Thursday, December 26, 2013

Picture Books for the Christmas holiday season

A Perfect Chirpy Christmas by Kyle Mewburn, ill. Patrick McDonald, Random House NZ

As one of New Zealand’s most well-known picture book writers Kyle Mewburn needs little introduction, but the illustrator of this book is a newcomer to the children’s book market. In 2013 he won the Storylines Gavin Bishop Award for Picture Book Illustration by submitting illustrations for this particular text. Previously he graduated from Massey University with an Honours degree in Design. Together the text and the pictures introduce us to Flit, an earnest little bird who longs to experience a white Christmas. He flies north rather than south, finds a snow-bound city, and builds a sturdy nest so he can enjoy the festivities in comfort. But when the Tomtit family lose their nest, Flit says they can move into his. He gives up his next nest to the Lark family - and is reduced to living in an old tin. His kindness is repaid by the local birds, and he ends up enjoying the splendours of a genuine white Christmas. But next year - guess where Flit decides to enjoy Christmas...? The illustrator uses colour, texture and perspective to create unusual backgrounds, and Flit himself is an appealing character with his plump oval shape, shiny eyes and expressive eyebrows. If you’re looking for a cute Christmas story for pre-schoolers, check out this one.

ISBN 978 1 77553 495 2 $19.99 Pb

Rosie to the Rescue by Kyle Mewburn, ill. Flux Animation, Random House NZ

This is more than just a picture book. Rosie is the New Zealand dairy industry’s Cowbassador, and her job is to educate kids about dairy farming. She has her own Facebook page, blog, and website ( which includes games, movies, competitions and giveaways. There are even some teaching resources for years 1 to 7 at The cheeky rhyming text of this story tells a tall tale about how Rosie manages to get the milk delivered to town despite the surrounding floods. Think buckets of milk, a massive kite, and a flying cow... The illustrations are an ultra-modern computer-assisted mix of photos and drawings that should appeal to today’s young electronic gaming addicts. Primary school teachers will probably be glad to use this as a light-hearted resource for curriculum-associated projects on New Zealand industry (and I suspect kids who live on dairy farms will be quite intrigued...).

ISBN 978 1 77553 573 7 $19.99 Pb

Phylys the Farm Truck by Christine Fernyhough and Susan Elijas, photography by John Bougen, Random House NZ

Friends and fans of Christine Fernyhough will recall this trio’s previous picture book, Dart of Castle Hill. Dart the dog is pictured in this story, but not as the main character. That role belongs to Phylys (based on the author’s Toyota Hilux) - who arrives at the farm sporting immaculate, gold-painted bodywork. After several typical farm incidents Phylys is dented, scratched and stained - but the good old girl is still going strong! The rhyming text is added to the page inside stitched boxes - these in turn compliment the busy, multi-textured mix of photos, collage, pencil and paint. There’s certainly a lot going on in these illustrations, and children of about 4 to 7 (and their parents) will enjoy examining the details for quirky motifs. Probably best for reading aloud one-on-one or in a small group so the adult reader can comment on the pictures.

ISBN 978 1 77553 509 6 $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Presents for the Very Young

Trains by Catherine Foreman, Scholastic NZ

Boats by Catherine Foreman, Scholastic NZ

Here we have two more books in the Machines and Me series, following on from Planes and Tractors. I was impressed with the first two, and glad to see these ones being published - I hope this means the series is financially successful. For those of you who haven’t made the connection, Catherine Foreman is the author/illustrator of the award-winning picture book The Cat’s Pyjamas which has become a firm favourite in many households, including mine. These two volumes offer uncomplicated illustrations with solid black lines and bright primary colours, just right for young preschoolers. The fashion these days seems to be for dense complicated illustrations, so it’s nice to see uncluttered pages that could be visually enjoyed by babies. The rhyming text is brief and simple (and could be read by a newly-independent reader): Trains run on a railway track, round and round, or there and back. From the station, through the town, up the hill and then back down. I hope there will be more in this series - Bicycles, Bulldozers, Cranes??

ISBN 978 1 77543 162 6 $15 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Quirky Picture Book about the Super City

A is for Auckland by Diane Newcombe and Melissa Anderson Scott, Random House NZ

This is certainly an alphabet book with a difference - well, several differences, one being that it is most likely to appeal to Aucklanders!  The alphabet format is simply a means to introduce features of the wider Auckland City. I’m always interested to see how writers cope with q, x and z (okay, they use 1: Queen Street, 2: prompting the reader to mark home on the map with an X, and 3: the Zoo). The features are many and varied, with some real surprises - we are reminded of the Civic Theatre, Ihumatao, Lion Rock, the Otara Market, Te Hana, and Auckland’s many volcanoes. The theme is moved along by means of a little girl and a smart-mouthed tui who fly everywhere and identify the outstanding features. The illustrations are packed with detail, using numerous media such as collage, watercolour, coloured pencil, and black pen. Speech bubbles and casual labels draw attention to other words beginning with the featured letter - and add to the very dense effect. The subtle humour and the complex illustrations means that the book will probably mean more to older children of about 7 to 9.

ISBN 978 1 77553 558 4 $22 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Book 2 in The Fly Paper series

The Sundew Stalks by Johanna Knox, ill. Sabrina Malcolm, Hinterland Press (PO Box 50, Greytown 5712, New Zealand)

This is Book Two in The Fly Papers series - the first book was The Flytrap Snaps. Fans will remember Spencer Fogle, the hero of the first book, and his mutant venus flytrap. Spencer does feature in this story, but the heroine is the intrepid Tora de Ronde. As well as rescuing a mutant sundew from the clutches of the evil Jimmy Jangles, Tora is trainee wrestler - and a free runner. Her unusual skills are essential to save the genetically engineered carnivorous plants from Jimmy and his two female henchmen - the wrestlers Sybil and Cassandra. The plot twists and turns madly, there’s heaps of off-the-wall action, and the talking plants (Dross and Dion) are a hoot. Some secrets from the first book are uncovered - but there are still plenty of mysteries to be resolved in the next book in the series, The Aldrovanda Turns - with several more books in the series to come.

PS. There are a couple of pages in the back providing interesting information about non-genetically engineered sundew plants...

Johanna Knox is the author of The Flytrap Snaps,  launched in August 2011. 
Previously, Johanna has had short stories for children and adults published in anthologies and the School Journal. She also reviews books, writes magazine articles (often about food or plants), helps develop museum exhibitions, and chats on National Radio’s This Way Up about foraging for wild food.
Take a peek inside.
ISBN 978 0 473 22663 3 $23 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman