Book Reviews: New picture books from Aotearoa
It's time for a fresh batch of picture books reviews! Rachel Moore takes us through five new fantastic titles from Aotearoa that feature a child in a hurry, the most heartwarming friendship between a boy and a goose, a wildlife Easter egg hunt, and one confronting trip through a collective noun safari.
I’ve been lucky enough to review five new picture books from the good folks at The Sapling. They’ve been road tested by my class of five and six-year-olds, who thoroughly enjoyed and enthusiastically recommend each book, so I’ll talk about each book from a more adult perspective.
Rush Rush! by Elena de Roo, illustrated by Jenny Cooper (OneTree House)
I’m very familiar with Jenny Cooper’s work, having read aloud books containing her lively illustrations for many years. Elena de Roo was a new author to me, and a welcome addition to my memory bank of authors who write with great rhythm. De Roo’s words and Cooper’s illustrations work together beautifully as we follow the journey of a child from waking, to arriving at a mysterious destination.
Spread from Rush Rush!, by Elena de Roo, illustrated by Jenny Cooper (OneTree House)
There is a sense of urgency and expectation as the onomatopoeic language and the exuberant illustrations drive us on from scene to scene, landscape to landscape. Where is this child rushing off to in their pj's, dressing gown and gumboots? Cooper captures the child’s joy and energy perfectly, and the language is lush and descriptive: 'whoosh', 'whizz', 'rustle', 'swish' and 'chatter'. Because of where my school is located, the students in my class were able to predict on the penultimate page where the child was headed in such a hurry… but you’ll have to read Rush Rush! to find out!
By Elena de Roo
Illustrated by Jenny Cooper
OneTree House RRP $29.99
Honk! By Elizabeth Pulford, illustrated by Astrid Matijasevich (OneTree House)
Honk! is a story of friendship and patience. Honk the goose is injured in a storm, and Henry and his family find him in their backyard. Henry feeds Honk and they form a close bond, even though Henry knows that Honk will have to leave when he is better. When Honk is finally well enough to go on his way, Henry bravely says goodbye.
Spread from Honk! by Elizabeth Pulford, illustrated by Astrid Matijasevich (OneTree House)
I really like the way that Pulford has made the story about Honk, not Henry—it gently suggests that looking after someone else is a wonderful act of love for them, and that’s reward enough. The story builds beautifully towards Honk’s return to geese-kind, and the bright, engaging pictures marry well with the text (I suggest a second reading to watch the cat!). The final picture is just lovely and a reminder that even when someone we love has gone, they aren’t forgotten.
By Elizabeth Pulford
Illustrated by Astrid Matijasevich
OneTree House RRP $30.00
There’s a Bear in the Window by June Pitman-Hayes, illustrated by Minky Stapleton, translated into Te Reo Māori by Pānia Papa (Scholastic)
This book was an instant conversation starter in my classroom. The children had happy memories of going for family walks in 2020’s Level 4 and Level 3 COVID lockdowns and ‘bear hunting’. I even set it as a P.E./Math activity as part of my home learning programme. My students talked about the bears they had in their own windows, the funniest bears they saw, and who saw the same bears. For this reason alone, I’m happy to recommend this book, but there’s more! (I should add that my school is not in the Auckland region, and did not experience the repeated Level 3 situations that Auckland children have, so Auckland children may have quite different experiences and recollections).
Spread from There's a Bear in the Window by June Pitman-Hayes, illustrated by Minky Stapleton, translated into Te Reo Māori by Pānia Papa (Scholastic)
The illustrations are colourful and inclusive, with many types of New Zealanders depicted as the readers explore different neighbourhoods. The text is bilingual, with a helpful glossary in the back—I wish this were standard practice and therefore not noteworthy, but every New Zealand book published in Te Reo Māori as well as English is another step forward. According to the publisher’s website, this is a song in book form, which explains why I found the rhythm a little hard to get a hold of when I read it aloud (it does work well as a song because you can change where you stress syllables). You won’t find how to get access to the song in the book or on the website, but you will find it on YouTube or iTunes—it’s cute, and I can imagine children enjoying it.
There's a bear in the window
By June Pitman-Hayes Illustrated by Minky Stapleton
Translated by Pānia Papa
The Little Lambs’ Great New Zealand Easter Egg Hunt, by Yvonne Mes, illustrated by Aleksandra Szmidt (Hachette NZ)
This book is a good lesson for me, to not judge a book by its title! I assumed that it would be a very specifically Easter-egg-themed book, so it would sit forgotten about most of the year. I’m pleased to say I was wrong! The book is actually using the idea of an Easter egg hunt to introduce different native NZ birds and their eggs, with a pleasing repetitive rhyme that small children will love. They’ll also love making the bird sounds!
Spread from The Little Lambs’ Great New Zealand Easter Egg Hunt by Yvonne Mes, illustrated by Aleksandra Szmidt (Hachette NZ), photo courtesy of Briar Lawry
The illustrations are sweet, colourful and clearly New Zealand in origin, and will really appeal to under 5s in particular. There’s a small but helpful information panel on the inside back cover, that gives a little snippet of information about each bird—perfect to share with a curious small person. This book is a wonderful alternative to the chocolate overload that occurs around Easter, and will remain relevant year round.
The Little Lambs’ Great New Zealand Easter Egg Hunt
By Yvonne Mes
Illustrated by Aleksandra Szmidt
Hachette NZ RRP $20.00
Treasure Beyond Measure, by Helen Griffiths, illustrated by Simon Chadwick (Rumpus Books)
This is the sort of book that a child will spend ages with, just looking at the pictures, seeing what they recognise, and counting how many, etc. The illustrations are so full and rich, and even from the mat my students were calling out “look at that rat!” or “why is that rhino there?”. So I can just imagine what would happen if the book was in their laps—they’d be transfixed.
Spread from Treasure Beyond Measure by Helen Griffiths, illustrated by Simon Chadwick (Rumpus Books)
The text is in the form of rhyming couplets, and introduces the reader to the collective nouns for lots of different types of animals. This device gets the reader to the problem in the book—the devastation caused by humans. Thankfully, Griffiths approaches the problem with a light touch; instead of going down a ‘we’re all doomed’ path that would terrify children into inaction, it asks them to be kind and sends a message of hope that changing habits can make a positive difference. If you jump onto the website (listed on the back cover), you can also get an audio version via Spotify, and purchase some downloadable activities.
Treasure beyond measure
By Helen Griffiths
Illustrated by Simon Chadwick
Rumpus Books RRP $20.00
Rachel Moore is a experienced primary school teacher who lives on the Kapiti Coast. Some of her earliest memories are of bed time stories read with her dad, and she has made it her mission to try to pass on her love of books to every child she meets. Her childhood literary heroes are Jo March, Lucy Pevensie, Matilda Wormwood and Elizabeth Bennet. When she grows up, Rachel hopes she'll be able to live in a house big enough for all her books.