Category Archives: NZ children’s book

Poetry Box review: Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis’s The Grizzled Grist Does Not Exist

The Grizzled Grist Does Not Exist, Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis, Gecko Press, 2022

Juliette MacIver is a whizz with words. Not all storytellers are as nifty with rhyme and rhythm. Before I sink into Juliette’s story, I overflow with admiration at what Juliette can do with words. She rhymes fox and crocs and socks which is worthy of Dr Seuss. Her rhythm flows like the sweetest currents. Trying saying: GRIZZLED GRIST DOES NOT EXIST out loud. Such mouth watering fun.

Sarah Davis is new to me as an illustrator but she is a whizz with images. She offers a master class in facial expressions. There’s a class full of them on every page, along with the teacher, Ms. Whiskersniff, and hide-and seek Liam (and maybe a mysterious Grist!). I spent ages looking at the class she drew for the endpapers, studying the “look” on every child. Genius!

Ms. Whiskersniff is either mad daring or mad crazy because she is taking her class to the wilderness for adventures and thrills! I LOVED looking at the backpacks of the young hikers and spotting a Swiss army knife, a wooden spoon, a fish slice and a skillet! Someone is going to be cooking something in the GREAT WIDE WILDERNESS!

Before they start climbing, all the children list their skills and then stop and stare at Liam when he says his skill is HIDING! We all need to be good at HIDING in case we need a spot of time out out from the BUSY NOISY world! As I read, I am tramping up the hill and scaling the rocks behind Ms. Whiskersniff, with her fleet of trampers, wondering what Health and Safety would say to ADVENTURES and THRILLS. I am spotting Liam who is very good at hiding indeed, and I am listening hard when he warns about the GRIST ahead!

Will there won’t there? Will there won’t there? Will there won’t there? Will there won’t there? Be a GRIST!!!

Ah! You must tag along as a reading member of this magnificent adventure, to discover the stretch of Juliette’s imagination, her magnetic word play and Sarah’s marvellous illustrations! I will warn you though, there is talk of Cream of Children Soup!

The Grizzled Grist Does Not Exist is the kind of book that gladdens your heart as both reader and writer, and reminds you Aotearoa children’s books are in the best of hands (and eyes and ears and hearts, and maybe even whiskernoses!). GLORIOUS!

Juliette MacIver is the author of 18 picture books. She has received the Storylines Notable Book Award six times, and has had multiple nominations for awards in NZ, Australia and the U.S. She recently won Best Picture Book in the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Juliette lives with her husband and four children in Wellington.

Sarah Davis grew up in New Zealand. She won the 2009 Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Crichton Award for Best New Illustrator. She recently won Best Picture Book in the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Sarah lives in Sydney, Australia.

Gecko Press page

Poetry Box reviews by children: Ava (9) reviews Fifi Colston’s Masher

Poetry Box November challenge: Bird poems

Masher, Fifi Colston, Penguin, 2022

Masher is a fictional chapter book written by Fifi Colston, which is about a 12 year old boy and a papier-mâché puppet coming to life. This book was full of mysteries and plot twists and was a wonderful read!

The plot of this story is written in a way that feels like you are inside of the story. Our main character, Freddie Foxworthy’s class is going to be making papier-mâché  puppets, so when he arrives home from school that day, he decides to get a head-start on it by making one beforehand. 

Freddie makes glue for his paper-mash, as he calls it, and eventually leaves it outside to dry. But when Masher, the neighbour’s dog, eats the paste and dies, Freddie is blamed and punished. When he accidentally knocks over Masher’s coffin, Freddie takes some ashes, and they mix with his puppet and turn… real. All throughout Masher, little sub-plots and mysteries are planted around which all tie in together wonderfully at the end. For just a normal kid, Freddie sure knows how to get action into his life, and create some really high-stakes scenes to occur in the book, which had me worried for him!

Masher and Freddie are the best of friends, because they believe in each other and understand one another. In my opinion, their relationship is very well written, because it is realistic and like the sort of friendships kids at school might have. Of course, when Masher eats the food that Freddie wants, things get a bit more hilarious than argumentative, which is always a great read to have. But even if Freddie and Masher never tell each other off, that doesn’t mean that Freddie is never in trouble — and usually, that’s because of Masher. Masher gets out of control at a talent show and lands Freddie in massive trouble, which ends in great plot twists I didn’t see coming!

