“What Makes a Children’s Book Good?”

Okay, clearly I’m trawling for blog minnows and in a New York state-of-mind..

This article by New Yorker magazine’s Adam Gidwitz is brilliant.

“A second-grader once asked me for ‘a really, really good book,’ and I asked him, as librarians do, what he considered a good book. He eyed me with thinly veiled impatience and replied, ‘Medium-long with poisonous snakes.’ ”

Read it HERE

“See You When I See You” by Rose Lagercrantz and Eva Eriksson – Reviewed by Hana (9)

 

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I understood.  Really.  Who could resist that cover?  My review copy of “See You When I See You” by Rose Lagercrantz and Eva Ericsson. Gone.

My sleuthing didn’t take long.  Cue defiant nine-year-old.

“I just need it back for a while,” I say.  “You can have it after that.”

“Why do you need it?” comes her careful, tinged-with-defiance reply.

“Because I’m going to read it and tell people about it on my blog.”

I’ll tell them about it.”

“O-kay… what would you say?”

“That I love it.  And Dani is me and Ella is Tessie.  Because I’ve got white hair and Tessie’s got black hair and we are best friends and the adults can’t stop us from being best friends even though she lives far, far away.  But Dad’s not Italian like Dani’s Dad and he doesn’t say “amore” when he kisses me goodnight.  And you’re not dead like Dani’s Mum.”

Her eyes flick up at me, contemplating my alive-ness.

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“In the books Dani gets sad because Ella is so far away and there are mean boys in her class and she doesn’t like her Dad’s new girlfriend because she’s still sad about her Mum.”

Her shoulders rise and sag with a giant exhalation.

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“This time they go to the zoo and she gets lost and Ella was there with her school too and they went on an adventure and they buried their friendship necklaces in a hole in the ground.  Then they got in trouble and Ella’s teacher was mean and carried her off like a sack of something.”

She pauses, aggrieved.

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“And Dani has guinea pigs called Snow and Flake and they live in her room!  Like my fish Lemon and Honey but they’re not guinea pigs.  Snow and Flake are really super-clever guinea pigs.  You can tell because their eyes glitter.”

She goggles her eyes rodent-style and laughs.

 

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“Dani is funny Mum.  And she knows about the silver lining.  You know – in the clouds?”

A grand, skywards arc of hand, a breathy sigh… then she (and the book) are gone.

“See You When I See You” is a new story in the acclaimed chapter book series written by Rose Lagercrantz and illustrated by Eva Ericsson, due out in July.   A stand-alone read, “See You When I See You” follows “My Happy Life”, “My Heart is Laughing”, “When I am Happiest” and “Life According to Dani.” 

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Lagercrantz and Ericsson (Sweden) are long-time friends and collaborators and it shows in this beautiful dance of words and pictures.  The stories are rooted firmly in the domestic world – main character Dani navigates the subterranean complexities of home and family life, school and friendship.  The adults in Dani’s life are fallible and she grapples authentically with a good measure of grief and disappointment. 

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Neither trite nor heavy-handed, the serious business of growing up is balanced by a sense of wonder and flourishes of twinkling humour.  This series will most likely appeal to 5-7 year-olds as a read-together or an independent read for 7-9.  We’ve eagerly anticipated and loved every book. Classics.

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With thanks to Gecko Press for the lost and found review copy.

Wonderment and Warning

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Jeannie Baker’s new picture book Circle (Walker Books 2016) has been balanced on the top of the review pile for a few weeks now. It’s been hard to ignore in the gloom of an Auckland winter – a large and luscious hardback, it’s cover sings of tropical coastlands far, far away. But that’s the thing with Baker’s work; always the high blue sky, lush greens, red earth. A palette drawn from the natural world.

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For the last 30 years, Jeannie Baker has been telling stories of nature, community and belonging. Her 14 illustrated children’s books are implicit with cautionary messages about population pressure, ecological vulnerability and cultural tolerance. Baker’s award-winning work includes “Window”, Home, “Mirror”, “Millicent” and “Where the Forest Meets the Sea.”

Baker uses an eclectic mix of materials and found objects to create richly detailed collage. Her miniature, shallow relief panoramas are made from tiny scraps of material; earth, wool, down, grass, leaves, feathers and fabric. Printed as photo-collage, they are enchanting.

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Baker’s books are generally wordless, the pictures a gentle visual narrative. Our favourite is Window (Walker Books 1991), which was shortlisted for the prestigious Kate Greenaway medal. It documents the development in a boy’s neighbourhood from rural idyll to conurbation. It’s a poignant story – the fall of nature and the passing of childhood are a potent mix.

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The detail is delightful. Baker plays with childhood talismans to tell the story of a boy growing up. Through the window we watch as the birds and bush surrender to urban sprawl and the land is inexorably tamed. In front of our eyes, the little boy outgrows superheroes and bunny-rabbits.

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Then there’s a girl. And he is gone.

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The story ends with the adult boy holding his own baby at a new window, the spectre of the city now distanced – for the time being.

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Mirror is another wordless book published to great acclaim in 2010 (Australian Picture Book of the Year). It contains two stories designed to be read separately but at the same time.

Two boys, one in Morocco and one in urban Australia, live very similar lives in two different cultures.  Opposing pages present two different pictures to compare and show how their lives, hopes and dreams are not altogether different.

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In her new book Circle, Baker uses text alongside collage to tell the story of the bar-tailed Godwits, endangered migratory shorebirds that annually follow ancient invisible pathways from New Zealand and Australia across South East Asia to their breeding grounds in Alaska.

Baker spent ten years researching the godwits, joining a group of bird scientists in the remote Alaskan Tundra and the wetlands of the Yellow Sea.

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Circle celebrates the wonder of the epic journey these tiny birds take, but more it’s a gentle assertion of the interconnectedness of our world and the collective challenge we face to preserve and protect nature in the face of global population pressure.

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The beautiful aerial seascapes and landscapes created for CIRCLE are currently on a two-year national tour of Australia.

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Baker’s next book project is Playing with Collage, an inspirational guide for children and adults.

NZ YA Website Launch

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Hooked on NZ Books is an engaging and vibrant new website for all things NZ YA.

Created by the editors and writers of New Zealand books Pukapuka Aotearoa (launched in 1991 and edited by Harry Ricketts and Louise O’Brien), Hooked on NZ Books teaches how to write and publish reviews, offers an archive of professional and YA reviews and opinion and encourages readers to participate.

Hooked on NZ Books “want to know about what you read” and, “specifically, what you think about New Zealand books.”

 

“Feast of Content” for 9-12 year olds

Sooooooo looking forward to “Gecko Annual” edited by Susan Paris and Kate De Goldi (Gecko Press). Due October 2016.

Here’s what Booknotes Unbound have to say: –

Gecko Annual
Edited by Susan Paris and Kate De Goldi
Gecko Press, October 2016

The Gecko Annual is a 136-page miscellany – a contemporary spin on the much-loved annuals we all remember, with a good dose of sophistication and subversiveness. We wanted to give 9-12 year olds – an age group currently under-served – a heady mix of fiction, comics, poetry, essays, how-to’s, art, games, satire, and a film script. It’s a feast of content that can be dipped into, pored over, returned to again and again – and like all good annuals this one has something for everyone in the family. The content has been commissioned exclusively from New Zealand writers and illustrators and introduces a number of new names – a feature that will be ongoing. It promises to be smart, dynamic, elegant and playful – a timeless and beautiful package thanks to the exemplary design and production values of Gecko Press. We can’t wait!