If you’d told me when I was ten years old that I’d still enjoy a Famous Five tale 30 years later I’d have been thrilled. If you’d told me that at 15 I’d have been mortified. Such is the inextricable (and uncool) bond that Enid Blyton’s youthful sleuths have with childhood, innocence, and jolly good fun.
But things have changed and so have George, Dick, Anne, Julian and Timmy. Get ready for “Enid Blyton for Grown-ups”.
The former Dorset-based cousins now flat together in London, have office jobs, mobile phones, and drinking problems (Julian). It’s now less “lashings of ginger beer” and more “out on the lash at the local”. Author Bruno Vincent’s reworking of Blyton’s much beloved characters incorporates humorous observations on modern life, knowing nods, and is positively soaked in irony.
Take, for example, George’s response to Anne’s suggestion that they all chip in for a Mother’s Day gift for Aunt Fanny, since she was practically a second mother to them all during their summers in Kirrin.
…My memory is that we were nearly killed about two dozen times. I think Mummy should count herself lucky to have escaped a custodial sentence for neglect…
Five Forget Mother’s Day sees the now young professionals grappling with mysteries of the “what do we get Aunt Fanny for Mother’s Day?” variety.
It’s a fun, quick read that somehow manages to be witty and modern whilst still retaining that “don’t worry, old bean, we’ll all muck in together and get through this sticky wicket” attitude that typified the original Famous Five.
An unexpected benefit of this particular title in the series (others on my “to read” list include “Five Go Parenting” and “Five on Brexit Island“), is that if you leave it lying around, your co-parent might take this as a passive-aggressive hint that Mother’s Day is Not To Be Forgotten. In my case this effect was unintentional, but it could perhaps be strategically deployed in families where forgetfulness is rife?
Five Forget Mother’s Day; conspicuously visible on a couch arm near you?
Yet another Kiwi icon passes. But his legend will live on.
John Clarke is someone many of us remember. For me it was as Fred Dagg, singing the immortal song “If it weren’t for your gumboots” played on National Radio storytime. For others it was his incredible skits on farming life and economics.
In later life in Australia, Clarke tried to shed the Fred Dagg persona. He made an indelible mark there with his scathing and incredibly intelligent political satire.
Before Boss Baby the movie there was … Boss Baby the book!
The film Boss Baby (2017) is loosely based on the 2010 book by author and illustrator Marla Frazee. Many a parent has thought that their little ones seem to rule the roost … sometimes they are downright tyrannical with a temper tantrum or two. Boss Baby is a delightful metaphor. Here, parents are the overworked staff of Boss Baby, put upon by his demands. Coincidentally topical, Boss Baby may remind you of a certain world leader making headlines for similar behaviour.
The Boss Baby (2010) From the moment he arrives, it is obvious that the new baby is boss and he gets whatever he wants, from drinks made-to-order around the clock to his executive (play) gym. He makes demands. Many, many demands. And he was quite particular. If things weren’t to his immediate satisfaction, he had a fit. He didn’t say a single word that made any sense at all but that didn’t stop him. He was born leader.
The Bossier Baby (2016) Boss Baby used to be in charge of his family, but that was before he got an even bossier baby sister. She demoted him and made herself CEO and set about restructuring the organisation (aka the family). She had a full-time social media team and a private limo (cue pram envy). Boss Baby was sidelined until they started working cooperatively to rule their workers (aka parents).
It is with great sadness that I write a tribute to one of New Zealand’s best cartoonists.
Murray Ball (26 January 1939 – 12 March 2017) was from my home town, Feilding. Stanway I’m pretty sure, or at least Halcombe. Proud as punch they are – because he also made the All Blacks.
Murray Ball was someone who made us laugh, love, dream, and curse the Nor’ Wester. He brought great characters to life in Wal, The Dog, Horse, Cooch, Cheeky Hobson, and many others besides.
I’ve always been into comics. Footrot Flats is a love I share with my Dad. I remember collecting the annuals to add to our collection. We all went to the movie. A friend of mine walked down the aisle to “Slice of Heaven.” Lol.
