“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!


New Zealand Natural

Late summer, hot and languid.  A new school year, we’re slowly finding our rhythm.  A barrage of term dates and commitments have family calendars by the throat and, by piecemeal, opportunities for escape are eroding.  You gotta stick your elbows out, spear the ground and block out a week in August.  Or two. Something to look forward to.  Raison d’etre.car

Holidays were generally a bi-annual event when I was a kid.  No jet-travel for our cohort, these destinations were always achievable by car.  South in winter; to the bush, mute lakes, cold-strangled farms.  In summer, we travelled dirt roads to the shimmering North.  We (four) children spent hours jammed in back seats, fighting car sickness and each other.  Imagine our excitement at the new 70’s family Falcon. With it’s (seat-belt free) bench seats came a new game –  “slide the corners and crush your loser sibling into the door.”  The only girl, that sibling was generally me.

IMG_0329There were highlights of course.  Barley-sugars. Picnic lunches at guano spotted picnic tables – tearing apart loaves, guzzling milk out of glass bottles.  And my mother, the cerebral immigrant, always prepared with an assortment New Zealand field guides. AWB Powell’s classic Native Animals of New Zealand. The codified yet beautiful watercolours of botanist Nancy M. Adams in the Fiat Book of New Zealand Trees.  Janet Marshall’s Common Birds of New Zealand.  Adventurer-friendly, these had cool spiral spines and textured plastic covers.

Whether borne of boredom, escapism (those brothers) or a deeper human drive to measure and map, catalogue and classify, I loved those books.  The ordered formality of forewords, plates and indexes.



Big concepts like “endemic”, “introduced”, habitat”. It was a quiet pleasure, knowing my Kauri from my Kahikatea.  The names for things!  Those regal diving birds were Black Shags (Kawau), the watchful, hooded flock at the mouth of the estuary were Caspian Tern (Taranui). It was a new way of seeing – a sense of my place in some other order. A sense of wonder.

Now, a generation later, I hope my children find this.  I entice them with an arsenal of reference books, internet-linked encyclopaedias, pop-up anything (check out the amazing “Bugs” by George McGavin and Jim Kay).  For the road and adventuring, the I-SPY series by Michelin Tyre, the Usborne Nature Trail Series and DK Pocket Nature Guides.

IMG_0339But finding quality New Zealand fare is a little harder, so it was with great delight I discovered Ned Barraud and Gillian Candler’s award-winning ‘explore and discover’ series – “At the Beach”(2012), “In the Garden” (2013), “Under the Ocean” (2014) and the latest title “In the Bush” (2015).  Published by Potton & Burton, these fabulous books are pitched for primary school readers but could easily appeal more broadly from 4-12 years.

Barraud’s detailed and colourful blend of graphic and diagrammatic illustrations work perfectly with the mix of fictional narrative and scientific fact.  Drawing on the engaging principle of encouraging children to “spot” and “discover”, readers are encouraged to explore these environments in a multi-sensory way – to listen and look.

Version 2

Candler gets that kids love amazing facts and IMG_0343there are plenty.  There are contents pages, indexes, glossaries and “find out more” sections suggest places to visit, recommend websites and include publishers links and activities.  In the Bush and Beach titles, a waterproof identification card can be removed and taken out and about.

For the very young ornithologist, “Whose Beak is This?” (2015, also by Gillian Candler/Potton & Burton) will delight.  This little picture book is a fun introduction to science concepts of adaptation and diversity for 3-6 year-olds.

IMG_0334Circular “peep-holes” show the beaks of eleven iconic New Zealand birds in close up – inviting the reader to guess the bird. Clues are found both in the picture detail and text, such as what the bird is eating or where it’s found.  The reader has to turn the page to discover the answer and see the entire picture of the bird in it’s wider habitat.

Fraser Williamson’s illustrations are bold and stylised with heavy black outlines and vibrant whites.  A beautifully conceived contents page is simply a collection of all the illustrations with the name of the bird and page numbers.

The mini and life-size nature guides by the prolific and award-winning Andrew Crowe (Penguin) are also excellent.  “Which” series is designed to appeal to older children and adults alike. It includes “Which New Zealand Bird?”, “Which New Zealand Insect?“, “Which Native Forest Plant?”and  “Which Native Tree?”IMG_0349

Crowe’s excellent mini guides are perfect for little pockets and easy to use.  Subjects include New Zealand Trees, Land Birds, Insects and Seashells.  “The Life Size Guide to Native Trees & Other Common Plants of New Zealand” features beautiful life-size photos of leaves, flowers, seeds, berries and bark for easy and accurate identification.



The Life-Size Guides all feature clever “what have you found?”identification flow charts and plenty of fascinating facts  – the world’s deadliest fly, loudest insect, how fast slime moulds can travel in an hour (!) etc.  All have simple “how to use this book” sections and, in the Native Trees title, a request: “Don’t pick the leaf!  Don’t pick the leaf off the tree because (1) When you get to the fourth choice on page 3 you will get stuck.  (2).  If a lot of people pick leaves off the same tree, it is hard on the tree.” 

Our little beachcombers particularly love Crowe’s  “Seashells: A life size photo guide to more than 100 of New Zealand’s most common and striking seashells.” This brilliant wallet style folder is printed on tear-proof, waterproof plastic paper.  This title is out of print but available at your local library.

With thanks to Potton & Burton and Penguin Books for providing review copies.


Five Questions for Tomie dePaola

Love this speed-date between The Horn Book and Tomie dePaola (Strega Nona, Laura Ingalls Wilder Award lifetime contribution to American children’s literature).

“…the two essentials that I always keep in front of me, and have for years, are: Is this work good enough for children? (an homage to Zoltán Kodály: “Only the best is good enough for a child.”); and read, read, read (and show all kinds of pictures) to your children!”


Hello World!

  2544Time has passed in the Mo household since the arrival of the little blue monster who, like a rumbustious toddler, crunched, munched and chewed his way into the orderly lives of Mr and Mrs Mo in “Mrs Mo’s Monster” (2014).  Author/illustrator Paul Beavis continues his droll depiction of the little monster in “Hello World” (Gecko Press, September 2015).

Little Monster is bored.  Mr and Mrs Mo are busy with no time to play – in classic parent fashion, Mrs Mo tells him “we’ll do something fun tomorrow.”  That doesn’t cut it with the monster for whom, like most human children, it’s all about the now.    2546
Surveying the (now tidy) miscellany of attic junk he has the brilliant idea to pack a bag and head “off to see the world.”  Mrs Mo’s reaction is perfectly understated.  “How exciting,” she says.  “Can I make you a sandwich?”

He sets off with a spinning globe under his arm and knapsack heaving with attic-tat; trumpets and trophies, rackets and bats.  Heading for the hills, he’s having a brilliant time, oblivious to both the trail he leaves as things fall out of his bag and the furtive Mrs Mo who is follows at a safe distance, gathering it up behind him.
But the landscape looms and the shadows lengthen and the little monster begins to tire.


Forlorn, he tosses the globe aside and regards his now empty rucksack. Beavis’s use of visual foreshadowing is brilliant here.  It’s the “all is lost moment” for the monster but little readers will delight in spotting the long shadow of Mrs Mo (and the collection of junk) just behind a nearby rock.


Equally delightful is the monster’s facial expression as he clutches her with relief.  Ever-cool, Mrs Mo says she thought he might be “missing a few things” and offers him a sandwich.  The monster gratefully accepts “just the one.”  Restored, he leaps up from amidst an impressive pile of crusts and sweeps Mrs Mo forward on the adventure.  Together they climb, the monster reassuring Mrs Mo all the way to the top where they are rewarded with a glorious vista of fiery sunset and patchwork fields.


There’s an amusing reversal here as Mrs Mo appears unsteady and moots heading home. Little monster’s torch beam cuts impossibly through the darkening sky as he bravely declares “I can show you the way!”.  Parents will love the monster’s childish provocation at the end and Mrs Mo’s benign response (and Mrs Mo, cuppa in hand, literally on top of the world).

Beavis has a strongly narrative and striking illustrative style. The perspective shifts are brilliant – from the tiny, trailing Mrs Mo who ultimately (and heroically) fills a page, to the confines of the rock landscape that opens to an climatic epic vista of land and sky.  Judicious use of colour heightens the sense of intensifying menace with benign blue skies and green fields at the beginning of the adventure giving way to the the fiery reds and ochres in the canyon.

