Thursday, 5 October 2017

The New Zealand Art Activity Book (New edition)


The New Zealand Art Activity Book (New edition)
(2017)
Helen Lloyd, Te Papa Press
Paperback   158 pages
NZ$30
ISBN 978 0 9941362 3 7
 
There was never better proof that the (scrapped) plan to close down Te Papa Press was folly than books such as Simon Pollard’s Genius of Bugs and now Helen Lloyd’s new edition of The New
Zealand Art Activity Book. These are books designed to make young people think and to set their creative juices flowing – which, after all, is the whole point of Te papa, our national museum.

The best way to get the measure of The NZ Art Activity Book is to flick through it. The cover might mislead you into mistaking it for one of those boring join-the-dots, find-the hidden-words time killers that the Warehouse markets as books. You couldn’t be wronger.

Helen Lloyd has assembled an amazing range of New Zealand art-works using each one to create insights. Each illustration also invites young readers to try their own hand at creating their own images. Can you make an artwork that flies? Will a hammer and a bunch of flowers come together to create a delicate watercolour?

A wakahuia becomes an invitation to design your own treasure box – and decide on its contents. A tapa cloth pattern is an inspiration for more designs. Wayne Youle’s multi-coloured portrait of Ralph Hotere offers readers a chance to try their own colour combinations.  A bleak Brent Wong landscape calls for its story to be told – past, present or future.

Stars have been celebrated in jewellery, tukutuku panels and photographs and this book has examples of them all to encourage young artists to follow their star. Along the way they will painlessly imbibe a great deal of New Zealand art.

The New Zealand Art Activity Book is an inviting springboard for young minds.

 

Trevor Agnew

6 October 2017

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Joy Cowley: Fifty Years of Books!

Joy Cowley: Fifty Years of Books!

Joy Cowley published her first novel, Nest in a Falling Tree, in 1967.  Since then she has published hundreds of novels, picture books and readers. Here is an interview she gave in December 1998. It originally appeared in Magpies Magazine in March 1999.

 

Photo of Joy Cowley in action at Storylines, Christchurch, August 2010

      








 
Toad in a Tiger Moth meets Icarus
Joy Cowley answers some flumsy questions put to her by Trevor Agnew

She has French perfume and fine lace underwear, an Edwardian dress of yellow silk with mutton chop sleeves and tiny pearl buttons, a picture hat covered with veiling and gold silk roses, and she is riding through the town on a BSA 650 Gold Flash.” –Joy Cowley, The Machinery of Dreams, in Summer Book 2, Port Nicholson Press, 1983.

Joy Cowley was born in 1936, five months after Margaret Mahy.  In the Asian zodiac’s twelve year cycle, this was the Year of the Rat, the beginning of a new era.  Certainly the Year of the Rat is an auspicious one for children’s writing.  Rat people (who are expected to be creative, inventive, gossipy, ambitious, lively and adaptable) include Elsie Locke, Caroline Macdonald, Ron Bacon, Joan de Hamel, Lisa Vasil, Janet Frame, and Katherine Mansfield.   

As well as being responsible for four children, nine grandchildren, eight cats, and a flock of sheep, Joy Cowley has also produced short stories, adult novels, picture books, children’s novels, spiritual reflections, hymns, poems and over 400 beginner readers.

Although amazingly busy, she is also amazingly helpful to others.  Joy Cowley took time off during the Christmas holidays to answer Trevor Agnew’s questions.

1.  I like that passage about the motorbike because of its very specific details.  In your writing, the descriptions of things like eel catching are often detailed.
Do you do this in order to convince readers?  Does it involve you in lots of research?  Or do you keep one of those mysterious notebooks?

Writers seem to work mainly one of two ways.  Some are auditory.  They write as though they are taking dictation.  Others, like me, are visual.  I spend a lot of time with plots and characters, expanding them, asking questions of them until I know them so well that I can see the details.  Writing, then, is simply a matter of describing what I can see in my mind.

I like reading stories with specific detail.  I think that it is detail which connects with our own experiences and hooks us into a story.  I also try to be selective with description, using it for pacing, for light and shade in a work, and for general leitmotif effect.

Do I keep a notebook?  Yes.  New ideas will gatecrash a work in progress, and without consideration or respect, yell, “Look at me!  Look at me!”  I have found that the most effective way of getting rid of them is to jot them down in my notebook.  The idea might still be active a year later but then again, they might be dead.  It doesn’t matter.  My notebook serves as a clearing station for intrusive material rather than a source of inspiration.

