Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas Ant Sang Michael Bennett

 Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas (2018)
Ant Sang (ilustrations)    Michael Bennett (text)
Penguin Random House NZ
Paperback  264 pages  NZ$40
ISBN 978 0 14 377124 1

Helen is a young woman, living in present day Auckland, whose concern with threats to the environment accidentally disrupts a biological research demonstration by her boyfriend Marion. Suddenly Helen is kidnapped by two female warriors from the future – the Go-Go Ninjas of the title – and swept off three centuries into the future. The world of 2355 is what remains after the destruction caused by global warming, wars, famine and floods.

In the first of several very good black jokes, Helen is called “world-wrecker” and is told that the devastation is all her fault. The ninjas, unaware that Marion can also be a boy’s name (if your mum is a John Wayne fan) have kidnapped the wrong person.

Along with Helen, we learn how Marion’s development of paramecia “peace balls” to create new ways of healing and communicating led to the near-extinction of the human race.  The peace balls - the red blob menacing Helen on the cover is one of them - destroy people's ability to think and communicate. Only three groups of humans now live in what used to be Auckland. The mindless Tree People are the slaves of The Riders who use a mixture of technology and cult theology to survive.  The third group, of course, are the Go-Go Ninjas who survive in Little Tokio, an underground shelter, where they have created a culture based on a few 1950s films which survived. The jokes about Bruce Lee and Go-Go dancing are a recurring feature of the story.     

Helen, quickly adjusting to her new situation, realises that the only way forward is to make another time-jump and help kidnap the right Marion. Needless to say, more complications follow, ensuring a fast-paced action story with several surprises and, unusually in a dystopian story, a reasonably happy ending

This graphic novel was originally conceived as a film script by Michael Bennett and it has the tightly-connected plot and well-constructed surprise twists of a good action film. At the same time Ant Sang’s illustrations bring an imaginary world into being, with convincing detail and skilfully shifting viewpoints. As soon as you have read this book, you immediately turn back to page 1 and start through again, this time appreciating the carefully planned structure and the careful placing of tiny hints (such as Helen’s cold) which will be significant later.

Ant Sang’s artwork (which has had some colouring assistance from Kiwi comic creators such as Adrian Kinnaird and Dylan Horrocks) is beautifully matched with the story and dialogue, making each sequence a tiny drama in itself. For example when Helen is draping an illegal protest banner from the Sky Tower, a drowsy security guard fails to spot her on the outer balcony. Then he thinks she’s going to jump. “Miss, don’t do it. …You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.” She slips but grabs on to the banner, “STOP GLOBAL WARMING.”

Such ironies, quirks of human behaviour and razor-sharp storytelling, as well as the ability to project some social issues of the present into the future, make Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas a winning graphic novel.

Ant Sang has an interesting website showing stages in the development of the illustrations, beginning  at http://www.antsang.co.nz/241-2/

Trevor Agnew
11 July 2018

Friday, 22 June 2018

The Mapmakers' Race Eirlys Hunter


The Mapmakers’ Race
Eirlys Hunter, ill. Kirsten Drake
Gecko Press
Paperback  NZ$25
ISBN 978 1 776572 03 8

Reviewed by Trevor Agnew
 
Books with maps have always been among my favourites, from Tolkien to Ransome, from the Hundred Acre Wood to Moomin Valley.  I have also long enjoyed children’s books where irritating parents were got out of the way early on. The Mapmakers’ Race has a map for every chapter and right at the beginning Ma Santander misses the train, and so her four children have to compete in the titular race by themselves.  The result is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure, with plenty of action and humour.

The Race is a contest for teams of surveyors and cartographers to lay out the best route for a proposed railway from Grand Prospect to Coalhaven. (We are in a steam-age fantasy world, where coal is vital.) The prizes total 3,500 guineas, so a remarkable range of well equipped (and sometimes unscrupulous) teams have entered.

Penniless and suddenly parentless, the four young Santanders have to improvise. Fortunately each member of the family has talents which will be useful in their quest.   Sal (14) is the sensible one with a good grasp of mathematics and surveying. Twins Joe and Francie (11) are strongly bonded. Francie doesn’t talk but Joe speaks for them both. Joe never gets lost, a handy skill for an explorer, while Francie, the cartographer, has an amazing talent which readers will enjoy learning about. Even young Humph and the family pet, Carrot the Parrot, are able to contribute. The Santander family are indeed a team; each of them has an ability that helps them towards their goal of making the perfect map.

