Four very different NZ picture books
Mark Broatch reviews four recent picture books by New Zealand authors and illustrators – Inspector Brunswick: The Case of the Missing Eyebrow about a feline detective and an art gallery, What Are You Supposed to Be? about a weird wolf, Grandad's Guitar which celebrates inter-generational bonds and We're Off to Find a Kiwi, in which two siblings go on an adventure in search of the quiet bird.
A spread from Inspector Brunswick: The Case of the Missing Eyebrow by Chris Lam Sam and illustrated by Angela Keoghan
Entertainer and musician Chris Lam Sam turns author for Inspector Brunswick: The Case of the Missing Eyebrow, a quirky animal detective tale put out by Tate Publishing, an arm of the UK galleries.
Not surprisingly, it looks a treat, with hardback cover and double-page illustrations, by Angela Keoghan, done in a vivid montage style. There's even a four-page gatefold in the middle, where a menagerie of characters are trying to help Brunswick, a debonair cat – though who's possibly more Inspector Clouseau than Sherlock Holmes – and his loyal assistant Nelson, a dog, find the titular eyebrow that's gone walkabout from a painting in the gallery. Cats and fish and quail and chipmunks and even a crocodile are all drawn in to the mystery.
Apparently there are more Inspector Brunswick books to come, which is good news. I predict this one will be a winner for our little animal-lover in coming months.
Inspector Brunswick: The case of the missing eyebrow
By Chris Lam Sam
Illustrated by Angela Keoghan
Published by Tate Publishing
A spread from What Are You Supposed to Be? by Paul Beavis
The wolf in What Are You Supposed to Be? is a fair way along the, er, vulpine bell curve. He eats aubergine salads rather than sheep's guts, plays the violin, has a flowery pinny: he is a little bit fruity. A bossy girl with blonde pigtails appoints herself his life coach and tries to get him into wolfish shape. First he must get his teeth and hair done, then he has to ditch the cravat and work on his inner sheep-slayer. For his part, the wolf is open to change but not too sure about the extent of such a transformation. Evolution rather than revolution.
The artwork of Paul Beavis, of Jingle Bells, Rudolph Smells and Mrs Mo's Monster fame, is full of life and colour, and is likely to grab the eyeballs of even the very little, like our 18-month-old. For my taste, the ending could have been more dramatic, and I was distracted by the fonts used to illustrate the words of the wolf and the little nosey parker. But the message here of be true to yourself – 'This is how I turned out,' says the wolf – is one parents love to hear, and they shouldn't miss the opportunity to make a few storytime growls along the way.
What are you supposed to be?
By Paul Beavis
Published by Scholastic NZ
I wasn't expecting to like Grandad's Guitar as much as I did, but was won over by its lovingly lo-fi illustrations (by Fifi Colston) and slow-burn story.
Kahu learns about his grandparents by way of a weathered guitar he inherits. As he strums away trying to pick up chords and tunes, he finds out how his grandparents travelled to Europe and Asia decades before on a boat – one that looks more like a sleek liner than a floating hotel block. There the two – and the guitar – had all matter of adventures.
The story is surely, concisely told by Janine McVeagh in her first picture book. It's clearly autobiographical: the offbeat tales from Asia ring true (as does the groovy 60s/70s haircut of Kahu's future grandad), and the photos at the back of grandchild and grandma, and a guitar in a green case seal the deal. And it rolls in sweet lessons: music bonds across time and space. Your grandparents might have lived cool lives when they were young. Stick at something and you'll get better. And there's often no love like that between grandchild and grandparent.
By Janine McVeagh Illustrated by Fifi Colston
Published by Submarine/Mākaro Press
A spread from We're Off to Find A Kiwi
I guess we shouldn't be cotton-woolling our kids, but I was worried about the parenting in We're Off to Find a Kiwi. A girl and her little brother Louie head off to the city, the country, the mountains and the bush. Other than passers-by, there are no grown-ups to be seen. Of course, you could get to the end of the story and decide that their adventures only happen in their imagination, but I choose to believe that parenting (of others!) is not what it used to be.
Whatever your take, you have to admire their determination. They ask everyone they come across where they might find a kiwi – a tui, a sheep, a kea.
The watercolour-y illustrations, by Kate Wilkinson, are a little on the pale side but have a rustic charm, and the rhymes, by Juliette MacIver (who wrote the Marmaduke Duck series), are fun and scan well for reading aloud: 'Now let me see, he has to be / somewhere in the town. / We search the city, every bitty, / up the streets and down.' Besides, any book that rhymes kiwi with wee-wee gets my tick of approval.
We're off to Find a Kiwi
By Juliette MacIver Illustrated by Kate Wilkinson
Published by Scholastic NZ
Mark Broatch is a journalist, author and stay-at-home dad. He has a (dusty) MA in English Lit from Auckland University. He reads constantly to his 18-month-old girl, though she also loves YouTube nursery rhymes.