2.     Is humour an important part of your writing/story-telling?  I notice the almost slapstick humour of much of your writing, like Starbright’s taking a solo bungy jump without working out how to untie her feet in ‘Starbright and the Dream Eater’.   How do you feel humour should be used in writing?  Especially writing for children?

You bet!  It is an important part of life.  Yet few writers take humour seriously!  I am appalled at the lack of humour inmost of my early adult short stories and novels.  I can only say that I am glad these works were aimed at adult readers who have choices, and not young people.  In real life the masks of comedy and tragedy are rarely far apart.

It sounds flip to say “the darker the shadow, the brighter the light” but life really is a oneness and the balance seems always there.  Some of the funniest things happen at funerals.  That is the wholeness of being.  Look at Frank Court’s book Angela’s Ashes.  But, for some reason, most writers for young readers tend to focus on problems in a humourless way that presents an incomplete picture.

3.     Does the humour sometimes conceal pain?  The joke about cutting off fingers in ‘Gladly Here I Come’ made me wonder.   Is black humour an effective tool for your style of writing?

I am not aware of using “black” humour or employing humour to cover pain.  I simply try to reflect the world I live in.  At the same time I am very aware of laughter as therapy, especially for children whose authority is not always recognised in an adult world.

Humour has been an important ingredient in my early reading books.  These stories began in the 1960s, when I was working with my son Edward and then other children who could not read.  Many were arbitrarily labelled dyslexic but I noticed that their right/left confusion and disability did not extend to those activities they enjoyed.  Most had simply “switched off” learning to read, unwilling to put themselves at risk of further failure.  Their body language was explicit of a frozen attitude to the printed word.

These children taught me that early reading materials need to be easy, exciting, meaningful.  They taught me that an engaging story was important, even at the lowest levels, and they showed me that no one can be tense while they are laughing.  With the all-important humour, there developed a tendency to put a twist at the end of a story.  This was a bit like pudding after vegetables.  It encouraged a child to read to the end of the book. 

4.  Do you have anyone in mind when you write?  In other words, do you write for a particular, person, audience, reader, when you are working on something?

Not any one person.  I am keenly aware of the age and reading level of my intended audience and this awareness tempers my writing. 

For beginner readers, the focus is the acquisition of reading skills.  This means a very simple graded text with much of the plot detail going into the illustrations, so the page-by-page notes to the illustrator are very important, especially if the illustrator has not had a lot of experience in working at this level.

Books for fluent readers have more language content and here is where I try to push the limits in expanding a young person’s awareness of the richness of the English language and ways in which it may be used.  (“Once upon a mousetime, two little squeaks went cheesing...”) 

It is always a delight to find that teachers have used the book as a springboard for the student’s own creative writing.

5. The spiritual as a part of everyday life seems a regular theme in your work.  I am thinking of the mussels on p.24 of ‘Bow down Shadrach’ or the trees in ‘Gladly Here I Come’.  Then there’s your hymn “Sacrament of the Seasons” (No 77 in ‘Alleluia Aotearoa’) “Jesus comes to me as a springtime tree…”

Your characters even discuss religion, and have spiritual beliefs (e.g. ‘Starbright and the Dream Eater’).  What are your views on the mysterious behind the mundane?

What is mundane?  Everything has a particular beauty.  Everything is a facet of the mysterious.

I have always known an “otherness”.  Most children have that knowing.  I am sure they bring it into the world with them.  For me, at a young age, the knowing had simple self-evident truths: that everything was connected to everything else; that good and bad described how we thought about things and not the things themselves; that there was no such event as death – things simply turned into other things. 

There was also a strong sense of another greater reality somewhere very close.  It was as though this life was a dream and I was very close to wakening.  I remember that as a young child I felt very old.  Not just parent-old or grandparent-old, but as old as a mountain.  I have spoken with many children who have the same feelings.

Naturally, when I was young, I tried to place these feelings where they could be affirmed, but there was no explanation for them in the religious or scientific beliefs of my childhood.  My views earned me beatings from my mother who believed the devil was in me.  (My parents were fundamentalist Christian and their divided world always seemed alien to me.) 

These days there have been huge shifts in spiritual awareness as people discover the metaphysical outside of the old religious structures.  Part of this shift is supported by new physics and by the sudden expansion of knowledge that has come with micro-chip technology.  But we still tend to talk to children about religion in demeaning and meaningless ways, which are remote from their own spiritual experiences.  So, yes, I do write about child-centred spiritual experience.  I believe it is not separate from other life experience, merely an extension of it.
 

6. I was interested in your views on fantasy in the Introduction of ‘Beyond the River’,  where you wrote, “Since the beginnings of communication, people have used fantasy to express truths which could not be contained in a factual account.”  Are you myth-making for the 20th Century?  Are you entering a new science fiction–fantasy field with ‘Starbright and the Dream Eater’ and ‘Ticket to the Sky Dance’?