This book doesn’t have a gigantic cast, but every character is memorable, 3-dimensional, and well-written. First, we have Freddie, your average 12-year old with a keen eye for artistic detail. Then, he makes Masher, because of his papier-mâché problems. Masher is like the dog that used to live, in the sense that he eats everything, and has a bit of a temper. But, in reality, Masher is not very scary at all and is sweet and lovable, in a growly bull-terrier sort of way. Then we have Ms Burns, who gets Freddie into trouble and hates everyone and everything possible, apart from her missing cat, Forrest, which she accuses Masher (the dog) of murdering. Then we have Mr and Mrs Foxworthy, Freddie’s parents. His dad is nice and a builder, who doesn’t really understand Freddie’s love and need for art, but appreciates and lets him do it. His mum, however, is sort of strict sometimes, and doesn’t like messes. She still tries her best to understand Freddie — and his sister, Dahlia. Dahlia is an 18 year old girl who loves 3d printing. You’d think since both siblings enjoy art, they would get along. But it’s hard for Freddie to do so, as Dahlia is barely ever at home, and is always out and about at different places. 

This is a story with great characters, but it’s also greatly written on a whole. It’s very descriptive and goes into detail, but also doesn’t drone on and on about the appearances of things. The little mysteries that intertwine with the plot were subtly put in and the pieces click into place in unexpected ways. The illustrations were beautiful, but when there weren’t any on the pages, I could still see a very clear picture in my mind of what was going on. I remember that I finished the last half or more of the book in two days, and spent around an hour reading it because it was so enjoyable and exciting. Nothing got old, everything was new and fresh, and I really hope that Masher gets a sequel!

Masher was such an enjoyable, action book with a sprinkle of mystery to it. I think that anyone who is a fan of any genre can like it, because it’s just so original. I recommend this book to kids of ages 8+.

Ava (9)

Ava, age 9, Y5, Pakuranga Heights School. My interests are reading, writing, poetry, gaming, playing piano, and both traditional and digital art. I like to write about fantasy, animals, and magic! Cool books I have read lately: Keeper of the Lost Cities, Little Tales of Hedgehog and Goat, and The Okay Witch.

Fifi Colston is a straight-up creative with her fingers in many arty pies. She is an award-winning junior-fiction novelist and illustrator of more than 30 children’s books including the bestselling Marvellous Marvin by Nadia Lim and the Little Yellow Digger stories by Peter Gilderdale. She is also a poet and a television presenter of arts and crafts — firstly on TVNZ’s ‘What Now’ and then ‘The Good Morning Show’. She has been creating World of Wearable Arts designs and has been a finalist and an award-winner many times over. She has also worked in the New Zealand TV and film industry as a costumier, puppet maker and illustrator and trainee scriptwriter. In between writing and creating, Fifi enjoys visiting schools and community groups, inspiring budding artists and writers through workshops in creative process.

Penguin page

Poetry Box reviews: Kimberly Andrews’s Goose the Artist

Poetry Box November challenge: Bird poems

Goose the Artist, Kimberly Andrews, Penguin, 2022

Some books you read in a single mouthwatering gulp while you take a leisurely break in others. For several reasons, Kimberley Andrews’s Goose the Artist is the kind of children’s book you want to take your time with. Goose loves painting portraits and wants to enter a perfect painting in the Art Awards, so they win the competition. Kimberly’s complex picture book explores art, navigates self doubt and introduces self determination. There is so much of interest, you set up camp and savour every page.

Firstly the art. Goose the Artist invites you to explore art: from the media and techniques artists use to various historical art movements. The endpapers showcase examples of these, then it is over to you to discover them in the story. Every day an animal poses for Goose, and every day Goose tries doing a portrait in a different style (it might be pointillism or a charcoal drawing, cubism or impasto strokes). One of my favourite pages sings of Vincent Van Gogh. Goose wears a ‘Starry Night’ outfit while a vase of ‘Sunflowers’ sits on the table like a Van Gogh painting. Every page is visually interactive, with so many miniature rewards for the eye and the roaming art explorer. You could say the book is a cabinet of art fascinations. Genius!