Since they have to survive in the wilderness for four weeks, they are lucky to have the help of a slow-speaking local lad, Becket, a red-headed beanpole, who is a master of many practical skills; he can fish, hunt and cook. He’s also a dab hand at storytelling.

Can five children and a parrot head off half a dozen other teams, including the unscrupulous Roger’s Ruffians and the self-confident Monty’s Mountaineers (who are all mounted on mechanical horses)?
Of course it is the down-to-earth Beckett who points out that the other teams are also all “pompous asses.”

As well as being obtuse, the opposing teams are often funny. The scientists, of the SOLEM team (Society of Logical Explorers, Mappers and Navigators), for example, speak in such technical jargon that Sal has to translate what they say.
“The outcome was an inadequately nutritious calorific supply.”
“They didn’t take enough food,” Sal explained to Humph.

In fact, Eirlys Hunter’s dialogue is always enjoyable and often amusing:
What about the wolves?’
“High mountains.”
“Extreme weather conditions.”
“Nothing to worry about then,” they said together.

Illustrator Kirsten Slade has provided lively pictures and has also created a strip-map to give readers a bird’s-eye-view of each part of the dramatic landscape encountered by the Santander family.

The story trots along at a cracking pace. Bears and wolves and several other creatures make their appearance, the villains are villainous, there are plenty of jeopardies and the conclusion is very pleasing. Through it all, the Santanders are resourceful.

Humph gets the whole mood of this satisfying story in one sentence:
“I like being a venturing boy.”
“I do too,” said Joe.

 

Trevor Agnew    3 July 2018

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Sunken Forest Des Hunt





Sunken Forest    Des Hunt
Reviewed by Trevor Agnew

Sunken Forest
Des Hunt
Scholastic (2016)
269 pages, paperback
ISBN   978 1 77543 413 0

Given that New Zealand’s longfin eels can live for a century and grow to a length of two metres, it was a certainty that Des Hunt would one day write a novel with an eel as the hero. Or in this case, heroine. Elsa is the name young Matt gives to the queen-sized eel he encounters in Lake Waikaremoana. (Matt reads widely and has definitely been influenced by reading Born Free.)

Waikaremoana is not a lake to be messed with,” warns a fisherman and Matt would be the first to agree with him.

This was deep jungle – New Zealand style.”

Matt doesn’t want to be there, but he has been sent to this tightly-run wilderness camp because of his tainted reputation at his new school. Already suspected of theft, Matt has fallen in with bad company in the form of Cam and Jay. At the adventure camp at Lake Waikaremoana, which is run on semi-military lines by Mr Klineck, Matt is suspected of further misdemeanours. (It is interesting that Matt finds some literary comfort in comparing himself to the falsely-accused David Balfour in Kidnapped.)

He strikes up an odd companionship with the bookish Paul and comes a little closer to understanding girls like Azura and Maddy. When one of Cam’s vicious tricks has serious consequences for the group members, they begin plotting revenge but a natural disaster puts many lives at risk.

As always Des Hunt provides a strong element of science – in this case geology – but he also raises moral issues which will be important to his young readers. Matt’s reputation is repeatedly slurred by a caller on talk-back radio, and the powerful influence of social media on opinion is well shown. The harmful power of peer pressure and gossip is also sharply depicted. Words can wound and leave scars.  
There is also a strong moral issue. Are Matt and his friends seeking justice or do they just want revenge? The matter is well debated in a lively and satisfying adventure that manages to bring together unrelated events from decades earlier, and produce a satisfying conclusion, featuring the monster eel as a key player.  As Matt reflects, “Lions were animals that scare people… Eels were much the same, scary in form with a bad reputation.” 

Sunken Forest may indeed give us all a better appreciation of eels.

Trevor Agnew 
23 Jul 2016

 

Friday, 20 April 2018

Anzac Animals & The Treaty of Waitangi in Tauranga

The Treaty of Waitangi in Tauranga (2018)
(Te Tiriti o Waitangi ki Tauranga Moana)
Debbie McCauley, illustrated by Whare Thompson
Mauao Publishing (Tauranga), 48 pages
NZ$39.95  hardback ISBN 978 0 473 41214 2

Anzac Animals (2018)
Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivancic
Scholastic, 64 pages
NZ$30  hardback  ISBN 978 177543 474 0

Two excellent non-fiction books for young readers have just been published, and should be on your shopping list for junior readers.