 I don’t see myself as myth-making for the 20th Century, although I am aware that I belong with a number of writers who are exploring myth.  The stories in Beyond the River were largely inspired by the New Zealand landscape which seems to dictate ongoing legend. 

Starbright and the Dream Eater and Ticket to the Sky Dance were inspired by quantum physics, and they did involve a bit of research.

I’m a lover of plots.  I like stories to work like intricate well-oiled machines. 

Fantasy is not apart from reality.  It is reality pushed to the edge, and it must work logically.  Fantasy should always be real to the reader.  I like to read science fiction but am disappointed when plots are illogical or when they rely heavily on coincidence.

7. What are your views on settings of children’s fiction?  Your New Zealand settings and descriptions in e.g. ‘Gladly Here I Come’ are very sharp, right down to, say, the smell of eels.  There seems to be an American setting in ‘Starbright and the Dream Eater’.  Was this your idea, or the publisher’s idea?

 
I believe that every work needs a sense of place and, because I’m a visual writer, place is always specific and important.  Much of my writing has been set in New Zealand.  Some books have been located in Australia and could not be anywhere else.  The two fantasy novels are set in the USA.  In both Ticket to the Sky Dance (California) and Starbright and the Dream Eater (Wisconsin) we have situations which could not have taken place in a country with a small population.  The only densely populated country, that I know reasonably well, is the United States, so I chose localities there. 
 7.     You were once the editor of the Children’s Page of a newspaper.  What did you discover about children’s reading and writing interests from this experience?
In 1953 I was the children’s page editor, known officially as the NFC lady (News For Children), for the Manawatu Daily Times.  There is a pre-story to this.  My parents suffered poor health.  My mother had schizophrenia and my father’s heart condition prevented him from working.  I was the eldest of five and it was always understood that I would leave school and work to help the family.  We lived at Foxton at the time and I travelled by bus each day to Palmerston North Girls’ High School, where a wonderful group of teachers conspired to keep me at school.  In 1953 they found for me this wonderful job at the paper, plus board with a family near the school.  Half of my wages paid for my board, the rest was taken home to my parents at the weekend.  This was a very happy arrangement.  Every day after school I spent two to three hours in Broadway at the Manawatu Daily Times. 
I had an office typewriter on a small table, in a windowless room that smelt of old smoke and printers ink, and as long as I got my copy to the type-setting room by Friday afternoon, I could do what I liked with the Children’s Page.  Under a bare, fly-specked light bulb, I hammered out an identity for myself as a self-important, middle-aged, world-travelling editor who had a dog called Crackers.  When I was out of the country, Crackers took over the typewriter and gave the readers another, less dignified image of me. We became popular, Crackers and I, and sometimes I would have a high school student a year or two younger than I, coming into the office and asking to see the NFC lady.  Of course, I always said that she was out. 
This was heady stuff for a sixteen year old.  At the end of the year, I was offered a cadetship with the paper, a position usually reserved for males.  More heady stuff.  My rejoicing was short-lived, however, when my parents refused permission.  Reporters were a lot of heathens, as far as Mum and Dad were concerned, and I had already been too much under their influence.  No, I would be apprenticed to our local pharmacist and that was that.
The last day of school was a sad affair but, as I was walking out the gate, my English teacher ran after me.  She had a favour to ask.  Would I please give her my essay book?  She wanted me to promise her that I would keep on writing.  I promised.  And it was largely that promise that made me buy an old typewriter three years later and start writing short stories.  It was another three years before I had anything published.
8.     Why do you visit schools, and take part in workshops?  Is it after-sales service?
It’s not so much “after-sales” as a matter of keeping in touch with source and resource.  My own inner child is overlaid with so much adult that I need to maintain contact with the unadulterated -–the children out there.  When I am researching a book, I talk over issues with school classes.  The results are almost always different from what I anticipate.  For example, before writing Bow Down Shadrach I put this question to children: “If your family pet was very old or sick and had to be killed, would you want your parents to tell you the truth?  Or would you like them to tell you that the animal had run away, or maybe gone to a lovely home where it would be looked after for the rest of its life?”  I imagined that all children would opt for the truth but only older children wanted that.  Almost all five-to-seven year olds wanted the nice story.
Generally, when I am researching likes and dislikes or anything to do with feelings, I ask questions of children older than the reading age of the intended work.  If I’m writing early reading books for five and six year olds, I interview seven and eight year olds and begin, “When you were five…”.   I find that children are not usually able to reflect on their immediate situation but will readily give information from the past.
Also all my manuscripts are trialled in schools before they are submitted to a publisher.  I have a team of great teachers who help me with this.  Almost always, rewriting needs to be done as a result of the trialling.  Sometimes the story is discarded.  I’m never sure of the final seasoning until the dish has been tasted in this way.
9.     How do you keep in touch with the way children speak, their styles of speech and language?  Also, how do you make up languages like Starbright’s private language?
I realise there is such a thing as style but, all the same, I try to give each story an original and authentic voice.  Very often this means leaving behind everything I’ve been taught about “writing” and simply telling the story on paper in a conversational way.  I suppose writers are a bit like actors in this.
Dialogue?  It’s a matter of listening to young people, noting vocabulary, speech patterns and inflections. Young children are still engaged with the novelty of language.  They enjoy taking words to bits and reassembling them in different ways.  They delight in rhymes, rhythm, alliteration, riddles, puns and other word jokes.  They experiment with language and, often, when they haven’t the right word will invent one – as Starbright does.  I confess that I too enjoy inventing words.  A recent addition is “flumsy” which is a combination of flimsy and flummery.  Very useful.
10.  Dreams play a part in some of your stories.  Are dreams important to you?
Dreams are sometimes important to me; more often unimportant.  I do remember them whereas many adults don’t.  Children always remember their dreams and they are always important.  They always want to discuss their dreams.  Which is why dreams play a bigger role in my children’s writing than in my adult works.
 
