Reviews: Three New Aotearoa Picture Books

Three new picture books reviewed by Linda Jane Keegan cover fitting in, farts, and science. The illustrations in each are wonderful and totally different from one another, and they will have you searching, laughing (or eye-rolling, depending on your tastes), and full of wonder.

Abigail and the Making of the Moon, written by Matthew Cunningham and illustrated by Sarah Wilkins

Abigail and the Making of the Moon is a bright and lovely story of curiosity and science. Abigail has a big question, which her father answers by way of a story. In the literature world we would call this creative non-fiction, but in the world of bedtime reading it’s a beautifully told tale of how the moon came to be.

Spread from Abigail and the making of the moon

Matthew Cunningham dances superbly on a line of being both poetic and scientific. There’s enough information there to answer the question of the moon, but the language is soft and inviting, with room for readers to ask their own questions. Sarah Wilkins’ illustrations are rich and enticing; I love the textures of the rocks and scenes in space.

Spread from Abigail and the making of the moon

Abigail and the Making of the Moon is the third Abigail title, following Abigail and the Birth of the Sun (Puffin, 2019)—which Rachel Moore reviewed here—and Abigail and the Restless Raindrop (Puffin, 2020), which Matthew talked about here. They all follow the pattern of Abigail having a big question, an expressively described answer, and finishing with Abigail already thinking about her next question. The Birth of the Sun won best picture book in the 2020 NZCYA Book Awards, and rightfully so. I’m looking forward to reading what question Abigail has next!

Abigail and the Making of the Moon

Written by Matthew Cunningham

Illustrated by Sarah Wilkins

Published by Puffin

RRP: $21.00

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Eye Spyclops, written by Libby Whittaker and illustrated by Lily Uivel

Alfred is, as you may have already suspected, a Cyclops. The setting is kind of like the real world with a touch of fantasy—a Cyclops family, a dragon here, a purple optometrist there. The cool tones of the illustrations are crisp and attractive.

Spread from Eye Spyclops

The story itself is perhaps a not-so-subtle narrative about fitting in and finding out what works for you. Alfred is trying to find the right pair of glasses in a mostly two-eyed world, and not having much success. As you would hope, we do reach a satisfying conclusion of finding the right glasses after all, but rather than the story arc taking a bell curve, it was more of a gentle undulation. I felt like I wanted a bit more to happen, or the stakes to be higher. 

Spread from Eye Spyclops

I love the ‘eye spy’ items in the back of the book to go back and look for, though I wish there were more! There are a number of lovely little (and big!) characters to spot throughout the book, which makes a lovely addition to the story and gives you a chance to go back and soak up the illustrations again (and, if you are reading it to young people in your life, again and again and again!).

Eye Spyclops

Written by Libby Whittaker

Illustrated by Lily Uivel

Published by Little Love

RRP: $20.00

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Nanas with No Manners, by Justin Christopher and Minky Stapleton

This is a book for kids who love fart jokes (so, pretty much every kid ever, apparently). Three ridiculous nanas (who I was pleased to see were diverse in skin tone) love eating nachos with cheese. One of the nanas, Nana McCartan, ‘couldn’t hold a fart in.’ These nanas are bolshy and bold, and do not take advice to not drink swamp water (much to their later consternation).

Spread from Nanas with No Manners

The rhyming is playful and silly, and mostly flows well. Some of the sections feel like they don’t follow the pattern, making the reading out loud somewhat abrupt. By the end, the nanas learn a lesson about using manners but it doesn’t come off as a moralistic tale. The illustrations are fabulous—the colouring is excellent, and I love how Minky has captured the expressions on the nanas’ faces.

Spread from Nanas with No Manners

If you are not a fan of toilet humour, this probably isn’t the book for you. I’m not personally a fan, but you can bet my seven-year-old was pointing and laughing at all the fart clouds emanating from rear ends.

Nanas with no Manners

By Justin Christopher and Minky Stapleton

Published by Scholastic

RRP: $21.99

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cartoon character with long hair smiling

Linda Jane is the lead editor of The Sapling, a parent, and a writer of picture books, poetry, and other tidbits. Her background is varied, including work in ecology, environmental education, summer camps, and a community newspaper. She is Singaporean-Pākehā, queer, and loves leaping into cold bodies of water.