Cool stuff from the selectors: Children’s books

Nadiya’s Bake me a story by Nadiya Hussain
Winner of the 2015 Great British Bake Off combines traditional tales and recipes for all the family. She also has a new Christmas title Bake me a Festive Story arriving in October.


Fish girl by Donna Jo Napoli
Napoli teams with Caldecott winner David Wiesner in this Graphic Novel about a young mermaid who is the main attraction in an aquarium. She can’t talk and she can’t walk but she can make friends with a girl named Livia. Can she find a new life on land?  Like all David Wiesner’s books the pictures in this book are outstanding.

Celebration of Beatrix Potter : art and letters by more than 30 of today’s book illustrators
Wonderful re-imaginations of some of Beatrix Potter’s famous tales by artists like Jon Agee, Tommie dePaola, Brian Pinkney and Rosemary Wells, the fabulous David Wiesner makes another appearance here also.  Each illustration is accompanied by text from the artist explaining what that character means to them, making this a true celebration of Beatrix Potter.

Christchurch – Our Underground  Story by Phil Wilkins
If you have a child who has been fascinated by all the trucks, bulldozers, diggers and construction going on around Christchurch then this rather quirky book could be a hit.  Designed as a large board book with lift the flaps it contains everything you did (or perhaps didn’t want to know) about what has been going on under our feet.
Read our post on Christchurch – Our underground story

A look inside Christchurch: Our underground story by Phil Wilkins and Martin Coates

On Love and Art and Maps

On our very first date my husband and I discovered that we share a love of maps.  In retrospect I can see now that we were coming from completely different planets, so to speak. His the planet in which the words “Cadastral” and “Great Circles” featured majorly. Mine the planet of the isolated farmhouse at the end of the road and my desire to visit it. But we both still find maps beautiful and own several sets of topographic maps. We have kept quiet about this bond, until now that is. Because Art and Maps are IN.

A Map of the World According to Illustrators and StorytellersTelling your life story through maps is the new therapy de jour. A great place to start is with a beautiful book entitled A Map of the World According to Illustrators and Storytellers. This book plays down accuracy in favour of getting the message across. Eighty-nine creatives map out their lives and their places. The variety of approaches is gobsmacking. One of my favourites is the Happy Planet Map on page 212. It may inspire you to look at your surroundings, and your life, and create your own map of how you feel about them.

Mapping ManhattanAnother take on maps and art and life  is Mapping Manhattan A Love (and Sometimes Hate) Story in Maps by 75 New Yorkers. Here random New Yorkers were given simple, identical outline maps of New York and asked to tell their story of this city in any way that they liked. Seventy-five posted back their offerings to Becky Cooper who put them together into this fascinating little book. She says of this initiative:

Maps and Memories are bound together, a little like songs and love affairs are.

Making Art from MapsIn Making Art from Maps, the author Jill Berry starts from the belief that we all love maps. She loves them and she also loves art. These two loves started gelling somewhere along the way and resulted in this book where Jill and forty-one artists take maps and do astonishingly transformative things with them. This 2016 book would be a useful addition to the library of anyone who likes playing around with paper.

And closer to home, Even Smith’s Journal recognises that the day of the map is upon us in their online magazine of January 04 2017 with an article entitled Retro Maps of Modern Cities. The idea behind this approach is to treat maps as art and not just as guides to places.

So, if you’ve tried journalling and failed; succumbed to colouring-in and now sit with several partly completed books; and possibly even resorted to adult join-the-dots books (and please let this be just a very few of you) – but still you feel hollow, still your life mission has not been revealed to you, then let it be known that Mapping Your Life is the trending new thing.

More about maps


Liz Pichon: “Drawing, writing, painting – I have the best job in the world!”

If you are travelling down the northern motorway into Christchurch in the mornings and spot a person in the car parallel to yours chuckling uncontrollably, you might be looking at a librarian who is listening to an audiobook. Similar unexpected outbursts of laughter can happen at some other times, during lunch breaks in the staff dining room or while strolling along one of the streets in the CBD in bare daylight to name just a few.

It’s Tom Gates books that make me unashamedly snort with laughter in front of people. Sometimes I wish someone would ask me what I am laughing at, just to give me an excuse to share with them the delightfully witty escapades of Tom Gates. Tom is a cheerful, excited, good-hearted boy, who loves doodling, eating caramel wafers and pulling pranks on his sister Delia. Most of the days he is late for school, daydreams through school classes and has his very own band called Dogzombies (because he likes dogs and zombies). There is so much in Tom’s everyday life that I can relate to.