11.  You often mention your own animals (cats, goose, dog, etc) in biographical notes.  Your stories often deal with animals in trouble (Shadrach, or the turtle in ‘The Silent One’).  How do you feel about animals?
 I have great respect for the intelligence of animals and am grateful for their companionship when it is offered.  Quite frankly, I don’t see a lot of difference between them and me.  I like Mark Twain’s statement: “Man is the highest creation. Now I wonder who found that out?” and I feel deep regret at the way humans see other species through the eyes of their own comfort.  For example, Save whales.  Kill rats.  Life and death and exchanges of energy are natural processes.  It is the selective attitude that bothers me.  Rats are highly intelligent animals, natural survivors.  Cockroaches, snakes, sharks all have bad press yet all are very beautiful.  Where do adults find such unreasoning hate for some of their fellow species?  Not from their childhood, that’s for sure.  But they are usually successful in passing their attitudes on to their children.
 Many children bond with animals.  Pets in a home are as important as parents and siblings.  Sometimes, more so, judging from the letters I receive from children.  I don’t underestimate the love that a child can feel for a pet.  In a world weighted with adult authority and expectation, it can be a great comfort to have a companion who accepts you exactly as you are.
12.  Maurice Gee once said that writing children’s novels is easier than writing adult ones.  Is this your experience?
I do not find writing for children easier than writing for adults.  It would be true to say that I write for children as I write for adults, doing the best that I am capable of, but at the same time staying with the child’s experience of life and language.  In that last point lies the challenge.  Writing for children means being true to readers of a certain age group.  It involves disciplines that don’t come into adult writing. 
When I write an adult story or novel, I can stretch the wings of language to their fullest extent and soar like an Icarus.  With writing for children, there are limitations that tether me to a particular audience.  No expansive ego trips permitted.
On the other hand, a novel for a young reader is usually less than half the length of an adult novel, so it is a shorter course.
I must say that I enjoy the challenges of writing at all levels, but find writing for early emergent reading the most difficult.  Trying to make an engaging story out of a vocabulary range of some twenty words can be like trying to create a crossword puzzle with no black squares.  This year [1998], the writing of an adult novel Classical Music was luxuriously easy, compared with the work that went into some emergent readers written the previous year.
13.  How do you feel about the illustrations for some of your books? 
Do they reflect how you see the characters?
Most often I am delighted with the illustrations, although there have been a few disappointments.  Availability of a suitable illustrator is an on-going problem for writers and publishers.  Many illustrators are booked up five years ahead.  I waited for six years to get the Mexican illustrator Joe Cepeda for Gracias the Thanksgiving Turkey.  Problems also arise when an artist is not available to do a second or third book in a series.  We have four different sets of characters depicted on the covers of the two Shadrach novels.  The third book in the trilogy will probably bring more changes.  Young readers find this disappointing and confusing.

In early reading books, much of the story is contained in the illustrations and I need to write full illustration briefs f

for each page.  Both the illustrator and I are under the same constraints.  We are helping the child to learn to read.  But when I write picture book texts for established readers, I do not dictate to the illustrator in any way.  Rather, I view the illustrator as a co-author who can expand my original idea into something much bigger and better.

