Book Reviews: The Latest in Aotearoa Picture books

Today we’re thrilled to share some brilliant reviews from writer Cassie Hart, featuring two terrific new (and one old) titles from Aotearoa. We’ve got a kiwi take on a classic rhyme, a bilingual counting book, and a delightful little cat and ghost story. Which one will you be picking up on your next trip to the bookstore?

Five Little Kea by Renee Chin (Hachette NZ)

Five Little Kea is a delightful reimagining of the classic nursery rhyme Five Little Monkeys. Kea are a well-loved native bird, known for their cheeky antics, so they were the perfect choice for this rhyming book which sees these birds getting up to mischief in the ranger’s shed.

On first glance at the cover, I assumed that the kea were wearing crowns and beanies, because why not? Which meant that I got a lovely surprise at the end of the story where it is revealed that rather than being troublesome, these kea have been planning a surprise party for the park ranger!

One thing I noticed, and really appreciated, was the use of non-gendered pronouns. In many versions of the original rhyme, it says ‘bumped his head’, whereas Five Little Kea uses ‘bumped their head’. It’s such a simple change, but one that I feel is important, and am pleased to see more of in children’s books.

Spread from ‘Five Little Kea’, by Renee Chin (Hachette NZ)

Overall, this was a beautifully illustrated book with a fun rhyme. In this adaptation of the original, the kea are not just naughty or causing mischief, but working together to try and pull off a lovely surprise for their friend.

We all know that sometimes the best intentions can get a little messy in the making, and I think that’s a good message to give.

Five Little Kea

By Renee Chin

Hachette NZ

RRP $20.00

Buy now

One Lonely Kākāpō, by Sandra Morris (Upstart Press)

This is a reprint of a book that was originally released in 1991, and went on to win the Russell Clark Award in 1992 — the fact it’s still being reprinted speaks volumes for its popularity across the years!

Counting books are always popular with children, and this one is very much a kiwi classic, told in English, with Māori numbers and sentences in the back. If there was one thing I could change about this book, it would be that the te reo Māori version was included on each spread as well, rather than being relegated to the back of the book. Maybe for a future reprint?

Spread from ‘One Lonely Kākāpō’ by Sandra Morris (Upstart Press)

At first glance, I thought the colours were quite muted compared to many of the children’s books you find being published these days. By the time I’d finished exploring the first page though, my brain really appreciated this calmer palette, and softer tones. They allow for the eye to seek out these creatures in their natural environments, which they all camouflage into nicely.

The illustrations are fantastic, featuring not just the starring creature of each spread, but many other species found within our country — from land to air to sea — grace these pages, making for even more fun as children discover all there is to be found.

One Lonely Kākāpō

By Sandra Morris

Upstart Press

RRP $20.00

Buy now

My Cat Can See Ghosts by Emily Joe (Beatnik Publishing)

When this book arrived in the post I literally squealed. We’d just had an incident where we wondered if perhaps our cats were seeing a ghost as they were looking at the same spot in the hallway, from different angles (it’s an L shape), both with their tails super fluffed up.

So, naturally, I immediately had to sit the kids down and read this one with them.

Cats are absolutely hilarious, and an utter joy, so I am intensely biased when it comes to books about them. I am also, in my spare time, a writer of the paranormal, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that I adored this book.

Spread from ‘My Cat Can See Ghosts’, by Emily Joe (Beatnik Publishing)

The illustrations and prose perfectly capture the many strange positions and actions that cats run through on a daily basis. Their behaviour is sometimes inexplicable, so the idea that they might be chasing ghosts from the house is utterly delightful.

There is a very well-chosen limited colour palette, which is used to great effect. I have literally been picking up this book daily just to delight in the illustrations.

With that said, perhaps if you have no cat to roam your halls, you may decide to take a pause. For you may need to adopt one from the SPCA, to ensure that the ghosts stay away.

My Cat Can See Ghosts

By Emily Joe

Beatnik Publishing

RRP $30.00

Buy now

Cassie Hart

Cassie Hart (Kāi Tahu) is an award-winning author of speculative fiction. She lives nestled between Taranaki Maunga and the ocean, where she nurtures children, cats, and story ideas.