This charming fable is warm and exuberant.  Young readers will love looking for the steadfast Mrs Mo on every page almost as much as they will identify with the kaleidoscopic emotion and energy that is Mrs Mo’s Monster, growing up.


With thanks to Gecko Press for providing a review copy.

First Picture Books – Favourites for the Very Young

The first of Australian author Mem Fox’s ten read-aloud commandments is to “Spend at least ten wildly happy minutes every day reading aloud. From birth!” The practice of reading to your child from birth has, of course, been widely lauded by educators and psychologists. But what I love about Mem’s angle is that she fundamentally views reading to children as an opportunity for sharing and intimacy. As her tenth commandment states – “Please read aloud every day because you just adore being with your child, not because it’s the right thing to do.”

I read to my first born religiously. In the sleep-deprived miasma that was largely my experience of early motherhood, reading was part of my routine.   Routine was control. Control was one of the many tenets of my being vaporised at conception. And so, “My Tiger Roars” by Melanie Walsh became mandatory fare. my tiger roarsWhy this from among the thousands? It still puzzles me. Regardless, it did tick some boxes; a board book (to withstand the rigours of grabby little hands and slobbery jaws). Plenty of high-contrast patterns (in my pre-natal reading fervour I’d read somewhere that this was ‘developmentally appropriate’). Simple and colourful animal faces presumably designed to reflect the size of a babies face (yep, fun). Dubious text – “Munch Munch. My patchy panda bear eats his lunch.” With all due respect, you couldn’t pay me to read it again, even for the sake of nostalgia.

CILLA 1ST YEAR (2005) 249 - Version 2Experience has aligned me with Mem’s abundant wisdom. Babies and toddlers don’t care to be educated. They love being close, enjoying the rhythm and musicality of language. They delight in experiencing all that closeness brings – scent, hair, touch. Just as exciting are other tactile opportunities – a book can be pleasingly slapped, thrown, dropped or gummed.   Often it doesn’t matter what is read, just that it is read. Having said that, there will always be particular books that please and these will be requested – over and over and over again.

Before you find yourself stuck with some inherited or deceptively shiny bargain bin pap (and there’s plenty out there), here are some titles I recommend for babies and toddlers. Most are classics, some more recent – but all the books on this list have provided countless “wildly happy minutes” in our home.

giddy up let's rideGIDDY-UP!  LET’S RIDE!  By Flora McDonnell

Glorious full colour illustrations, the joy of this large format picture book is in the rhythm. Sit your small person astride a knee and take them riding with Flora.

PANTS by Giles Andreae and Nick Sharratpants

Vivid colour, simple rhythm and brilliantly silly. I fell in love with this book when I heard it performed by the famous Stu & his ukulele at the Wellington Library to a raucous group of delighted toddlers.

GOODNIGHT MOON by Margaret Wise Brown & illustrated by Clement Hurd

Goodnight_Moon-pictThis gentle homage to bedtime ritual is definitely conducive to sleep with its simple rhyme and soothing rhythm. Wise Brown’s little bunny bids goodnight to the real and imagined inhabitants of her world – a ‘comb and brush’ and a ‘bowl of mush’, to the ‘stars’ and ‘air’ and ‘noises everywhere’ – before settling down under the watchful eye of a knitting nanny. This bunny’s world is slightly surreal with its eclectic array of objects (and creatures), wild shifts in scale and old-school nursery vibe – you can almost smell the formaldehyde. Clement Hurd’s illustrations reflect this perfectly by pitching monochrome against acid-bright, gradually darkening page-by-page, as inevitably sleep comes down.

the runaway bunnyAlso by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd – THE RUNAWAY BUNNY.

This is a rhythmic and gentle mother-baby story. Essentially a game of verbal hide and seek, a steadfast Mother bunny assures her baby that wherever he goes; she will find a way to be with him. Again, Hurd’s illustrations are a perfect confluence of detail and simplicity.

dear zooDEAR ZOO by Rod Campbell

A perennial favourite, Dear Zoo builds anticipation and then satisfies absolutely just as it invites the reader to triumphantly recognise and name the hidden animal and fulfil the rhyming text. A triumph.

the elephant and the bad babyTHE ELEPHANT AND THE BAD BABY by Elfrida Vipont and Raymond Briggs

One day, and elephant offers a baby a ride through the town…

BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR, WHAT DO YOU SEE? By Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric brown bearCarle

Even as I think about this book my toe starts tapping. All the Rs – rhythm, rhyme and repetition. And the perfect denouement in a double page spread of cavorting, colourful, creature-children. Marvellous.