 

14.  Did you ever get that motorbike?  When I first asked you that, in Winton in 1984, you were still rueful about the Royal Enfield 147cc your dad had bought you, thirty years earlier.

No.  The year after my father bought me the miserable little Royal Enfield (aye, but he was a canny man) I discovered a new interest which consumed every penny I could earn.  The spluttering bike became a means of transport to the Middle Districts Aero Club at Palmerston North, where I fluttered over the city doing circuits and bumps in Tiger Moths.  Like Toad, my passion changed overnight and two wheels on the ground could not compete with a love affair with flying. 
 
Marriage and children soon grounded me but, even now, I ache at the sight of an old DH-82.  I am filled with nostalgia for a contraption of wood, wire and canvas, with a 48 mph cruising speed, just fast enough to whistle the wind under your goggles, slow enough to fill the open cockpit with smoke from the crematorium.
But I should add that there is a postscript to the motorbike era.  My son James has a beautiful Harley, which I may occasionally ride.
 
December 1998
 





 




Wednesday, 23 August 2017

NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults 2017

Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and Winners of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults Announced

(This is the press release from the NZ Booksellers Association, 15 Aug 2017.)


'Rich imagery, with compelling storytelling. It draws readers into the tale of Lewis Carroll’s poetry like never before,' say the judges of the winner of this year’s Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award in the prestigious New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Snark: Being a true history of the expedition that discovered the Snark and the Jabberwock . . . and its tragic aftermath also wins the Russell Clark Award for Illustration. Written and illustrated by Port Chalmers resident David Elliot, Snark is published by Otago University Press.
Pam Jones, convenor of the judging panel, says, 'Like Russell Clark, David Elliot has a clear wit that pervades his sketches. His draughtmanship is outstanding. However, it’s the cohesive way he has combined all elements of this book that won the judges over. David Elliot’s twist on Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poems is unique, and offers everything the reader could want – mystery, adventure and intrigue.'
The winners of the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults were announced at a ceremony on the evening of Monday, 14 August in Wellington. The awards are a unique celebration of the contribution New Zealand’s children’s authors and illustrators make to build national identity and cultural heritage.
The judging panel for the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults comprises children and young adults librarian, Pam Jones (convenor); education lecturer, Trish Brooking; author Ben Brown; reviewer and promoter of New Zealand children’s literature, Sarah Forster; and WORD Christchurch programme director and author, Rachael King. For the second year, the panel is joined by English academic, Professor Martin Salisbury, who is the advisor for the Russell Clark Award for Illustration.
The te reo Māori entries were judged by University of Auckland Kaitaiki Māori librarian, Riki-Lee Saua (convenor); Anahera Morehu, Library Manager Arts, Māori, and Pasifika Services at the University of Auckland Libraries and Learning Services; Principal Librarian Children’s and Young Adult Services at the HB Williams Memorial Library, Gisborne, Te Rangi Rangi Tangohau; and Rongo Waerea, the Māori Services Librarian at Auckland’s Otara Library.
The Picture Book Award winner is Juliette MacIver and illustrator Sarah Davis with That’s Not a Hippopotamus! “From beginning to end, this rambunctious picture book does not miss a beat. The illustrations are complex and clever. What made this book stand out for us were the diverse cultures depicted in the illustrations,” comment the judges.
Canterbury author Tania Roxborogh wins the Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction with My New Zealand Story: Bastion PointTania Roxborogh applies a deft and sensitive touch to this book, say the judges.  “Race relations in the 1970s are revealed to the reader through the eyes and heart of a young Maori girl wondering what is wrong with the grown-up world around her. Here the true craft of Tania Roxborogh’s writing is revealed. We can wonder with her.”
Maurice Gee wins the Copyright Licensing NZ Award for Young Adult Fiction with The Severed Land. “We knew we were in good hands as Maurice Gee’s elegant writing carried us along on an epic and archetypal adventure of warring families, colonialism, mysterious strangers and making allies out of enemies. Not a word is wasted in this taut, thrilling, often brutal and morally complex tale,” explain the judges.
Father and son Josh James Marcotte and Jack Marcotte win the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction with Jack and Charlie: Boys of the bush. The book provides vivid insights, from a child’s perspective, into the daily rhythms of life on the remote West Coast of the South Island. “The exceptionally vivid photography invites high levels of engagement and scrutiny. This book is a fine example of a non-fiction text that has cohesion, charm, and a capacity to captivate both children and older readers.”
The Te Kura Pounamu Award for the best book in te reo Māori is won by Sacha Cotter for Te Kaihanga Māpere, translated by Kawata Teepa and illustrated by Josh Morgan. The judges felt this book stood out not only for the excellent quality of Māori translation, but also for an inspiring storyline which celebrates a favourite Kiwi pastime and encourages young readers to follow their dreams and persevere in all they do.
The Best First Book Award winner is Julie Lamb for The Discombobulated Life of Summer Rain. The judges hope that this book marks the beginning of a long career in children’s writing for this author. “The limitless boundaries of friendship and family are explored, and the plot is expertly woven.”
The full list of winners of the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is:
Margaret Mahy Book of the Year (prize: $7,500) and winner of the Russell Clark Award for Illustration (prize: $7,500)
Snark Being a true history of the expedition that discovered the Snark and the Jabberwock . . . and its tragic aftermath illustrated and written (after Lewis Carroll) by David Elliot; Otago University Press
Picture Book Award: Prize $7,500
That’s Not a Hippopotamus! by Juliette MacIver and illustrated by Sarah Davis; Gecko Press
Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction: Prize $7,500
My New Zealand Story: Bastion Point by Tania Roxborogh; Scholastic New Zealand
Copyright Licensing NZ Award for Young Adult Fiction: $7,500
The Severed Land by Maurice Gee; Penguin Random House (Penguin)
Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction: Prize $7,500
Jack and Charlie: Boys of the bush by Jack Marcotte and Josh James Marcotte; Penguin Random House (Puffin)
Te Kura Pounamu Award for the best book in Te Reo Māori: Prize $7,500
Te Kaihanga Māpere by Sacha Cotter, translated by Kawata Teepa and illustrated by Josh Morgan; Huia Publishers
Best First Book Award: Prize $2,000
The Discombobulated Life of Summer Rain by Julie Lamb; Mākaro Press (Submarine)
'This year’s winners have produced rich, evocative and engaging books. In these titles we have a platter of delicious reads that celebrate our unique New Zealand culture and showcase delightful characters who will entertain a wide spectrum of readers and non-readers alike. Much praise must also go to the publishers of some truly beautiful editions that will undoubtedly enhance the readers' experience, in a way the e-book versions never could. New Zealand children and young adult publishing is in good heart,' concludes Pam Jones.
An integral part of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is the HELL Reading Challenge, now in its fourth year. Children are encouraged to read all the finalists’ titles through their schools or local library and are rewarded with free pizza. So far this year, 212,000 pizza wheels have been distributed.
The New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are made possible through the generosity, commitment and vision of funders and sponsors: Creative New Zealand, HELL Pizza, Book Tokens (NZ) Ltd, Copyright Licensing NZ Ltd, LIANZA, Wellington City Council and Nielsen Book. The awards are administered for the New Zealand Book Awards Trust by the New Zealand Book Council.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Nga Atua: Maori Gods Robyn Kahukiwa

