Sapling editor Nida reviews three new picture books where animals are the stars—from snakes, to kiwi, to moa, the whole animal kingdom is here to tell these fun tales!
Jungle Jazz, written by Jo van Dam and illustrated by Deborah Hinde
Jo van Dam and Deborah Hinde have teamed up for the second time to bring this hilariously clever story of friendship, belonging, and problem-solving to readers small or otherwise.
Snake wants to join the jungle band ‘The Dung Beatles’ (hehe), but his lack of appendages makes things a bit tricky…he doesn’t have thumbs to “thrum or strum”, and nor can he “hum or bang on a drum!”
But Snake doesn’t share any of this with the bandmates. Instead, he watches from afar as the others have their fun until he can no longer bear it and decides to take matters into his own hands (or mouth, in this case)—ah, the good old ‘If I can’t, then nobody can’ trope.
A sticky, slimy, and surprisingly funny situation ensues, but with a bit of teamwork, all is well and Snake comes to realise that his instrument was within him all along—his rambunctious rattlesnake-maraca tail!
Jo van Dam has previously proven her poetry chops with T is for Tuatara, and though the story is told mainly in prose, where there is rhyme, it doesn’t just scan but is a joy to read.
Pair the lovely writing with Deborah Hinde’s rich and lush illustrations, and you’ve got yourself a stellar story. I loved that the animals were drawn relatively realistically—the details were impressive, and the bright and bold colour palette was truly a feast for the eyes.
Jo van Dam and Deborah Hinde have teamed up for the second time to bring this hilariously clever story of friendship, belonging, and problem-solving to readers small or otherwise
There’s even a lovely lift-the-flap surprise at the end that reveals a complete snakes and ladders game—all the more reason to return to this tale time and time again.
And as Jo mentions in her dedication, thank you indeed to the “hungry shag, that swallowed the flounder, which stuck in its throat, making it look very funny’’ for it led to this brilliant book.
Written by Jo van Dam
Illustrated by Deborah Hinde
Published by Picturebook Publishing
A Kiwi Went to Sea, Sea, Sea, written by Peter Millett and illustrated by Shaun Yeo
Dynamic duo Peter Millet and Shaun Yeo return for the third time with a Kiwi take on the classic and well-loved nursery rhyme, A Sailor Went to Sea.
In this version, we follow a group of kiwi on their separate nautical adventures, but everything goes awry when some cheeky critters decide to join in on their fun. Whether it’s tītī pickpocketing their packed lunch or kekeno stealing the fish they’d just caught, the kiwi birds’ plans never seem to pan out quite as they expected.
Little ones will catch on to the repetitive tune in no time and sing along even if they themselves can’t read quite yet. On my initial read, I found that the rhythm was okay for the most part, but there were a few awkward bits with either too many or too few syllables. However, I must confess, I was unfamiliar with the melody and how it was meant to be sung since I hadn’t personally encountered this particular nursery rhyme as a child.
One quick YouTube search later, I realised the extra syllables weren’t a problem—the original rhyme had my tongue in twists and my brain racing to keep up—so they felt more authentic if anything. It was the lack of syllables that stood out, but even then I recall only one or two lines in the whole book with that issue so it wasn’t a huge deal, all things considered.
Little ones will catch on to the repetitive tune in no time and sing along even if they themselves can’t read quite yet
I liked that te reo Māori was woven throughout the text, and there were plenty of context clues (and the illustrations of course) to help those unfamiliar with the terms. There’s even a mini glossary at the back of the book that can be referenced if needed.
The illustrations utilise a limited, albeit cohesive, colour palette paired with bold, black outlines characteristic of cartoon/comic art. Shaun Yeo’s illustration style is quite different to what I usually enjoy, but I appreciate how well he communicates both movement and stillness and how he creates incredibly expressive characters—there’s no questioning how they feel, down to the smallest or least significant of side characters.
A Kiwi Went to Sea, Sea, Sea
Written by Peter Millett
Illustrated by Shaun Yao
Published by Bateman Books
Dreams of a Moa, written by Carly Waddleton and illustrated by Megan Salole
Christchurch author Carly Waddleton’s debut picture book Dreams of a Moa was inspired by her son’s musings on the fate of the titular bird—and that’s exactly how this imaginative tale starts.
Jam-packed with adventure and humour, Dreams of a Moa is all about following your aspirations despite the challenges you may face, and what better way to communicate this than with a story about a bird with no wings? Moa may not have been able to fly, but that didn’t stop them from playing fancy dress, having high tea out at sea, joining the national ballet in France, and landing on the moon (accompanied by their kiwi, wētā, and takahē buddies of course).
Jam-packed with adventure and humour, Dreams of a Moa is all about following your aspirations despite the challenges you may face
Readers may notice that in one of the illustrations, the main character—an inquisitive young boy—sports a prosthetic leg. This inclusion was important to the author (who herself has heart issues) to demonstrate that people with disabilities are “just as capable as anyone else of giving [their] dreams a try’’.
The crazy adventures that these moa get up to also serve as potential reasons for their extinction—I mean, who are we to say that they didn’t perish as a result of their outrageous exploits? These exploits are mostly lighthearted and not super in-your-face, until the part about the pirates having them for dinner. This particular theory I imagine might be a bit disconcerting for some readers—it’s difficult to connect the adorable, mischievous character you’ve been following with someone’s dinner.
In terms of the text itself, the narrative was relayed in a series of couplets which were done quite well. There were only two lines which seemed to fall a little flat/were a tad clunky: “Not even being a bird that cannot fly could stop a moa from giving a dream to try” and when ‘slush’ was offered as the rhyme to ‘bush’.
I think the double-page spread at the end of the story with moa factoids and cheeky illustrations was a great addition to the book. And, speaking of illustrations, there’s definitely no mistaking the setting for this story. I adored our main character’s gorgeous lampshade covered with native flora, the Māori place name stickers on the moa suitcase, and the te reo labels on the ‘Inshrinkinator’ that the moa used to turn themselves into kiwi.
The moa-print endpapers were beautiful, and I thoroughly enjoyed spotting the moa footprint motif all throughout the book (as the handles on a nightstand, the print on a blanket, and patterned on the little boy’s shirt, backpack, and shorts). Megan Salole injects plenty of humour into each page—I particularly loved the kiwi using its legs to paint a moa’s nails Barbie-pink, and the sophisticated pinky fingers/feathers sticking out during high tea.
Dreams of a Moa
Written by Carly Waddleton
Illustrated by Megan Salole
Published by Little Love
Nida Fiazi has worked in the New Zealand book industry for the past four years as a poet, editor, reviewer, and advocate for better representation in literature. She is a Hazara Kiwi Muslim and a former refugee who spent her formative years in Kirikiriroa but now resides in Meeanjin (Brisbane). Her work has appeared in Issue 6 of Mayhem Literary Journal, the anthology Ko Aotearoa Tātou | We Are New Zealand, and Poetry NZ Yearbook 2021. She is currently penning an opera with Tracey Slaughter.