I KNOW A RHINO by Charles Fuge

I know a rhino This bright and appealing rhyming story is about the toys in a child’s life and the special roles they play. She takes tea with rhino, mud-fights with pig, tends to a sick dragon and indulges leopard in his penchant for fancy dress. This story is imbued with imagination and humour, brought to life with luminous and theatrical illustrations.

where's spotWHERE’S SPOT? Eric Hill

The delights of a simple game of hide-and-seek are explored in this bright and sturdy flap book.

PEEPO and EACH PEACH PEAR PLUM by Janet and Allen Ahlberg.

These are classics. In EACH PEACH PEAR PLUM, rhymed text and illustrations invite the reader toeach peach pear plum play ‘I spy’ with a cast of Mother Goose and other folklore characters.

Set in the 1940’s, PEEPO follows a baby through the day as he observes domestic life. With simple, rhythmic text and richly detailed illustrations – the real delight of this book is the series of holes peeping through to the next page. These lead the reader on to the next stage in the day, giving a hint of what is to come. peepo31Witty and charming – this is a perfect book for sharing.

MOG AND ME by Judith Kerr

mog and meWho can resist MOG the flawed feline? This is the first in a series of first Mog books for toddlers. This story captures the simple rhythms of a child’s day. Mog and her toddler begin their day together with a stretch and a wash. The child has to get dressed, “but Mog wears her fur all the time”.   Scenes of play follow with catnip, stacker blocks, a train and a trolley (with an alarmed looking Mog aboard). They eat, and then sleep. Together. Aw.

kiss goodnightKISS GOODNIGHT SAM by Amy Hest and Illustrated by Anita Jeram

Is it the warm autumnal palette used to create this cosy little home that defies the “dark and stormy night on Plum Street”? Is it the patient attention to bedtime ritual from a loving momma bear? Is it the way Jeram has so perfectly captured movement and expression in this intimate exchange? Whatever it is, there’s no denying the delicious sense of comfort and security this story engenders.

shirley hughesTHE NURSERY COLLECTION by Shirley Hughes

I’ll be writing more about Shirley Hughes who has been such a part of our early reading adventures. The Nursery Collection is a simple collection of stories that perfectly capture a child’s world. In these perfect picture books, a lively toddler and her baby brother discover and explore colour, shape & size, sound and opposites.

the very busy spiderTHE VERY BUSY SPIDER and THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR by Eric Carle

Yes, yes I know – another best kid’s books list with Eric Carle.   But these stories never lose appeal even after countless reads. They celebrate the natural world with a delightfully spare narrative that is both wondrous and wry. The Very Busy Spider has some clever texture to run little fingers and toes over and of course, the best thing about The Very Hungry Caterpillar is poking fingers in the ‘holes’ eaten by the insatiable insect.

ten little fingersTEN LITTLE FINGERS and TEN LITTLE TOES by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury

A simple poem celebrating the universal appeal of babies everywhere. Oxenbury’s soft and luscious watercolours capture their plump innocence perfectly.

meg and mogMEG AND MOG (series) by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski

My seven-year-old still delights in Meg and Mog – only these days she reads (recites!) them to me. First published in the 1970’s these stories are about Meg, a rather inept witch, her long-suffering Mog and friend Owl.   Simple and colourful with touches of comic art form – they will make little readers laugh out loud.

I love you just the way you areI LOVE YOU JUST THE WAY YOU ARE by Virginia Miller

Bartholomew Bear’s face is a kaleidoscope of toddler angst. He’s cold, doesn’t want to walk, won’t eat and hides at bedtime.   The only word he utters is “nah”. Repeatedly. Father George’s patience is beyond impressive. Calmly righting all the wrongs, he tells Baby Bear “I love you just the way you are.” Baby Bear rewards him with compliance. For a moment anyway…

WE’RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury

we're going on a bear huntThis book still thrills my 7-year-old. A big bold story perfectly caught by Oxenbury’s brilliant illustrations, this book captures the anticipation and excitement of a family adventure. Indomitable, they squelch through mud, swish through grass, splash through water. They’re not scared. Until… Uh-uh! A narrow gloomy cave and… a bear! The clever double quick pacing that chases the family home is brilliant. And so is the snuggly ending.  Check out the beautiful pop-up edition.

owl babiesOWL BABIES by Martin Waddell and Illustrated by Patrick Benson

Three baby owls left alone while their mother is away hunting is the perfect setting for an exploration of anxiety and reassurance.   Benson’s simple but richly textured illustrations perfectly juxtapose the three fluffy innocents against the depths of night forest.