Secondly the story. Story needs action and story needs character. All the action is centred upon Goose the Artist because Goose the Artist is striving so hard to produce a perfect painting. But nothing is ever good enough for them. They think every artwork is flawed. I know the feeling. I sometimes feel every poem and story I write falls short of the mark. And I wonder how I could ever consider getting them published. So I remind myself why I write: I write for the love of writing, not for fame and fortune!. Goose the Artist comes to a different realisation, but it is is an equally important one. Kimberly’s brilliant picture book offers a story of art, but it is also a story of self discovery.

Kimberly has created the kind of picture book that will draw in a wide range of ages and deliver a range of satisfying experiences. I feel I have been on an art vacation. I want to follow one of her recipes for painting and see what kind of portrait I can produce. I have also reminded myself why I love writing, how we all have pockets of doubt, and can discover strategies for dealing with it. This is a glorious human-centred story within an animal-rich narrative. Thank you!

Kimberly Andrews is a trained biologist and geologist who grew up in the Canadian Rockies. In London, she worked for The House of Illustration, whose main ambassador is Quentin Blake. She also worked at the Natural History Museum in the live Butterfly House and also behind the scenes, assisting the curation of mammal specimens in the dry stores. Kimberly’s picture book illustrations have been widely acclaimed. She was awarded Storylines Notable Book Awards for Tuna and Hiriwa by Ripeka Takotowai Goddard (2016) and Song of the River by Joy Cowley (2019).

In 2019, the first story Kimberly wrote and illustrated, Puffin the Architect (2018), won the Russell Clark Award for Illustration and was a finalist for Best Picture Book in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. It also won a Storylines Notable Picture Book Award and the NZ Booklovers Award for Best Children’s Book. More stories followed featuring favourite animal characters from Puffin the Architect‘s charming world: Hound the Detective, highly commended by Storylines and a finalist for the Best Picture Book Award in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults 2021, and Moose the Pilot, a Storylines Notable Picture Book 2021.

Penguin page

Poetry Box review Kate Preece and Pippa Esnor’s One Weta Went Walking

One Weta Went Walking, Kate Preece, illustrations by Pippa Ensor, Bateman, 2022

The Bird of the Year 2022 is the pīwauwau rock wren.

A perfect time to celebrate an excellent new bird book, with text by Kate Preece and illustrations by Pippa Esnor.

Pippa’s illustrations are exquisite; they are like bird poems that catch the essence of a bird. Out of light, translucence and a watercolour palette, a bird emerges. I spent ages on the front endpaper, with its rollcall of birds we will meet in the book, just bird drifting and bird dreaming. It makes me want to play with watercolour painting again, like I used to do as a child.

One Weta Went Walking is an essential guide to birds on the Chatham Islands, to birds under threat. Each page features illustrations, fascinating facts and story. At the bottom of the page is the earthy-line along which a weka walks and pecks. It lasts the length of the book. So cool!

The facts are interesting but they are even cooler with Kate’s imaginative touch. She is an ace with similes. Similes are an excellent way to add understanding to facts “Weighing more than a loaf of bread, the Chatham island pigeon is a packet of biscuits heavier than the New Zealand wood pigeon/kererū.” Or ‘As long as a pencil and lighter than a bar of soap, the Chatham Island snipe is the smallest snipe in the southern hemisphere.”

When you follow Weka on his walk, you discover things he likes to do and things about other birds on the island. The story is structured around the walk: Weka gets to see, eat, touch, hear, spy and wish for things. So we get to view the Chatham Island birds through all our senses too. Genius.

Every school library, classroom and family book shelf should have a copy of this beautifully crafted book – an outstanding team effort with excellent contributions from publisher, author and illustrator. Bird brilliance!

Kate Preece is an experienced editor with 14 years in the magazine industry based in Christchurch. One Weka Went Walking is her first book.

Pippa Ensor is a talented illustrator and architect based in Rangiora. One Weka Went Walking is her first book.

Bateman page

Poetry Box review: Emily Joe’s ‘My Real Dog’

My Real Dog, Emily Joe, Beatnik Publishing, 2022

Beatnik Publishing are another Aotearoa publisher that creates books with love and care. Emily Joe’s My Cat Can See Ghosts was a finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and YA (2022). I enthused about this gorgeous book here. Emily’s new book, My Real Dog, is equally delightful. I love the design, the blue orange colour palette, and the doggy endpapers that would have been perfect wallpaper on my bedroom as a child.

