Celebrating World Poetry Day – Wednesday 21 March 2018

It’s World Poetry Day today! As an occasional poet myself, I’m a bit embarrassed to say I didn’t know there was a World Poetry Day until earlier this week. Turns out the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization are behind it, declaring in 1999 that March 21st would be a day to celebrate poetry globally each year.

What’s so good about poetry though? For lots of people, poetry doesn’t really play a part in their lives – at the most, perhaps when people think of poetry they think of a stuffy 3rd form classroom, being lectured about World War One rhyming couplets and Shakespearean sonnets.

Poetry in the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre
Poetry in the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre. Central Library Manchester, Christchurch. Friday 22 August 2014. Flickr 2014-08-22-IMG_1608

But, as the UN says: “Poetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings…” which is a pretty comforting idea. At its most simple, I guess they’re saying that whatever background and culture and language you come from, poetry provides a way of explaining thoughts and feelings and ideas that maybe just don’t make as much sense in other formats. What would the Hogwarts Sorting Hat be without its introductory poem? The Oompa Loompas without their songs? And on a more serious note, those soldiers writing in the trenches certainly thought they could express their experiences more powerfully through poems; and the poems that come out of revolutions and wars and times of upheaval can give us insight into the humanity of a situation that a simple news report cannot. For most cultures around the world, storytelling, poetry, and spoken word are the key ways histories have been recorded and traditions have survived.

Phantom Poetry on High Street
Phantom Poetry on High Street. Flickr CCL-2012-07-IMG_5335

There’s plenty of opportunity to explore some poetry this World Poetry Day – a short walk around the city will get you face to face with a poem on a bollard or a wall with thanks to Phantom Billstickers poetry posters; a quick YouTube search and you’ll find plenty of slam and performance poetry (Button Poetry is a great place to start); and of course the library has plenty of poetry to get your hands on – why not start with Kate Tempest (UK); Rupi Kaur (Canada); or Selina Tusitala Marsh?


Or you could check out some live poetry! It’s happening all year round in Ōtautahi, with Catalyst, Faultline Poetry Collective, and Mad Poets Society all hosting regular events. There’s also a New Zealand National Poetry Day, celebrated this year on Friday 24th August where events and competitions are run all over the country.

It’s pretty clear that poetry is still strong, still living and breathing in communities all around the world – including right here!


Vale, Peter Temple (& Jack Irish)

It’s always a sad day when you hear of the death of someone whose work you have appreciated over the years. For me, this time, it’s Peter Temple; Australian crime author who died from cancer at his home in Ballarat on the 8th of March, 2018 at the age of 71.

Peter Temple was born in South Africa but immigrated in 1977 due to his anti-apartheid political stance. He moved to Germany at first and then two years later he arrived in Australia and began on his journey to becoming one of Australia’s great writers – and it was lucky for Australia!


He’s most famous for his books featuring Jack Irish; the loveable, roguish lawyer/drinker/debt-collector who likes a flutter on the nags and to prop up the bar at his local Fitzroy watering hole. The character of Jack Irish and the excellent use of language to convey the very matter-of-fact communications of the Australian working class male made these books a tremendous success and highly influential in the Australian crime writing genre. The books are entwined with plot twists and intrigue, corruption and politics, are very well paced, and perfectly capture the social nuances of Australian life. As do the television series that they have been turned into, featuring a who’s who of Australian acting and Guy Pearce as the main man Jack Irish. The producers really nailed the casting, the style, feel, and sense of place and the books really were celebrated in this particular telly treatment!

There are four books in the Jack Irish series, all worth reading but begin with Bad Debts. The tv series is available on DVD and to stream on Lightbox.

Peter Temple’s other books also saw critical acclaim. In 2010 he landed Australia’s most prestigious literary award, the Miles Franklin Award, for his novel Truth – sequel to The Broken Shore. For a crime writer to win the Miles Franklin was quite a coup and his acceptance speech was trademark self-deprecation and wry humour, inviting the judging panel to “…take the flack for giving the Miles Franklin to a crime writer”. His third book in this new series has not been presented to his editor as yet, but perhaps sometime on the future another Australian literary great will take the final steps and finish the story and we will see the results. Possibly a posthumous award to go with his Miles Franklin, his five Ned Kelly Awards, and his Duncan Lawrie Dagger!?

For now I suggest we kick back, appreciate the fact that our region has produced another great writer, and for fans I suggest a nostalgic re-read.

Or if you’ve never tried his books before, get stuck in, mate!

Vale, Peter Temple.

All About Women: Satellite Event at Christchurch Art Gallery, Sunday 4 March 2018

Cover Second SexI attended the live-streamed All about women sessions beamed in from the Sydney Opera House to the Christchurch Art Gallery on Sunday from 3pm to 7.30pm.

It was heartening to hear the introductory voiceover acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which the Sydney Opera House stands in both English and the local Gadigal dialect of the Dharug language.