Murray’s cartoons and characters addressed pivotal moments and issues in our history – the Springbok Tour coming to mind – rugby being very close to Ball’s heart. I still have the clipping from the Manawatu Evening Standard, when the Dog wrote in to say he was hanging up his All Black Jersey.
Emily Writes is a Wellington-based writer whose blog posts have a habit of going viral. She is mother to two year-old Ronnie and four year-old Eddie and over the last couple of years I have chatted with her online quite a bit.
With a three year-old myself our online conversations have covered the full range of parental indignities from pregnancy and childbirth to toddler tantrums and terrible things that have happened to our soft furnishings. But also moments of delight… and Alexander Skarsgård gifs.
Emily’s new book, Rants in the dark, is proving a hit with parents across the country. Ahead of the Christchurch launch event at Scorpio Books next week, Emily chatted to me about her book, how she writes, and shared some favourite reads of her own.
So you started out blogging about parenting stuff, segued into somewhat tipsy movie reviews, have become the parenting editor at The Spinoff and now you have a book out. The next inevitable step is the biopic of your life, so the real question is… who will play you?
Oh my gosh, that is so hilarious. Alexander Skarsgård would need to be my husband in a movie and we would need to have many off-camera dress rehearsals and practice runs.
I would really like it if Beyoncé could be me… I love her… My inspiration is Beyoncé so I would like to meet her. Because if she played me in a movie I could meet her and then maybe we would become best friends.
I’m now thinking about this a lot. Because it would probably be like a Shortland Street actor, right? Or someone who could do a believeable Kiwi accent, so maybe it could be… Nicole Kidman in a fat suit or something? Or… Cate Blanchett’s very good at accents.
What were you aiming for in writing “Rants in the dark”?
I hope that it is kind of a friend in the night to mums and new mums. If they’re awake at 3am or something like that – I wrote it at 3am. So I hope that it feels like somewhere they can turn in the night when they’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. Or during the day, or any time. I hope that it’s a different kind of parenting book.
It’s not a place for advice, or judgment or “I know what I’m doing” because I definitely don’t know what I’m doing. I hope that it just makes mums feel good about themselves but not in a “yoga” way.
Do you feel like there is a niche that parenting books weren’t quite hitting and that that’s where “Rants in the dark” sits?
I guess, yeah. I got What to expect when you’re expecting when I was pregnant and it kind of terrified me, and it’s also a bit like reading a dictionary. It’s quite a full-on book and I looked but I couldn’t find anything that properly prepared me – and I know that you can’t properly be prepared [for parenthood] – but I guess I wanted something like “hey, this might not be every single second of incredible delight. It will be amazing and the best thing ever but there will also be some really hard times”. That’s a really hard message to get across and maybe that’s why there aren’t books like that.
I just really felt like because we had tried so hard [to have a baby] that I would be ecstatic every second. And it’s that whole thing where, any parent talking about the hard times, you feel like you have to justify straight away – I am really happy… And that’s why it’s such a difficult thing to talk about but I think we really do need to talk about… the realness of parenting, I guess.
I felt, with Eddie’s illness… how did this ever happen? And that’s a really hard thing when you start motherhood with something that you never expected that turns your whole life upside down. So I wanted to write something that maybe resonated with those mums that didn’t have this super smooth run into motherhood.
Sometimes I felt, when Eddie was really sick, that all these mums around me just had these perfect lives, and I know that that’s not true… but I felt very weird, alone and kind of “othered”… And I know that a lot of mums who have babies that have health conditions or are prem or that type of thing, they feel that too. So I hope that in that way it serves the community.
Emily Writes is not your real name, is it? Why did you feel the need to work under a pseudonym?
I guess the pseudonym is about the fact that I want to protect the privacy of my children. Every step of the way I’ve had boundaries and wanted to respect their privacy, and not only privacy but for me it’s about respecting them as people. …We talk a lot about what I’m writing, in terms of respecting the boys, but there’s a lot of trust there that I’m never going to do something that hurts them.
But I guess I don’t want them to spend their lives with people saying things like “oh, is your mum blah, blah, blah”. And I don’t want them to be Google-able, if that’s a word. I don’t want them to feel like they are characters or anything like that and I want to respect my husband’s privacy. He’s a really shy person.
