Reviews: Four Fresh Picture Books

Bookseller Pippi Jean finds lots to rave about with four fun, rambunctious picture books.

Coney, by David Minty and Greg Parker

My first reaction to Coney by David Minty and Greg Parker was of pure, unaccompanied delight. I felt like running alone down the middle of a road in cyberspace. I felt like re-downloading Minecraft. As Rhys Darby admits, on the back of this book, on the back of a truck, in sort of a celebratory, Christmassy white-on-red text: “Finally, a book about road cones!” 

The whole picture book does feel Christmassy. A good ol’ Kiwi Christmas—with cones. Conemas? Much of this is to do with Minty’s bright, schematic illustrations: a bright orange cone, a wide blue sea, a subtle green sunset glow that rises behind the native punga and ferns on the hills. The storyline never strays from signs of the beach. Tiny, adorable clouds drift along a mostly-clear sky. A lemonade stand thrives (almost too well for its road-cone business owners). It is all picture-perfect Kiwi summer. 

Aside from the pure novelty, [this is] a lovely story about finding a way to get back where you came from

While I won’t spoil the plot twists, there are quick pirouettes in the story that made me laugh. One sentence I love is: “…the cones mounted their turkeys.” Like, where else would I ever read that sentence? Returning to Rhys’ quote, when else are you gonna get to read a book about road cones with amnesia? Aside from the pure novelty, it’s a lovely story about finding a way to get back where you came from—to remember who you are and what you can do in the world, both despite and because of your nature. 


By David Minty and Greg Parker

Published by Minty Books

RRP: $19.95

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You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are!, written by Belinda O’Keefe and illustrated by Ross Kinnaird

The emotional residue from this book is one of joy. Depictions of Great-Uncle Arthur’s tales are lively and fun—he runs through laser-storms! He gets chased by a big crab! A sense of togetherness emerges, even while the stories serve as a chagrin to the great-niece that “you don’t know how lucky you are.” Much of that joy is to do with how O’Keefe’s words partner with Kinnaird’s illustrative work. For example, on one page, after his great-niece is stung by a bumblebee, Arthur crouches to her eye level and says, “You don’t know how lucky you are.” The phrase is consoling. He has polka dots on his shirt. Long blades of grass grow up around the two characters, radiating a yellowish glow into a bright blue sky. 

Kinnaird’s art style for the book is busy, rambunctious and fun

Kinnaird’s art style for the book is busy, rambunctious and fun. The typeset matches this style. Each paragraph is dually translated into te reo. Both te reo and English text bubbles move fluidly across the page, leaping the spine, coupling up on one page, then mirroring each other in a two-page spread overleaf. Some parallel words are capitalized: “EXPLODED / PAHŪ.” Some are in brightly coloured, bold text: “pūru pukuriri/angry bull.” Sometimes, the highlighted words don’t align perfectly in meaning. And that difference is a highlight! Visually, these choices make for a playful effect—for the sense that the languages are chasing each other around, rather than one following as a translation of the other. 

You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are/Me i Mōhio koe ki tō Waimarietanga!

Written by Belinda O’Keefe

Illustrated by Ross Kinnaird

Published by Oratia

RRP: $21.00

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Dadpalooza, written by Sarina Dickson and illustrated by Ant Sang 

This book is an absolute gift. I can’t even express it! I’ve been singing along to the tune of Dadpalooza and its twin book, Mumpalooza, like it’s a new hit single from my favorite artist. “A gizmo dad/a sweet dad/a moves to his own beat dad.” Like, listen to that! Isn’t that a treat!

The illustrations are bright and poppy. They detail such an extraordinary, imaginative, and diverse range of dads (and their kids!), and I actually feel like I’m reading a Where’s Wally. Young, old, tall, short, brave, shy, sporty, bookish—and with a range of exquisite haircuts, this book has it all! Standouts to me are “a ‘call me when you need me’ dad” and “a sequined, sparkly queen dad.” Special mention also to “a ‘I am not too busy’ dad”. The text doesn’t necessarily align to each dad, so there is a search-and-find aspect to this book that makes you slow down and appreciate each aspect of the illustrations even more. 

While bouncy, metred, and rhymed, the language is also so inclusive and so beautifully metaphoric in places

Calling it now, this book will one hundred percent become a classic. While bouncy, metred, and rhymed, the language is also so inclusive and so beautifully metaphoric in places. The quotes to describe dads are definitely my favorite thing ever—“A ‘you know I won’t forget’ dad” is the most precious phrase! “A ballet dad” and “a stepdad” are included with equal rhythm and weight. Each dad is unique and equally important! The fact that all the kids included look similar to their respective dads also makes my heart melt. Read this aloud to your kids, please. I love this book. 


Written by Sarina Dickson

Illustrated by Sarina Dickson

Published by Hachette

RRP: $19.99

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There Was An Odd Farmer Who Swallowed A Fly, written by Peter Millett and illustrated by Paul Beavis

Now that we’re on the topic of absolute classics…I gotta say, this one’s a banger. I read this book directly after Dadpalooza, and let me tell you, the amount of rhythm that got stuck in my head! Such sick beats. I want a grown-up, wise adult to READ this to me in a TREMENDOUS voice!

The cut-out features in this book are a real standout. As you flip from one page to the next, more creatures appear in the poor old farmer’s stomach—a fly, a wētā, a gecko—like a flip-out exhibit at Te Papa. The physical circle cut-outs in the paper align perfectly to the coloured words on the other page. As a whole, the interactivity of this book is genius. It’s designed to be read aloud with verve. The addition of a narrating wooly sheep is just perfect. His speech includes te reo, which is an excellent and necessary adaptation of the original work. And the illustrative work is so detailed, and thrillingly grotesque, when the farmer ends up (spoiler) swallowing a cow! 

The cut-out features in this book are a real standout. As you flip from one page to the next, more creatures appear in the poor old farmer’s stomach

I appreciated the themes throughout this book which place it firmly in Aotearoa. The farmer swallows a kunekune, drawn with its trademark black patches. Recognisable rural symbols appear, like the farmer’s collie, a cow, and an oversized red-and-black plaid jacket. A couch is decorated with pōhutakawa flowers. Even the final ‘post-credits’ illustration is a bit of classic dry Kiwi humor. I won’t spoil the ending (the joke is so good) but the illustration references an episode of ‘Shortland Sheep.’ Guaranteed, this is a super fun and interactive read for the whole family. 

There Was an Odd Farmer who Swallowed a Fly

Written by Peter Millett

Illustrated by Paul Beavis

Published by Picture Puffin

RRP: $21.00

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Pippi Jean
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Pippi Jean is a student, bookseller and cool cloud enthusiast living in Te-Whanganui-a-Tara, and originally from Tāmaki Makaurau. She is a founding editor of new literary journal Symposia. She likes to write poetry about, you guessed it, clouds, and to commemorate really fun bike rides.