The first session was called Grabbing Back: Women in the Age of Trump, chaired by Julia Baird and featuring author Fran Lebowitz, moderate Republican commentator Sophia Nelson, and Francesca Donner from the New York Times. Each of the panellists had been totally surprised and disheartened by Trump winning the Presidency. Nelson said she had a sense of foreboding when she saw huge Trump billboards all over rural Virginia where she lives. Lebowitz, the archetypal New Yorker, said she remembered three days in minute detail: Kennedy’s assassination, 9-11, and Trump’s election victory. She remembers the New York streets being empty at 3am on a Tuesday morning which is unheard of in “the city that never sleeps”. Donner felt that the media treated Hilary Clinton badly and that Trump’s victory was due to white fear of women and black people.

All of the panellists were puzzled by the fact that 53% of white American women voted for Trump given the many appallingly sexist comments he had made. The consensus of opinion was that those women had overlooked Trump’s sexism in order to vote for their men’s economic welfare.

Lebowitz and Donner disagreed that the #MeToo movement was not related to the rise of Trump with Donner arguing that the political climate provided the arena for the “whispers to become a roar”. Lebowitz said that #MeToo needed to concentrate now on the abuse of women in low-paid jobs. Nelson felt #MeToo needed to open up the conversation with men and that young boys needed to be taught to value women. Donner felt it was really positive that #MeToo had men now thinking much more about their behaviour.

The second session was #MeToo: the making of a movement, chaired by Jacqueline Maley and featuring Tarana Burke (Skyping just before the Oscars ceremony), and Tracey Spicer, an Australian investigative journalist.

Tarana Burke founded the MeToo movement in 2006 when it was a little-known and grassroots. The movement entered the global consciousness when actress, Alyssa Milano, started using #MeToo as an Internet hashtag in response to the allegations circulating about Harvey Weinstein.

Tracey Spicer, after 14 years with the Ten network, was dismissed in 2006 after returning from maternity leave when her second child was two months old. She took the Ten Network to court for discrimination and won. Tracey Spicer felt that the Australian media had failed to expose powerful male abusers and that women were stronger together if all their stories of being abused were told.

Tarana Burke was a community worker in Selma, Alabama, and she wondered why sexual violence wasn’t discussed as part of the social issues she was working with. As an abuse survivor from a young age herself, she felt that the young women she was working with needed a trajectory to healing. She felt a community problem needed a community solution, but most organisations were dealing with young women’s external needs, but not their internal needs.

In 1996, a shy young woman Burke calls “Heaven” told Burke how she was being molested by her mother’s boyfriend. Burke found Heaven’s story triggered her own trauma and she could not deal with it at the time. Burke later reflected that she wanted to say to Heaven “Me too”, but she couldn’t at that moment. Later, when Burke started sharing her story she found that the exchange of empathy between abuse survivors was healing.

When asked by Maley, Burke did not feel that Hollywood actresses had co-opted the MeToo movement. She felt the real co-opters were the media and corporations. Burke saw the global expansion of #MeToo as a real opportunity, but was worried about failing abuse survivors. She feels that the larger focus must be on helping those who really need the movement’s help.

Spicer made the important observation that sexual abuse/violence is a pyramid, with rape and sexual assault at the top and sexually inappropriate comments and put-downs and the like at the base. She said it all needed to be addressed as a pattern of behaviour that society should no longer tolerate.

Both panellists felt strongly that #MeToo can’t be allowed to fade into “hashtag heaven”, but must be sustained by engaging in the conversation with men and for women to continue applying pressure to the media and to politicians.

The third session was Suffragettes to Social Media: waves of Feminism, chaired by Edwina Throsby and featuring Barbara Caine, Anne Summers, Rebecca Walker and Nakkiah Lui. Each panellist spoke about the wave of feminism with which they were most familiar.

Barbara Caine spoke about the first wave of feminism. She said they started as very polite, upper middle-class women called the Suffragists until Emmeline Pankhurst made the movement more militant. The term, “Suffragette”, was coined by the Daily Mail newspaper with the intention of being patronising by using the diminutive ending “ette”. Pankhurst galvanised the movement by instigating property damage whereby the Suffragettes were determined to be arrested for the publicity and when they were jailed, they demanded to be treated as political prisoners. They sought the sexual mores of men, but were still somewhat exclusive as their aim was to seek the vote for white, middle-class women. Caine ascertained that the first wave ended with the advent of World War One.

Anne Summers was a protagonist in the second wave of Feminism. She was a young woman in the 1960s when the Vietnam War and Women’s Lib were prominent in the headlines. Although revolution was being espoused, she realised that “it was still women who were doing the shit work of the Revolution”.

Books such as Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex radicalised women in the 1960s who sought a total transformation of Capitalism and Imperialism. In Summers’ pithy phrase: “women wanted equal pay and orgasms”. Through their activism, they brought about many reforms including anti-discrimination, gender pay equality, rape crisis centres, better child care provisions and getting more women into higher education.