… It also allows me a little bit of separation… I want to be able to come home and I walk through the door and I’m with my kids. …I find this is sort of a way to remind myself that I am a mum first to my kids and a wife and that is really important to me that I prioritise that and this allows me to not get too far up my own a*** or something.
With two small kids, it must be a struggle to write sometimes.
It’s hard to get it good. I write heaps. My drafts folder is like a phonebook… but it’s all s***. It’s easy to write lots but trying to find something good enough to publish is hard.
What I did was all at 3am, 4am because my kid is just intense. Every time he woke up, if I had an idea, I would note it down during the night and the book is like lots of little blog posts in a book. So I didn’t have to change my way of writing or anything [from blogging]. So I feel like I was pretty lucky. I think writers who write actual books are amazing.
[I remind Emily that she has written an actual book]
Oh yeah, I have written an actual book. I forgot.
You just feel so lucky to have a book that you just feel very weird, and lucky and how did this happen? And it just doesn’t feel like it was hard because it’s so exciting. And also I didn’t do the grind like other writers did. I feel like I’ve been shot up the a*** with a rainbow, basically. I’ve just been very lucky.
What authors or writers do you yourself enjoy reading?
That’s a great question. I love Bunmi Laditan. I discovered her after I had started writing because someone said “you remind me of Bunmi” and then I went on her Facebook page and she’s just amazing in the way she talks about anxiety and mental health – just so powerful. I love Bunmi.
I love Clementine Ford. I just read Fight like a girl. I think that was really brave. It’s kind of like Feminism 101, a really nice sort of entry into intersectional feminism…
I really love Emma Neale whose book Billy Bird – I just cried the whole way through it – it was such a powerful metaphor for parenting.
I love Sarah Laing’s Katherine Mansfield book, Mansfield and Me. I love that book. It’s amazing. I wanted to read it because I really like her as a person. She seems super nice and lovely. I don’t know her but that’s how she seems. So I thought “I’ll just buy it because she seems really nice and I want to support New Zealand authors” and then I loved it. You know when you just don’t know if you’re going to like a book or not, and then it’s everything? And I never thought I’d be into a Katherine Mansfield book but I loved it.
You’re coming down to Christchurch and doing a book launch event at Scorpio Books soon.
Yes, I’m so excited to come to Christchurch and that Scorpio Books wants to host me. And I think someone is running around trying to organise a day event so that we don’t exclude mums who can’t go out during the “witching hour” because their children are tyrants. Which is my children. I don’t mean that to insult anybody’s children.
I’m quite nervous about the Unity launch in Wellington because my kids will be there but I feel like if they absolutely crack it, I’ll just be like “See? I told you. Everything in the book is true”.
The New Zealand Book Council are giving away one copy of Rants in the dark. To enter the draw, email email@example.com with “Rants” in the subject line by Thurs 16 March. (Remember to include your postal address!)
Do you find that appealing offerings on TV are rather meagre these days? If so, why not check out Access Video?
Access Video is one of our many eResources. It gives you access to thousands of streaming world-class documentaries, award-winning educational films, and helpful instructional videos on every known subject. The videos can be watched as a whole or just in segments. Some titles even have transcripts so you can read along if your hearing is impaired.
The library has recently added over 100 new titles to this collection. Although most are about some aspect of American life, there are many of interest to those of us Down Under.
They include a group about dance theatre, mainly set in New York, e.g.:
Sosua: Make a Better World, which tells the story of Jewish and Dominican teenagers in New York City’s Washington Heights, who together with the legendary theatre director, Liz Swados, put on a musical about the Dominican rescue of 800 Jews from Hitler’s Germany.
There are also many on important social issues, such as
Loose Change, which challenges the official record of September 11, 2001
Reflections on Media Ethics, which includes in-depth discussions with renowned filmmakers, journalists and academics, and interviews with Noam Chomsky, Albert Maysles, George Stoney, Amy Goodman, Jon Alpert and Mary Warnock
And for the Shakespeare fans or newbies, there is The Tempest (S1), presenting the Bard’s work as an animated masterpiece.