Anzac Animals is the most eye-catching of the two books. Maria Gill and illustrator Marco Ivancic have used the same clear, well-organised format as their award-winning Anzac Heroes, but here they are celebrating creatures rather than people.  The Anzac Animals of the titles are creatures which played a significant role in the wartime experiences of Australians and New Zealanders.

Some were beasts of burden like mules, donkeys and Beet Algar’s camel, which “smelled, spat and was often stubborn.” Some, such as the pigeons, carried messages. Others were mascots, like the many kangaroos taken to Europe and Africa. Dogs were common; the Maori Battalion had at least three. It will be the horses who will be the favourites. Maria Gill has selected Bess, who is immortalised in both the Troopers Memorial in Canberra and the Wellington cenotaph, and Bill, the waler who was buried at Gallipoli. Their lives and experiences are both fascinating.

I was surprised at the enormous range of creatures involved and also by the fact that so many of them survived the war. Marine Stupid, a highly intelligent macaque, served on two Australian warships, was at the surrender ceremony in Tokyo and retired comfortably to the Melbourne Zoo, where she had a baby in 1949. The longest lived is, of course, Torty, a Greek tortoise rescued by a New Zealand medical orderly in 1916, and still alive.

The text also sorts out the tangled history of Murphy the Gallipoli donkey, always a tricky matter but well handled here.

As well as the entertaining and lively biographies of the twenty selected animals, Maria Gill has also provided a brief overview of both world wars, along with accounts of veterinary services, and animal welfare concerns. A time line, glossary bibliography and maps are included.   

Marco Ivancic’s colour illustrations are realistic and attractive without being sentimental.

For young people who like going around quoting interesting bits from books, Anzac Animals has the story of Charles Upham sleeping on the floor because Mrs Rommel and her kittens were in his bed. Mrs Rommel was a cat.

**************************************************
 
Debbie McCauley’s first book, Motiti Blue and the Oil Spill (2014), took a local disaster (the wreck of the Rena on Astrolabe Reef) and used the resulting disaster and clean-up as a microcosm of international pollution and conservation issues. It was a brilliant example of a locally-produced, self-published book gaining national recognition.

Now she has repeated the process in The Treaty of Waitangi in Tauranga, by looking at New Zealand’s Maori-Pakeha relations by concentrating on exactly how the treaty of Waitangi has affected the Tauranga region.

It is not easy to pack two centuries of history into 48 pages, especially when they include events like Gate pa, but Debbie McCauley has done well. Not only has she written a simple bi-lingual narrative history (Maori translation by Tamati Waaka) but she has also provided a rich historical context with time-lines, fact-boxes, diary entries and brief biographies that bring history to life.
I like the way that we meet individuals and see how their attitudes were formed, so that the complexities of tribal allegiances, warfare and land negotiations become more comprehensible. Issues are carried right up to the present day.
A lot of information has been packed into this book, so some sections are in such small type that I had to use a magnifying glass. Younger, sharper eyes should be able to cope.

The book cries out for a clear map to show the relationship of the various pa sites, landscape features and settlements mentioned. The three maps provided are rather limited. Fortunately two of the first suggestions on the “Treaty Activities” page involve map drawing.

The index is excellent, and Whare Thompson’s pencil drawings add life to the pages. 
It is important to point out that this interesting book will not only be useful in the Tauranga area but will also be a superb exemplar for students of our history in all parts of Aotearoa New Zealand. My hope is that it will inspire young historians to start researching the finer details of what happened in their own region. This book has a great future.

 

Trevor Agnew
21 April 2018


Saturday, 24 February 2018

The Fruits of Our Labours: Chinese Fruit Shops in New Zealand

The Fruits of Our Labours:
Chinese Fruit Shops in New Zealand
Ruth Lam, Beverly Lowe, Helen Wong, Michael Wong, Carolyn King
Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust (2018)
904 pages, 2 volumes,
Hardcover       ISBN 978-0-473-41551-8       NZ$110
Softcover        ISBN 978-0-473-41550-1       NZ$90
[Special price for early orders – Softcover NZ$80]

Fruitful Research

The Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust has performed a valuable service in publishing The Fruits of Our Labours. It wasn’t until I started leafing through it that I fully realised that, in the space of a few generations, we have seen the rise and fall of the Chinese fruit-shop as an institution. Like so many other specialised services that we took for granted, family fruit-shops have been swept away by the changes in how we do our shopping. Here we have an important social document, which recognises a significant chapter in our nation’s history.