Summers said the ’60s and ’70s saw a flowering of women’s creativity and it never occurred to her or many of her fellow feminists  that the changes they had wrought would not be permanent. Unfortunately, John Howard’s government came to power in Australia in 1996 and “turned back the clock’ by dismantling many of the reforms.

Rebecca Walker spoke about the third wave of Feminism. She grew up believing in feminist ideals, but found, in the early 1990s, that many young women felt a “deep disconnect” with Feminism. She saw a need to re-radicalise a generation of women who felt alienated by Feminism. Women of colour felt left out of Feminism, seeing it as a white, middle-class movement. She perceived that the movement needed a more diverse leadership and had to emphasise both similarities and differences. She spoke of the need for third wave Feminism to become multi-issue, inclusive and working for all forms of equality.

Nakkiah Lui wasn’t sure if she represented a fourth wave of feminism, but, as a “queer black woman”, she knew she didn’t want to be part of the patriarchy. She said her feminist hero was her mother who had only identified herself as a feminist two years ago. Her mother grew up in a tent and had to leave school in Year 10, but she left a violent domestic relationship to go into tertiary education and now she works in Aboriginal communities empowering indigenous women.

Liu said many indigenous women in Australia still endure high rates of domestic violence, have lesser life expectancy and fear having their children taken from them by government agencies. As for fourth wave Feminism, she said there can be no “true victories if they don’t include all women”.

More about women

Harry Giles: Doer of Things (WORD Christchurch event, Tues 13 March 7.30pm)

I have to confess that I had never heard of Harry Giles before this assignment, but I was intrigued and curious.

Forward Prizes 2016

Harry Giles: Doer of things – WORD Christchurch event

Tuesday 13 March, Space Academy, 371 St Asaph Street.
Buy tickets $20 waged, $15 unwaged (service fees apply)
Presented by LitCrawl Wellington, Harry Giles appears with the support of the British Council in partnership with Writers’ Centre Norwich, UK as part of the International Literature Showcase.

According to the bio on Harry Giles’ website:

Harry Josephine Giles is from Orkney, Scotland, and is a writer and performer. They have lived on four islands, each larger than the last. They trained in Theatre Directing (MA with Merit, East 15 Acting School, 2010) and Sustainable Development (MA 1st Class, University of St Andrews, 2009) and their work generally happens in the crunchy places where performance and politics get muddled up.

You can go to Harry’s fulsome website if you wish to delve more deeply into their work but, as a precursor to the event, I will give you an overview.

I like Harry’s “mission statement” (my quotation marks): “My work is about what it feels like to live under capitalism, and how to survive and resist in a violent world.” I think many of us realise that capitalism is a flawed, if not failing, system for human beings. If Kylie Jenner can wipe $US1.3 billion off the share market value of the social media app, Snapchat, just by tweeting that she doesn’t use it any more, then clearly capitalism is ridiculous. If CEOs of major global corporations can earn many hundreds of times more than their workers, then clearly capitalism is amoral. And evidence of the violent tendencies of the human animal are widespread.

Harry is a very busy artist. They are all over many different media for conveying their art; poetry, video, installation and the internet being some of the ways Harry explores ideas and makes art.

Our catalogue doesn’t contain any of Harry’s work at present, but they have written this interesting piece about stone-hearted people called The Stoneheart Problem and you can watch and listen to Harry Giles read from their debut poetry collection,  Tonguit  Filmed at the Scottish Poetry Library, Harry reads Poem in which nouns, verbs and adjectives have been replaced by entries from the Wikipedia page List of Fantasy Worlds. 

So I’m looking forward to hearing and seeing how Harry Giles critiques life in the modern world and reporting back to you, gentle reader.

Dip your pen in your own psyche: An interview with Francis Spufford (WORD Christchurch event, Weds 7 March 7pm)

WORD Christchurch is bringing Francis Spufford to Christchurch, next Wednesday 7 March, 7pm at the salubrious venue of The Piano. Francis is in New Zealand as a guest of New Zealand Festival Writers and Readers. He has written seven books, on topics as diverse as science, history, theology, and politics. The Child That Books Built was a love letter to literature, and his first novel Golden Hill won the Costa Award for Best First Novel – it’s “a rollicking, suspenseful tale set in mid-18th century Manhattan, the novel pays loving tribute to the literature of that era”. Francis Spufford appears in conversation with Chris Moore.



Joyce is heading along to the session, and asked Francis some choice questions:

I read in a previous interview that you wished you’d had the gumption to write fiction earlier in your career. What held you back? And did you ever feel pigeon-holed by your publishers and readers?