So instead of shaking your head in dismay at what’s on the box, try out Access Video – all you need to access it is your library card number and PIN/password.
I have been a fan of Star Wars for as long as I can remember and a large part of that reason was Princess Leia. Growing up in the 70s and 80s she was, along with Charlies’ Angels, the kind of cute but fearless hero that I longed to be like.
Later in life I came to appreciate Carrie Fisher for her other roles in films like When Harry met Sally, and more recently her brilliantly comic turn as the mother-in-law from Hell in sitcom Catastrophe, but most especially for her writing.
Having been equal parts amused and horrified by her earlier memoir Wishful Drinking*, late last year I placed a hold on her most recent effort, The Princess Diarist. I couldn’t possibly have imagined that by the time the book became available that she would be dead. How could I have? And even worse, that her family would suffer a double tragedy when her mother, Debbie Reynolds, would follow just a couple of days later. I wept unapologetically and over the Christmas period I watched song and dance numbers from Singin’ in the rain on YouTube and moped.
So it was with a somewhat heavy heart that I finally picked up The Princess Diarist and, after steeling myself and making sure a box of tissues was handy, started to read it.
But I barely needed them because, and this is the magic of writing and the author’s voice, Carrie Fisher was alive again on every page. Dripping with acerbic, self-deprecating wit and wordplay, The Princess Diarist was this amazingly comforting fan experience for me.
In case you didn’t know, the book is based on Fisher’s diaries from 1976 during the making of the first Star Wars film. The book is a mix of explanatory set-up of how she came to even been in the movie (or showbiz for that matter) and her observations on that time from a distance of some 40 years, as well as some really fascinating musings on the nature of fame, or at least her very specific version of it. And throughout runs her brutally honest humour and no BS attitude. The main revelation of the book is her on set affair, at the age of nineteen, with her married-with-kids co-star Harrison Ford. She dedicates a whole chapter to it which is, rather delightfully, titled “Carrison”.
You have the eyes of a doe and the balls of a samurai.
(Harrison Ford “breaking character” by saying something heartfelt to Fisher, as they parted company)
The book also includes a section of verbatim entries from the aforementioned diary. In some ways this was my least favourite part, only because it’s written by a rather tortured teenager about her less than satisfying love life and I have unfond memories of writing similarly tortured diary entries when I was the same age. I can immediately understand why it took her 40 years to publish any of it (There is poetry. About Harrison Ford being distant. It’s wonderful/terrible).
Having said that, Fisher’s diaries are much better written than those of the average teenager. She admits to having been rather precocious and the sly humour and clever use of language would read as being written but someone much older… if not for the This Is So Very Important And Deep style of diarying that teenagers of a certain sort are prone to.
So skim through that section, casting grains of salt as you go, would be my advice. But the rest of it is great – an absolute must-read for Princess Leia fans, or just fans of Fisher’s signature snappy rejoinders.
Having got through pretty much the whole book with nary more than a slight moistening of eye, I admit to some small amount of tearfulness upon reading the acknowledgments, primarily due to this passage –
For my mother – for being too stubborn and thoughtful to die. I love you, but that whole emergency, almost dying thing, wasn’t funny. Don’t even THINK about doing it again in any form.
Bow-wowie! Who let the dogs out? The second in the Dog Man series Dog Man Unleashed has just been um, unleashed, and Dog Man is on tour across Christchurch City Libraries.
Dog Man is the newest hero from the creator of Captain Underpants, Dav Pilkey. There’s something fishy in Dog Man Unleashed when Dog Man gets his boss, the Chief of Police, a freaky fish who accidentally ingests ‘supa brain dots’ instead of fish food and masterminds a treasure chests heist. The chief suspect however is Dog Man’s nemesis Petey the criminal cat, who gets taken to jail but manages to slip away by making himself as flat as paper and unfolding some origami outmaneuvers. Things turn a bit keystone cops and the puns are lots of fun (the fish costs “five bucks plus tacks”). And when Petey uses a phone booth, mailbox, newspaper, fax machine and a VCR player as weapons, on-looking kids have no idea what these things even are! Watch out for the Obey Spray and the Love Ray whose powers go awry and things turn a bit Jurassic Bark when Dog Man gets thrown the biggest bone ever. Speaking of paper tricks, Pilkey’s famous Flip-o-rama animated action is back too. (And don’t worry if you haven’t read the previous related books – there’s a quick recap of Dog Man’s genesis at the start).
