Current picture book publishing in New Zealand is a real mixed bag. There are stories that are just familiar songs in disguise matched with illustrations, stories inspired by real events that have captured the public interest and stories about our flora and fauna. Finally, there are those that are fresh, original stories that stand head and shoulders above the rest.
As both a parent of a preschooler and a School Librarian, I want to provide the children in my care with the best possible books that are available. The best picture books are those that children want you to read again and again, that will make you only too glad to oblige. Each of these five picture books have some features of great picture books, but only one of them has the magic that makes it a winner.
Bambi the Blind Alpaca, by Jan Lummis and Jenny Cooper (Scholastic NZ)
Bambi the Blind Alpaca by Jan Lummis and Jenny Cooper is inspired by real events. It tells the story of Bambi and her happy life with her brother Charisma. They are the best of friends, exploring their field together, munching, humming and cuddling. If Charisma is too far away from Bambi, she bumps and crashes into the fences and gates.
One day Charisma must leave the farm and Bambi becomes lonely, and with no one to guide her she crashes into everything. Just when Bambi needs it the most a new friend comes along, another alpaca called Renaldo, and they all live happily ever after.
While the story is cute, with its fluffy, long-lashed characters that younger children will love, I didn’t feel myself or my preschooler were engaged with the story. It starts off very happy with the alpaca characters smiling and cuddling together, the middle is a bit sad when Bambi’s brother goes away, then the end is back to smiling and cuddling again.
Bambi’s owner, Jan Lummis, is the author of the book and it feels like perhaps this story was first written for her family and friends, and it just needed a little more fleshing out to engage me. That said, Jenny Cooper’s illustrations are a highlight, and a perfect match for the tone of the story. I’m sure Bambi will find her audience..
bambi the blind alpaca
By Jan Lummis
Illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Published by Scholastic NZ
The Cat from Muzzle, written by Sally Sutton and illustrated by Scott Tulloch
The Cat from Muzzle, written by Sally Sutton and illustrated by Scott Tulloch, is another recent picture book that is inspired by real events. The story introduces us to Dwayne, a tough cat with sharp claws and paws that are made to roam. He lived at Muzzle Station in Southern Marlborough until he was forced on a plane by his owners who moved to Kaikoura. Now, Dwayne loved his Muzzle Station home, ‘the bleating sheep, the snowy, blowy breeze, the gentle cows, the cluck-cluck chooks, the buzzing mountain bees.’ Dwayne does not like his new home so he says ‘So long! I’ve gotta go!’
He walks for hours, days and weeks trying to get back to Muzzle Station, meeting people along the way who offer him help. All the time he is reminding himself of the things he is trying to get back to. After many, many miles he makes it home to the place that he loves.
This is an enjoyable story about an adventurous cat that I know kids will love. Dwayne is the star of this story and kids will be rooting for him the whole way. Much like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, he is a big cat with a big heart. Scott Tulloch shows us both the tough and the cuddly side of Dwayne in his characteristic illustrations. I particularly love Dwayne’s expression on the last page. I also love the way that Sally Sutton uses a repeated phrase to show you what is driving Dwayne to keep going.
Scott Tulloch shows us both the tough and the cuddly side of Dwayne in his characteristic illustrations. I particularly love Dwayne’s expression on the last page.
The book is based on a true story but both author and illustrator have used some creative license to fill in the details of the tale that were unknown. Readers can find out more about the real-life Dwayne’s journey in the back of the book and see a photo of the cat himself.
the cat From Muzzle
By Sally Sutton
Illustrated by Scott Tulloch
Published by Penguin NZ
I Love Tomato Sauce!, by Nicky Sievert
The quintessential New Zealand condiment, tomato sauce, is the subject of a new picture book by Nicky Sievert. I Love Tomato Sauce! is about a family and their obsession with different types of tomato sauce.
The boy of the story likes his tomato sauce on everything, including birthday cake. His dad likes tomato sauce in an upside-down bottle. His mum likes it from a can and tipped into a big, plastic tomato. His sister likes it in little pottles from the fish and chip shop. Everyone in his family likes a different type of tomato sauce, which really causes trouble when they all go on a picnic together. Everyone brings their favourite tomato sauce, but nobody thought to bring some food to put it on. A bag of duck bread turns into a giant tomato sauce sandwich, with everyone adding their sauce.