Liz Pichon AWF16
Tom Gates author, Liz Pichon. (Image supplied)

But no one can tell a story better than its author, which in this case is Liz Pichon. Liz is equally artful with words as she is with pencils. She illustrates and writes every single page of Tom Gates books by hand! Her doodles are thoughtfully interwoven with texts and create a joyful reading experience. Last week she published Super good skills (almost), the 10th in a series of books about Tom Gates. Many of them are prizewinners and have been translated into 36 different languages.

Liz is coming to Auckland Writers festival this week. Even though she is very busy, she took some time to answer a few questions exclusively for her fans in Christchurch:

I asked Liz how her working day looks like and if she has a special space where she works. What is it like?

When I am writing at home, if the weather’s NOT too grim, I’ll go to the seafront with my husband, have a run (if I am honest it’s more of a PLOD) followed by a coffee. Which I am sure isn’t part of any fitness manual – but it sort of works for me. Once I’m at my desk I often work quite late, so it’s nice getting out in the morning.
I have a shed in the garden, which is on its last legs now. It used to be my husbands recording studio so it’s nice and warm but I’ve run out of storage space and I’m starting to feel like a hoarder who’s surrounded by all her STUFF. When I start a new book I have lots of notes for ideas that I look back on. Then I draw a kind of story map – like an illustrated flow chart. I put down lots of random ideas, then weave them into some kind of order and that’s what I show my editor. I don’t always stick to it exactly but it’s good to have something to refer to. I draw and write at the same time – then transfer the text to a word document. If I do too much writing on the computer I have to edit like crazy when it comes to drawing the pages up later.

Cover of Tom Gates Is Absolutely Fantastic (at Some Things)     Cover of The Brilliant World of Tom Gates     Cover of Yes! No. (Maybe)

So your books are entirely made by you – you do triple the work: illustrations, text and overall design?

I LOVE being able to draw and design all the pages, it’s all part of telling the story. Once I have written the story, I draw every page by hand and scan them into the computer where I work on them a bit more. Then I send the pages to the designer who puts in the text and uses my roughs to add the drawings. Making these books is a team effort, there are so many little details that need checking and you only get to see the flow of the story when all the pages are laid out. Scholastic (publisher) have been fantastic to work with. I go into their office to work on the final bits and pieces before it goes to print, which is like having a real job.

What would Delia’s doodles look like?

Delia likes to PAINT. So I would imagine her doodles would look like a Jackson Pollock picture.

Tom’s daily battle is how to fit as much doodling as possible into every class at school. What is your advice to children, who are struggling to juggle between school obligations and passions or hobbies which they love and are good at? Do you have any advice for their parents and teachers?

When I was at school I always got the feeling that drawing and art was never as important as ‘real’ work. It was a ‘fluffy’ subject and not something to be taken that seriously. I loved writing stories as well, but being dyslexic my spelling was shocking (and maths too) so it never crossed my mind that it was something I might be able to do for a living. Caitlin Moran (who’s a writer and journalist in the UK) said you should try and work out what you LOVE doing, then find a way to make a living from it. It took me a while, but that’s what I am doing now. Drawing, writing, painting, meeting kids, doing the events. I have the best job in the WORLD and although I work harder now than I have ever done, I enjoy every moment. I know how lucky I am.

It drives me crazy that creative subjects are being shoved to the sidelines. I heard a talk by Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants) last year and he had a rotten time in school being told all his comic drawings were a waste of time and he’d never amount to much. Well – seventy million book sales world wide later – I think he’s doing okay!

There are plenty of videos on the web with Liz Pichon explaining how to draw.

Is there an author or illustrator that might have been influential (either in your youth or later on) for you? If you could invite her/him to the concert, which concert would you take them to?

Quentin Blake gave a talk at my art college, he was so funny and his drawings are consistently brilliant. He’s quiet elderly now so nothing too LOUD, besides I’d want to be able to chat to him. So maybe one of those concerts where you bring your own picnic. I used to live near Hampstead Heath and there’s a place called Kenwood House that has lots of summer concerts. I think he might enjoy that.

Libraries unfortunately don’t sell caramel wafers, but we do offer books to read for free. Do you have your favourite library?

The original building is closed now, but Willesden Library in North London was a LIFESAVER when my son Zak was little. It was really close by and I used to take Zak there all the time. People forget how important libraries are for meeting other kids and parents and having somewhere to go that’s free too.

If you could choose one talent you would want to be born with (besides the ones you already have) which one would it be?