Parents be warned, as the Chief sums up at the end of the story: “nobody learned anything… there was no atonement… no rebirth… no revelations… and not an ounce of character development or personal growth… it was all just a buncha mindless action and dumb luck” …Perfect! The kids will love it. The silliness in Pilkey’s books is so appealing to young children and his comics make a great ‘gateway’ to reading for kids who struggle with reading. (My son was so taken by Pilkeys ‘Hairy Potty’ character in Captain Underpants that one day he cut out menacing eyes and teeth from paper and taped them onto our toilet seat which gave us all a shock when we went to use the loo).
When Dog Man and Captain Underpants author Dav Pilkey last came to Christchurch a year and half ago, he delivered an inspiring presentation focusing on you can achieve despite learning and behavioural issues such as ADHD and dyslexia, like he had growing up. Dav was keen to point out that learning difficulties are no barrier to being creative or successful. When it was suggested to Dav as a child that he’d have to grow up and couldn’t write silly books the rest of his life, he proved them wrong. In fact, he mentioned many other notable dyslexics from Einstein and Beethoven through to Keira Knightley and Jamie Oliver. Dav’s slogan is: “Reading gives you Superpowers.”
Get into the libraries a grab a selfie with Dog Man himself.
Author of Captain Underpants, Superdiaper Baby and Ook & Gluk
I’m English and grew up on this one. If you enjoyed The Beano in your younger years, or are young now, you’ll get a laugh out of this annual. Many of the classic characters are still there – such as Dennis the Menace (and his dog Gnasher), The Bash Street Kids, Bananaman, Roger the Dodger and Minnie the Minx.
The old favourites look ever so slightly different, as some have been drawn by new artists. The stories are up to date with modern technology, media and language, but the essence of the old Beano remains.
Christchurch City Libraries also hold a really interesting History of The Beano which tells how Gnasher first arrived (then mysteriously disappears) in Beanotown. A must for purists.
And did you know, you can also view the latest weekly issues of The Beano on PressReader? The last three months are available – just sign in with your library card number and password.
South African born comedian Trevor Noah is a terrific talker – let there be no doubt about that. But can he write? Well here’s our chance to find out with his hot-off-the press biography Born a Crime.
Not the first sentence in the book, but right near the start of Chapter 1, is the following sentence:
I was nine years old when my mother threw me out of a moving car.
And the book careens onward from there. It is hilarious, heart-warming, revealing, educational, embarrassing (if you were born white in South Africa when I was), and yes, it is extremely well written.
Trevor Noah is worshipped in South Africa and by South Africans worldwide (I attended one of his shows in Christchurch a couple of years ago). On my recent SA holiday, all over Cape Town and Durban I saw people of all shapes, sizes, ages, colours and genders wearing Trevor Noah Born a Crime Tees. There were even a smattering of Trevor Noah for President shirts – and it is my one holiday regret that I did not buy one!
But he is also internationally known as the host of the award winning Daily Show, and now has his home in New York. If you are one of the few souls yet to hear him at his best, have a listen to this clip on airport announcements. Straight after that you might like to make a list of all the people who would love to find this book in their Christmas stocking, here’s mine:
Mothers and sons – Noah is at his best when he is on this topic;
People who love biographies of the Poor Boy Makes Good ilk;
People who thought they understood South African politics (pause here for hysterical laughter);
South Africans everywhere;
People who like a good laugh – and that’s pretty much all of us.
But, it’s not really a book review if you just love everything, so I have to confide that I hate the title Born A Crime which I don’t believe does the book any favours. Even though Noah references the title on page 26, it just doesn’t work for me.
So, in answer to the question “Can Trevor Noah write?” The answer is a resounding “Yes”. Trevor Noah can indeed walk the talk!
Born a Crime
by Trevor Noah
Published by Hachette New Zealand