Tag Archives: poetry box review

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 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: Gavin Bishop’s Atua Māori Gods and Heroes

Poetry Box November challenge – using poetry forms

Atua: Māori Gods and Heroes, Gavin Bishop, Penguin, 2021

Gavin Bishop’s Atua: Māori Gods and Heroes is one of those special books I imagine the author has germinated and carried for a long time, working with a publisher who has invested time and love to produce a book worthy of the original idea. The book is a treasure house, a gift, a kete stocked with an abundance of knowledge and wisdom in both the narrative and the artwork.

I am so moved by this book. It is like I’m holding a set of lungs breathing as I read, a warm heart beating, because the book is invested with significant life. Gavin begins in Te Pō, the dark nothing, and moves through to Te Ao, the light, the world. He leads us to Ranginui e tū nei, the great sky father, and Papatūānuku, mother earth. He guides us to some of their offspring, the seven gods given the most important jobs. He draws us through skies, oceans and the land, while the stars, the sun and moon, plants, trees, animals, birds and humans come into being. There is conflict, jealousy, respect, growth, wisdom. There is maternal and paternal love.

Each page is a resting stop. Read the narrative. Sink into the artwork. Linger over the little pockets of information, harvest new knowledge. Check out kauri or kawakawa, te waha o Tanē the dawn chorus, fish that ‘swim in sea water lit by the sun’ and fish that favour the deep. I learnt there are 28 native bee species that live in tunnels, not hives, and that don’t produce honey. You will meet the sacred and you will encounter the everyday.

The ink in Gavin’s pen is fluid. He looks forward to the past and acknowledges the present. I am always curious about the way illustrations are made, both the process and the media. I asked Gavin to describe it for me, and was delighted he used the word ‘old-fashioned’. There is something very satisfying abut stretching watercolour paper, squeezing paint from a tube, and sharpening the point of the brush when needed. The artwork is incandescent. Lovingly produced. I am drawn to the textured skin of the figures, the moods on the faces, the ability of paint to animate. This is art and it is stellar. From Gavin:

My approach to illustration is totally old-fashioned. I draw everything on pieces of paper and colour them in. All my pictures go through a lot of stages. The first sketches are very rough and done quickly. It is a matter of getting a fleeting idea down on the paper before it flits away. Just as I am going to sleep is a particularly ripe time for inventing very rough and done quickly. It is a matter of getting a fleeting idea down on the paper before it flits away. Just as I am going to sleep is a particularly ripe time for inventing images. They present themselves and won’t give me rest until I have scribbled them into the notebook I keep by the bed.  Next day, in my studio I redraw them more slowly, firming them up and imaging how they might fit on the page. Tracing paper is one of my main tools at this stage of things as it is again later when I transfer my drawings from sketching paper to watercolour paper to take the final art.  I still stretch the watercolour paper by wetting it and allowing it to dry. That way it doesn’t matter what techniques you use later, the paper will always dry flat which is important when it comes scanning. Colour is provided mainly by the use of coloured inks, liquid watercolour, acrylic and poster paint.

I find myself returning to the book over and over; as the tūī cawkles at me from the mānuka, as the pīwakawaka flits and zags, as I tend the garden, and gaze at a midnight moon. I picture this book in the arms of a parent as they read to youngsters, as teachers hold it up to a class. It is a book of Māori gods but it is also a handbook for life. How to be kind to earth, how to be kind to ourselves, and to those near us. I am reminded how stories have resonant, necessary and enduring power, and can be sung, whispered or rendered in paint. How we pass stories along, and as Gavin suggests, adding this and that. I hold this book out to you, hoping you will hold it out to someone else, young or old. It has earned a place upon our shelves of book taonga.

Penguin page and author bio

Poetry Box review: Bill Nagelkerke’s The Ghosts on the Hill

Try my October poem challenge

The Ghosts on the Hill, Bill Nagelkerke, The Cuba Press, 2020

Bill Nagelkerke writes terrific poetry for children so it is not surprising his junior novel sings in the ear. I love the novel for its attention to detail.

The story takes place in Lyttelton in 1884, and the story imagines what might have happened to two young boys who went missing on the Bridle Path in a storm. Bill has used newspaper archives to research the real-life event, but nobody ever found out exactly what happened. Their bodies were found but not the full story. So Bill gets imagining.

