Tag Archives: Gecko Press

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 review: The Tale of the Tiny Man by Barbro Lindgren & Eva Eriksson

The Tale of the Tiny Man by Barbro Lindgren with illustrations by Eva Eriksson,

Gecko Press, 2022 (first edition 1979)

What a treat it is to get surprise book packages from children’s publishers in Aotearoa. I am such a fan of Gecko Press books because they always fill me with book joy and book wonder. I always want to give a copy to a friend.

The Tale of the Tiny Man by Barbro Lindgren with illustrations by Eva Eriksson is a delight.

The tiny man is very lonely. At the start of the book, the illustrations match the gloomy mood of the tiny man as he thinks his gloomy thoughts. He puts up a sign advertising for a friend, on a tree on his front lawn. And he waits, and he waits, under his gloomy cloud.

After what seems a very long time, the best possible surprise turns up. A surprise that licks and bounds away even the tiniest gloomy cloud. The tiny man has a canine friend.

The sentences are as sweet as honey (translated by Julia Marshall), even on the gloomiest page. The illustrations are warm and alive and captivating.

Like all good stories there is a twist in the tale that makes the friendship story even stronger.

The story was originally published in 1979 (a classic!), these illustrations in 2010, and this English translation edition in 2022.

How grateful I am to have Gecko Press bringing classic stories to translation, stories that touch upon issues that affect us all: loneliness, kindness, empathy, sadness, the importance of connections.

Another precious book that deserves to be read by thousands, let’s say millions!

Barbro Lindgren is a pioneering children’s author from Sweden. She has won many international awards. In 2014, she received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

Eva Eriksson is one of the best-loved illustrators in Sweden, whose awards include the Astrid Lindgren prize and the August award.

Gecko Press page

Poetry Box review: Elephant Island by Leo Timmers

Elephant Island, Leo Timmers, trans James Brown, Gecko Press, 2022,

‘Arnold found a use for everything.’

This sublime picture book, written and illustrated by Leo Timmers, is utterly fitting for our catastrophic times.

Arnold is an elephant who loves seafaring BUT one day his boat sinks. In the case of CATASTROPHE, he always puts what he has to excellent use. Like his trunk. Even the tiniest island imaginable (see cover!). You need to read it to discover Arnold’s genius for yourself!

Leo’s illustrations are intricate, tactile and fill me with a warm picture-book GLOW.

The story is simple, imaginative, funny, WISE.

‘Arnold did his best to salvage the situation.’

You will laugh out loud, you will wonder inside, you will ponder. You will soar like a kite with the joy of reading a book that surprises and delights.

Elephant Island is like a fabulous fable that might be about conservation, or refugees, or human connections and kindness, or community survival. It is also a terrific story for the sake of story and I love it to bits. I am giving a copy of this book to a friend. I recommend you get a copy for yourself and then choose a child or an adult to give a second copy to. GLORIOUS!

‘Good songs travel fast.’

Leo Timmers was born in Belgium in 1970. Trained in graphic design, he illustrates for Belgian magazines and papers as well as illustrating picture books.

Gecko Press page

Poetry Box review: Eirlys Hunter’s The Uprising – The Mapmakers in Cruxcia

Poetry Box November challenge – using poetry forms

The Uprising – The Mapmakers in Cruxcia, Eirlys Hunter, illustrations by Kirsten Slade, Gecko Press, 2021

Eirlys Hunter’s The Mapmakers’ Race (2018) was a thrilling read. An original story, beautifully written, with terrific characters. I wanted more! And now my plea is answered because Gecko Press has just released a second volume featuring the magnificent mapmaking family: The Uprising – The Mapmakers in Cruxcia.

In the first book the Santander children (Sal, Joe, Francie and Humphrey) win an exciting map race but in the second book their quest feels a lot more personal. Their father has gone missing on his mapmaking expedition. A clue turns up. They find themselves in Cruxcia. But this is no idyllic valley in the ancient mountains. The locals are struggling to save their precious land from the greedy, most definitely mysterious (and you could go so far as to say evil) goals of the Grania Trading Company. Disastrously Humphrey and the Santanders’ mother fall ill after drinking toxic water, so it is up to the children to find and rescue their father, and to help the locals defeat a powerful enemy.

Some of the locals recognise the Santander children are friends not foe, in fact extremely useful friends to have. The children are smart, daring, cunning, imaginative, and extremely skilled mapmakers. You get to care about the family, you get caught up in their quest, and I was crossing fingers and toes that their cunning plans and scary risks would pay off.

