Monday, 11 November 2013

New Zealand Spring Picture Books 2013

New Zealand Spring Picture Books 2013:
by Trevor Agnew

Magical Margaret Mahy  Betty Gilderdale, Puffin, 120pp, pb, NZ$19.99

Henry’s Map  David Elliot, Random House, 32 pp, pb, NZ$19.99 

Queen Alice’s Palaces  Juliette MacIver, ill. Lucia Masciullo, ABC/HarperCollins, 32 pp, hb, NZ$29.99 

Toucan Can!  Juliette MacIver, ill. Sarah Davis, Gecko Press, 32 pp, hb, $34.99; pb, NZ$19.99 

BANG  Leo Timmers, Gecko, 48 pages,  pb, $19.99; hb, NZ$34.99

One Little Fantail Anne Hunter, ill. Dave Gunson, Scholastic, 32pp, pb. NZ$19.50 

The Importance of Green  Leonie Agnew, ill Trevor Pye Puffin, pb, NZ$19.99 

 New Zealand Spring Picture Books 2013

 As many of the late Margaret Mahy’s picture books are currently being re-issued, it is valuable to have a freshly revised edition of Betty Gilderdale’s Magical Margaret Mahy.  First published in 1987, it has always been an excellent guide for young readers, answering the questions that Mahy was always asked. (Do writers ever get rich? Are you afraid of running out of ideas?).  Gilderdale has woven Mahy’s answers (and her own deep knowledge of Mahy’s books) into a lively readable account which explains everything from the origin of the lion in the meadow to why the teachers in her stories are often “of the old-fashioned bullying kind.”  Alan Gilderdale’s illustrations of Mahy’s home and toys add to the warmth of the anecdotes. This reader-friendly paperback brings the genius of the author fresh off the page for a new generation of Mahy readers.


David Elliott is well-known as an illustrator of Margaret Mahy’s work, and the frisky farm animals who first appeared in their award-winning The Moon and Farmer McPhee (2010) now return in Henry’s Map. Henry is a fastidiously tidy piglet, who is upset at the untidiness of the farm he lives on. ‘How could anybody ever find anything out there?’ His solution is to draw a map “so that everyone knows what will belong where.’ First Henry draws his own sty, and then he draws a picture of himself next to it. (Young readers like the fact that Henry’s drawing and labelling techniques are – ahem – childish. His spelling is pigletish.)  The other animals are delighted by Henry’s efforts and ask to be included in his map.  ‘Now,’ he said proudly, ‘we’ll know where everything is.’

Henry leads all the animals up the hill. They look at Henry’s map and then down at the farm.

‘But we’re not there,’ bleated the sheep. The matter is sorted out with a charming and satisfying ending.  Elliot’s colour illustrations are masterful, and full of little details like Henry picking flowers to put in his sty.  Young readers delight in the moment when they find that they are smarter than the farm animals.  At the same time, they learn all the basic principles of map-making. They also find satisfaction in Henry’s dictum, ‘A place for everything and everything in its place.’


By happy coincidence two of Christchurch author Juliette MacIver’s picture books have appeared simultaneously. Both are excellent.  Toucan Can! demonstrates MacIver’s flair for word-play and rhythm.  Toucan can do anything. ‘With the fry pan and a stew pan, he can juggle one-hand, two hand while he cancans on a fruit can.’ Readers are invited to join in Toucan’s frolics ‘Surely, you can?’ In Sarah Davis’s strikingly colourful illustrations, dozens of cute little birds dance along, and are joined, as the rhymes accumulate, by a kangaroo, a panda and an unidentified furry creature named Ewan who has some formidable aunts. The aunts can’t dance but everyone else can, so the result is a splendid jamboree.  This is a wonderful book for reading aloud – for anyone who can cope with splendid tongue-twisters..


 Queen Alice’s Palaces is a witty story, told in verse, about sneaky Sir Hugh’s plan to persuade Queen Alice to build a new palace, which he can then steal.

