Book Reviews: Four Fancy NZ Picture Books

Early Childhood teacher Sara Croft reviews four New Zealand picture books. Two take us on the sea, and the other two feature a plethora of hilarious birds.

There’s a Tui in our Teapot – he tūī kei rō tīpāta, by Dawn McMillan, illustrated by Nikki Slade Robinson & translated by Ngaere Roberts

It’s breakfast time and the birds are making mischief inside Nan’s house. A tūī is in the teapot, takahē is by the toaster and a pūkeko is in the pantry looking for eggs. Packets are ripped open, milk is spilling over and now hoiho is in the fridge! There is bedlam and mess everywhere! The story reminds me of Hairy Maclary’s antics and children will love seeing the chaos unfold.

Dawn McMillan knows what will enchant young readers and has made another wonderful addition to our New Zealand bookshelves. The English text is a melodic poem and the rhyming prose skips us along as we turn the page to find what happens next.

The simple text lets the pictures tell the story and Nikki delivers again in her bright illustrations. There is so much emotion and character conveyed in her work. Make sure you look closely at the little details, especially the wonderful alliteration on the cereal boxes and all the birds Nan wears as she walks downstairs to save the day!

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Nan and her birds, from A Tūī in our Teacup

As the name suggests, this is a bilingual book and it is refreshing to have both the English and te reo Māori together on each page. It is frustrating when you find the translation in a bilingual book pushed to the back (it makes for awkward reading!). Also, the layout in There’s a Tūī in our Teapot allows children to enjoy the illustrations which are so important for young children to grasp meaning, no matter which text you decide to read.

Each bird has been called by their Māori names in both the English and Māori text (even the birds where the English names might be more commonly used). However, it is a shame, and a bit baffling, that the macrons are missing from the Māori bird names in the English version.

New Zealand birds are popular characters in our stories and they are so much fun. Dawn and Nikki have captured their antics in this quick-paced and hilarious story. There’s a Tūī in our Teapot is a delightful storybook which will make everyone giggle at the silliness of some of our favourite New Zealand birds.

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There’s a Tui in our teapot – he tui kei ro tipata

By Dawn McMillan

Illustrated by Nikki Slade Robinson

Translated by Ngaere Roberts

Published by Oratia Publishing

RRP: $24.99

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Kuwi’s Rowdy Crowd, by Kat Merewether

Kat Merewether brings her distinctive style to the next book in her much-loved Kuwi series. Kuwi’s little chick, Huwi, is growing up and we return to their burrow for their next adventure in Kuwi’s Rowdy Crowd.

Kuwi is on a mission to enjoy a cup of tea and some peace at the end of a busy day. But … Huwi is still full of energy and makes lots of rowdy noise as he plays with his friends! Every parent will relate to frazzled Mum Kuwi. Her cup of tea slowly cools as she moves about the house trying to find a quiet place to relax.

Like any young child, Huwi follows his Mum from room to room with another loud game to play. Farting whio join Huwi and Kuwi in the bathtub, Huwi and a troop of tap-dancing tomtits are training outside and karate-kicking kōkako are doing cartwheels in the kitchen when Kuwi heats up her cup of kawakawa tea. Children will love joining in with the rowdy onomatopoeia and laughing at the games Huwi plays with his friends. Will Kuwi ever get to enjoy her cup of tea and some quiet?

Kat Merewether has the ability to take a seemingly ordinary moment in every young family and find the adventure in it. She perfectly captures all the emotion and drama at the end of a busy day through her fun alliteration and beautiful illustrations. The book is full of modern kiwiana (all with a Kuwi twist of course!). Take the time to go on a treasure hunt to find the little details in the pictures that will delight both big and small readers.

Kuwi’s Rowdy Crowd is a wonderfully New Zealand book, full of kiwi creatures and adventures. Kat Merewether has created another picture book full of humour and whimsy that elevates an everyday moment into the magical. It is destined to be another kiwi classic.

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kuwi’s rowdy crowd

by Kat Merewether

Published by Illustrated Publishing

RRP: $19.99

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Hero of the Sea: Sir Peter Blake’s mighty ocean quests, by David Hill, illustrated by Phoebe Morris

This is the next picture book in a series of biographies of heroic New Zealanders created by David Hill and Phoebe Morris. This book is about the life of Sir Peter Blake, a New Zealand hero who is a wonderful role model for our young children.Sir Peter is portrayed as a multidimensional character – full of hopes and dreams, with successes and failures and with a ‘loud happy laugh’. We follow Sir Peter Blake from his childhood when he builds a yacht in his shed, through his sailing career and to his death in the Amazon.

