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.

Review – The Man from the Land of Fandango

The recent loss of legendary Kiwi author Margaret Mahy made me realise something. I had never, ever read any of her books. So remiss of me because this beautiful picture book is testament to a long and glorious authorship I’d completely miss out on – until now.

The man from the land of Fandango is coming to pay you a call. That’s right. The man who’s given to dancing and dreams is on his way, decked out in his tri-colour jacket and polka-dot tie and his hat with a tassel and all. Whenever he dances, bison and bears join in. Baboons play bassoons. Kangaroos hop and bound, and even dinosaurs join in the din.

Rhythmic, dynamic and straddling that delicate balance between classic, old-fashioned storytelling and the use of a modern, totally unique writer’s voice, this gorgeous book has been illustrated by Polly Dunbar, who uses striking colour and movement to bring this delightful character and his young friends alive. I’m loving the use of delectable onomatopoeia in this book, as well as the curling, swirling typeface.

This adorable, energetic, rainbow-filled character only appears every five hundred years – so when he calls, you’d better make sure you’re home. Love.

The Man from the Land of Fandango is published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.


RIP Margaret Mahy

The very hour that I was born

I rode upon a unicorn,

When boys put tadpoles in their jars

I overflowed my tin with stars
Because I sing to see the sun

The little children point and run.

Because I set the caged birds free

The people close their doors to me.

Goodbye, goodbye, you world of men-

I shall not visit you again.

Margaret Mahy
The Word Witch: The Magical Verse of Margaret Mahy

Booksellers NZ have put together a wonderful tribute which you can view at http://booksellers.co.nz