Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Illustrating Torty and Soldier

Fifi Colston shares how she illustrated Torty and the Soldier (written by Jennifer Beck, published with Scholastic New Zealand):

When Lynette Evans at Scholastic asked me if I’d like to read the manuscript with a view to illustrating another ANZAC book, she also mentioned the magic word ‘tortoise’. She’s a clever woman… I have a very soft spot for these hard-shelled creatures.

My oldest sister and I had a one each as small children in Britain. Mine was called Sootyafter the Sooty and Sweep Show (which left me with a lifetime love of puppets) and my sisters was Big Ears which was irony I missed at the time, given the lack of them on her shelly companion.
Tortoises have a tendency to roam far and wide in search of lettuce leaves which usually are in the garden proud neighbours place 4 doors down. They are the Peter Rabbits of the reptilian world. They also hibernate and I remember them in shoe boxes in the bottom of the wardrobe, wintering over. Sometime during this period of pet ownership, our family moved to Ghana in West Africa, and my parents line to this day around the tortoise disappearance whilst packing was ‘they wandered off.’ No amount of plying with wine will make my mother change that 50 year old story.


The book’s heroine, Torty (her real name) wandered off, all over the Greece and into the sight of Stewart Little (not the mouse), in 1917 where the story begins. I was entranced by her adventures bought to life by Jennifer’s writing and said yes to taking on the job of illustrating the book.
Normally, for a book based on realistic style illustrations, I would find models and photograph them to work from. So I paid Torty a visit when she was out of hibernation and residing with family in Havelock North. She has an enclosure that boasts a nesting box and plenty of access to grassy lawn and shady bushes, all with a tortoise proof fence, 25 cm high! She’s a feisty old lady of 200 years and I made my husband hold her whilst I photographed her from every angle. She gave him a good kicking in the process. I also visited the Weta Workshop- made replica of her in the Gallipoli exhibition at Te Papa. She's in a wooden crate and a very good likeness indeed!

As for Stewart and his brother, I had no real idea what they looked like apart from Stewart’s military records. Brown hair, hazel eyes. I was also running out of time to find models, so I tried a different method for the first time. I used a 3D programme called DAZ,

where I could create people and move them around from all angles. I am no expert with it, but managed to get what I needed by a fair amount of trial and error. The rest was interpretation with watercolours on paper and some digital textures layered on after the scans were done.

Read more here.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Two book reviews hiding

Rasmas by Elizabeth Pulford, illus. Jenny Cooper, Scholastic New Zealand

Both author and illustrator are experts at their craft, and their skill is evident in the light touch they use for this gentle and appealing story. Danny and his father go to live on Gran’s farm. Danny makes friends with a stroppy young goat, and soon the pair are inseparable. One day Dad introduces Danny and Rasmas to Rona – and soon after that Dad and Rona get married. But Danny now has to leave the farm – and Rasmas. He’s heartbroken. Of course there’s a happy ending, but I’m not going to tell how it’s reached.

The text is straightforward and beautifully written, and the illustrations are done in a soft, realistic style with pencil and watercolour paint. The focus on the high spirits and smiling expression of the goat promise the young reader that all will be well. I was particularly impressed with the integration of text and illustration – many self-published picture book authors could learn something from the layout of this book. Heartily recommended for group and one-to-one reading for four to six-year olds. Note that there is also a Maori version available entitled Ko Rama.
ISBN 978 1 77543 310 1 RRP $19 Pb


The Other Brother by Stephanie Thatcher, Scholastic New Zealand

I think this is Stephanie’s sixth picture book, and she’s really developing her own brand now. Think appealing animals, bright colours and child-focused stories. Bertie McQuerty is a little pig with a big problem. He has three brothers who are BRILLIANT. One is sporty, one is arty, and one is clever. Bertie is just “the other brother.” He’s tried being brilliant, but he’s always distracted by someone needing help. Eventually Bertie discovers his strength – and can proudly take his place on the podium. The illustrations are done in pencil and watercolour, with friendly animal faces, plenty of relaxing white space, and a variety of layout formats. Look out for the repeating motif in the illustrations ie. a little yellow chick. Integration of text and pictures on the page is excellent.

The message behind the story will be of comfort to many young readers who don’t excel at anything – in a society where there is a lot of pressure, even on children, to do better than one’s contemporaries. Recommended for group and one-to-one reading for three to six year-olds. The Maori version is entitled Ko Tera Atu O Nga Tama.

ISBN 978 1 77543 382 8 RRP $19 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Two quirky picture books…


Wildboy: the boy who walked around New Zealand by Brando Yelavich, illus. Donella Yelavich, Penguin Random House

You may have already heard of Wildboy because he has published two books for adults about his Bear Grylls-type adventures. The first, published in 2015, was called Wildboy, and the second was called Wildboy: to the edge and back. In 2013, as a restless young man, he set off to do the first circumnavigation of the New Zealand coastline on foot. He carried a 50 kg pack, walked 8,700 km, and took 600 days to do it.