TThe Tiger who came for teaHE TIGER WHO CAME TO TEA by Judith Kerr

While Sophie and her mother are sitting down to tea one afternoon, the doorbell rings. A big, furry, stripy tiger has come for tea…and sandwiches, and buns, and biscuits…and eats all the food in the house until there’s nothing left to cook for Daddy’s supper. Conventional and at the same time anarchic, this is fabulous.


Legendary in New Zealand, Dodd’s marvellous illustrations and mastery of complex rhyme make this (and other stories in this collection) unmissable fare.

And recently discovered…

THE NOISY BOOK by Soledad Bravithe noisy book

Bold, colourful and, well, noisy.

HANNAH’S NIGHT Written and illustrated by Komako Sakai.

This gentle story is about a little girl who wakes in the night and enjoys the quiet of her home, using her own resourcefulness to pass the time.  Beautiful.

hannah's night 2hannah's night

Picture Book Review – The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers

indexAt 13,519 ratings, 4 and a bit stars and 1,957 reviews on Goodreads alone, you have to have had your head in a bucket not to have heard about this 2013 Choice Winner, released with a fanfare in 2013.  And here I go, adding my voice to the chorus.

My daughter was given The Day the Crayons Quit on her sixth birthday and it has been one of the most-requested titles in her (extensive) library ever since.  I must have read this at least a couple of hundred times by now.  Even though a slight sigh just made it’s way onto the page (see it?) I know it could’ve been worse.  For all I love Dr Seuss, it might have been Hop on Pop.  Or fairy-fare.  It’s a true test of a children’s picture book that it can prevail without quietly “disappearing” at the hands of a mind-numbed adult.  Okay – I admit I’ve sometimes accidentally turned two pages instead of one.

TDTCQ wheatThis is Daywalt’s first book – and it’s good. One day in class Duncan takes out his crayons and finds a stack of letters with his name on them.  Red complains of overwork and never getting a holiday – he has to colour hearts on Valentines and Santas at Christmas.   Pedant purple urges Duncan to colour more carefully.  Beige bends like the wheat he complains he’s relegated to colouring while big brown “gets all the bears, ponies and puppies”.

Gray TDTCQ white catis tired.  Gray mammals are pretty big mostly – whales and elephants and the like.  He suggests baby penguins or pebbles.  White feels empty because he’s not even really a colour and is only defined by filling in the spaces between things and black complains of only ever defining things and not filling in spaces.  Yellow and orange fight about who is the real colour of the sun.  Blue complains of such occupational overuse (big skies, rivers and oceans) TDTCQ pinkthat he’s too stubby to see over the railing in the crayon box.  Pink suffers from gender bias and longs to colour monsters and dinosaurs instead of princesses.  Peach is too embarrassed to leave the crayon box ever since Duncan tore off his wrapper.

So it’s not so much that the crayons quit (although that’s a catchy title).  There’s no collective conciousness here – more a litany of complaint.  And a few of the crayons complain about the same things (which is why sometimes I accidentally turn two pages instead of one).  Duncan obliges by drawing a double page spread that honours most of these requests (with the exception of red, gray and blue who, as my daughter delights in pointing out, just have to suck it up).  I personally love the black rainbow but then, I’m a grown up…

duncan's drawing

Warm and clever, the story is brought alive by Jeffers’ brilliant monochromatic illustrations.  There’s a naive, scribbly kid-ness to his drawings, showcased by plenty of white space and quality production.  Despite my over-exposure to this book I still love the drawing of poor old beige crayon – bent like the wheat he so deplores colouring and I delight in my little girl’s chortling at poor old peach crayon, stripped naked and stuck in the box.