 Nga Atua: Maori Gods  Robyn Kahukiwa (text & ill)   
Oratia Books (2017)
32 pages, Hardback NZ$25
ISBN 978 0 947506 26 1

This book fills a need so perfectly that it is hard to know why nobody thought of it before. Our
bookshelves are full of books retelling Maori myths and legends but this is the first book to provide a simple guide to the Polynesian pantheon.
Robyn Kahukiwa has brought together her colourful illustrations of the key gods and her equally dramatic pen portraits of their personalities and powers.
She doesn’t retell the classic myths; instead she describes some of the key participants.
Hinemoana is a powerful being. She looks after the sea with Tangaroa.’ The accompanying illustration shows Hinemoana underwater, shimmering in shades of blue and green, arm-in-arm with a taniwha. Both look as if they had just stepped off the wall panel of a meeting house. The result is a lively and attractive introduction to the gods who figure so largely in our shared mythology, our place-names, our traditions and our culture.
In creating this book as a special gift for her then six-year-old grandson, Kahu, Robyn Kahukiwa has also made a special taonga for all young New Zealanders.

Trevor Agnew
22 June 2017

Sunday, 11 June 2017

John McIntyre


John McIntyre - Booklover
Died 10 June 2017, aged 65

John McIntyre wasn’t just an advocate of children’s books; he wasn’t just a person who believed that
Ruth & John McIntyre,
Children's Bookshop, Kilbirnie, Wellington, NZ, Nov 2011. 
reading was important for kids. John was different; he was somebody who got up and did something about that belief.

He and his wife Ruth took a brave and perilous step when they opened their Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie 25 years ago. Just to have succeeded in that business would have been sufficient achievement in itself.

But John (and Ruth) – and please imagine that the words “and Ruth” reappear throughout this note – went far beyond bookselling. They became a focus of children’s literature, both locally and nationally. The Children’s Bookshop was a place where you got good advice from people who had actually read the books.