The short answer is cowardice. I was and am a great believer in the scope for non-fiction to do adventurous things, revealing things. I never felt pigeon-holed or limited by non-fiction. But still, it seems to me that fiction draws much more directly on the writer’s understanding of human character and human behaviour. When you write a novel, you dip your pen in your own psyche, inevitably. You have to. And for a long time I was afraid that I didn’t know enough to write imaginary people without making a fool of myself.

The sex scene in Golden Hill was particularly squelchy, torrid and memorable! Traumatising as a reader, how on earth did you manage to conceive the scene and write it?!

Good! I wanted it to be clear that both parties were doing something completely disastrous, carried away by different kinds of fear: but which was very pleasurable to them both in the moment, in a greedy kind of way. I wanted the reader to be peeking through their fingers going ‘No! No!’ yet also feeling the gross turn-on of what they were doing. And to this I could bring the pre-Victorian novel’s ability to be a lot lewder than you were expecting, complicated by the grossness being channeled through a very book-dependent narrator who, though mischievous, is really not enjoying themselves at this point. That’s about six literary ambitions for one episode of torrid squelching.

I loved the contrariness, passion and conviction of your youthful characters, especially juxtaposed with the complacency and corruption of New York’s elder figures. Do you see that generational gulf in action in modern society too?

Isn’t it permanent that youth is contrary and passionate and idealistic, and age is complacent and corrupt? (Or at least corrupt-seeming to young people.) Having said that, I do think this is a moment in history when, in the U.K. and the US at least, the fears and the weaknesses of the middle-aged and the old really have led us into stupidities at which young people are rightly gazing with horror – because they’re stupidities at their expense, at the expense of the future. As a fifty-something writer I enjoyed getting to be, temporarily, twenty four-year-old Mr Smith and nineteen-year-old Tabitha.

Golden Hill portrays a young New York and embryonic America, with considerably more time passed do you see the USA as a successful society?

I think America grew up into a reservoir of idealism and principle which the world needs, and has benefited by incalculably. But I think that contemporary America, like the embryonic America Mr Smith visits, is also a culture which is not very self-knowing: a place which, to a dangerous degree, contrives to forget the darkness which has always been the flip side of its virtues.

Quickfire Questions!

Last time you cried?

While watching *Coco* at the cinema.

Book you wish you’d written?

Marilynne Robinson’s GILEAD.

Favourite biscuit?

I’m a slut for the chocolatey ones.

Describe the role of public libraries in 5 words

Portals to past, present [and] future.

Thanks, Francis!


Bibliobishi’s Optimistic Reading and Viewing for January and Beyond

Working as I do at Christchurch City Libraries, I hear of (and read) so many great books, and watch so many excellent movies and tv, that my For Later Shelf remains stationary, no that’s not quite true, it continues to grow. Shrinkage would mean less getting distracted by the ideal cover bringing such promise of a great read. Or a certain actor being in something I have not seen, mean’t to see but didn’t get there, fancy it because they’re in it etc.

This is the time of the year when gardening is what should be happening of course. Fruit and Vegetables are my thing so once the first mad rush of getting everything into the ground  is over I hope to be found with my feet up, glass of beer and a good book and here’s a taste of what might happen for Ms Bishi this month.


My Grandmother sends Her Love not too heavy but hopefully equally as enjoyable as Man Called Ove, also by Fredrik Backman, who comes highly recommended.

A touch of nostalgia here, re-visiting Soap. This could be great and the laughs as good as 30? years ago – or the remembered satirical humour will fail to ignite. Give it a go anyway.

How to Avoid Huge Ships and other implausibly Titled Books. Again not too demanding but I’m hoping for some good laughs and “You won’t believe this title” moments when Mr Bishi will give up trying to read his book and enjoy the humour.

The Reader on the 6.27 is an odd concept. This poor sod, Guylain, works in a book pulping plant, hates it, not fussed about his life either but stays sane by reading aloud on the train, pages he has saved from the pulper. One day he finds himself reading the diary of a lonely woman…. she sounds a lot like him….  This has huge promise and what a neat idea for a book!


I’ve been with great restraint making my way through the Shardlake series. History is fascinating and Henry VIII’s reign has to be one of the most interesting politically and religiously speaking. Add to that a good old fashioned murder or two and you have Matthew Shardlake, hunchback lawyer, brilliant brain, honest and used by Cromwell (and then Cranmer) to shine a light on murders and other nefarious goings on. C.J. Sansom writes so well its easy to forget which century one is living in.

These Dividing Walls promises a great story to disappear into if the cover is anything to go by.

The Lubetkin Legacy – Berthold Lubetkin considered himself an architect of the people, his belief ” nothing is too good for ordinary people”.  The ordinary people in this novel live in a Lubetkin building in London.  Peopled with a cross section of the UN and full of characters.  Sounds like good holiday reading.

Old Filth comes highly recommended and reading the synopsis is sufficient to warrant its place:”A touch of magic combines with compassion, humour and delicacy to make OLD FILTH a genuine masterpiece”.