TDTCQ peach crayon

Buy or borrow for a read-aloud 4-7 or independent reading 6 +.

Cat-ness – “Jenny and the Cat Club” by Esther Averill – New York Review Books Children’s Collection

jenny and the cat club 2In the last few years New York Review Books, with a stroke of brilliance,  have been unearthing and reissuing classics for children (and their big people).

These range from picture books for preschoolers to early chapter books and novels for older children.  Beauties like The Backward Day by Ruth Krauss, Palmer Brown’s Hickory, The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber and The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay.  Check out the NYRB pages – they group these treasures by reading age.

Objects to admire, beautiful to hold – these hard-cover editions have red cloth spines and many include original endpapers, line art, and full-colour illustrations.  The covers in the collection feature a unified series design and materials are carefully selected to reflect the period of original publication.

One of our favourites is Esther Averill’s Jenny and the Cat Club: A Collection of Favourite Stories about Jenny Linksy.

First published in the 1940s and 50s, these simple stories are about an orphaned black cat who lives happily with her human, Captain Tinker, in New York’s Greenwich Village.

photo 4Jenny is sensitive and shy yet has social designs – she longs to be part of the cool Cat Club.   The members of the Cat Club meet regularly to party in Captain Tinker’s garden.  All the cats in the club have distinct personalities: – the elegant Persian Butterfly (who plays the nose flute), the lively twins Romulus and Remus, sweethearts Arabella and Antonio, clever Solomon who can read and generally sits atop a pile of books, naughty Macaroni, club-fighters Sinbad and The Duke. The club is presided over by a well-fed feline by the name of, unsurprisingly, Mr President.  Every cat knows its place in the club and the only way to get membership is to prove a special cat-talent.  It’s a club that demands excellence of it’s members.  Daunting?  Meow.

photo 2“They are too clever.  All of them can do things.  What can I do?  Nothing.” Jenny

As she gains acceptance to the Cat Club and throughout her later adventures with them,  Jenny struggles with emotions common to all children.  Dealing with bullies, feelings of being an outsider, jealousy, insecurity, loneliness and embarrassment.

” Before long Alice Featherlegs caught sight of the three new arrivals.  She ran over to them, and her soft fur made a rustling sound as she drew near. How elegant and full of grace she seemed!  Jenny could not take her eyes away from her.   But Alice did not even glance at Jenny.  Alice looked only at Florio and Pickles.  She acted just as if she never spoke to little cats.  Alice’s behaviour made Jenny feel extremely small and plain.”

photo 1The stories are a helpful and reassuring exploration of feelings that a 5-8 year old might feel if they were new to school or moved to a new neighbourhood.  Or within any given school day.  And our gallant protagonist Jenny overcomes these feelings with support (yay Cap’n Tinker), persistence and a very quiet courage.

“Jenny’s neck felt cold and bare without her red wool scarf tied snugly around it. And all those pairs of cat eyes staring at her through the moonlight frightened her. But she knew she had to speak.  She must make the Cat Club understand how important was the scarf she had lost.”

Some might find the slight formality and occasional didactic tendencies a bit cringey.  But Averill writes with almost a nonchalance that anchors the whimsy of the cat-club world.  And any kid who has a cat or loves cats will be entranced by the simple, sketched drawings that perfectly capture, well, the cat-ness of these characters.

photo 3Despite their weakness for accessorising (Jenny is lost without her scarf, Pickles wears a fireman’s helmet and Florio borrows an Indian feathered head-dress from a doorman) these cats are not just humans with fur.  Jenny pokes her paw in a crack in the sidewalk “as if she hoped to find a penny.”  Her new brother Edward makes his “office” in a corner of the closet behind Captain Tinker’s rubber boots.  When Jenny is afraid she spends the day sleeping in a soapbox in the cellar.  In another incident she hides under the sofa after scratching Captain Tinker.  This affectionate attention to cat quirks are everywhere – the characters stretch their necks to peek, curl up, flee in terror, lick their fur and groom their whiskers.

Seventy years young, these charming, graceful stories are perennially modern, as all great books should be.  Jenny and The Cat Club should appeal to both boys and girls as a read-aloud 4-8 years and for independent readers 7+.

