'll forgive this as the overall emotion and depth of the book is taken to a new level with Rachel's beautifully crafted illustrations. Scholastic are one of the few publishers who include info about the media used for the illustration and design of their books (just look on the copyright page) and in this case they say 'Illustrations created in pencil, paint and tears'. A labour of love I'd say, from both the author and the illustrator. Also mentioned is the typeface used - it's called Old Hu-Hu and I'm guessing it was created specifically for this book. I'll check that out to confirm. Considering the subject matter of the story it is a book that requires sharing with an adult who can talk through any questions and emotions that might result from a book about death. There are not many books on this topic and I think it's been dealt with beautifully... with not a mention of God or Heaven in sight.

03 September 2009

Piano Rock by Gavin Bishop wins design award

Congratulations to Gavin Bishop and Sarah Elworthy for their design work on Piano Rock. A 1950s Childhood (Random House) which took the Scholastic New Zealand Award for Best Children's Book in the PANZ Book Design Awards last night. Well deserved for this delightful treasure of a book with its fabric bound spine and its small size such a comforting handful. It's a pity that children's books were not up to taking out any of the other awards. Read about all the other winners here.
Here's my review, written for Storylines Booklist last year.

Piano Rock – A 1950s Childhood

By Gavin Bishop

Random House, 2008

Hb ISBN 9781869790103

This small hardback book is a treasure to behold, before you even open the covers, with its decorated fabric spine and silhouette illustration on a duck-egg blue background. The pattern of the spine is repeated on the endpapers and the pages littered with prints and classically coloured illustrations that help set the story in its time and place – Kingston, Southland, 1949-1954. This is the true and elegantly told story of the years Gavin spent as a young boy, with all the adventures a lad should have – building huts, eating scones and roast mutton, catching eels, going to school on a horse, Guy Fawkes Day and more. A glossary at the back explains some of the language of the day like Box Brownie, linoleum and Guy (which causes great trauma in the story). A book that will be enjoyed by children (perhaps 8+) and adults alike, conveying a true picture of life in the ‘good old days’.

You can also hear Gavin talking about his books on Storylines new video interviews - Literature Live

01 September 2009

My Brown Bear Barney 21st birthday edition

Firstly, humble apologies for neglecting this blog for a whole year. I won't bore you with my excuses, just promise to do better.
So on with the show - and what a show the Auckland Storylines Festival Family Day was on Sunday. One highlight was celebrating the 21st birthday of Brown Bear Barney. My how the years have flown and there will be a new generation of children who read this when they were small, who will now be able to share it with their own young ones.
Barney is beloved largely because he is so ordinary - Dorothy Butler and Elizabeth Fuller between them have conjured an ordinary day in the life of and ordinary family - just what young children enjoy seeing in the pages of their picture books - something that reflects their own lives a little.
Children and their parents and grandparents all gathered to enjoy cake and numerous bear-related crafts in the Aotea Centre on Sunday, with Dorothy and Elizabeth there to celebrate, and a new edition from Penguin, complete with birthday balloons on the front cover.
Sorry to be negative, but honestly the new book is a flimsy wee thing with the lightest of covers. Surely such a long-term classic warrants a hardback that can continue to be enjoyed by another generation of children. And perhaps there could have been mention that the book was a recipient of the Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award for a Much-loved Book.