Like all good heart-racing adventures, the novel is more than a fast moving plot. The place itself, this haven valley, comes alive as you read. I love how Eirlys makes my tastebuds pop with food. Food is such a tasty way to connect people and draw close to some place different. The children reach for the sunderstrum tin for a snack! They pack pasties, apple cake and nuts for their long trip, and Hessa makes a chewy farron porridge for breakfast. I also love how celebrations are important. The people of Cruxcia celebrate Hallowmas, but they don’t decorate a pine tree, they hang family trees on the wall, and tell stories of their ancestors. The Santander children mourn their ancestor gap. They don’t know the stories. Ah. I felt that gap.

Driving the adventure story are ideas that really resonate with me: what home means, and how we care for it, both individually and as communities. How we work together for the good of the planet (our collective home). How kindness can play a part in living our lives.

The cover image shows Kirsten Slade’s illustrations are full of mood and detail – they are like pocket mappings of buildings, mountain routes, town streets. A perfect fit.

To read a book that is gripping yet also sparks with fascinating life is the very best thing. Eirlys is one of our treasured children’s authors, and this novel underlines why. I highly recommend finding a cosy nook and losing yourself in the crannies of The Uprising. It’s simply glorious, and I do so hope there is another Eirlys Hunter novel in the pipeline!

Eirlys Hunter is a London-born fiction writer who lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She has published seven books for children as well as a novel and short stories for adults. Hunter teaches writing for children at the IIML at Victoria University. Eirlys Hunter’s website.

As an illustrator, writer and creator of comics, Kirsten Slade uses a variety of traditional and digital media techniques to tell her own and others’ stories. Born in Liverpool, England and an immigrant three times over, Kirsten now makes her home in Wellington, New Zealand. She has a BA in Printmaking from American University in Washington, DC.

Gecko Press page

Poetry Box review: Clotilde Perrin’s Inside the Suitcase

Poetry Shelf October poem challenge

Inside the Suitcase, Clotilde Perrin, Gecko Press, 2021

I love picking up a new Gecko Press book. I love not knowing what will unfold inside. I love picking up a Gecko Press book when the world is on a tilt and I am on a tilt. I love the way excellent picture books can lift you up so you float and daydream-drift like a feather. This week I have read and reviewed two delicious daydream books in a row!

Inside the Suitcase is a book of the utmost comfort and daydream-drift. I love this book so much, I wish I were the richest woman in the world and could buy a copy for anyone who needs a picture-book comfort boost.

Such love and care have gone into the production of this lift-the-flap book delight.

Behind the hills is a delightful cottage and inside the delightful cottage is a suitcase that a child is packing. Lift the suitcase flaps and you will discover what the child packs. Read the story and you will discover how each item plays a part in the child’s journey into the great unknown. The mysterious and fascinating elsewhere.

I loved the way this book surprised me every time I started flap lifting, so I am sure in primroses not going to spoil the delights for you. I smiled the whole way through. I warm glowed the whole way through.

The illustrations are warm and full of exquisite life.

I love the epigraph at the start: ‘A good traveller has no set plans and no destination.’ Lao-tzu.

We are inventing new ways of travelling in our tilted world. But we are also reclaiming old ways of travelling, such as reading picture books, both fascinating and excellent.

The epigraph is also my maxim for writing: setting sail into the great unknown, whether writing a poem or a story, because I never know exactly what will happen when I start writing.

I would like to gift a copy of this book to one person who would benefit from a comfort boost. Message or email me, or leave a comment, if you can recommend someone.

Inside the Suitcase is a lift-the-flap book of joy and discovery.

EXTRA for keen young readers and writers: For my October poem challenge I have invited children to use the first lines of books to kickstart a poem. I did three sample poems. I used the first sentence of Inside the Suitcase for one example. I actually wrote the poem before I read the book – so my poem is completely different. It was such fun to do. Give it go!

Clotilde Perrin is an illustrator and author living in Strasbourg. She has published over 30 books including the international lift-the-flap bestseller Inside the Villains.

Gecko Press page

Poetry Box review: Joy Cowley’s ‘The Tiny Woman’s Coat’

Poetry Box my October poem challenge

The Tiny Woman’s Coat, Joy Cowley and Giselle Clarkson, Gecko Press, 2021

Sometimes all you need is a book that is as good as a bowl of comfort soup. A book that fills you up with warm glows so that even the gloomiest day brightens.

I was feeling really glum, the sky outside was dismal grey, I had a head full of little worries that together grew together like a snowball.

So I picked up Joy Cowley’s The Tiny Woman’s Coat with illustrations by Giselle Clarkson. A perfect choice. The story is sublime. The illustrations are sublime. Double dose of sublime.

I read the book in one sweet gulp and truly the sky lightened, the birds started singing, and the icy snowball in my head melted away.