The shop was much more than a shop. It was also a meeting place, where visits by writers were organised, so that children could meet the authors and artists who created their books. John also drove writers around schools and sometimes he was the one who rang the schools to arrange those visits. Book launches and other literary celebrations were held in the bookshop, and it was a rare one where John’s voice wasn’t heard singing the praises of a book.

When he agreed to review books for Radio New Zealand, John showed another of his talents. John understood people. He refused to take any payment for all those radio talks. He explained his reasoning to me. If he had been paid, sooner or later some bean-counter would have sacked him to save money. Since he was free, he would be allowed to carry on. And he was. For over fifteen years he recorded his book talks. Over 300 of them; perhaps a thousand books in all.

His motto was “I don’t see myself as a reviewer; I’m a cheerleader.” John always refused to comment on books he disliked. This was because - as John put it, “Life is too short to drink bad wine or read bad books.” (Because of his kidney transplant, John didn't drink wine, but he knew a good saying when he met one.)

Look at any aspect of books for young people and John was there. He was a judge of the Children’s Book Awards. He campaigned to get Margaret Mahy’s early books back into print. He spoke up against bigotry and censorship. 

Life was too short for John. He had to fight serious health issues but he never allowed them to limit his enthusiastic support for the causes he loved.  And in turn, he was loved by radio listeners, by parents, by teachers, by book-buying parents and grandparents, by writers, by illustrators, by librarians, by publishers. Above all he was appreciated by the young people into whose hands he guided the right book.

His enthusiasm, his family values, his generosity of spirit, his belief that we should trust young people, his love of a good well-told story – all of these were important aspects of that lovely man we knew as John McIntyre. 

He was a great role-model. It has been an honour and a pleasure to know him.
 
- Trevor Agnew       

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Reo Pepi Rua (2): Colours, Counting, Shapes


Reo Pepi Rua (2) (2017):
Nga Tae - Colours   
Te Kaute – Counting
Nga Ahua - Shapes   
Kitty Brown & Kirsten Parkinson
Board books, each 22 pages
NZ$18 each

978-0-473-37744-1
978-0-473-37743-4
978-0-473-37742-7
Contact Details:
info@reopepi.co.nz

One of the pleasures of the reviewing life is seeing self-publishers achieve success. Back in 2015 two cousins from the Otago Peninsula, artist Kitty Brown and writer Kirsten Parkinson, saw a need for Maori language resources for the very young. What made them special was that they had the determination, skills and drive to get three delightful board books published.

The three - Kanohi - My Face, Kararehe – Animals, and Kakahu – Getting Dressed – are bilingual books offering a set of familiar images, each with appropriate sentences (‘Put on your socks.’ ‘Where are your ears?’) in both Maori and English. [More information at the publishers’ website www.reopepi.co.nz]

The cousins’ publishing operation is called Reo Pepi, which can be translated formally as Baby Language, but can also be rendered as baby talk, which is what their books encourage.

Those first three books have sold well and two reprints and 5000 copies later, three new volumes have also been published.  Given the series title of Reo Pepi-Rua [2], these new books are in the same easy-to-handle, round-cornered, board-book format. Their titles are:
Nga Tae - Colours   
Te Kaute - Counting
Nga Ahua - Shapes   

 Parents themselves, Kitty and Kirsten have created books which encourage interaction between adult and child.  Nga Tae – Colours uses a series of familiar insects to pose questions about their colour.   
He aha te tae o te huhu?  He ma.
What colour is the huhu grub?  White.

Ten colours later – from whero to parauri – the book offers a very clear phonetic pronunciation guide, as well as a glossary and translations. On the facing page there is an easy-to-point-at set of labelled colours. These books are well-designed and easy to hold in tiny hands. The board book format is sturdy and resists chewing.
The same well-thought-out design is followed in the other two books

Te Kaute – Counting presents familiar toys to be counted
E hia nga karetao?  E ono.
How many robots?  Six.
The pictures show toys that real kids have obviously owned and inflicted loving wear-and tear on.
There is a comfortable sense of recognition at each turn of the page.

 Nga Ahua - Shapes has the trickiest set of concepts to illustrate but it rises to the challenge by offering familiar shapes concealed in familiar settings or objects. I particularly appreciated this entry:
Rapua nga tapaono.
Find the hexagons.
The illustration shows a toolbox with plenty of six-sided items. Needless to say, the usual services are offered at the back of these two books.

Of all the illustrations the one I liked best was the picture of two Toroa (royal albatrosses) on Taiaroa Head. They depict the manawa (heart) shape but you’ll have to read the book to see why.

Or get a three-year-old to read it to you.