This is a delightfully silly story that tomato sauce fans young and old will love. My favourite aspect of this book is the sign language which has been included in the illustrations. I didn’t notice this when I first read the story but there is a page at the end of the book which shows you the New Zealand Sign Language that is used in the story. This approach to the story makes this book quite unique in New Zealand.
This is a delightfully silly story that tomato sauce fans young and old will love. My favourite aspect of this book is the sign language which has been included in the illustrations.
It would be great to see more publishers including touches like this in their picture books as it is something subtle that will mean a lot to deaf children reading the book. Kā pai Duck Creek Press!
i love tomato sauce!
By Nicky Sievert
Published by Duck Creek Press
Trompet and Trumbone, written by Ali Foster and illustrated by Martin Bailey
Trompet and Trumbone, written by Ali Foster and illustrated by Martin Bailey is a heart-warming story about the bond between a grandmother elephant, Trumbone, and her granddaughter, Trompet.
Trumbone is the matriarch of a herd of elephants, with ‘a memory as long as the Zambesi River.’ Every summer she leads her herd along the old migration routes. Trompet loves her grandmother very much and spends lots of time with her, so she is the first to notice that something is not right with Trumbone. Her grandmother is losing her memory and one day she disappears, leaving Trompet to run after her and bring her home. Trompet must now use all of the knowledge that her grandmother has passed on to her to lead her herd.
Trompet must now use all of the knowledge that her grandmother has passed on to her to lead her herd.
I loved the idea of this story. It is sweet, sad but full of hope. However, I feel that Ali Foster was trying to be too tricksy with the names of the elephants. If only Ali had just called the elephants Trumpet and Trombone this story would have worked! Every time I read this book I stumble over their names, all because Ali has swapped a ‘u’ with an ‘o.’ The thing that makes this doubly disappointing is the mistakes with the names that clearly happened during the editing process – there are two instances where Trumbone is called Trombone. In a story where the author is trying to be clever with the names, these are two big mistakes.
Another aspect of this book that I found underwhelming is the font that has been chosen, which is quite basic, making you feel like you are reading a school reader rather than a picture book. With a little more attention to detail and simpler names, this picture book could have been wonderful.
trompet and trumbone
By Ali Foster
Illustrated by Martin Bailey
Published by Duck Creek Press
RRP $19.99 PB / $29.99 HB
Doodle Cat Wears A Cape, by Kat Patrick and Lauren Farrell
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Doodle Cat! Kat Patrick and Lauren Farrell’s larger-than-life cat is back in his third picture book, Doodle Cat Wears a Cape. Armed with his tea-towel cape, Doodle Cat uses his superpowers to save a human from a tree, fire furballs at high speed and grow to three hundred times his own size.
Doodle Cat’s superpowers are really put to the test though, when he discovers that his friend Pangolin is sad. Sometimes a hug can be the best superpower of all and when friends join their superpowers together they can become fabulous!
Sometimes a hug can be the best superpower of all and when friends join their superpowers together they can become fabulous!
Doodle Cat Wears a Cape became a fast favourite with my 4-year-old daughter. Doodle Cat made her giggle and she requested it again and again. I didn’t mind one bit because Doodle Cat’s character bursts off the page and you can get really silly reading it.
It’s clear that a lot of love has gone in to the production of the book too, from its rainbow striped endpapers to its sturdy binding that lets the book open out so easily, making it perfect for sharing with a little person on your lap or a room full of children. If you buy one picture book from these picks, Doodle Cat Wears a Cape is my recommendation.
doodle cat wears a cape
By Kat Patrick and Lauren Farrell
Published by Scribe
Zac McCallum is a school librarian at Te Kura O Te Tauawa Halswell School in Ōtautahi, Christchurch. Prior to becoming a school librarian, he worked in public and academic libraries and as a children’s bookseller. Zac is a huge supporter of New Zealand children’s literature and our many wonderful authors and illustrators, and his role on the Storylines Management Committee enables him to be a part of this supportive community.