He has teamed up with his mother to produce this strangely appealing children’s picture book. Strangely – because the illustrations are very modern and edgy with unusual proportions. And appealing – because I think youngsters will like the provocative mix of familiar landscapes, favourite wildlife, and Wildboy’s smiling face staring up from every page – even while he’s eating an insect…
The text is casual and friendly, with plenty of significant and/or amusing moments. Some advanced pre-schoolers might be interested, but I see the book being of most use in primary school libraries, where it will appeal to all age levels. It would lend itself to studies of the New Zealand environment, as well as being a source of inspiration in lessons on self-esteem. I’m giving my review copy to my almost-six-year-old grandson; he will probably decide to set off on his own adventure trek...

ISBN 978 0 14 377245 3 RRP $19.99 Pb

Muddle & Mo’s Rainy Day by Nikki Slade Robinson, Duck Creek Press

Many readers will already be familiar with Muddle the duck and Mo the goat, with their angular but very expressive lines. Preceding titles are Muddle & Mo, and Muddle & Mo’s Worm Surprise, which I particularly liked.

The minimal text matches the simplicity of the illustrations. Muddle loves the rainy day – naturally. Mo is not keen at all – naturally. Eventually, with the promise of an extra cuddle, Muddle persuades Mo to go out and play in the rain. The message lies in the developing happiness portrayed on Mo’s face as they jump and splash and slide. Can goats smile? Well, this one does.

Winter is nearly here, with plenty of rainy days, so this will be a handy book for pre-schoolers at their learning centre and at their home.

ISBN 978 1 927305 40 9 RRP $19.99 Pb (also Hb for $29.99)


Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A book that combines cooking and science experiments!

The Kitchen Science Cookbook by Dr Michelle Dickinson (Nanogirl Labs)

The name 'Nanogirl' started popping up around the country and in my ignorance I thought she was a visiting scientist. I've obviously had my head in the sand because Dr Michelle Dickinson - Nanogirl - has been making waves in this country for quite some time. Dr Michelle Dickinson has a PhD in Biomedical and Materials Engineering and is the founder and director of Nanogirl Labs. This is her second book, her first 'No. 8 Recharged' is a curated collection of 202 world changing innovations from New Zealand in a 210-page book.



Michelle has made it her life mission to make science and engineering accessible for all. She has carried out this goal with television appearances, live Theatre Science Shows, a science comedy podcast "Stupid Questions for Scientists" and science communication videos. For her work she has been awarded a Member of New Zealand Order of Merit, winner of the 2016 Women of Influence Award for science and innovation, the 2015 Sir Peter Blake Leadership Award, the Prime Ministers Science Media Communication Prize and the 2014 New Zealand Association of Scientists Science Communicators Award in 2014.


After one of her Nanogirl live shows a parent talked to Michelle, saying she wished she could teach her children science experiments in the kitchen but didn't have the confidence to do it. Then she offered Michelle one of her home-baked muffins. It set a light off in Michelle's head - perhaps there's a need for a kitchen science cookbook.  She promoted the idea on Kickstarter and received $85,000 in funding; well-over what she had hoped to raise.

Michelle must have plowed just about all those funds into the book because it is a huge, hardback book of 180 pages on good quality paper with hundreds of photographs throughout the book. She's retailing it for $50 but you're definitely getting your money's worth and proceeds from sale, will no doubt go into publishing the next book showcasing more experiments for the kitchen. Also, for every book you buy online (see link below) they will donate a copy to a community, school or family that would not otherwise have the opportunity to explore science in this way.

Michelle has ordered the book into the following experiments: colourful, construction, edible, electricity, motion, pressure, reaction, sound, surfactant - 168 in all! Michelle has picked experiments that use ingredients that most homes will have in their pantry. Safety first, Michelle gives seven basic kitchen science rules - to keep safe and therefore enjoy all the recipes in the book. She also encourages children to keep notes, like all scientists.

Each experiment takes up two foolscap pages; one full coloured picture on one side, and the instructions on the other side. The first experiment tells you how to make coloured flowers using a pair of scissors, jars, white flowers, food colouring and water only. At the end are ways to explore further. For example, for the above experiment she encourages you cut the stem length-ways down the middle to examine if there is any food colouring inside the stem or test what affects the transpiration rate of flowers by placing them in different places.

Wow, I think every Primary and Kindergarten school should buy this book for their science curriculum. Quite a few parents will want it at home to engage their bored children during the holidays and weekends too.  An excellent educational resource!

RRP $50 + P&P (ships worldwide). Available in good book stores or buy here.