This book’s companion work, Sons of the Soil (2012) credited one of the earliest Chinese market gardens in New Zealand to Ah Poe in Dunedin.  In August 1867, he and five other Cantonese from Victoria began converting 3 acres of swampy land (now part of the Museum Reserve) into a market garden and began hawking vegetables. About 1868, on the Great King Street edge of his garden, Ah Poe erected ‘premises’ which seems to have been a shop, thus making Ah Poe our first Chinese greengrocer as well.  

Typical of the careful research behind this work, a fascinating graph shows that as the number of Chinese working at gold-mining declined, the number working in fruit-shops and market gardens began to increase. Every region has its own graph showing the number of Chinese fruit-shops over the years. In most areas the first shops opened in the 1880s, followed by a steady increase to the 1920s; the peak years were from the 1940s to the 1970s and then came a steady decline in numbers, attributed to the rise of supermarkets and introduction of weekend trading. 

The family-owned Chinese fruit-shop (like the market garden and the laundry) was a system which rewarded effort and expertise with a reasonable chance of prosperity. It was an escalator, driven by human toil, which conveyed people from life as Chinese peasants to life as New Zealand professionals. It wasn’t efficient, and there were casualties but over three generations it helped create a prosperous, well-educated group of New Zealanders.

When my sister, Pinky, moved to Wellington, she was so impressed by the service she received at Hoon’s Foodmarket, Newtown, that she insisted on taking me in there to talk to some of the Hoon family. We chatted about the importance of family history and family trees, and agreed that too many elderly New Zealand Chinese regard their life’s work as uninteresting and not worth recording. Fortunately the five authors have managed to record many accounts of the work and the people who did it – in many cases, just in time.

It is clear, after reading this work, that the Hoon family’s achievements are similar to many other family sagas. In fact, a clear pattern emerges for most New Zealand Chinese families’ fruit-shop experience.
 
First comes a brave individual. Only he’s not an individual; he’s part of a tightly-linked system of clan loyalty and obligation. Guided by letters from relatives, he arrives in New Zealand to face the poll tax, language barriers and racial hostility. He copes with long hours of tedious work and the stress of repaying loans but is helped and encouraged by a network of relatives, village cousins and local Chinese. Marriage becomes a possibility. He starts his own shop.  His children all work hard there. His wife works even harder. A generation passes. The family enterprise adapts. Everyone works hard. Signs of success may include acceptance in the community, buying a truck or opening another branch. Members of the next generation are able to gain professional qualifications and become doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers and engineers – and that’s only the girls.

There are dozens of variations on this theme in the sixteen regions covered in The Fruits of Our Labours, and every one of them carries a distinct fascination.

When I was asked to review The Fruits of Our Labours, it was suggested that I should indicate who would be interested in reading it. The answer has surprised me. A two-volume history of New Zealand’s Chinese fruit shops, weighing in at 3.8 kg, is not exactly bedtime reading but it is remarkably appealing. 

So who is going to read The Fruits of Our Labours? Obviously public libraries will buy it as a well-documented slice of New Zealand history. Equally obviously, secondary school libraries will find it useful as a social studies resource. Even more obviously, those elderly people whose stories are told in these pages will want a copy.

My concern is for a fourth group, those young family members – the doctors, lawyers, accountants, teacher and engineers - who barely remember the fruit-shop run by their parents and grandparents. It is vitally important for them to buy this book and use it as a base for building up their own detailed personal family history. There are plenty of good examples in these volumes, with Albert Young particularly evocative in listing his work as a five-year old in Timaru’s Crown Fruit Supply,
“… sweep the floor, open newspaper for wrapping, fill up bag racks, fill up cigarette stands, pre-bag onions and potatoes, carry parcels to customers’ cars, try to open wooden boxes of fruit, and anything else Dad could think of.”

As Daniel Wong puts it, “The shop taught us the value of money.”