Elsie likes fishing and being outdoors. She does not like going to school. She feels bad, a deep sadness, at the tragedy. She yearns to know what happened. Mrs James was the last person to see the boys alive and is also plagued with sadness and regret. Mr James often fishes alongside Elsie on the pier, and has many a gold nugget of wisdom to share. She misses her dad who lives elsewhere. Especially his stories.

I muse on how different things were for children then. Choosing not to go to school. Heading off alone to cross the Bridal Path. Roaming in the neighbourhood. A ‘wild childhood’ as a terrific exhibition at Auckland Museum once said. I’m also musing on how tough it was for women who raised children on their own, doing domestic chores without modern day appliances and gadgets, working fingers to the bone. No time for themselves. As poor as can be. Different freedoms and different restrictions for both adults and children. I love how Bill’s book sparks trains of musings.

But the book explores a mystery. The scene is set. Elsie sets off across the Bridle Path to deliver hand-me-down baby clothes to her newly born cousin but, more importantly, to follow in the boys’ footsteps. She wants to get closer to what may have happened. However, just as it was for the boys, the weather is about to turn to storm.

Here is where I step back and leave the unfolding story behind a screen so you can unfold it yourself. Bill has written a layered and captivating novel that gets you thinking about regret, personal safety, how times change on the one hand and stay the same on the other. Elsie is complex and compelling character. I especially loved her conversations with Mr James.

I gobbled The Ghosts on the Hill up in a flash. And yes the title is a clue!

A former children’s librarian, Bill Nagelkerke has written short stories, poems, plays and books for all ages, as well as translating other people’s books from Dutch into English. His novel Old Bones (2006) was a Storylines Notable Book and Sitting on the Fence (2007) was a finalist in the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. In 2013 he was awarded the Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal for a distinguished contribution to New Zealand children’s literature and literacy.

The Cuba 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: Melinda Szymanik’s The Time Machine & other stories’


Melinda Syzmanik The Time Machine & other stories Ahoy, The Cuba Press 2019



I remember reading short stories as a child and loving them – stories with various characters and settings and situations. Fables. Myths. Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree. And in the past few years I have ADORED Joy Cowley’s Snake and Lizard (Although that has the same characters).

Melinda Syzmanik is a versatile writing whizz (The Were-Nana, The Song of Kauri, A Winter’s Day in 1939) who recently published a terrific collection of short stories (18 stories and a novella). Not surprisingly it has been shortlisted for the NZ Children’s Book Awards this year.

The writing flows like honey. The characters are catchy. The situations surprising. Sometimes there is sense of fable  – not that these have animals as protagonists or they are at all surreal. No these stories are bitingly real. And that’s what I love – understated lessons on what it is to be human. Instead of dogmatic messages there are questions. The questions are like the hot bright core of story and the stories unfold about them in kaleidoscopic directions.


Here are a few favourites:

What does a cool teacher do when you just can’t sit still in class?

What do you do when you don’t have a horse but desperately want one?

What happens when you think you are hopeless at maths and your grandmother turns in the middle of the night with a recipe for soup?

What happens if you think museums are boring (maybe even the world is boring!)?

What happens when a farming family is ordered to leave their farm during WWII?

What hope is there when you are picked on as a child?

How can you find strength in being different?


So many of these questions have affected us. We can’t always fit into the rules and regulations. Surely we all suffer from self doubt at times. At not being good enough. Some of us have been bullied. Some of us have found life boring.

I love the way such important questions hide in the stories and Melinda comes up with surprising and wise responses. There will be crocodile teeth! A speeding go-kart. A time machine. A pirate’s eye patch. There is braveness and daring.

Good short story collections are like a chocolate box for me – a sweet array of different tastes that pop on your tongue – eat one and you carry the flavour all day. And then you try a different flavour. Melinda’s stories can be sweet, sharp, crunchy or smooth. They can be sad, fascinating, zinging with facts, spinning feelings and discoveries. They shine a thousand lights on what it means to be human. There are hurdles and there are joyful discoveries.

This is a chocolate treat of a book – that deserves to be an award finalist.

So a big celebratory bouquet to New Zealand’s writing whizz and her first short story collection.


The Cuba Press author page










Poetry Box celebrates David Hill’s Taking the Lead: How Jacinda Wowed the World



Taking the Lead: How Jacinda Wowed the World  David Hill,  illustrated by Phoebe Morris, Penguin Random House, 2020


This inspiring new book seems to have arrived at just the right moment. It is the story of how a young girl (Jacinda Ardern) becomes the Prime Minister of New Zealand.  It is the sixth book David and Phoebe have done on famous Kiwis.

