• Becky Popham

Book Reviews: Picture Books with heart

Whether you feel small, displaced or concerned about the environment, there are some wonderfully uplifting books coming for October. Traverse the universe and our natural environment with Becky Popham as she reports back on these fabulous picture books.

Little Hector Meets Mini Māui, by Ruth Paul (Puffin)

Another addition to the Little Hector series of stories. Here he meets his cousin Mini, a very rare Māui Dolphin, and a good deal of family rivalry and showing off ensues.

The Pod decides they’re off to visit the cousins. Hector, already somewhat grumpy from having heard how precious and special they are, scoffs at the idea of having to play gently with his little cousin—'No-one’s as little as me. So why do I have to be the nice one?' After lots of complaining and far too much swimming, Hector finally meets Mini (her friends call her Popoto which roughly translates to “short” in te reo Māori) and her whanau. She really is just like him but smaller, he’s never seen anyone as tiny!

Spread from Little Hector and Mini Māui, written and illustrated by Ruth Paul (Puffin)

Off Hector and Mini go, spinning and jumping and playing. Ruth’s illustrations really capture the cheeky spirit of the dolphins and their sense of freedom. She manages to squeeze in a lot of other sea creatures so if dolphins aren’t your favourite, there’s plenty more to see. Before long, Hector decides he knows best, making fun of Mini and telling her she’s doing things all wrong.

Ruth’s illustrations really capture the cheeky spirit of the dolphins and their sense of freedom.

Mini, rightly so, gets fed up and during a wrestling match, punches Hector in the belly with her snout. A telling off ensues where both dolphins are reminded of the etiquette of play. After a bit of a sulk and some time to reflect, both Hector and Māui admit their appreciation for the others' talents and they learn to play well and do the perfect ‘spineroo’.

Spread from Little Hector and Mini Maui, by Ruth Paul (Puffin)

It’s a good lesson for kids who tend to be bossy and a little full-on when meeting smaller pals. What I especially appreciate about Ruth Paul’s Little Hector series is her blend of story book and conservation focused themes. Aotearoa has one of the most diverse and unique marine eco-systems on the planet. Many species of flora and fauna are only found here and we need to protect them at all costs.

As with the previous two books, Little Hector & the Big Blue Whale and Little Hector & the Big Idea, it is a fantastic resource, with excellent morals, to introduce younger tamariki to the ocean, all that dwell within and how they can preserve it.

Little Hector meets Mini Maaui


by Ruth Paul Published by Puffin RRP$19.00

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I am the Universe, by Vasanti Unka

When you pair simple text with vast themes via stunning, punchy artwork, you’re on to an absolute winner. I am the Universe by Vasanti Unka really is something special. Unka’s previous books have been big hits too. She won the 2014 Margaret Mahy Book of the Year for The Boring Book and Who Stole the Rainbow? is up there with the best sleuths from any Agatha Christie mystery.

In I Am the Universe we begin with probably one of my overall favourite spreads, The Universe. Unka really does know how to wield a palette, the shapes and colours are magical—you open it up and go “woah!” I read it with my Ma (she’s in her late 50s, I’m 30) and we were both utterly enchanted.

Each page throughout is a feast for the eyes and the brain— Unka tells us all the layers of the atmosphere, the various phases of the moon, the name of each section of the Earth’s crust. We learn all the plants before moving to Earth and slowly the reader is brought closer to home, through oceans and fields, towns and neighbourhoods right into your home and finally ending up in your room looking back up at the stars.

For tamariki wanting to feel connected and part of something bigger, this book is for them (and anyone really). There is some comfort in knowing how you fit into this world and where your spot is in the Universe.

I am the universe


by Vasanti Unka Puffin RRP $25.00

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Tractor Dave, by Rachel Numan & Filip Lazurowicz

I will be honest, this book isn’t written for me but I know little’uns will love it. Who doesn’t love a tractor? Especially one that saves the day and shows that being small doesn’t mean you’re not mighty in spirit.