This beautiful book is comfort at its very best. The tiny woman, shivering and shaking, needs a coat, but she doesn’t have anything to make a tiny coat with! So she heads out wondering where she will find what she needs. Yes! The tiny woman plans to make a coat, not buy a coat. I love that! She will need cloth and scissors, a needle and thread, and buttons. Everyone she meets (a grey goose and a friendly horse for a start) has the perfect gift for her.

The illustrations are exquisite: the colour palette perfect, and the lines deliver life and animated character with a lightness of touch.

Three words resonate as I read: simplicity, lightness and KINDNESS. Three perfect words to carry on days of gloom and grey.

Thank you Joy, Giselle and Gecko Press for this gift of a book. I am going to savour the story and the illustrations again today.

EXTRA for keen young readers and writers: For my October poem challenge I have invited children to use the first lines of books to kickstart a poem. I did three sample poems. I used the first sentence of Joy and Giselle’s book for one example. I actually wrote the poem before I read the book – so my poem is completely different. It was such fun to do. Give it go!

Gecko Press page

Joy Cowley is one of New Zealand’s best-loved writers. Her awards include the Margaret Mahy Medal; the NZ Post Children’s Book Award 2006; the Roberta Long Medal, Alabama, USA; and the AW Reed Award for Contribution to New Zealand Literature. She is a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Giselle Clarkson is an illustrator from Wellington, New Zealand. She once drew a picture of some biscuits that was shared online so many times that they put her on TV. As well as illustrating children’s books, Giselle is a regular contributor to the NZ School Journal. She writes a comic about children’s books for The Sapling, and makes educational comics about important and exciting environmental topics. She loves to have adventures at sea and on remote islands best of all. Giselle has a degree in photography from the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.

The Tiny Woman’s Coat

Poetry Box review: Julia Liu and Bei Lynn’s Leilong the Library Bus

Leilong the Library Bus, by Julia Liu and illustrated by Bei Lynn, Gecko Press, 2021

I remember how much I loved going to our local library when I was child and coming home with a TIPPLE TOPPLE TOWER of books, books about everything. Every book was an excitement package waiting for me to open and read compulsively. So I picked up Leilong the Library Bus and felt excitement buzz along my arms, especially when I read the first page:

Leilong’s friends are taking him to story time at the library.

“You’ll love it there,” Maggie tells him.

“They have books about everything,” says Mo.

I never caught a ride to the library on the back of a dinosaur as Mo and Maggie do. How I would love to have done that! Leilong the dinosaur fills with such magnificent book excitement he goes as fast as the fastest thing you can imagine. Not the best choice when he gets pulled over by a police officer. Oh dear.

There are road rules and there are library rules (although libraries are not like they were when I was a child). Libraries won’t be fond of excited and boisterous dinosaurs. Oh dear.

There is a door into the library for Mo and Maggie but is there a big door for a big dinosaur? Oh dear.

I don’t want to spoil this mouth-watering story for you. Rules are rules, as Leilong gets told. Leilong’s book excitement leads to story excitement leads to a shaking-building excitement leads to being growled at leads TO A REVIEWER (me!) in danger of giving the story away. We can’t have that. Oh dear no!

The what-next is magical. The ending is genius. The book is a heart-moving CELEBRATION of why stories matter so very much, and why some of us can’t stop reading them, listening to them, or writing them, even when you are nearly as old as the stars as I am! Stories are us. Stories are there. Stories are here.

The illustrations are EXUBERANT! So full of nooks and crannies and extra little stories for you to discover. And I love the colours. Genius.

Get a copy of the book, find someone to read it to, then dance on your tiptoes together as you fill with the joy and power of story. Yes! I ADORE this.

Julia Liu has worked as an editor of children’s fiction at several of Taiwan’s biggest and most prestigious publishers, and has published picture books, illustrated biographies of Einstein and Archimedes and a collection of fairy tales.

Bei Lynn is an award-winning Taiwanese illustrator who has written and illustrated over 20 picture books, stories, magazines and comics. Her works have been recognized by various awards and honors, including Hsin-Yi Children Literature Award, China Times Best Children’s Book of the Year, Taipei Public Library Best Children’s Book, and the Best Chinese Children’s Picture Book of Feng Zikai Chinese Children’s Book Award.

Gecko Press page

Poetry Box review: Fossils from Lost Worlds

Fossils from Lost Worlds, Hélène Rajcask and Damien Laverdunt, Gecko Press, 2021

Fossils from Lost Worlds is a large-size hardback book of fascinations. Pick up this glorious book and head back into the distant past and go digging. Fossilised animals are like pocket storybooks, full of mystery, questions, clues. Scientists and fossil collectors have dug and questioned and opened windows onto history that might be on the wrong track altogether – but then again may be ILLUMINATING. A torch light on past times.

