A Lion in the Meadow Margaret Mahy, ill Jenny Williams, Orion, 49 pages, paperback, $14.99
Nigel Gray tells the story of Hercules, Champion of the World in a cheerfully flip way that lures young readers deep into Greek mythology. “Hercules was one of those kids who is best at everything. (Don’t you hate them?)” is a typical comment. When Hercules lies on his funeral pyre, a friend asks if it’s a good idea to start smoking at his age. The bits in between are just as amusing but also re-spin a good yarn.
The best writers are those who can make an unpleasant subject readable. Joke van Leeuwen’s The Day My Father Became a Bush (another Bill Nagelkerke translation) faces up to the baffling world of war. “Before my father turned into a bush, he was a pastry chef,” says Toda, who learns about military camouflage when war overtakes her country. She becomes a refugee and has to avoid irritating those who care for her. Her list of things to avoid includes “not saying ‘thank you’ enough,” and “singing songs they didn’t like.” Her identity reduced to a number, forced to learn a new language (which the reader too has to pick up), Toda reflects the experiences of the world’s refugees. Her simple childish viewpoint makes sense to the reader, as Toda describes the turmoil of war as seen by one of its victims. The down-to-earth common sense which enables Toda to be reunited with her family also makes this a warm and touching story, which emphasises the power of words. It is a perfect example of a story that builds bridges.
Note: This review was first published in Your Weekend Magazine, The Press, Christchurch on 15 June 2013.
The Day My Father Became a Bush, Joke van Leeuwen, Gecko, 104 pages, paperback, NZ$19.99 ISBN 978-1-877579-16-5