Sir Peter is portrayed as a multidimensional character – full of hopes and dreams, with successes and failures and with a ‘loud happy laugh’.

Sir Peter is known for his lucky red socks which he attributed to helping him win the America’s Cup in 1995. Our children giggled to see the zoo’s elephants wearing their own red socks and the picture showing Sir Peter in the bath as he found out he was to be knighted for his sailing success!The biography captures the lasting impact of Sir Peter’s life. Sir Peter’s love of sailing sparked his passion for environmental awareness and we read about his efforts to educate the world about the beauty around us. We learn about the Spirit of Adventure and Sir Peter Blake’s efforts to nurture youth leadership through sailing.

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Spread from Hero of the Sea, by David Hill, illustrated by Phoebe Morris. Reproduced with Puffin’s permission.

Also, it is good to see that author David Hill not only names Peter’s wife, Pippa, but also shares her character and achievements with us too – making sure her contribution is valued equally.David Hill’s skilful retelling of Sir Peter Blake’s life is beautifully accompanied by the illustrations. Phoebe Morris pulls us in and takes us on the adventure with Sir Peter Blake. We are transported from the turbulent seas during the Whitbread race, to the grandeur of the Amazon and the wonder of Antarctica.This is a delightful book that will be enjoyed by adults and children alike. This is a wonderful addition to a series of books which bring our history and famous characters alive for our children. We look forward to the next biography but hope to see more diversity portrayed to inspire the next generation of kiwi kids. Perhaps Dame Whina Cooper, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, or Helen Clark would make for great picture biography!

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Hero of the Sea: Sir Peter Blake’s mighty ocean quests

By David Hill

Illustrated by Phoebe Morris

Published by Puffin

RRP $25.00

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We’ve got a boat, by Jay Laga’aia and illustrated by Donovan Bixley

Jay Laga’aia has written a musical retelling of the 2017 America’s Cup in a uniquely kiwi tall tale that takes in all the drama of a high speed race. The reader is immediately transported onto the New Zealand boat and the anticipation builds as we follow the race. Will New Zealand be successful and lift the Auld Mug high again?

The author has woven te ao Māori throughout the story, honouring the rich sailing history of our indigenous people alongside our modern day achievements. It empowers the mana of all our children to read a bicultural story that values our cultures alongside one another.

Poetic licence has been used to create a dynamic and fast-paced story (I don’t remember any buffalo grass being used to tie the hulls together!). But the key parts of the 2017 America’s Cup race have been retold to ensure it is historically accurate. For those children who are interested, photos and information are shared at the end about the famous 1995 and 2017 victories.

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We’ve got a Boat, by Jay Laga’aia, illustrations by Donovan Bixley. Reproduced with Scholastic NZ’s permission.

The story is perfectly accompanied by the song sung by Jay too – our children particularly loved the haka woven into the song! Just like the text, it is fast-paced and soon everyone will be humming along to the chorus.

Donovan Bixley brings along some of his favourite characters and his signature style to the story. He has personified the animals in his characteristic way, revealing the emotions, drama and excitement. Each page becomes a treasure hunt to find the little details hidden inside. Can you find the French patching their boat with a band aid, Peter Burling so calmly skippering our crew and some famous lyrics floating past in a bottle? Bixley always makes sure the adult reader will enjoy reading his picture books as much as our children!

It is refreshing to see a different sport take centre stage in our literature. Jay Laga’aia takes us on an upbeat adventure that will be sure to inspire passion for the next America’s Cup challenge.

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we’ve got a boat

By Jay Laga’aia

Illustrated by Donovan Bixley

Published by Scholastic NZ

RRP $22.00

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Sara Croft
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Sara teaches young children and it is a great excuse to indulge her love of picture books and to pass on a love of words, reading and stories to the next generation. She has an extensive library which is forever growing (often quite literally with a hammer and nails to add a new shelf!). Her children and young adult collection sit alongside cookbooks, a wide range of non-fiction, and books which make her laugh or think. She is always seeking out the perfect picture book to share with her young audience – preferably books which tell Aotearoa’s stories.