Reviewed by Maria Gill

Saturday, April 7, 2018

A book for all ages


ANZAC Animals by Maria Gill, illus. Marco Ivančić, Scholastic NZ

This is the kind of book where you flick through to have a little read for a few minutes … and an hour later you’re still sitting there, lost in the stories and pictures. Maria has followed up her 2016 Margaret Mahy Book of the Year ANZAC Heroes with this collection of fascinating true anecdotes about 20 animals that took part in WWI and WWII. Horses and camels are included, of course, but there are also tales of dogs, cats, monkeys, birds, a kangaroo and even a tortoise. Each featured animal has a double-page spread with an easy-to-read block of text, a superb digitally-produced colour illustration by Marco, and several extras such as historical photos and information boxes.

Every effort has been made to provide background and easy-navigating information for young researchers. There’s a Contents section, an Introduction, relevant maps of the main battle fronts for both world wars, Timelines, a Glossary, an Index and a Bibliography, plus other extras such as the use of symbols to identify country of origin, and the inclusion of veterinary and animal welfare facts.

Readers of all ages will enjoy this book, from eight to 108, but I see it being of most benefit to primary and intermediate ages, particularly animal lovers. They won’t be able to resist the bright-eyed, appealing face on the cover – that of Horrie, the dog mascot of the 2/1st Machine Gun Battalion. Highly recommended.


RRP $29.99
ISBN: 978-1-77543-474-0

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman



Thursday, April 5, 2018

Inspiring book for Under 5s


KIWICORN by Kat Merewether (Illustrated Publishing)

I can't remember reading such a positive affirmation type book for young readers before. I can imagine little 3-4 year old young children listening to the short and sweet texts with big eyes, then charging around afterwards saying 'I'm strong, sassy and smart' or 'I'm gentle, gutsy and goodhearted'. They might not understand it all, but it will open up discussions for parent and child to talk about positive behaviours. Those are the sort of positive messages that could stay with children for life. Here's an example of the text within:

Who is confident, cute and colourfully creative?
Kiwicorn!
I am so flamboyant, I could float away.

And funny ones that will get them laughing:


And helping children to accept that we're all unique and weirdness is okay:

Who is whimsical, witty and wonderfully weird?
Kiwicorn!
I love being different, because different is never dull.

Lots of discussions will come out of reading this to your children. Delightful illustrations are featured throughout the book, showing a little kiwi with a rainbow beak interacting with what the text is telling the readers. And at the end is a little foil mirror for children to look at and see that they can be all those things too (if they want).

A great buy for families with 3-6 year old children, kindergartens and Junior Primary classes.

20c from each sale is donated to Kiwis for Kiwi Trust.

ISBN:  978-0-9941364-2-8


RRP $19.99

If you can't find it in your local shops buy here.


Inspiring books for girls


Go Girl: A storybook of Epic New Zealand Women by Barbara Else (Penguin)

It's very appropriate in the year that we commemorate 100 years since New Zealand women were given the right to vote that there are a plethora of books about outstanding women. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls kick started the trend (published in 2016) and since then the following books have landed in our book shelves:

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World by Kate Pankhurst
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky

Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh

Women Who Dared: 52 Fearless Daredevils, Adventurers, and Rebels by Jan Carr
Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women by various authors

Now we have Go Girl written by Barbara Else and illustrated by some of our most talented illustrators such as Fifi Colston, Phoebe Morris, Ali Teo, Helen Taylor, Vasanti Unka and others.

The chosen women are ordered in alphabetical order of their Christian names, starting with Ahumai Te Paerata a young wahine who stood with her men in battle, but one year later shows compassion and saves a young Navy officer from a revenge killing. Then we jump to the 1970s and read Beatrice Faumuina's story of winning Gold at the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games. Forty-six biographies follow until the end pages, where you'll find a timeline showing where each woman featured from 1824 - present day. Each artist has drawn a picture of themselves and written a short bio, with a full page biography of the author Barbara Else (illustration of her drawn by Vasanti Unka).

You'll read stories about leaders, sports people, actors, scholars, writers, artists and pioneers. There are current people like Lorde, Lydia Ko, Ella Williams, Parris Goebel and those who have made historical firsts such as Elizabeth McCombs, Jean Batten, Yvette Williams and Whina Cooper. It's good to see a range of cultures represented including Maori, Chinese, and Pacific Island women.

Each entrant has a header page with a quote, the year they were born and died (if relevant), and where they lived. Then two pages of text covering their life history and a full page illustration. The text is simple and short, suiting 7-9 year old readers.

The illustrations are full colour and mostly stylised. Nine artists have drawn 5-6 illustrations each. I really like how Fifi Colston included backgrounds that represented what that person was well known for. For example, Kathryn Mansfield has a dolls house behind her, reminding us of one of Kathryn's most famous short stories.

Will be a popular book in Primary School libraries and households with 7-9 year-old girls. Go Girls and the books above will inspire young girls to reach towards their dreams and be empowered by these high-achieving role models.

Plus check out this Facebook site about incredible kiwi women called Our Wahine: 125 Extraordinary Women.

ISBN: 978-0-14-377160-0
RRP $45.00