One thing I hate are all those annual lists of “the best this” and “the best that”. I get very annoyed when I treat myself to a magazine only to find it is full of subjective lists. But one such event is the exception to my rule: it’s the Best (and Worst) Children’s Books of the Year, a fun end-of-year event jointly run by the Canterbury Reading Association and Christchurch City Libraries.
It is traditionally well-attended by teachers, librarians and anyone interested in children’s books, and last Wednesday evening Fendalton Library’s boardroom was bursting at the seams. This year the speakers included bookseller Sheila Sinclair, teacher Heather Orman, and book designer Kim Dovey, who all spoke about the “best” and children’s librarian Louise Easter who spoke about where good ideas went wrong, such as the woman of a certain age who thought a cute wee story about Marie Antoinette’s dog would be a great idea but Louise implied this idea is one that should have had its head chopped off.
What was especially unique and fun about this year’s event was that all four speakers took the floor at once, and that their opinions didn’t always coincide. This was both enjoyable and encouraging to know that differing opinions are fine, and their discussions got us all thinking rather than passively receiving.
It was enlightening to have the perspective of primary school teacher Heather Orman who shared her wonderful ideas about how the books can be used in the classroom, such as the mathematical applications of the picture book 365 Penguins and the artistic possiblities of using the new and beautiful picture book version of Margaret Mahy’s well-known poem Bubble Trouble.
Sheila Sinclair delighted us with her lovely humour and shared some special titles that many of us hadn’t yet discovered – the pop-up book of Leonardo da Vinci’s designs Inventions, will be a great Christmas present for adults or children.
I will also be looking to read the Barnaby Grimes series, which sound like great historical adventures set in an Edwardian kind of world. Sheila also read us the delightful picture book Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox, which is selling very well because it is the perfect gift to give new parents. Children’s librarians have also been quick to snap this one up for use in their Babytimes and Storytimes programmes.
The extra special addition of Kim Dovey to this panel, with her point of view and passion as a book designer, was an inspired choice. When how a book looks and feels is so crucial to its success, it is a huge shame that book design is not paid more attention. We all know that Snake and Lizard won awards for its author Joy Cowley and that Gavin Bishop has been praised for his marvellous illustrations. But how many people are aware that it was one of our local talents Kim Dovey of Book Design Ltd who packaged the delightful story and quality illustrations into a beautiful tangible object for the world to enjoy? Kim spoke of the importance of book covers truly conveying the story that is within its pages, and challenged some of the titles mentioned for failing to do this. She spoke of the need for a designer to use their imagination to achieve this. Kim clearly has imagination, flair and a passion for her work and it came through. She made particular mention of the picture book Roadworks, which as well as being on a much-adored topic for preschoolers, is well-designed throughout including gravelly looking endpapers. Of course someone then asked where the chewing gum was.
At the risk of annoying people like me who don’t like lists, here are the other books that received special attention.
The enemy by Davide Cali
How to heal a broken wing by Bob Graham
Splat the Cat by Rob Scotton
Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch
Home and Away by John Marsden
Lee Raven Boy Thief by Zizou Corder
Tomorrow Code by Brian Falkner
Bone by bone by Tony Johnston (originally published as Bone by Bone by Bone)
Knife of never letting go by Patrick Ness
Magician of Hoad by Margaret Mahy
Scorched Bone by Vince Ford
Piano Rock: a 1950s childhood by Gavin Bishop
Short blurbs about the above titles, and other good reads from the past year, have been compiled into a Holiday Reading List by staff at Christchurch City Libraries.