Trevor Agnew
15 April 2017

 

Friday, 14 April 2017

The Changeover


The Changeover
Margaret Mahy 1984 (re-issue 2017)
218 pages
Paperback NZ$20
Hachette
[Ebook NZ$10]
ISBN 978 1 86971 355 3

It was an amazingly enriching experience to be typing up my thoughts on The Changeover while listening to Bridget Mahy and Miranda Harcourt being interviewed by Charlotte Graham on RNZ National’s Saturday morning about both the novel and the forthcoming film. Bridget recalled her mother reading drafts to her as part of the creative process, while Miranda’s first experience of The Changeover was narrating a 20-part radio version when she was a young actor. Now she and her husband, Stuart McKenzie, are in the process of editing their finished film.   

In their discussion (which can still be heard via the RNZ website at http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/saturday ) they mentioned the excitement for New Zealanders of encountering local places and faces in fiction. Charlotte quoted from Elizabeth Knox’s superb introduction to this edition, “I was thrilled by the appearance of the local in a book of fantasy.” Bridget responded that we all love to read some aspect of our own world or to have it come back to us through writers’ interpretations. Just so.

Much has changed since The Changeover was first published in 1984. On re-reading the first page, I was struck by Laura’s examination of her shampoo bottle, specifically the contrast between the exotic “Paris” label and its mundane footnote “Made in New Zealand, Wisdom Laboratories, Paraparaumu.”  Today’s young New Zealand readers will never experience the exciting jolt that the metaphorical “Made in New Zealand” once brought to us back then. Much of our reading material came to us from overseas and we all developed the Kiwi trick of being able to instantly spot the capitals N and Z in any page of text.

For New Zealand writers, overseas publication was proof of success. In the 1980s Margaret Mahy was one of the few who had seized that elusive golden ring. True, some of her poems and picture books had an English feel to them – a reflection of the way our schools, our culture, our world, functioned then. Yet here was The Changeover with its brazen declaration of difference. Not just made in New Zealand but in Paraparaumu; the unlikely pairing with Paris a reminder that Margaret Mahy was always a skilled practitioner of word magic.

Margaret Mahy also knew how to create plots with all the power of ancient mythology. And she knew how to create characters so real that they seemed to live in the next street.  We have all met a Laura somewhere.  In The Changeover, Laura Chant is the teenage daughter who is feeling overlooked, while her harassed solo mother, Kate, struggles to cope with all the pressures of a limited budget, thankless job, and recalcitrant car. Left to mind her young brother, Jacko, put-upon Laura becomes aware of a strange otherness – a sense of being warned of danger by her older self. The messages seem to come through her reflections in mirrors – the first of many echoes of old folk tales.

Laura is worried. Do her strange insights make her a witch? Perhaps her school prefect, the enigmatic Sorry Carlisle is a witch? Her sense of dread seems to involve her beloved brother Jacko and, sure enough, in Carmody Braque’s tiny toyshop, she senses “something very wrong and unable to conceal its wrongness.

In a parody of the librarian stamping an animal onto Jacko’s right hand, the sinister Braque stamps his own image onto Jacko’s left hand. (Sinister indeed.) “Mr Braque pounced with great agility, like an elderly mantis on an innocent fly.” This is only one of many superb similes and marvellous metaphors that lie in wait for the reader.

In the days that follow, as all Jacko’s vigour is sucked from him, we see Laura blaming herself for failing to protect her brother and desperately seeking a way to save him.  It is marvellous – Mahyian, in fact - the way that the story uses commonplace things to suggest supernatural menace and danger: the feel of wool and the smell of peppermint. Even Laura’s homework reflects her feelings: “time divided by fear multiplied by imagination and so on.”  


 The skilful use of references to folk tales and fairy stories is another powerful aspect of The Changeover. Laura thinks of Red Riding Hood and the wolf when she sees Sorry Carlisle, while poor Jacko, his vitality being drained away, says, “I don’t like it. Fox eat up gingerbread boy.” Sleeping Beauty, Bluebeard, the looking glass, Oz, the wicked wolf, the spider’s parlour, and the three bears are conjured up throughout the story. All this timeless evocation is happening in a raw new subdivision in a city which is recognisably Christchurch; the ability to meld the mythical and mundane so seamlessly is all part of the Mahy word magic.

Ancient symbols are committed to modern wires,” is how Laura puts it when Sorry’s grandmother swears an oath over the telephone. (In 1984 phones needed copper wires.) And so the battle between Braque and Laura, which began so simply with a stamp, becomes an all-consuming crusade which changes Laura forever.

It is also an extremely enjoyable story, still fresh after 33 years. And it will make an extremely enjoyable film.

Trevor Agnew
15 April 2017