Original books for all ages from NZ

changeoverThere is an incredible depth of literary talent in New Zealand ranging from Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton to Kate di Goldi, Lloyd Jones, Janet Frame and the incomparable Margaret Mahy. NZ is also the base for amazing publisher Gecko Press, which publishes books from around the world for children.

We should keep an eye on what NZ is publishing because it is so close to us here in Australia and, as in many areas; it punches above its weight.

Some of Gecko Press’s most outstanding recent books are The Big Book of Animals of the World, an oversized board book by Swedish/German author-illustrator Ole Konnecke.Bert

This creator also pops up with You Can Do It, Bert! Children will wonder what Bert is trying to do. Most of the action happens in the illustrations and the text is minimal.

Help! The Wolf is Coming! by French author Cedric Ramadier and illustrator Vincent Bourgeau is a very appealing, interactive story which will scare children as the wolf approaches but also empower them because they can tilt and shake the book to ward the wolf off.

Another fascinating book for young readers about animals is Line Up, Please! by Japanese author/illustrator Tomoko Ohmura. Fifty animals join a queue but the surprise is where they are queuing. The numerals are written, as well as the animals’ names, such as ‘giraffe’.

International best-seller Stephanie Blake’s rabbit reappears in I Want Spaghetti. How can the little rabbit be tempted to eat something else? The bold, clear colours and design are a visual lure.

When I am happiestWhen I am Happiest by Swedish author Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated in black and white by Eva Eriksson, is a heartwarming early chapter book about Dani who always tries to be happy despite having lost her mother at a young age. When her father is hit by a car, she has to summon more courage.

Dani has two hamsters, and a hamster is the larger-than-life protagonist of Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster by Astrid Desbordes and Pauline Martin. This self-absorbed hamster features in the many short stories that make up this brightly coloured book.

Very short, but profound, stories also form the structure of The King and the Sea by Heinz Janisch and Wolf Erlbruch. This book is inventive and uses a restrained, perfectly calibrated mixture of collage.

Finding Monkey Moon isn’t published by Gecko Press but is written by NZ author Elizabeth Pulford and illustrated by Kate Wilkinson (Walker Books). It is a picture book that tells the story of Michael who can’t find his toy monkey. His father is a patient, loving man.

BakehouseNZ legend Joy Cowley’s latest book is The Bakehouse (Gecko Press). It is an introspective novel about war and some of its effects in NZ. My favourite recent Cowley is Speed of Lightwhich I reviewed here.

Elizabeth Knox is another standout NZ writer. Previous works are The Vintner’s Luck, The Dreamhunter Duet and Mortal Fire, which I reviewed here. Her recent book Wake is adults-only and is an addictive horror/sci-fi set in a NZ town where most of the inhabitants are killed. Only fourteen people survive and they must try to keep community and civilization alive, as well as themselves. Not for the faint-hearted.

In Wake, like other books mentioned here, we can expect NZ creators and publishers to give us something out of the ordinary.

What I’m reading this Christmas: Jane Pearson, Text Publishing

 

 

This House of GriefThanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Jane Pearson. You’re a senior editor at Text and you’re going to share your Christmas picks with us. But first let’s find out about you and some books you’ve been working on.

Text Publishing (based in Melbourne) is known for its adult list, as well as its YA/children’s books. Which do you work on?

I work right across the Text list: on YA and adult fiction and non-fiction. I love having that range. It keeps me on my toes.

You’re a senior editor. What does a senior editor do?Jane Pearson

I work with writers from the initial acquisition (in many but not all cases) right through the editorial process to arranging printing and delivery of the stock. Along the way there’s blurb writing, and working with the designer on the cover and with the publicity and marketing team who will get those copies out into the world. And did I mention reading? There’s lots of reading—I’m always in search of the next great author.

How did you get this job?

I’ve been at Text for seven years. I applied for an advertised position—I must have been lucky, or perhaps it was the shoes!

I suspect you love all the books you work on, but could you tell us about some that you are particularly proud of.Minnow

It’s hard to narrow it down but here goes. There’s the winner of the 2013 Text Prize, Diana Sweeney’s The Minnow, a gorgeous tale of a girl who has lost all her family in a flood and is putting her life back together in a very quirky and magical way. This book will always be among my favourites. And there’s the amazingly huge (it’s the size of a newspaper) A–Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land by Simon Barnard. It took him about twelve years to research and illustrate the most fascinating details of this gruesome part of Tasmania’s history, and it includes stacks of stuff that’s never been published before. The highlight of my year was working with Helen Garner on her latest book This House of Grief. It’s the saddest most harrowing story, and it’s told with such raw honesty and respect. And I just have to squeeze in one more: In the Memorial Room by Janet Frame, which she held back for posthumous publication because of all the people she knew it would offend. It’s brilliant Janet Frame and most deliciously scathing, and when the Frame estate decided it was time for publication, it landed on my desk. How lucky was that!

In the Memorial RoomThe Text Classics have brought exceptional out-of-print Australian and NZ books back into circulation. Do you have anything to do with these? If so, which? If not, which have you enjoyed reading?

I work on the Young Adult classics. It’s been great rereading some of the books I loved as a kid, like Ash Road by Ivan Southall, and discovering wonderful new old authors, like James Aldridge who wrote The True Story of Spit MacPhee. Choosing which books to include is just one stage in the process—there is often some curly detective work in tracking down the rights holder for books long out of print, and the search for an introducer. Chong Weng Ho’s covers for the YA Classics are inspired by illustrations used for the original covers or interiors. The True Story of Spit MacPhee is my favourite at the moment. Ask me next week and it may well be something else: Joan Phipson’s The Watcher in the Garden or Nadia Wheatley’s The House that Was Eureka.

What is different/special about Text?

For me it’s the people I work with. We’re a small company—we work hard, and we laugh and cry (and drink) together. And the view from the office balcony is spectacular.True Story of Spit McPhee

What are some awards Text has won that have particular significance for you?

Alyssa Brugman’s novel Alex as Well won the WA Premier’s YA Book of the Year this year. It’s a confronting transgender story about sexual identity and acceptance, with one of the most stop-you-in-your-tracks opening chapters I’ve ever read. It’s not one for the faint hearted, but it’s real and gutsy and super clever. Alex as Well is Alyssa’s first book with Text and her first book to win an award. So I’m extra proud of that.

What do you see as the way forward in the book industry? My Brilliant Friend

Change is part of life and it’s certainly part of the book industry. But I think there’s a constant that will remain at the heart of the industry whatever twists and turns lie ahead, and that is that good books matter. We’ll always want to read good stories, whether they’re fiction or non-fiction, digital or print, literary works of art or trashy guilty pleasures.

And what are your must-reads over Christmas?

Academy streetMy picks for Christmas reading are Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend. This is the first of four novels about the friendship between two women in 20th Century Naples. I guarantee you won’t be able to stop at one. Mary Costello’s Academy Street—I’ve been recommending this one to everyone since I read it earlier this year. It’s one to read slowly and savour—Mary Costello writes perfect sentences. And Well May We Say… The Speeches that Made Australia, edited by Sally Warhaft. I’ve been dipping in and out of this one since the advance copies arrived in the office and can’t wait to spend a few uninterrupted hours getting lost in it.

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Jane. Well May We Say