CoverA touch of reality here: Whipping Boy, “The 40 year search for my 12 year old Bully” is the subtitle. Billed as part childhood memoir and part literary thriller, Alan Kurzweil obsessively tracks down Cesar Augustus, his bully over 40 years ago. Having written this I think this might be my next read.

How are your For Later shelves going? Or is it a notebook that you carry round with you, filled with suggestions from friends and staff?  Do share how you keep track of future reading.

Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2017

The end of one year and the start of another gives rise to lots of ‘Best of’ lists and reflections on what has stood out for the year. Here’s yet another literary round-up… 

The Best (& Worst) Children’s Books Evening co-hosted at the end of the year by the Canterbury Literacy Association and Christchurch City Libraries once again celebrated the best in children’s books.

Held annually, the event is a way to shout about and share the best books in a light-hearted end-of-year event, with no actual prizes awarded but an opportunity to hear from various experienced and enthusiastic practitioners and experts. It’s also a chance to gather together for the holiday season as a community of children’s literature enthusiasts, with like-minded folks across Canterbury. Attendees included a diverse section of professionals interested in children’s books from the National Library, the University of Canterbury, Christchurch City Libraries and Selwyn Libraries, to teachers and school librarians, all coming together at the newly rebuilt Ōrauwhata: Bishopdale Library and Community Centre.

And the ‘winner’ is…

CoverIt quickly became apparent that Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow – a debut novel by Australian Jessica Townsend – was the most notable book of the night, having been picked by several panellists who presented their top picks of 2017. But never mind about Nevermoor for now, let’s have a look at their other individual favourites…

Bookseller Picks

First up presenting was a representative from Paper Plus Bush Inn, Jo Harvey, who – aside from just Nevermoor – was also enthusiastic about:


She also wants everyone to know about Those Shipwreck Kids by and Magnus Chase Ship of the Dead. And as for favourite picture books, she picked Tidy by Emily Gravett.

PaperPlus Bush Inn kindly donated bursting book bundles for the evening’s raffle draw.

Dyslexic-Friendly Texts

Katie Lumsden, from Christchurch City Libraries, spoke next about dyslexic friendly texts, and sang the praises about new changes to Overdrive (Overdrive is a digital content platform used by libraries to offer eBooks and audiobooks). It now has a feature to make some texts more accessible for dyslexic readers. An app called Libby has a feature that highlights the text as it reads aloud (only applicable on our Read Along collection). Katie has recently delivered talks on dyslexic-friendly texts and resources at the 2017 LIANZA conference in September in Christchurch.

AshboyKatie chose Ash Boy: A Cinderfella Story by Lucy Coats as her top dyslexic-friendly read of the year. It’s a good fun story says Katie, and, like other books from publisher Barrington Stokes, is printed in traditional dyslexic-friendly reading format using yellow pages, specific layout techniques and sans serif typeface. It has an interest level of age 8-12, yet is edited to a reading level of age 7, to allow ease of reading while still pitching to older readers.

When Cinder Ashok’s father remarries, Cinder finds himself lumped with a horrible new step-mother and step-brothers! They bully Cinder terribly – all he wants is to be left alone in the library, his favourite place in the world. But will a fairy godfather and a royal quintain tournament mean Cinder has a happily-ever-after on the horizon? Fun spin on the Cinderella story.

You can read the first chapter of Ash Boy here.

Top Student Picks

Each year we hear directly from the voice of young readers themselves. Primary school children from Waitākiri Primary School and Redcliffs School Mia, Otto, Evie & Flynn each spoke well and confidently about their favourite titles they read in 2017:


Katie Lumsden (L) and Sophie O’Rourke (R) presenting their top picks at the Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2017 event, Ōrauwhata: Bishopdale Library and Community Centre, November 2017 

Best Picture Books

Sophie O’Rourke, junior teacher at Waitākiri Primary School, shared her plethora of engaging picture book titles of 2017 that stood out in her classroom, reading some funny highlights and telling us about the reactions and responses she gets from her Year 0-2 to the books – the real test of how well the authors and illustrators have hit the mark. A few highlights from the dozen chosen are  The Scariest Book Ever, Triangle, Creepy Pair of Underwear, A Place to Read (also titled as Are You Sitting Comfortably?) and Bug Bear.


Read Sophie O’Rourke’s full list of Best Picture Books of 2017

Best Junior Fiction

Zac McCallum, school librarian

Zac McCallum, formerly a children’s librarian from Christchurch City Libraries and also a previous children’s book awards judge, and now school librarian at Halswell Primary School, shared his delights of 2017 in the junior fiction category, including Nevermoor and:

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson. Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Matthew is trapped in his bedroom by crippling OCD, spending most of his time staring out of his window as the inhabitants of Chestnut Close go about their business. Until the day he is the last person to see his next door neighbour’s toddler, Teddy, before he goes missing. Matthew must turn detective and unravel the mystery of Teddy’s disappearance… Page-turning, heartbreaking, but ultimately life-affirming, this story is perfect for fans of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Wonder. It is a book that will make you laugh and cry. See Zac’s glowing review of The Goldfish Boy.