My Real Dog: The parents have a thousand reasons why their child can’t have a dog – although I note they are wearing excellent dog walking shoes!

The big question is: What is a REAL dog? We are introduced to the child’s dog and it is a TOP NOTCH dog that is not massive and has three black spots. It is the kind of cuddly dog that never gets muddy or too yap yap yappy. There are loads of ticks in the ADVANTAGE list and zero ticks in the DISADVANTAGE list.

Ah, if you are after a warm glow picture book, with a feel good ending, then this the perfect book for you. I am sitting on the couch GLOWING from head to toe, looking at the real coffee cup, the real tūī in the mānuka, and smiling at the real dog grinning back at me from Emily’s glorious book.

Emily Joe is an author, art director and animal lover based in Auckland, New Zealand. For Emily, inspiration is never very far away, sometimes even in her own backyard or lounge room, thanks to the crazy antics of her two chickens and two cats, who make sure there’s rarely a dull moment in the Joe household.

Beatnik Publishing page

Poetry Box reviews: Belinda O’Keefe’s Journey Through the Cat Door

Journey Through the Cat Door, Belinda O’Keefe, illustrated by Monica Koster, Bateman, 2022

Enzo Haxtendorf is a Russian Blue Cat. The owner tries to entice Enzo through a new cat door but he is extremely suspicious. Not even food bribes work. Furthermore! The door opens onto the backyard. But the cat door opens onto an unfamiliar world: Enzo spies a river, some forest and a big black bear.

Only three things will drag Enzo outside: the scary cupboard monster, a call of nature, and the number 3 child treating him like a toy again, with pulls and yanks and tugs.

The mysterious cat door is not everyday ordinary. It is a portal that leads to exotic places across the globe. Not just any old exotic place, but exotic places with endangered species.

Enzo is invited to join PAWS (portals for animals working as spies). Their mission is to protect endangered animals and to stop Professor Olga Stone in her evil tracks. Be warned! The Professor is a chef who loves to capture and cook endangered animals from all over the world.

Enzo is a terrific protagonist – such good company as you travel with him and the daring PAWS crew. He has a captivating voice that can be fierce, determined, vulnerable. You care what happens to him, and terrible possibilities lurk at every turn.

Journey Through the Cat Door is an action-packed, character-rich, hold-your-breath adventure. The novel is hard to put down until you get to the end. Questions are raised. Issues introduced. Problems solved. There is satisfying complexity: you can’t pin the cat characters down to a single trait. The writing is fluid. Monica Koster’s illustrations catch the characters perfectly. A must-read, gripping novel.

Bateman page

Belinda O’Keefe has a degree in Japanese and has worked in tourism. Her previous books include, Partners in Slime (Scholastic, 2021) and The Day the Plants Fought Back (Scholastic 2019). She lives in Christchurch with her husband, two sons and their cats, including a Russian Blue called Enzo.

Monica Koster’s paintings have been exhibited in Ashburton and Christchurch. She is studying Fine Arts and caterbury and has two adventurous cats.

Poetry Box Reading Back, Reading Forward: Bee Trudgeon on Robyn Kahukiwa’s ‘Kēhua’

Kēhua, Robyn Kahukiwa, Penguin, 1996

‘He kēhua i te kauhanga o taku whare.’

When I was a child, the passages (or what some people called hallways) in the houses I lived and stayed in were liminal places of great mystery and adventure, and certainly haunted. Sacred, indeed. They were places – out of sight of the occupied rooms – where anything could happen. In the houses I shared with my birth family, they were often lined with books, which added to their potentiality. In the houses of friends and relatives, they were a place to rehearse plays (my Nana’s had a helpful set of ‘stage curtains’ we made great use of, marking one end off), and engage in games that required lanes (like indoor bowls with plastic balls and pins). The telephone was often mounted on the passage wall, or might be able to be carried there on its cord, for some privacy. 

At night, though, ngā kauhanga had a tendancy to transform into spaces to be braved… a terrifying dash to the toilet; a brave bolt towards the light under the door at the opposite end from one’s sleeping space, towards the murmur of adult voices (utterly mysterious in themselves), or the sound of forbidden late night television.