It’s maize harvesting day and Tractor Dave is pumped! He races down to where the other tractors are already hard at work but they make it abundantly clear there is no room for small tractors! Poor Dave is devastated and heads back to the farm but, shock! horror! The Maize Chopper gets her harvesting shoot stuck and bent out of shape on a tree branch. Is the whole day ruined and the maize wasted?!

Luckily, Tractor Dave has a big, gentle heart and hasn’t been put off after being rejected. He’s got his chain and rope on hand and MacGyvers a remedy that will hold the shoot in place. The maize is gathered, the harvest saved and Dave is now part of the team!

This sweet little picture book is for the budding agriculturalists and tractor lovers. Kids will definitely enjoy the rhyming and both adults and young’uns will enjoy the potential fun, performative elements. At its heart it has solid morals: small does not mean helpless.

At its heart it has solid morals: small does not mean helpless.

It is absolutely worth noting that 50c from each sale of this book goes to Meat the Need who, after a bit of Googling, are a new charity which supplies meat to various City Missions and other food banks. Good on them!

Tractor Dave


by Rachel Numan & Filip Lazurowicz Tractor Dave Books RRP $19.99

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Migrants by Issa Watanabe (Gecko Press)

Gecko Press has done it again. Migrants makes a strong case for picture books transcending their genre. I actually found it incredibly hard to write about this book. It’s something you need to get in your hands to see and feel for yourself.

Migrants focuses on a group of travelling animals. Watanabe said, in an interview with Gecko Press, she chose animals over people to “allow me to tell the story in a way that human representations couldn’t… Children empathise quickly with animals. Also, animals allow the story to be told without mentioning cultures, race, a particular ethnic group, so the story becomes universal.” The reader doesn’t know where the animals are going or why they are leaving their home. It is up to us to interpret as, wonderfully, there are no words in this book.

Each animal has their own personality, represented in the items they carry or the patterned fabric they are wearing. As they go along, you start to build up a relationship with them, get to know them. It makes it all the more heartbreaking when, as they are crossing a body of water, their boat sinks and one or more of the animals dies. The colours change as peril, sorrow and death walk with them.

Each animal has their own personality, represented in the items they carry or the patterned fabric they are wearing.

The last spread is bittersweet but, if I am interpreting correctly, hopeful. I won’t lie when I say it tackles some heavy themes but it is a story that so many people have lived and are living through and their tales need telling. If you can get yourself a copy from your local bookshop, you won’t regret it.

migrants


by Issa Watanabe Gecko Press RRP $28.00

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The Great Realisation by Tomos Roberts & Nomoco

If you haven’t seen the YouTube video that Tomos Roberts created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic then I highly recommend it. As his freelance filmmaking work evaporated during lockdown in London, Tomos ended up moving back in with his Dad and seven-year-old siblings.

As country after country was rocked to the core, having an unprecedented impact on millions, he decided he wanted to create a message of hope and optimism—to inspire people, where possible, not just to return to “normal” but to strive for progress, to fight for a better world for everyone.

As country after country was rocked to the core, having an unprecedented impact on millions, he decided he wanted to create a message of hope and optimism...

The clever humans at HarperCollins paired Tomos up with Nomoco, a Tokyo based artist and illustrator. Nomoco’s ink washes and simplified illustrations let the words do the talking but they bolster the sentiment. As with Migrants, The Great Realisation once again proves that picture books are not just for children—many older folks could learn a lesson or two if they took a chance on kid’s books.

“We filled the sea with plastic, ‘Cause our waste was never capped. Until each day when you went fishing, You’d pull them out, already wrapped.” Together Tomos Roberts & Nomoco have created a very special book. I happily now have a copy on my bookshelf at home. I can imagine myself going back to this book in a few years time. I hope that future version of me reads it knowing that some of the things within the pages came true and the world they are in is a better one.

the great realisation

by Tomos Roberts, with art by Nomoco HarperCollins RRP $24.99

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Becky Popham

Becky Popham is an artist and bookseller based in Pōneke/Wellington. By day she works at brand-new bookshop Good Books, and and by night she makes wonderful and/or weird creations and artworks.