See Zac’s Best of 2017 Junior Fiction book list

Also check out My Best Friends are Books, Zac’s brilliant blog of children’s book reviews.

Best Older Fiction and Young Adult Reads

Author Rachael King, WORD Christchurch Literary Director

Ending the evening was author Rachael King, Literary Director at WORD Christchurch, who told engaging anecdotes about her favourite older fiction and young adult books read in 2017. She was also a judge in the 2017 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children & Young Adults so naturally her list includes a number of notable New Zealand titles.


No surprise Nevermoor was also in Rachael’s top picks along with The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman and also by Pullman, a graphic novel: The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship 

See the full list of Rachael’s Best of Older Fiction & Young Adult Reads of 2017 and read the library’s interview with Rachael King which includes her all-time top picks of books for children and young adults.

Rachael also wanted to give special mention to what is actually an adult book, Tess, a page-turning eerie novella about a 19-year-old woman – a somewhat supernatural story set in late 1999 Masterson, by New Zealand author and publicist Kirsten McDougall.

WORD Christchurch also donated tickets to raffle off to celebrity children’s author David Walliams sold-out show which they were hosting. Priceless!

That’s a wrap…

Nevermoor was certainly the favourite on the night with three speakers having brought the book along as their favourite of 2017. Touted as Harry Potter meets Alice in Wonderland, the story is about “a cursed girl who escapes death and finds herself in a magical world – but is then tested beyond her wildest imagination.” The panelists said they were pleasantly surprised to find that the book really did live up to its marketing hype. (There are eight more books in the series due out!)

And as for the ‘worst’ part of the event’s title? The books chosen as the ‘worst’ of the year are of a ‘you have to have been there’ type nature – Chatham House rules – but we can say that books about poo got the poo poo!

Big thanks to MC Scott Wolfe, literacy facilitator at UC Education Plus, and member of the Canterbury Literacy Association, who did a cracker job mc’ing – and cracking jokes – at this end-of-year event.

canterbury literacy association-logo

Read More

A large audience of enthusiasts in attendance at the Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2016 Event, South Library, November 2016


Child’s Play – Lauren Child

New Zealand is fortunate to have been visited by internationally celebrated children’s authors such as David Walliams, Andy Griffiths and Dav Pilkey in the last year or so, and I have had the pleasure of hearing them. One of the visitors was Lauren Child, the Children’s Laureate for 2017-2019. The best-selling children’s author and illustrator spoke to a huge crowd of fans at her appearance at the Auckland Writer’s Festival in 2017 and we got to hear about her fictional ensemble, what inspires her stories … and what next?

When you think of children’s books you wouldn’t think of Hitchcock, film noir and James Bond but all these are inspirations behind best-selling children’s author and illustrator Lauren Child’s popular books series Ruby Redfort.

Children’s author Lauren Child speaking at the Auckland Writer’s Festival, May 2017


Child, the multi-talented, prize-winning creator of the Charlie and Lola, Clarice Bean and Ruby Redfort series has sold millions of books, but only – she is at pains to point out –  after years of rejection. Child says:

I never decided I wanted to be a writer… it was drawing and design and love of film that brought me to writing.

Child’s mother was a creative writing teacher who was always trying to get her to write “more exciting” and gave her helpful writing advice, such as the technique of starting a story right in the middle of the action.

For anyone aspiring to break through with their craft or talent, she says “hang in there!” Hers wasn’t instant fame.  She was in her 20s when she wrote her first book (Clarice Bean) but it was a long time before it was published. After it faced many years of rejection, she says she succeeded through determination, not just talent, and having the strength to resist suggested changes she felt would compromise her original vision.

Excuseme but that is my bookClarice Bean Utterly MeClarice Bean DOn't Look NowRuby RedfortRuby Redfort Feel the Fear

Behind the stories: movies and screen as story-writing inspiration

For Child, the subject of Clarice Bean is ‘family’ and “about finding peace and quiet and a place of your own in a busy household.” She adds: “we need daydreaming, floating out the window, blank time” – it is how we get our ideas. Where did Child get her ideas from? Child loved watching TV, especially with other people, when she was growing up – “there was community to it” which she says we have lost with watching things on devices.

Child said growing up her family couldn’t afford a TV Guide, so they just watched whatever came on next. In fact, Child loved television so much she said she would even watch the test cards! One show she loved was Hart to Hart, about a millionaire couple and socialites (complete with a butler) and she got her story-writing ideas from this TV series. Jonathan and Jennifer Hart were an inadvertent crime-solving couple who were disconcertingly upbeat despite the murders that occurred around them each episode. Child says she loves the combination of thriller, comedy, jeopardy and domesticity in stories like this and brings that to her own writing.