The five authors of this book have done a brilliant job of assembling all the information they could find about every Chinese fruit-shop in New Zealand. (The criteria that were used are detailed on p.8.) The handy database at the end of Volume 2 is breath-taking in its scope, listing every known shop from Bluff (W. Wong, 1940s) to Kaitaia (Hop Hing & Co, 1942-59), along with their Chinese names, owners’ names, dates, and their original village and county origin.  There are maps, diagrams, graphs, shop plans and masses of photographs.

The arrangement of the two volumes is broadly geographical, beginning for historical reasons with Otago, then following the spread of the original Cantonese into Southland, Canterbury and the West Coast, then to Wellington, the centre for the second concentration of Cantonese settlers, and ending in the northern regions such as Auckland and Northland. Each of the sixteen regions has its own historical introduction and overview, so that we also learn about their cultural groups, produce markets, sports clubs, and Sunday screenings of opera films.

The most remarkable stories are related in a simple fashion, such as the account of stoker Li Sing Ah Lee (p.94) jumping ship at Lyttelton in the 1940s, evading arrest, and becoming an Oamaru market gardener and shop owner. Through hard work, an illegal immigrant, a Hakka orphan from Java, became a respected community figure and saw his family enter a range of professional careers.

This book contains dozens of equally gripping accounts of survival and success, and in each of them, we can only guess at the emotional strains behind the simple statements, such as for Wong Chik Kwan (p.214), “He came back to New Zealand, leaving behind his wife who later died.” The authors have carried out a wide range of interviews, so that often we hear the authentic voice of experience.

My wife, Jenny raised in a fruit-shop, recalls that as a young girl, she thought all Chinese were her relatives and that they all worked in fruit-shops. Reading here of the experiences of hundreds of fruit-shop families, it is easy to see why Jenny felt that way. For each family the fruit-shop  often absorbed all their efforts six days a week, so that it was only on Sundays (and on Double Ten) that there was time for families to socialise with each other or attend cultural or sporting events.

Of course this closeness also meant that weddings often linked fruit-shop families, so a complex network of relationships resulted. Inevitably the coverage of one fruit-shop family has cross-references to several others. I greatly enjoyed tracing various branches of my wife’s family tree and thinking of stories that aren’t in the book. (My lovely mother-in-law once seated our 2-year-old eldest daughter among the fruit displayed in her shop window, just so she could say to each customer, “That’s my granddaughter.”) 

 I hope that everyone with a fruit-shop in their family buys this book and uses it as a starting point to create their own family history.  If they do, the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust can be proud of their continued support for the preservation of Chinese New Zealand history.

Trevor Agnew
25 January 2018

NOTE: The Auckland launch of The Fruits of our Labours was on 23 February 2018 and each region will be having its own launch in the weeks which follow. Check the book's Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/fruitshopsnz) for locations and dates.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Toroa’s Journey Maria Gill Gavin Mouldey


Toroa’s Journey  (2017)
Maria Gill 
ill. Gavin Mouldey
Potton & Burton
32 pages (with gatefold)
Hardback NZ$30
ISBN 978 0 947503 53 6
Paperback NZ$20
ISBN 978 0 947503 52 9

The magic of Maria Gill’s non-fiction books is that they consistently provide lively, entertaining reading. Give her a few facts and she’ll create a story. Toroa’s Journey is no exception.
In 2007 Toroa was the 500th Southern Royal Albatross chick to hatch at the protected albatross
colony at Taiaroa Head, near Dunedin. A ranger fitted him with a tiny transmitter just before he grew his adult feathers.
Maria Gill has used her writing skills to take these facts and create not one but two books. One is a splendid picture book which tells the story of Toroa’s amazing endurance flights. Children can read this as a story about a bird’s awe-inspiring, seven-year journey. The other is a nature study book with fact-boxes packed with amazing information about albatrosses. My favourite is that Toroa’s grandmother raised her last chick when she was 60 years old.
Gavin Mouldey’s colour illustrations add another whole dimension to the story. He has captured the various moods of the giant birds, their surprising anatomy and their surroundings.

It is a sobering thought that the picture of Toroa encountering an ocean scrapheap of drifting plastic rubbish is actually a mixed media illustration, combining paint and actual plastic trash Gavin Mouldey collected from Kapiti Beach near his home. The highlight of the book is a 4-page fold-out showing Toroa in flight, with his three metre wing-span at full extent.  It is a show-stopper at any reading session.
There is a useful glossary.