The entire collection of Jenny Linksy books available from the NY collection includes: –

1. Jenny and the Cat Club

2. Captains of the City Streets

3. The Hotel Cat

4. Jenny’s Moonlight Adventure

5. Jenny’s Birthday Book

6. Jenny Goes to Sea

7. The School for Cats

and the all-important prequel….

8. The Fire Cat.


wirelessMy love of listening to stories began with my mother’s whispered, made-up- in-a-nano-second bedtime rituals.  Time-poor, with four small people to attend – she was the master of the small but perfectly formed three act story.  And when I say short, I mean short.  A few minutes, maybe five.  But she was clever and if the telling fell short of the mark, it didn’t matter because I could feel her mind working, hear her night-voice, inhale her  – I had her to myself for just a tiny pocket of time in wonderland.  Marvellous.

Later, it was the children’s stories on the Sunday Morning Radio Show.  Faraway lands. Fairy-tales, folk tales.  Death, darkness and danger.  And magic of course.  Walter de la Mare’s dark and delightful Molly Whuppie “Woe betide you Molly Whuppie, if ye e’er return again!”  The Little Red Engine, Jack and the Beanstalk – oh and a favourite The Noisy Eater by Jim Copp (read by Jerry Lewis).  “Pass the salt!  No matter.  I get it myself.”

boy listening to the radio

You get the idea.  Scratchy old recordings, the metal-vinyl scent of the transistor warmed by straining batteries and morning sun.  Carpet burn.  I feel old just talking about it.  It was always a grand couple of hours of losing ourselves in story while the olds tried to achieve some kind of sleep-in. All those seeds push up at me now, a parent.  There’s definitely a time and a place for audio books.  I reach for them when my kids are tired and can’t extend themselves to much more than flopping about on the sofa.  And of course, they are unparalleled for the ole car-journey.  Holiday time too – when the kids are far away from the luxuries and diversions of everyday life.  When a jangle of ages come together on a hot afternoon to pass the time until the sun mellows and they can move again. For years I’ve had hassles trying to get my hands on anything more than audio recordings of the classics.  It’s always been, you know, Enid, Beatrix or Roald.  Or other random recordings held by my tireless local library – scratched CD’s with disintegrating covers, inter-loaned from exotic sounding places like Beachlands and Manurewa. But now – BEHOLD the e-library!  Yep this luddite has been slow on the uptake but I’m a convert.  New Zealand libraries now have vast high quality audio books for you to enjoy at a click or tap.  Brilliant.  There’s no cost and no late fees (the titles auto-return), you can download them 24/7 from any mobile device anywhere you can glean a connection and they are usually available (or with a very short wait time).  As for eReaders – you can zoom in, change text size and style, line spacing and margins. For children – most NZ public libraries recommend and are partnered with; OverDrive (the largest collection for kids and teens), BorrowBox (classics and popular fiction), EBSCOhost (kids’ joke books and R.L Stine teen fiction) and Tumblebooks, Tumblebookcloud, Tumblebookcloud Junior and BookFlix (animated, talking picture books; read-along titles and interactive non-fiction titles). kids-listen-to-radio-6 The list of titles is exciting and gets better all the time.  Download an App, feel your way around and thousands of titles in audio (and e-reader) format are yours for the picking. Instant, intimate, portable listening pleasure.  If you’re device-averse, head in to your local library where they generally support borrowers with tech-savvy Library Assistants who can help you with the most basic questions.  The Auckland Library webpage has a great page on Getting Started. We found ourselves unexpectedly down the line last week with children in a tiny motel room so I whacked a couple of titles on my phone and presto!  Fiction not crap TV.  The raggedy hour before dinner suddenly wholesome. The long drive home definitely more palatable.  Revelation.

Review of a Review

sidewalk flowersI’ve definitely been guilty of device distraction before now and will be again.  The 10-strong group of silent teenagers walking down Takapuna Beach last weekend all staring at their devices were guilty of it too but that’s a generational phenomenon I can only begin to comprehend.  Together alone.  It’s disturbing to witness any time but it’s particularly jarring in the context of parenting and caring for our very young.

This excellent Brain Pickings review by Maria Popova of the newly released picture book Sidewalk Flowers by award-winning poet JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith (illustrator) is titled “An illustrated ode to presence and the everyday art of noticing in a culture of productivity and distraction”.

Must finish now and go and get down to floor-level with my children..