Ruby Redfort started as a TV show that Clarice Bean watches in her stories. Ruby is a clever 13-year-old American school-kid who is recruited to a secret agency as a coder. Child has given Ruby vacuous dim-witted parents and their butler is a secret agent minding Ruby and training her up. Child has always been a fan of big thrillers from the 60s, 70s, and 80s – like Hitchcock and Bond – and likes their slower pacing. She loved Bond’s gadgets like poison pens and sleeping dust and set her Ruby Redfort stories in the 1970s because technology then wasn’t like it was today- it was all about “gadgets” (like Ruby’s watch radio) she said then the idea of having your own personal phone would have been amazing. Instead, she makes it so that Ruby has to go to the library (fancy that) to learn new things versus using things like Google and smartphones that are so pervasive in our world today.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecturally famous Fallingwater was the inspiration for Ruby Redfort’s home.

Movies and TV have really inspired my work. TV made me understand from a very young age how to construct a story. Movies are like picture books in a way because you’re telling as much in pictures as you are in words.

She wrote Ruby Redfort as a film:

I can only write when I can see pictures so although most of them are not illustrated, I can see it like a movie.

Child says she was really moved by Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands because he’s such an auteur… “he’d made something that beautiful in so many ways… it was joined up – one vision where everyone employed to be a part of the film created the vision he wanted so it looked and sounded like a Tim Burton film.”

When she was announced in June 2017 as the new Waterstones’ Children’s Laureate, she declared that her aim will be to forge “stronger links between the world of children’s literature and other art forms such as fine art, film, music, television and design.” The question is, since she loves film and screen so much, when is she going to work on a movie based on her own titles?

Child admires the auteur work of filmmaker Tim Burton.

Love of reading

Over the years, changes have been made to Child’s books when translated to the small screen. In the Charlie & Lola animated series, junk food chips were changed to banana chips and gymnastics had to be portrayed on a mat instead of a lawn (to role model health and safety.) PC-police aside, Child says that it’s about getting children hooked on reading – “it should be about a love of reading –  not what we should read – so I made Clarice Bean be crazy about this fictional writer and I made it as stupid as I could.”

Child’s childhood – miniature worlds

Child has a young daughter recently adopted from Mongolia, but she doesn’t abide by some by people’s view that unless you’ve had your own children you can’t possibly write for the children, “because we were all children once.”

What seems like an interesting aside to Child’s life is actually another manifestation of her compulsion to create stories. As a young child she got involved in making doll houses and models from about age 7. She was mentored by a miniaturists, becoming one herself. She was using power tools at a young age and says “making miniature scenes taught me a lot.” She explains there’s more sophistication to this than it seems:

You’re creating a world and theme and you’re creating story, there’s quite a lot going on – controlling your world and having things play out they way you want.

She has been working on one particular doll house miniature since she was a a teenager and finds it therapeutic “making and doing.” Later Child got a job as an assistant to renown artist Damien Hirst, albeit only doing spot painting.

Artful text

Child shared with her audience the joy she gets from the interplay between typography, illustration and story. Child says she loves how words can be illustrated (like POW!) and how things don’t have to stay in one form and that it was helpful for her to think about comics when she was writing. She likes using type as animation and with Clarice Bean, she gave each character their own font and typefaces as the ‘voice’ of the character.


Lauren Child’s miniature scenes are used to illustrate classic fairytales such as her versions of Goldilocks and the Three Bears and The Princess and the Pea: In Miniature : After the Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Children’s author Lauren Child signing books at the Auckland Writer’s Festival, May 2017

What’s next?

Now that she’s finished the Ruby Redfort series she is currently working on a young fiction series that is heavily illustrated – she says it is sort of like the Nigel Molesworth stories (about a boy talking about his school life). We look forward to seeing where her inspirations and talent take her readers next.


A confusion of princes

CoverSometimes it seems like everything written in  YA speculative fiction is part of a trilogy – or an even longer series of wrist-achingly heavy books –  so it’s quite refreshing to read a well-crafted stand-alone every now and then. A Confusion of Princes is a thrilling adventure set in a futuristic intergalactic Empire, and the world-building is so vast and vividly imagined that I couldn’t help but wonder how on Earth (or in the Empire) the author was going to tie up the story in just one book. The bestselling author of The Old Kingdom series, Garth Nix utilizes a first-person narrative that allows for quick but detailed exposition and the conversational style, along with an action-packed plot and breathless pacing, kept me immersed from the first page to the last. My main feeling while reading? This book is fun!