I’d love to be able to SING really well. I’d be able to sing all the time and drive my family even MORE crazy than I do now.

Is there a skill you always wanted to gain, but never had a chance yet?

I had a go at throwing a POT last year and it was a lot harder than it looks! I’d love to make a few more and learn to use the wheel properly.

If you could travel back in time, which era of the history would you go to and why?

Just occasionally I look at pictures of my kids when they were little and think it would be nice to go back in time and cuddle them at that age again. They’re 25, 21 and 17 now. But other than that I prefer to look forwards not backwards.

Book vs. eBook?

Book – but you can have both.

Cats vs. Dogs?

Cats for independence. Dogs for fun. (I don’t have either!)

Coffee vs. Tea?


I can’t wait to see Liz live – maybe she will share a few more tips on how to live of what you love doing. Or more importantly, how to annoy older siblings, draw funny doodles and incorporate coffee and wafers into your fitness regime.

A Life in Pictures – the work of Michael Foreman

I fell in love with Michael Foreman’s illustrations many years ago when I first discovered Michael Morpurgo’s books. I soon found out that he also wrote and illustrated his own stories, including War Boy and War Game which were stories about his experience of World War II. I found out a lot more about Michael Foreman and his huge body of work when I borrowed a fascinating new book from the library called A Life in Pictures.

Pages from A life in pictures
A glimpse inside A life in pictures by Michael Foreman

A Life in Pictures is written by Michael Foreman himself, and looks back over his long career in the creation of books for children. It is a beautiful book that is packed with Michael’s illustrations and stories about the books that he has worked on and the people he has worked with. You can read about Michael’s war childhood, the importance of location and landscape in his illustrations, the people that have influenced him and the people that he has collaborated with.

If you’ve read a Michael Morpurgo book you’ve probably seen Michael Foreman’s illustrations. The M-Team have been collaborating for over 20 years (their first book together being Arthur, High King of Britain, published in 1994).

I’ve always felt that Michael Foreman’s illustrations are the perfect match for Michael Morpurgo’s stories. Michael Foreman mentions in A Life in Pictures that ‘Michael Morpurgo not only writes good stories, he writes good pictures. His stories are full of them.’ His illustrations for Morpurgo’s stories are usually in black and white, but it’s the smaller, shorter stories, like Little Manfred, where his full-colour illustrations shine.

Over the years Michael Foreman has worked with many other authors, both living and dead.  He has brought the stories of Shakespeare, Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Dickens and Kenneth Grahame to life, bringing the ‘classics’ to a new generation of children.

My favourite edition of Michael Foreman’s classics is Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows.  The colours are so vibrant and the characters leap off the page. Michael also travelled to New Zealand in 1987 to visit Kiri Te Kanawa to research a book based on legends told to her by her grandmother. This book became The Land of the Long White Cloud.

A Life in Pictures is a fascinating read for anyone who loves books for children and would be a valuable resource for artists or those wanting to become illustrators.

David Almond takes out Hans Christian Anderson Award

It has just been announced today that British author David Almond has won the much coveted Hans Christian Anderson Author Award, and Jutta Bauer from Germany is the winner of the Illustration Award, both of which are the highest international recognition given to an author and an illustrator of children’s books.  Our very own Margaret Mahy won the author award in 2006 and it is a huge honour for any author or illustrator.

David Almond is a well-deserved winner of the author prize and writes some fantastic books, my favourite being Skellig about a mysterious creature that a boy finds in his garden shed.   The awards jury described David’s writing as “a unique voice of a creator of magic realism for children.  Almond captures his young readers’ imagination and motivates them to read, think and be critical. His use of language is sophisticated and reaches across the ages.”  His books are very unique and he is a very gifted storyteller.

The winner of the illustration prize, Jutta Bauer is an illustrator that we have been introduced to through the marvelous Gecko Press.  She is a German illustrator and it is only through books such as the beautiful little book Selma, that is published by Gecko, that we know of her here in New Zealand.   The awards jury described Jutta as “a powerful narrator who blends real life with legend through her pictures.”   They also “admired her philosophical approach, originality, creativity as well as her ability to communicate with young readers.”  I’m sure we will see more of her work thanks to Gecko Press, but if you haven’t already read Selma you should take a look.

Play Golden

One look at Golden legacy : how Golden Books won children’s hearts, changed publishing forever, and became an American icon along the way and I came over all nostalgic. My fave was The Three Little Kittens (cats! in mittens! cute!). My other big love was the Poky Little Puppy, which is Little Golden Books’ biggest seller.