Gavin Mouldey’s website is at: http://dittyboxblog.blogspot.co.nz/
Maria Gill’s website is at: https://www.mariagill.co.nz/
Toroa’s website is at: http://www.doc.govt.nz/royalcam

 

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story Gavin Bishop

Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story
Gavin Bishop (2017)
Puffin/Penguin Random House
64 pages, hardback, NZ$40
ISBN 978 0 14 377035 0
Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story is such a wonderful book that I have only ever heard one criticism of it.  A senior literary figure, referring to page 53, expressed surprise that there was a portrait of Sister Mary Leo but no picture of her most famous pupil. It gives me great pleasure that one day when she looks at page 54, ‘Some People Who Told Our Stories,’ she will find a portrait of Kiri Te Kanawa, neatly placed between Peter Jackson and Colin McCahon. And she will find it because this is a book that demands to be read again and again.

No one can blame the senior literary figure for not spotting Kiri on her first reading. Every one of the 64 pages of this large format hardback carries a wealth of detail. That’s because Gavin Bishop has had to pack in 150 million years of history between the front endpapers (where pterodactyls fly in) and the back endpapers (where birds fly out).

I was lucky enough to hear Gavin Bishop talk about the creation of Aotearoa and to see his original illustrations, along with outline pages and concept sketches. The underlying design motif is based on the Maori pantheon, so that the symbolic curved forms of Ranginui the sky father and Papatuanuku the sky mother can be seen in many illustrations. (That's them on the cover - above.) Unfortunately the sinister figure of Tumatuaenga the god of war is also present on all too many pages of our history.

Across this subtle framework and a remarkable range of symbolic maps, Gavin Bishop has sketched in a broad overview of some of our shared experiences. Here are the first settlers and the latest refugees. Here are the homes we made from raupo hut to corrugated iron bach. These are the names we gave to the land. This is where we worked. These are the conflicts we fought, the settlements we built, the crops we grew, the schools we went to, the suffering we shared, the monuments we erected, the games we played and the stories we told.

In Gavin’s talk, he frequently mentioned the pressure on space and how much he had to leave out. “The challenge of this book was to know what to leave out,” he explained. Given this, it is amazing how much he has managed to include without overloading his pages. His aim was to include “lots of pithy little pieces of information.” To mention only one letter of the alphabet, Aotearoa offers polar dinosaurs, Precious McKenzie, pineapple chunks, Pixie Town, paraoa parai [fried bread], Princess Te Puea, pepe-tuna (puriri moth), Plunket rooms and the world’s ugliest pepper-and-salt set – shaped like New Zealand.

Then there are the colours. Many pages have a light blue background, often reflecting sea or sky. “I wanted to use a lot of blue, so I mixed up a large quantity to keep the same shade throughout.” He also described his technique of sprinkling salt on the watercolours while they are still wet. When the pictures had dried, he brushed the salt off. “You get the most beautiful effect.” More sombre topics such as the New Zealand Wars and the Long Depression have grimmer reds and greys in their backgrounds.

Nestled in among the historical figures are ordinary people – such as a small boy mowing the lawn, and a land girl working on a wartime farm. Charmingly, some of the people depicted are real members of the author’s family. Thus his father is seen at El Alamein and his great-grandmother, Irihapeti Hahau, appears as a supporter of Kingitanga. (“My great-grandmother. Why not?” asked Gavin.) The spirit of Gavin’s tribal ancestral figure, Hinepau, can be found on every page. We can also find his wife, grandmother, grandfather, cousin, brother and honeymooning parents among the models in the Clothes section. There is even a tiny (and unflattering) illustration of Gavin himself among a group of storytellers. This family thread in the weaving is a marvellous idea, because it gives every reader the impetus to fit their own lives and their family story into the events shown.

The result is a delight, a personal vision of the history of our country in word and picture, a triumph of good design and a celebration of all those who have contributed to our national identity. Aotearoa is the book of the year, perhaps even the book of the decade.

Best of all it attracts readers like a magnet. Aotearoa, with its richness of detail, has the same fascination for young readers as the Guinness Book of Records. They carry it around, reading bits out aloud. What better advertisement could there be for a book?

Trevor Agnew
Nov 2017