When Jacinda was little she had wanted to be a clown, maybe even a scientist, but when she saw children around her with no school lunches she wanted to change that, even though other children laughed at her and said she couldn’t do that.

We can’t all be Prime Minister of New Zealand nor would we all want to be. But we can dream and we can make things happen. I always loved writing as a child but I never believed I could be a writer with books until I had done a lot of other things.


Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is now steering our country at a time when she has to make decisions no leader in our country has ever had to make before. In her I see the little girl who wanted to make sure every child had food in their lunch boxes.

I loved discovering some of the things JACINDA did on her road to being leader:

Her first driving lesson was on a tractor in an orchard.

She went to university and then worked for the Labour Party and did research for Helen Clark.

She worked in a soup kitchen in New York.

She worked in London and worked for equal opportunities for children.

She travelled to lots of countries.

She become an MP in 2008 and was the youngest. In her maiden speech she called for action against climate change and for te reo to be taught in schools.

Newspapers and TV  criticised her as a pretty woman too weak for the job.

She became Leader of the Labour Party in 2017. She had big ideas to improve the lives of New Zealanders, especially children.

That year she become Prime Minister and in 2018 she had baby Neve. Many people loved  the fact a Prime Minister could also be a mother. Some didn’t!

In 2019 when a terrorist killed many people at the Christchurch mosque she wore a hijab as a sign of respect. She called for unity.

That year Fortune (a US magazine) put in her on a list of the world’s greatest leaders.

All along the way people have criticised Jacinda. A bit like calling you names in the playground. But she says she always gets on with the job. When people claim she can’t do something she just keeps trying.

Today that is exactly what she is doing when we are facing the hardest time imaginable. I see the young girl shining through who favours kindness even when she is having to make hard choices with the support of her Government.


David Hill is one of my favourite New Zealand children’s authors and was just the right person to write Jacinda’s story. This is an easy to read, heartwarming story that inspires you to do good things. We don’t all need to great things. Ordinary everyday things can be just as important. But we can learn to ignore the people who put us down and say we can’t do this and we can’t do that. Jacinda is saying ‘We can do this!’ And I think we can.

I read this book before the sun came up and thought yes, in this extraordinary time in the world when we have no sure idea of what will happen, like Jacinda I know we can help, we can be kind, we can invent new ways to do things in a year when it looks like we will have to do things very differently.

I loved reading this. It has inspired me so much.

Penguin Books author page






Poetry Box review: I Would Dangle the Moon by Amber Moffat




I would Dangle the Moon, Amber Moffat, MidnightSun Publishing, 2019



Ah I love moon poems and I love moon picture books. Amber Moffat’s debut picture book is a little gem. I adore the illustrations – my favourite so far in 2019. The colours are exquisite – a mix of pitch black night and sumptuous blues, purples and greens. I love the way the drawings are dreamlike yet real. they really are something quite special.

And now for the terrific story. The opening painting shows a mother telling her daughter a  bedtime story – this story! – and the listening girl becomes part of it.

The moon story builds along a refrain (a repeated start to the idea on each part):


If I were a farmer, I would plant the moon

in the middle of my field so you could watch

it crack the earth as it grew.


Turn the page and the farmer becomes a snail who carries the glowing moon on her back and takes the girl flying. All the house rooftops look like a patchwork quilt. It is utterly gorgeous.

You will find out what a jeweller, mountain, mother hen, baker, tree, ice cream maker,  dog and wave will do with the moon. And then you will reach the end of the story and find out what the mother and her daughter do.


It    is         m o o  n    s h i n e     g l o r i o u s!


Amber’s imagination leaps and drifts.

The writing is simply beautiful and beautifully simple.

The ideas make shiny pictures glow like the moon in your head.


If I was an ice cream maker

I would scoop up the moon,

put it in a cone for you,

and sprinkle stars on top.


I love this book so much I am going to make my August poem challenge a moon poem challenge.

Find a copy of this beautiful, heart-warming book; then find a cosy cosy chair and lose yourself in the gleaming pages. Exquisite. Let me know what you think of it! (paulajoygreen@gmail.com)


Amber Moffat is a writer and visual artist living in Western Australia but Dunedin is her hometown. She was awarded a Paper Bird Fellowship in 2018 and completed the art work for I would Dangle the Moon (her debut picture book) during her residency at Freemantle’s Paper Bird Books and Arts.


MidnightSun Publishing author page