‘At nights, when it was dark, I knew I had to run fast down the passage to get to the kitchen door. Otherwise the kēhua would get me.’

The inquisitive young protagonist of The Kēhua, her dark eyes huge with that potent childhood mix of fear and curiosity, wisely decides on the hours when the house is busiest to seek answers. And what a busy house it is. Pāpā baking rēwana bread in the kitchen. Māmā and tungāne watching rugby on the telly in the lounge. Tuahine practising poi with her friends. Even a new pēpi being bathed. Luckily, Nanny senses the urgency in the mission.

Nanny offers a practical solution, teaching her mokopuna how to use the light switch, and installing a helpful stool underneath it. But she also offers a spiritual solution, inviting relatives to come and recite karakia, to banish the kēhua. It’s such a satisfying climax, to an excitingly spooky tale. 

I remember my young daughter so often thrilled to brave the journey of this much-chosen book, and thoroughly exploring the pivotally noted pot plant in the corner, carving on the shelf, and pictures on the wall, wondering at their connection to the kēhua.     

The paintings are classic Kahukiwa, realist depictions of (in this case) warm whānau life. The text often sits separate to them, to allow room for their mix of everyday glory and otherworldly mystery. They are as easily ‘read’ without words as with, which makes this book particularly appealing to the pre-reader. 

I’d love to see Kēhua recognised for essential reprinting, as Te Tuna Watakirihi Me Ngā Tamariki O Te Tiriti O Toa/Watercress Tuna and the Children of Champion Street, and Te Kuia me te Pūngāwerewere/The Kuia and the Spider – Kahukiwa’s beloved classic collaborations with Patricia Grace – have occasionally been. 

Bee Trudgeon (She/Her) is a writer, rocker, stroller, strummer, mama, storyteller, dancer, perpetual student, and Porirua Children’s Librarian Kaitiaki Pukapuka Tamariki. Her journalism has been published in RipItUpThe Sapling, Gecko Press Curiously Good Book Club, NZ Poetry Shelf, and in the Free Range Press Radical Futures series volume Death and Dying in New Zealand. Her poetry has been published in Kiss Me Hardy 2, and the Amanda Palmer fan anthology Poems for the Ride. You can read more of her work on the Patreon page of her alter ego, Grace Beaster – where she posts a poem a week year-round, and a poem a day each April.

Poetry Box review: Brigid Feehan’s The Life and Times of Eddie McGrath

Poetry Box October poem challenge here

My Whitcoulls Top 50 Kids’ Books popUP poem challenge here

The Life and Times of Eddie McGrath, Brigid Feehan, OneTree House, 2021

“Even in ordinary life you never know what is around the corner. And maybe that’s half the fun.”

I really love novels that keep you thinking and feeling things, that get you roving through the world and seeing little corners through refreshed eyes. Reading The Life and Times of Eddie McGrath did exactly that for me. It was like a reading odyssey.

First up let me introduce you to the cast of characters.

Eddie, the protagonist, is a book worm which got me wondering why readers get to be called book worms. I guess because a book worm chews its way from start to finish and books can be very chewy things as the poet Ruth Padel once said. But I personally like the idea of being a book cat. I love snuggling into a book, stretching and arching, purring and even hissing, sniffing and tasting. Eddie is a very cool character – more about her soon.

Eddie’s mum and dad are busy so she gets quite a bit of freedom. Her mum illustrates books and her dad is a builder.

Eddie has a cat called Olaf who is a snuggle puss.

Her sisters Beth and Claire drive her slightly mad.

Her best friends Liam and Meri are loyal and caring and adventurous. Liam is a vegan and Meri a drama queen.

Aunt Ruth, who also lives in the family home, is a radiographer and a Druid (think an ancient Celtic religion with maybe a whiff of magic).

Sylvia is a mysterious woman they meet in a ramshackle, rundown place – a turning point meeting!

Second up let me introduce you to the catch in the narrative.

Eddie has won a national competition – Spend a Day with an MP. She wrote an essay on voting at the age of 15. But she turned the award down as she hates speaking in public especially making a speech in front of a TV camera and the Prime Minister. She would have to spend the day with the MP listening to people’s issues, pick a problem and try to find a solution to fix it. And then make a speech!