Prince Khemri grows up convinced that he is the one and only heir to a massive intergalactic Empire – only to belatedly realise that in fact he is one of some ten million Princes (both male and female) all competing for the ultimate position of Emperor. Highly trained in psychic warfare and conditioned from early childhood to believe in his ultimate superiority, not just over ordinary humans but also among the genetically enhanced Princes, Khemri’s innate conscience and code of ethics give him a rare potential to rediscover his own humanity. Throughout the narrative Khemri looks back on his early naïve thought processes and unfortunate choices with a charmingly frank dismay, so it is easy to empathize with him despite his planet-sized ego. This is a good thing, because even in the first few pages he faces death enough times that it was necessary for me to be fully on his side!

The book’s style is fascinatingly reminiscent of a fantasy roleplaying game. Starting out at what could be seen as Level 1 with only a personal Master of Assassins and a couple of priests to their names, Princes are able to win or otherwise acquire more priests, apprentice assassins, and other human assets through their actions. The more priests a Prince has, the greater his or her ability to attack and defend against psychic attacks, in turn creating more opportunities to rise in status and power. The tendency for Princes to regard their human priests and assassins mere commodities reinforces the game-like atmosphere. Humans are cards in a Prince’s hand – useful, but disposable. Khemri, though, goes through several unusual experiences that begin to teach him otherwise. The plot twists expertly at the climax, and despite my disbelief that the story could not possibly be resolved in so few pages, I was proven wrong. Satisfied by the conclusion, yet hungry for more, I was delighted to turn over the last page and find that Nix had anticipated my desire and prepared dessert – a quirky short story set in the same universe!

Similar books on my favourites list…

The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones
Maddigan’s Fantasia by Margaret Mahy
Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
The Angel Experiment by James Patterson
For the Win by Cory Doctorow


New Brighton

The World’s Best David Walliams

David Walliams came into the Christchurch Boys High auditorium through the crowd – a real rock star entrance.  And in kid books circles (and tv entertainment ones) he really is that level of famous. There were about 700 kids and 400 adults here to see Mr Walliams.

Rachael King, WORD Christchurch literary director asked him about the 20 million books he has sold – “All bought and burnt by Simon Cowell”, he said. David had the audience in the palm of his hand from the get go, with stories, heaps of audience participation, and his trademark naughty wit. Even the obligatory Australia diss – The World’s Worst Children?:

Well, I’ve just been in Australia and met a lot of the children …

He read us the tragic tale of Windy Mindy whose farting into wind instruments leads to a galactic end.

The kids in the audience served up stories about why their siblings are so bad. One answer had the crowd in stitches (beautifully conveyed in this tweet):

CoverBad Dad is his latest bestseller, and tells the story of Frank, whose Dad is a banger driver who ends up in jail after being a getaway driver. David read for us a rather splendid excerpt about how one might get the dreadful medical condition Bottom Freeze (including cryogenically freezing your bottom for posterity). 

CoverDavid’s favourite of his own books is Gangsta Granny (my kid’s fave too), and it came from listening to his own Gran’s stories about the Blitz:

Every old person has a story to tell.

He read Gangsta Granny’s famous naked yoga scene (and see Tony Ross’s brilliant illustration came up on the big screen). David gave a big shoutout to his illustrators Tony Ross and Quentin Blake – both in their 80s.

Walliams explained a bit about why he loves a villain:

Without Voldemort, Harry Potter would just be having a lovely day at school.

Burt, the Ratburger villain, was inspired by a contestant in Britain’s got talent who ate cockroaches. Ergh. Miss Trunchbull (from Roald Dahl’s Matilda) is one of his fave villains. It’s that combo of funny and evil,  and who wouldn’t want to be a villain (for a day).

We got to see sneak preview clips of Ratburger (Walliams himself is unrecognisable as the grotty villain), and Grandpa’s Great Escape (Jennifer Saunders is the Matron in that, and veteran actor Tom Courtenay is Grandpa.) He is that rarest of beasts – an author who gets to see his creations come to life first hand, because he stars in the adaptations.

David admits he was a reluctant reader. He went to the library with his family every couple of weeks, and would pick books on the solar system, space travel, and dinosaurs. And then he discovered Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It got him into reading, and to writing.

Roald Dahl is his “gold standard”. When he visited Dahl’s Gypsy Cottage and met his widow, she said kids still ring the doorbell and ask to meet the author. David has visited the Roald Dahl Story Museum and looked at the handwritten manuscripts. He clearly loved the writing set up of Roald Dahl – sitting in armchair, a picture of his much-missed daughter nearby, with a big ball of rolled up choccie wrappers to add to, and a telephone (to put a sly bet on the gee gees).

And David loves his fan mail, and who wouldn’t when kids are so honest:

Little Britain fans – he thinks the funniest thing he’s ever written is this:

10 lucky kids got to ask a question, and got a fab box set of Walliams’ books. A ripper of a prize I reckon. Thanks to David Walliams, WORD Christchurch, HarperCollins New Zealand, Merivale Paper Plus, and the crew involved in the event – and to everyone who came along, you rocked and made it a fun whānau night. It was especially awesome to get to get your book signed and a picture taken. Ka rawe!