Friday, September 16, 2016

Book Review: Annual....

I was recently sent a copy of Gecko's 2016 Annual so I thought I'd do a bit of a review. It's a bold new step for Gecko, to produce an Annual: a collection of different writing, games, comic strips, poetry, activities and art for the intermediate/young teen reader. I remember owning and enjoying one or two annuals in my own childhood, but nowadays they seem to only be associated with teen boy bands, British icons like Beano and Rupert, or sports teams. There hasn't been anything available that is particularly kiwi that I can recall and as a gap was perceived in reading needs in this age group, Gecko responded with this very handsome book. It was with great interest and curiosity that I dived in between the pages.

I have to say it is rather beautiful, and every care has gone into making something that looks and feels cool and attractive, but is also hard wearing and long lasting.

So, to the contents. There are short stories, comic strips, poetry and essays of varying sizes by writers new and familiar. Names like Bernard Beckett, Barbara Else, Sarah Laing and Steve Braunias alongside Paul Beavis, Whiti Hereaka, Giselle Clarkson and Kirsten McDougall. There are things to do, games, things to make, differences to spot, a play, music, and quirky collected things. It is a superb selection. The writing is smart and assured. Stories examine themes such as family, relationships, finding your own place, growing up and being real. The art work is varied, often fun and always inspiring. I can see children with an artistic bent having a go at some of the tasks, but also trying to imitate some of the styles seen here.

(this artwork by Gavin Mouldey)

There is a really useful guide to visual storytelling. There is humour (poor Bad Luck Zebra) and a funny board game (whatever you do don't land on the square where you accidentally see Grandma naked!). I didn't like everything that was in there, but I think that is to be expected. There is a wide enough variety of theme and style to appeal to a good range of readers. With sophisticated writing, and all of it with an underlying ideas-driven and artistic vibe, this book is for the hungry, confident reader, and I think it will bend and stretch and entertain them in all sorts of good ways.

Out now at good bookstores

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

What I have been up to....

Hello there

Boy, August was full on. I became involved in a special project involving half a dozen full day visits to a South Auckland school teaching creative writing and a love of books and reading. I had my first visits in the last week of July and did the remaining visits over August. It has been a wonderful experience visiting at Panama Road School. The students are enthusiastic, affectionate and keen. I hope my love of books and writing has infected them.

I headed down to Wellington in the second week for the NZ Children's and Young Adults Book Awards. We announced and celebrated the wonderful winners on a wild, wet and windy Wellington Night at the Circa Theatre. Ten days later a host of international delegates descended on Auckland for the 2016 IBBY congress and for four days we discussed, celebrated and examined children's literature from around the world and it's crucial role in bridging cultural divides and bringing us all closer together. I got so much out of it. I attended sessions with the wonderful Australian Children's laureate Leigh Hobbes, and amazing novelist Markus Zusak. I chatted with writery friends from round the country and the world. I loved hearing about initiatives from other countries, about writers and illustrators I had not come across before, about the desire for more diversity in our children's literature

I was comforted by the fact we are all looking for solutions to the same issues. I loved the passion for the potential children's literature has to heal rifts, and to unite us globally. It was exciting to see aspects of our own country through the eyes of others. The whole thing was very thought provoking....and inspiring. And I found myself thinking about the possibility of attending future IBBY Congresses in other countries. On Sunday the IBBY Congress segued into the Storylines Festival and I got to take part in the Auckland Family Day. I met some lovely fans, made origami butterflies with lots of children and talked about turning ideas into books.

I imagined 2016 was going to be a quiet year with few engagements. I thought I would be twiddling my thumbs but the year just keeps on surprising me. In a few weeks I'm heading down to Christchurch to take part in a few events organised around our What Lies Beneath Exhibition of Children's Books by New Zealand authors themed around World War 1 and 2. This exhibition has been touring around New Zealand libraries and is spending the month of September in Christchurch. I'll post up more details soon. In November I am giving another workshop on Writing Picture Books with Selwyn Community Education. The days inbetween are slowly filling up too. Who knows what might happen next?