BUT somehow Eddie moves from NO! to accepting the award. You could say the novel is an odyssey – a way of discovering more about who and how you are. Unearthing more about how to deal with mammoth challenges and little disappointments. You could claim the YES! as a turning point that unexpectedly shines a light on making choices.

The cast of characters is magnificent. I have such a soft spot for a protagonist who is concerned about chicken welfare (as is Liam!), who loves to read books more than once (heck yes!), who makes lists of heroines (and heroes), who believes in ghosts, and who finds comfort in books (double heck yes!).

The Life and Times of Brigid Feenan is an inspiring read. It made me think about how we treat animals, how we care about old people, and how we can create creative solutions to tricky problems. How things can and often fall into place. Oh and how democracy can work for the good of others.

I loved the advice the Prime Minister gave Eddie after telling her she did something rare and precious.

“You asked a good question. And you listened to the answer, really listened.”

I most definitely snuggled up close with this book like the book cat I am. I purred and stretched and smiled, and I read and read until it finished in one slow cat gulp. I think the novel would be suitable for intermediate ages. Recommended!

Brigid Feehan was born, raised and educated in Wellington.
She studied law at Victoria University and travelled overseas for a few years before returning to Wellington. She now lives in Island Bay with her family and her probably not very bright, but definitely very handsome cat, Magnus. Brigid has worked for the government in a number of roles, none of which have involved meeting the Prime Minister. Stella Star, Brigid’s first novel, won the Tom Fitzgibbon Award and was included in the Storylines List of Notable Books in 2006. A sequel, Maybe Stella, was published in 2007.

OneTree House page

Poetry Box Reading Back, Reading Forward: a new series

one of my overflowing children’s bookshelves in our spare room, with books hiding behind the first row, and not counting the children’s poetry shelves

An Introduction to Reading Back, Reading Forward

I recently emailed a number of children’s authors in Aotearoa. I shared my plans to revitalise Poetry Box along with my commitment to create a small hub for children’s books and writing. Local books yes, but also sublime books from overseas. All categories, and for readers and writers up to Year 8.

Loads of authors (and school librarians) are offering support and it feels like the Milky Way keeps landing in my inbox with glints and gleams.

I feel even more compelled to do this since the editors of Annual 3, in a radio interview, suggested their anthology and the School Journal are the books worthy of attention, when there are scant good books available for readers aged 8 to 12 in New Zealand. Annual 3 is wow! – it’s magnificent glorious inspiring, but I’m suspicious of statements from any editors that are universalising, patronising, hierarchical. But, grumble aside, I can’t wait to review the book, plus there will be a review from one of my young reviewers. The anthology is to be celebrated along with so many other equally good local books. My current aim is to promote and showcase children’s books and authors on Poetry Box, and to open up wide, far-reaching, multi-hued paths through the world, both real and imagined, for young readers and writers.

My new series is one way of encountering New Zealand books for children. Of returning to past words and stories in order to move in refreshing ways through the present and towards the future. In Annual 3, there is a brilliant essay by Madison Hamil, ‘Harry Potter and the Missing Letter – and me’. Sometimes you cross the bridge into a piece of writing and the luminous connections spark and sparkle. Madison shares her reading life as a child, and how she emerged from ‘background character’ to confident. Books can be transformative!

Oh and I have other series in the pipeline.

Reading Back, Reading Forward

Bill Nagelkerke came up with the idea of shining light on forgotten New Zealand children’s books. Or books that are out-of-print. He wrote:

I’ve always thought it would be nice to look back at good NZ children’s books long out of print, but worth remembering and worth hunting for in library store rooms and second hand book shops.” Bill Nagelkerke

I loved the idea so much, I invited some authors and librarians to join in, either with a one-off piece or a now-and-then contribution. The books can be any category but suitable for readers up to Year 8. So watch this space!

Most of my own children’s books are no longer available, and that is the same for many other local writers. We are such a small publishing industry in New Zealand, I understand why. But it does make me a bit glum, especially when I think of just the right person to give a copy of something to. Especially Aunt Concertina and her Niece Evalina, with my partner Michael Hight’s gorgeous oil paintings (Random House, 2009) or Flamingo Bendalingo with Michael’s magnificent acrylic paintings of animals (AUP, 2006). Same goes for beloved treasure by other New Zealand authors whose books are no longer available to buy or are hard to track down in libraries.

