Tuesday, 23 June 2015

A Decade of Geckos

Happy Birthday to Gecko Press
Ten years ago, Julia Marshall followed her dream and set up Gecko Press in Wellington. I'm delighted to say that Gecko are still flourishing, and still producing wonderful books for young people. Gecko policy - and point of difference - has been that they produce English translations of books which have already achieved distinction in other languages. "Curiously good" is Julia's motto for her selection of books.

Gecko's first book was Donkeys, about two donkeys growing old together and unable to live apart. It not only amused children; it became a hit gift for Silver and Golden Weddings. Soon young New Zealand readers were enjoying the works of such talented writers as Sven Nordquist (Pancakes for Findus), Ole Konnecke (Anton and the Battle) and Rindert Kromhout (the Little Donkey series).

How dull life would be without the marvellous illustrations by Eva Eriksson of such classics as My Happy Life by Rose Lagercrantz and The Best Singer in the World by Ulf Nilson.
Beatrice Rodriguez (in The Chicken Thief), Leo Timmers (in Bang) and Satoru Onishi (in Who's Hiding?) showed that you can write a funny book with almost no words at all.

Gecko has even branched out into publishing (and exporting) New Zealand books. The marvellous Snake and Lizard series by Joy Cowley and Gavin Bishop and Toucan Can by Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis are typical. Elizabeth Knox's Mortal Fire is a novel that draws both teens and adults.  Mr Whistler, illustrated by Gavin Bishop was Margaret Mahy's last picture book; Gavin showed her the proofs shortly before her death in 2012.

My personal favourites in the Gecko list are I am so strong and I am so handsome by Mario Ramos, where the Big Bad Wolf meets his comeuppance. I remember reading them aloud at a Christchurch Storylines festival, where every child but one roared laughing at the wolf's menacing exploits. The single, deeply worried non-laugher was - I realised too late - dressed as Little Red Riding Hood.

For reviewers, like myself, there is a special bonus. Each Gecko review copy arrives gracefully wrapped in coloured tissue, with a little coloured sticker. It's just like getting a birthday present.

So, it's Happy Tenth Birthday to Gecko Press and best wishes for many more.

- Trevor Agnew (27 June 2015

Raewyn Davies wrote a very modest but informative summary of the achievements of Gecko Press and I reproduce it, unchanged, below:

In general public perception is that the book trade is endangered. It isn’t, though pockets of it are. The biggest current difficulty is getting books into bookshops, which are being eroded by online sales of physical books. Evidence is that good readers are good citizens, don’t go to jail, have good careers etc. It is highly pleasurable. Reading needs to be promoted. We want to do that.” Julia Marshall


About Gecko Press

Gecko Press is unusual in having 75 percent of sales offshore. Sales are now over the one million mark and growing.

Digital sales of picture books are still only 2% of total sales globally – though in general digital sales are now welcomed by publishers and 50% of their sales are backlist, unusual in the current publishing climate based on quick turnover of blockbusters.


Children’s book sales went up more than 20% last year in New Zealand (and yet children’s books are less reviewed in general: and many shops have children’s books at the back of the shop).


In their tenth year Gecko Press are excited about starting the Gecko Press Curiously Good Book Club – a mixture of physical and online club, including workshops such as What makes a good picture book (for parents and teachers) and Hot chocolate for great readers (for 7 - 10 year olds, trialling in Wellington).


Background info

·        Gecko Press is an independent publisher, based in Wellington. Every year they translate and publish 15 carefully-selected children’s books, by some of the world’s best writers and illustrators, from countries including France, Germany, Japan, Poland and the Netherlands.

·        Gecko Press also publish three or four NZ originated books each year, which they send in the opposite direction. They publish only books that they believe are ‘curiously good’, and many of them are international award winners.

·        Gecko Press books are currently sold in North America, Australia, the UK and New Zealand. America is the fastest growing market with 29% of sales; 26% in the UK, 23% in New Zealand, and 22% in Australia.

·        In 2013 Gecko Press won the Oceania publisher of the year award at Bologna International Children’s Book Fair.

·        Every year publisher Julia Marshall attends two or three international book fairs, in particular Bologna, Frankfurt and Taiwan, for buying and selling rights.

·        Four people work at Gecko Press, and we have a part time dog.

·        The first Gecko Press book was Donkeys, published in July 2005.

Raewyn Davies (27 June 2015)

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