Classics: New and Old Some New Zealand Children’s Picture Books
Swim Chris Szekely, ill. Andrew Burdan, HuiaPublishing, 32 pp, hb, NZ$24. [Maori language version: Tahoe, NZ$24]
The Three Little Pigs Gavin Bishop, Scholastic, 32 pp, pb. NZ$19.50.
The Silly Goat Gruff Scott Tulloch, Scholastic, 32 pp, pb, NZ$19.50
Moose on the Loose Scott Tulloch, HarperCollins NZ, 32 pp, pb, NZ$19.99
The Three Bears, Sort Of Yvonne Morrison, ill. Donovan Bixley, Scholastic, 32 pp, pb, NZ$19.50The Wheels on the Bus Donovan Bixley, Hodder Moa/ Hachette, board-book edition, NZ$14.99
The Song of the Ship Rat Ben Brown, Helen Taylor, Scholastic, 32 pp, pb, NZ$19.50
Luther and the Cloud-Makers Kyle Mewburn ill. Sarah Nelisiwe Anderson, Scholastic, 32pp, pb, NZ$19.50.
Classics: New and Old Some New Zealand Children's picture books:
All good stories are told and retold. The best become classics, enjoyed by generations of children. Every New Zealander, for example, has heard of the famous Arawa love story of Hinemoa and Tutanekai. The latest (and surely the most handsome) re-telling is Swim, retold by Chris Szekely (Chief Librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library) and illustrated in sumptuous colour by Andrew Burdan.
Interestingly Szekely uses Hinemoa’s viewpoint, emphasising the sacrifice she was making in leaving her people and the physical effort of her famous swim across Lake Rotorua to Mokoia Island. “She swam until her arms grew heavy. She swam until her legs became lead.” Burdan’s atmospheric illustrations add to the spirit of Hinemoa’s feat, as a symbolic kotuku (white heron) becomes her guardian. This is a beautifully told story splendidly presented. A Maori language version, Tahoe, is also available, translated by Scotty Morrison, who is a descendant of Tutanekai. Modern technology meets ancient romance for both versions of this book; each carries a QR code, enabling access to an online MP3 sound-track in both English and Maori.
One of the earliest books by Christchurch’s talented artist and writer Gavin Bishop was his 1989 retelling of The Three Little Pigs. Nearly a quarter of a century later it has been redesigned and re-issued, as charming and amusing as ever. Bishop is faithful to the original tale, complete with straw, sticks and bricks, rolling butter churn and boiling soup pot. His illustrations, however, can only be described as cool-kiwi, with the wolf sporting sharp shades and a monogrammed windbreaker as he tries to outwit the pigs. The ink and watercolour pictures use a Canterbury foot-hills setting, and are rich in amusing details. The brick house has a turnip motif, while the stick dwelling is a historic Canterbury V-hut. Best of all the sharpness and clarity of Bishop’s prose is a perfect match for his illustrations. This is a book to treasure.
As its title suggests The Silly Goat Gruff offers a variation on the well-known folk-tale. The troll under the bridge prevents the three goat brothers, Willy, Billy and Silly from trip-trap-tripping across to greener pastures; that much is traditional. Scott Tulloch’s cheerfully bouncy verse version, however, has a surprising twist. Silly goat is not silly; his name proves to be a collection of surprises for the unfortunate troll. Tulloch’s gleefully exaggerated cartoon-like illustrations delight young readers. (They will also enjoy Tulloch’s latest addition to his Willy series, Moose on the Loose, where Willy makes mayhem with pets real and imaginary.)
The Three Bears, Sort Of is Yvonne Morrison’s highly imaginative retelling which older readers will relish. On one level a luckless narrator is trying to tell the familiar story. ‘Once upon a time there were three bears…’ His audience, however, has a well-stocked and enquiring mind. ‘What kind of bears? Grizzly bears? Sun Bears? Polar bears?’ The narrator then has to cope with a barrage of inconvenient facts. ‘Why is she cooking it? Wouldn’t bears just eat the oats raw? Or, better yet, go out to catch some salmon?’ The narrator extemporises brilliantly, suggesting that Baby bear is allergic to fish, and that the three bowls are different sizes so the porridge cools at different rates. Despite the inconvenient fact that bears can run at up to 50 kilometres an hour, a happy (and amusing) conclusion is reached. Donovan Bixley’s colour illustrations add a whole layer of fun to proceedings. The artist’s hands can be seen rapidly adjusting each illustration to match unexpected U-turns in the story. Sometimes hastily-clipped magazine pictures are superimposed on the paintings; there’s even a small hand adding crayoned corrections. Any child (or older reader) who has ever had doubts about Goldilocks will find constant pleasure in this book. (The talented Donovan Bixley’s Kiwi version of The Wheels on the Bus has just been released as a board book, which will give young readers something to get their teeth into.)
The Song of the Ship Rat matches Ben Brown’s bouncy verse with Helen Taylor’s exquisite artwork to bring to life a ship rat who is full of rich memories but weary of the sea. Yet the ship rat finds that the port which once welcomed him – it might be Lyttelton - is not as he remembered it. The result is a poignant classic of the future.
‘Unroll the maps to Far Away!
We’ll sail before the sun,
For I am a sea-worn ship rat, friends…
And I’ll sail until I’m done.’
Another classic of the future is Luther and the Cloud-Makers, skilfully told by Kyle Mewburn and dramatically illustrated by Sarah Nelisiwe Anderson. In this ‘eco-fable,’ life in Luther’s idyllic rural settlement is threatened by black clouds of pollution. ‘They were thick and black as tar.’ Young Luther bravely goes out to seek the cloud-maker. He finds lots of them – machines, tyre-fires and factories – but the people operating them all respond to Luther’s request to stop the black clouds with the assurance that, ‘There’s plenty of room in the sky for a little smoke.’ The genius of this story and its illustrations is that although Luther feels he has failed, the reader can see more than he can. Behind Luther people are talking of filters and re-cycling. He plods home depressed but a surprise is in store for him and the world he lives in. Young readers will enjoy this splendidly-presented allegory.
Trevor Agnew, Christchurch, New Zealand
Full Publishing Details:Swim Chris Szekely, ill. Andrew Burdan, Huia Publishing, 32pp, hb, $24.00 ISBN 978-1-77550-079-7 [Maori language version: Tahoe]
The Three Little Pigs Gavin Bishop, Scholastic NZ, 32 pp, Pb. NZ$19.50. ISBN 978-1-77543-156-5
The Silly Goat Gruff Scott Tulloch, Scholastic NZ, 32 pages, paperback $19.50 ISBN 1-77543-105-3
Moose on the Loose Scott Tulloch, HarperCollins NZ, 32 pages, pb, $19.99 ISBN 978-1-86950-683-4
The Three Bears Sort Of Yvonne Morrison, ill. Donovan Bixley, Scholastic NZ, 32 pages, paperback $19.50 ISBN 1-77543-068-1
The Wheels on the Bus Donovan Bixley, Hodder Moa/ Hachette, board-book edition, $14.99 ISBN 978-1-86971-299-0 [Hachette, 4 Whetu Pl, Mairangi Bay, Auckland]
The Song of the Ship Rat Ben Brown, Helen Taylor, Scholastic NZ, 32 pages, paperback, $19.50 ISBN 978-1-77543-048-3
Luther and the Cloud-Makers Kyle Mewburn ill. Sarah Nelisiwe Anderson, Scholastic, 32pp, pb $19.50. ISBN 978-1-77543-144-2