They might be viewed as quaint today, with questionable sexual stereotyping etc, but the anniversary has seen the reissue of many titles and some collections.

What are your memories of Little Golden Books? Did you have a favourite?

Not quite at the other end of the scale is Play Pen: new children’s book illustration. Showcasing some of the best new children’s book looks. The visual diet of children has expanded considerably since I was a kid, and television, comics, computer games have all enhanced the viewing experience of the child. This has had a huge impact on the range of book illustration that is out there now, and the range of media both digital and tradition. Featuring some of my favourites like Alexis Deacon, Marc Boutavant and Sara Fanelli.

If you come over all excited after reading it, and are a hankering to do a little children’s book illustration, you might want to look at Writing and illustrating for children.

Snore wars: send in the big guns

The big yawn
The big yawn

Sleep. Children. Adversaries since time began. Like other battle-weary parents across the known universe, I too summon every trick in the book to invoke the big yawn – a child’s involuntary intake of breath that precedes the slow, serene glide into deep, marshmallow slumber.

Fresh ammunition came my way recently courtesy of Gecko Press’s The Big Yawn. Whilst the tiger and the hedgehog play chess, tiger yawns, setting off a chain of events so unstoppable that all in the zoo succumb. A weapon of mass pandiculation? Victory would be swift!

Eagerly I put the adversary in bed. Eagerly she listened. Not far in, the eyes droop, the attention wavers and yes, blissful sleep comes.

I wake to a voice: “Daddy, turn the page”.

My weapon had backfired! I lost it before the donkeys had brushed their teeth. I think it must have been the illustrations that kept my adversary alert – how else could she resist? Honestly, they are so good that the two-and-a-half year-old sleepless one spotted every detail and was amused for ages, whereas my adult brain just followed orders. Yawn. Yawn. Sleep.

So the snore wars continue, now with stories on CD. The Big Yawn is indeed a powerful and worthy weapon, just be careful where you aim it!

Pretty Pictures

MannequinOnce a leading fashion photographer for French Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, Bob Richardson’s story is a sad one.  Schizophrenia and years of drug abuse saw him end up homeless and most of his work destroyed.  However, thanks to the efforts of his son Terry (also a noted photographer),  what remains of his work has been collected into a beautiful new book. The photographs signify a definite move from the white-gloved fashion world of the fifties to a grittier more youthful, rock tinged style.  Richardson famously said he saw the world in black and white, and these grainy images are notable for their fleeting quality.  Richardson’s work also appears  in the very nice Unseen Vogue which came out a couple of years ago. 

Before there were fashion photographers, illustrators had the job of making garments come alive and conveying the  designer’s aesthetic.  Some of the best examples can be seen in the gorgeous 100 Years of Fashion Illustration. This is a comprehensive survey of the development of the art over the last century, and each time period is accompanied by an informative essay.  The early illustrations capture beautifully the excitement and modernity of the first part of last century.  It’s also interesting to see how illustrators have responded to the rise of fashion photography and new technology. 

Hand-set edition of Hone Tuwhare’s Rain

News from Otago University for poetry lovers and bibliophiles alike:
A limited edition hand-set printing of Hone Tuwhare’s classic poem ‘Rain’ has just been completed as part of the 2007 Printing in Residence Programme at the University of Otago Library. Eleven other poems were re-printed from Tuwhare’s Come Rain Hail (1970) and produced in a large format portfolio production. It was printed by Dr John Holmes, under the University Library’s Otakou Press.

Tuwhare’s well-known ‘Rain’ was illustrated by Olav Nielsen, a Dunedin printmaker-artist. Six other Dunedin artists were involved: Inge Doesburg, Simon Kaan, Mary McFarlane, Kathryn Madill, Jenna Packer, and Marilyn Webb. Each selected a poem and created their own delightful image-masterpieces.

All the copies printed have been sold. Those interested in viewing the production can call into Special Collections at the Otago University Library (1st floor) and request to see it, or otherwise view online images. Next year’s project, which will feature master-printer Alan Loney.

Hone Tuwhare For more information about Hone:

  • Books by Hone Tuwhare at Christchurch City Libraries
  • Information about Hone at Christchurch City Libraries
  • The New Zealand Book Council entry on Hone

If you are looking for a different interpretation of Hone’s poetry, try the sound recording Tuwhare. This was a project commissioned by Toi Maori Aotearoa and directed by Charlotte Yates in which poems by Hone were set to music by recording artists from NZ/Aotearoa.