Friday, 21 March 2008

Canterbury Picture Books

The Little Penguin Who Wouldn’t Eat His Dinner Jane Buxton, ill. Philip Webb, Reed, 25 pages, paperback, NZ$14.99. ISBN 1-86948-596-3

The Penguin Who Wanted to Fly Ben Brown, ill. Helen Taylor, Reed, 32 pages, paperback, NZ$16.99. ISBN 1-86948-406-1

No Ordinary Flowergirl Marlene J. Bennetts, ill. Trish Bowles, Reed, 28 pages, paperback, NZ $16.99. ISBN 1-86948-432-0.

Kiwi Kicks for Goal, Kiwi and the New Player John Lockyer, ill. Bob Darroch, Hodder Moa/Hachette, 32 pages, paperback, NZ$17.99 each.
ISBN 1-86971-079-7, ISBN 1-86971-080-0

Canterbury Picture Books

Later generations will look back on the early years of this century as a golden age of children’s books, especially picture books. Interestingly each of these five New Zealand picture books has a Canterbury artist or author. Each of them is a book to be proud of.

In 1993, Ben Brown and Helen Taylor of Lyttelton created The Penguin Who Wanted to Fly, first as a comic-style picture book and then as a popular play. Now with its text lightly polished and handsome new realistic illustrations, the plucky little Adelie penguin with high ambitions, is presented to a new generation. “I’ll try and I’ll fly,” he says as he climbs progressively higher up the rocks and icebergs. “Good grief, what a drop!” While he never succeeds in flying, the penguin makes an amazing discovery, which will bring joy to young readers. Helen Taylor’s watercolours are a superb match to her husband’s amusing text, making this book an exemplar of design and typography.

John Lockyer’s Kiwi is a keen junior football player, who learns a lot as he prepares for play with the black-clad Pipis team (which includes Weta, Koura and Kiore). In Kiwi Kicks for Goal, he is able to overcome his own nervousness about kicking when he has to help Pukeko kick. In Kiwi and the New Player, Kiwi has to deal with his own prejudices when Hawk joins the team. “He had heard about hawks too…They were fierce and impatient…Hawks were scary.” Kiwi soon learns that Hawk has great tackling skills but is shy. Bob Darroch of Waimate has created the best pictures of his illustrating career for these two lively books, which will be treasured for their simple stories, positive messages and remarkable cartoon illustrations of animal football encounters.

Fish is boring,” said Paru, “I want something different.” The title outlines the basic story of The Little Penguin Who Wouldn’t Eat His Dinner. Young readers will soon see interesting parallels as Paru, the yellow-eyed penguin, decides he doesn’t like fish and begins an amusing survey of other possibilities. Inspired by the fantails and pigeons, he tries insects and berries. “But, oh no! They tasted terrible.” Jane Buxton of Rangiora has created a witty text, nicely matched by Philip Webb’s, handsome colour illustrations, which shows how Paru learns which food is best for him, and saves his father as well.

Christchurch writer, Marlene J. Bennetts has captured a grim moment in a young girl’s life – the beautiful apricot-coloured, net and lace dress, which Kyra was to wear at Aunt Rene’s wedding, has been left at home – and from it has created an inspiring and cheerful story, No Ordinary Flowergirl. Since Kyra lives in Brisbane, this elegant picture book also provides a simple, unforced introduction to some Maori customs and traditions. Trish Bowles’ skilful illustrations capture all the excitement of the wedding at the marae, and the pleasure Kyra finds in her unexpected new role.

These books are a useful reminder that it’s not too early to buy good Christmas presents.

Trevor Agnew

This review first appeared in The Press, Christchurch on 18th November 2006.

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