When I went scavenging for poems for the children’s anthologies that I have edited, I was heartbroken at how few children’s poetry books were still in print. Poetry is like the skinny shadowy corner of our children’s books market – so few get published, probably because so few by individual poets get bought. Yet poetry is such a cool way of unlocking the reader and writer in every child, with rich music, intriguing miniature stories and expanding wonder. And of course the ever present, wide ranging POETRY PLAY!

I love hunting for book treasures in second-hand bookshops and in library archives. Such fun as you never know what you will discover.

I am remembering the glorious novels by Barbara Else (especially The Travelling Restaurant series, Gecko Press, 2011- 2015), every glorious book Margaret Mahy ever published because not all are still available, the earlier brilliant poetry books of Joy Cowley (Mallinson Rendel, 1991) and the equally brilliant poetry of Shirley Gawith (d’Urville Press, 1991). Not only did I track down copies of Shirley’s children’s poetry books, I got to visit her in Nelson! We enthused about books and writing! She was maybe in her seventies or eighties, and she was over the moon that, after so many decades, her out-of-print poetry books were getting attention and her poems had appeared in A Treasury of NZ Poetry for Children (Random House, 2014).

Meeting Shirley Gawith in 2014

I do hope this new series spurs you to go scavenging for out-of-print books, to remember and celebrate examples from the past, to read new and fascinating pathways both towards the future and within the present. Reading shapes us. If we are what we eat and breathe, maybe we are what we read, especially when the world is abrim with astonishing books, ideas, feelings, flavours. Bon appetit!

May your days shine with good BOOKS

Poetry Box review: Steph Matuku’s Whetū Toa and the Hunt for Ramses

Whetū Toa and the Hunt for Ramses, Step Matuku, Huia Publishers, 2021

Steph Matuku’s children’s novel, Whetū Toa and the Hunt for Ramses came out last year. I have only just read it and love it so much want to track down the first one (Whetū Toa and the Magician) – more importantly I want to sing its praises to inspire you to read it too.

This is the kind of children’s book where the stars align and everything falls into perfect place: characters, plot, ideas, feelings, language, tension, surprise, illustrations. The cover artwork underlines how this book might engage you. Steph knows how to get a story to do a cartwheel, a forward or backward flip, so you end up somewhere surprising and different. I had to keep reading reading reading it, but forced myself to save the second half for the next day.

Character is such a vital hook for the reader, and Steph’s characters matter. Whetū is about to start school. She and her mum live at the magician’s place (I don’t know the backstory yet!), and Whetū’s job is to care for the animals. I am talking horses, a chicken (who might become a squawking multitude), a golden ram named Ramses, and a very helpful cat named Tori. None of the animal crew are happy about Whetū’s school return. Even though she has pledged to get up extra early so she can still look after them!

I adore Whetū. She is exactly the kind of character I want to carry with me at the moment. She has cunning and she has grit, she has tenderness and a sense of justice. She gets into difficult situations and figures out what to do, even though the magic in her fingertips is scarcely working.

I also adore Tori the helpful cat. Ramses goes missing so it is up to Whetū and Tori to find the ram. This is where the story forward flips and somersaults. Where you care so much about the characters but are never sure what will happen next. The blurb mentions starbeams, strange worlds, other planets and an evil magician, so I am not giving anything away there.

Buckle yourself in and enjoy the exhilarating ride this book offers, so much fun, so beautifully written and illustrated. You get magic and daring, you get insight and empathy, you get a novel that taps into what it means to human.

I put Whetū Toa and the Hunt for Ramses down, smiled from head to toe, and felt immensely grateful our world is a book world, a story world, a world in which we can connect and converse through the stories we share. Thank you.

Huia Publishers page

Steph Matuku (Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Tama, Te Atiawa) is a freelance writer from Taranaki. She enjoys writing stories for young people and her work has appeared on the page, stage and screen. Her first two novels, Flight of the Fantail and Whetū Toa and the Magician were Storylines Notable Books. Whetū Toa and the Magician was a finalist at the 2019 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. In 2021, she was awarded the established Māori writer residency at the Michael King Centre where she worked on a novel about post-apocalyptic climate change.