Sunday, 8 March 2015

A Trans-Tasman Picture Book Round-up 2014

A Trans-Tasman Picture Book Round-up 2014


By Trevor Agnew


Incy Wincy Spider ill by Karen Erasmus (2014) Lothian, NZ$20

Doggy Ditties from A-Z  Jo van Dam, ill. Myles Lawford (2014) Scholastic NZ, $19.50

Pigs Might Fly  Brett Avison, ill. Janine Dawson (2014) Five Mile Press, $24.95

Mrs Mo's Monster by Paul Beavis (2014) Gecko, pb NZ 19.99 [hb NZ$34.99]

Blackie the Fisher cat by Janet Pereira, ill. Gabriella Klepatski, (2014) Craig Potton Publishing, Nelson NZ,  NZ$19.99 [hb NZ$29.99]

Best Mates by Philippa Werry, ill. Bob Kerr (2014) New Holland, NZ$19.99

 Trans-Tasman Picture Book Round-Up

  There have been many good illustrated versions of children’s rhymes published recently. Unfortunately Incy Wincy Spider is not one of them.  The author, who has wisely remained anonymous, has expanded the rhyme so that the luckless spider encounters disaster in every part of the house. Since this is an Australian book, a toilet seat encounter is included. It would all be harmless fun, like Karen Erasmus’s illustrations, but the writer has a tin ear and many of the clunky lines lack the rhythm of the original.  
The Incy Wincy Spider climbed up the sandcastle wall.
The Kids started to dig and the castle walls did fall.”
This disappointing book is not good enough for children.
Jo van Dam’s rhymes in Doggy Ditties from A-Z are much better. Avoiding any suggestion of doggerel, she has created 26 droll verses about various canine breeds from Attenpinscher to Zuchon.  There is even an X for the Xoloitzcuintlil (Mexican Hairless):
This unusual hairless dog walks round in the nude.
If it were a person, we would think it rather rude.”
The witty rhymes – some of them limericks – also deal with more familiar dogs, including the Boxer, Fox Terrier, Labrador and Great Dane, with a great deal of doggy nibbling, dribbling and digging.
Myles Lawford’s illustrations capture the personalities of the various dogs in his lively colour illustrations.

Pigs Might Fly by Aussie writer Brett Avison (author of A Bigger Digger) carries its plot in its title. When the farm is flooded, most of the animals are driven off to high ground but Ted and Bryn are trapped. They hope to escape in the farm’s microlight aircraft but then find that six piglets and a hen still have to be rescued.  Bryn’s very funny solution provides an amusing ending with a witty pop-up illustration. Avison’s verse has funny rhymes and his tale moves as fast as the flood-waters, while Janine Dawson’s colour pictures capture the droll chaos of the farm evacuation.
Mrs Mo's Monster, written and illustrated by Paul Beavis, a New Zealand website designer, is a marvellous read-aloud book for parents and grandparents. Mrs Mo’s home is rudely invaded by a monster which leaves a trail of destruction.
I am a monster and what I do
is crunch, munch and chew,”
Mrs Mo subtly diverts the unruly monster into cake-making and preparing a surprise for Mr Mo. Young readers (or listeners) will enjoy the fun, even as the crafty parable gives them a subtle lesson in the importance of manners. Beavis’s illustrations are bold and full of impact, while the text is skilfully designed with dramatic bold lettering for the enjoyably noisy bits.

Blackie the Fisher Cat is a charming illustrated tale by Janet Pereira about Grandpop’s remarkable fishing holiday. As shown in Gabriella Klepatski’s atmospheric colour illustrations, Grandpop takes his caravan to a motor camp on the coast. When he goes out fishing, a stray black cat accompanies him, leading him to the best spot and accepting fish livers as his share of the day’s catch. Grandpop enjoys the cat’s company and is sorry to leave him behind at the motor camp. The cat, however, has a surprise in store for Grandpop. This is a sweet story that independent readers will enjoy.
Like Blackie the Fisher Cat, Philippa Werry’s Best Mates is a New Zealand book. Three boys from the West Coast, Harry Joe and the un-named narrator are the ‘best mates’ of the title, playing together, attending school together and joining the army together in 1914.  Bob Kerr’s meticulously-researched colour illustrations show the three pals embarking for their great adventure, visiting the Pyramids, training in Egypt, then sailing from Lemnos and landing at Gallipoli. “Harry, Joe and I stuck together. We cooked together and ate together. We shared the same trench. Everyone knew we were mates.” In simple unsentimental prose, the story of Gallipoli unfolds with its grim trench warfare, extremes of temperature, privations and illness. Tragedy strikes for the trio, with the death of Harry. “The chaplain had to be quick because of the snipers.” The story continues with the recognition of defeat and the evacuation of the peninsula. “Our feet were muffled in cloths. We didn’t cough or talk or even whisper.Best Mates doesn’t end with this defeat.  The survivors return to civilian life and raise families but are always wistfully aware of the absence of their ‘best mate.’  Decades later, as old men, they return to Anzac Cove and visit the New Zealand graveyard. ‘He was in a big cemetery with hundreds of other Anzacs…It was still far away but now it felt as if he was among friends.

Bob Kerr’s illustrations are as spare and graceful as Werry’s prose. One double-spread illustration shows soldiers digging two trenches with pick and shovel, rifles close at hand. It is only at second glance that it becomes clear that the soldiers in one trench are Anzacs while in the other they are Turkish. 
Best Mates is a moving picture book, with a fictional tale that rings true, and which brings to life a key event in our national history.

Trevor Agnew

Note: This review originally appeared Your Weekend magazine (Fairfax NZ) in such newspapers as The Press and Dominion Post on 23 August 2014

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