Go digging in The Beginnings of Animal Life, Reign of Reptiles, and The Age of Mammals and Birds. You will find loads of intriguing questions that will get your curiosity taste buds popping.

What did the oldest animal on Earth look like?

What ancient secret is hidden in the mountains at Burgess.

How did fish learn to walk?

How did T. rex become a movie star?

Did dinosaurs have scales, fur or feathers?

The writing is sweetly crafted, the intricate illustrations perfect. Each page is like a station stop on the railway line of history, a place where you pause and absorb things.

Five fascinating facts

Fairy loaves: In England, fossilized sea urchins were called “fairy loaves’. Some thought keeping them in your house meant they would never be short of bread.’

Today paleontologists agree that dinosaurs have not completely disappeared: birds are their descendants. But it took a long time to see this connection.’

‘The many long, thin vertebrae making up the tail of the Diplodocus suggest that it was very flexible and used as a whip to defend itself.’

The appearance of dinosaurs’ skin is still under debate. It seems likely their skin was bright and vivid.’

Is it possible to reconstruct a dinosaur’s roar? While some paleontologists think not yet, others tried to simulate the sound of a T. rex. A far cry from the roars in Jurassic Park, the sounds they got were closer to gurgles or crocodile grunts.

What a fabulous book this is! I do hope it finds a place on every school-library shelf, and in the homes of all young readers who love digging and delving for fascinating things as they read. Magnifique!

Hélène Rajcak was born in 1981 in Paris. She lives and works in Paris as an illustrator. She studied illustration at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs in Paris and has also trained as a textile designer.

Damien Laverdunt was born in 1978. He lives and works in Paris as a writer and illustrator and teaches applied arts at the Lycée de Sèvres.

Gecko Press page

Poetry Box review: Ulf Stark’s Can you whistle, Johanna?

Poetry Box April poetry challenge

Can you whistle, Johanna? Ulf Stark, illustrated by Anna Höglund, Gecko Press, 2021

One of my favourite memories as a children’s poet was taking children to read their poems to old people in retirement villages. It was so very special. The young and the old loved it equally, especially talking to each other at the end. There were warm glows on everyone’s cheeks! Wide smiles. Sadly I just don’t seem to have time to do it at the moment but I do hope some other energetic poet gives it a go.

I think this shiny memory added to my delight in reading Ulf Stark’s Can you whistle, Johanna.

Ulf has a grandfather whom he loves dearly. They eat cake together on birthdays, go out to tea, and swap presents (five dollars and a cigar). The grandfather always eats pigs’ trotters. Ulf’s best friend Berra doesn’t have a grandfather and that feels like one terrible aching impossible-to-fill gap even though he doesn’t exactly know what grandfathers do.

Ulf comes up with a cunning plan and they go visit a retirement village where there are truckloads of old men. The boys definitely want one who eats pigs’ trotters and takes you out to tea and can teach you to whistle.

Ah, this is the sweetest most heartwarming story you can imagine. I laughed out loud and I felt good inside as I read. I especially love the bit about eating cherries from Mr Gustavsson’s extremely high tree in the dark. Oh and wanting to fish when there is no lake for miles but making something wonderful by making do with what is nearby (something rather special).

Sometimes you read a story and it sticks with you for days and you stop hanging out the clothes and writing the poem and weeding the garden and a little bit of the story lights up inside you. That’s how I feel with this glorious book.

I adore Anna Höglund‘s illustrations with their exquisite textures and colour palettes. I do wish children’s books included more details on the illustrations. It reminded me of the smell of crayons and pastels. Anna also illustrated the heavenly The Stone Giant.

Julia Marshall both translated and published the story. The sentences flow like clover honey and the book feels just right in your hand. Can you whistle, Johanna? was originally published in 1992 and made into a film. I can see why it is an international classic. I am so grateful to Gecko Press for continuing to publish books for children that are so very precious, and that always uplift stories with wisdom, verve and humour. When you read a Gecko Press book you get to feel the world.

I do hope loads of grandchildren read this to loads of grandparents – oh and truckoads of grandparents read it to truckloads of grandchildren.

Gecko Press page

Ulf Stark was a much-loved, award-winning Swedish writer. He has written around thirty books for children and young adults, and has been translated into more than twenty languages.

Anna Höglund is a Swedish illustrator and author. Her work has been recognized with Swedish and international awards. She has worked with many well-known authors including Barbro Lindgren and Ulf Stark.