Why not build one no one’s thought of before?

Something, striking, original, new!

Queen Alice builds no less than six strikingly original palaces – all brilliantly and imaginatively realised by artist Lucia Masciullo – but there is a hitch with every one. Delightfully each hitch involves a disaster for the ‘cunning, conniving and callous’ Sir Hugh. For example, when he tests the upper floor of the knitted woollen palace, both the palace and Sir Hugh come undone. The bamboo palace comes unstrung, the cheese palace goes rancid and a fire in the cockatoo feather palace leaves Sir Hugh ‘with a mouthful of plumes and a burn on the bottom.’ Juliette MacIver is already being called a rising star in the world of picture books, and these two bouncy and funny picture books confirm the claim.


Another Christchurch writer is Anne Hunter, who has produced an imaginative bird identification book, One Little Fantail, based on the rhyme ‘Two little birdies.’  Thus her rhyming text introduces familiar birds:

With their brown feather cloaks and keen golden eyes,

They skim over tussock and soar through the skies.’ 

And which bird is being described? Dave Gunson’s masterful double-page colour illustrations should leave no doubt, but in a clever move, the Maori and Pakeha names of the birds have been carefully camouflaged in their portrait. (Kahu and harrier hawk, as young readers will have deduced.)  The twelve subjects range from pukeko to kea, and a three page fact section includes further information on all the birds.


Sometimes it’s the picture books with the fewest words that provide the best incentive for close reading. Leo Timmers’ BANG contains only one word but young readers will be scrutinising every page for the hilarious details of cause and effect. Eight extremely eccentric vehicles, each driven by a different animal, become interlocked in a series of rear-end collisions. Since their loads include ice-cream, paint, fish, tyres, books, dresses, baby rabbits, fruit and vegetables, each collision – with its joyously repeated signal of ‘Bang’ – leads to a new round of mayhem and coincidence.  The results are colourful, imaginative and funny, concluding with a spectacular double-page pull-out that provides a happy ending for everyone except the fish.


Finally The Importance of Green by Leonie Agnew, is a charming and imaginative introduction to the concept of colour, in the story of Liam ‘who could not and would not paint without green.’ When Liam runs out of green paint, life becomes difficult inside his paintings. Cars are trapped by red lights and cows have no grass. As mayhem erupts in his pictures, Liam keeps experimenting with colours but nobody wants to drink blue milk and the grasshoppers don’t like being orange. Then he adds blue paint to yellow and makes an amazing discovery that brings happiness to the cows, motorists, grasshoppers and, of course, Liam.  Trevor Pye’s imaginatively-coloured illustrations are an important element of this picture book’s appeal. A colour wheel offers young readers a guide to future art experiments.


Trevor Agnew





Full Publishing details:

Magical Margaret Mahy  Betty Gilderdale, Puffin, 120pp, pb, $19.99 ISBN 978-0-143-56881-0

Henry’s Map  David Elliot, Random House, 32 pp, pb, $19.99  ISBN 978-1-77553-330-6


  Queen Alice’s Palaces  Juliette MacIver, ill. Lucia Masciullo, ABC/HarperCollins, 32 pp, hb, $29.99  ISBN   978-0-7333-3102-2

Toucan Can!  Juliette MacIver, ill. Sarah Davis, Gecko Press, 32 pp,
hb, $34.99  ISBN 978-1-877467-53-0

Pb, $19.99  ISBN 978-1-877467-54-7

One Little Fantail Anne Hunter, ill. Dave Gunson, Scholastic, 32pp, Pb. NZ$19.50  ISBN 978-1-77543-138-1

BANG  Leo Timmers, Gecko, 48 pages,

paperback, $19.99 ISBN 978-1-877579-17-2

hardback, $34.99 ISBN 978-1-877579-18-9


The Importance of Green  Leonie Agnew, ill Trevor Pye Puffin, pb, $19.99  ISBN 978-0-143-50571-6



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