Archive for the ‘Children’s Books’ Category

A Wrinkle In Time

Friday, November 6th, 2015

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle was ahead of its time with its story of wormholes and angels. Struggling writers should take note that it was rejected 26 times because its ideas were so ground-breaking back in 1960. Not unlike the current Dr Who, L’Engle combined engaging characters with a sci-fi plot that invoked the whole universe – I especially love the ending where a giant disembodied alien brain is defeated by love. Here’s what she said about children’s books:

You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children – Madeleine L’Engle

Wrinkle-in-Time

 

 

Imagination

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

A book needs us desperately. We have to pull it off the shelf. We have to open it up. We have to turn the pages, one by one. We even have to use our imagination to make it work. So, suddenly, that book is not just a book; it’s our book. –  Mo Willems

The pictures are not very defined because one wants to be able to have the imagination playing over them. – Quentin Blake

Because they have so little, children must rely on imagination rather than experience. – Eleanor Roosevelt

“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space…”— Shakespeare (Hamlet)

Image: Two merging galaxies, from NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes. (Credit: NASA, ESA/JPL-Caltech/STScI/D. Elmegreen (Vassar)

These shape-shifting galaxies have taken on the form of a giant mask. The icy blue eyes are actually the cores of two merging galaxies, called NGC 2207 and IC 2163, and the mask is their spiral arms. The false-colored image consists of infrared data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope (red) and visible data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (blue/green). 

NGC 2207 and IC 2163 met and began a sort of gravitational tango about 40 million years ago. The two galaxies are tugging at each other, stimulating new stars to form. Eventually, this cosmic ball will come to an end, when the galaxies meld into one. The dancing duo is located 140 million light-years away in the Canis Major constellation.

The infrared data from Spitzer highlight the galaxies' dusty regions, while the visible data from Hubble indicates starlight. In the Hubble-only image (not pictured here), the dusty regions appear as dark lanes.

The Hubble data correspond to light with wavelengths of .44 and .55 microns (blue and green, respectively). The Spitzer data represent light of 8 microns.

 

Best Titles For Children

Saturday, October 3rd, 2015

The-Stupids-Die

Choosing a title is the fun stage of writing a book. The hard work over, I spend hours happily test-driving pithy, bizarre or lyrical titles. The greatest children’s titles describe some aspect of the plot, setting, or character, in striking words. My favourites titles are A Swiftly Tilting Planet and The Stupid’s Die; and I quite like my own, Global Norman (about global warming). Here are some classic titles of children’s literature:

* Character: Oliver Twist, Shrek, The Halfmen of O, Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy, Flat Stanley

* Plot: Millions of Cats,  Journey To The Centre of the Earth, The Shrinking of Treehorn

*SettingOutside Over There, The Horror of Hickory Bay, The Black Island

*Theme: To Kill A Mockingbird, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry

* Joke: War and Peas, Squids Will Be Squids, Green Eggs and Ham

a swiftly tilting planet cover

Alice in Wonderland 150

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

Alice in Wonderland (1865) is 150 years old. The book and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass (1871), by Lewis Carroll, were the first children’s novels to create a complete fantasy world. Before Alice, children’s books were mostly moralistic or religious, with titles such as ‘An Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy Lives and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children’. The Alice books are infused with word play, parody of Victorian society, anarchy, and creepy characters (courtesy of Tenniel’s illustrations; the sheep below is my favourite). Alice revolutionized children’s literature.

John_Tenniel_Alice_and_the_Knitting_SheepBest Alice versions:

  • The lovely hardback version with Zadie Smith’s intro and Mervyn Peake’s pictures.
  • The Annotated Alice by Martin Gardner is the definitive geek’s guide.

 

Best Books For Babies

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

The best picture books are like a marriage: the text and illustrations support each other but have a strong life of their own. For very young children the plot should be focused and the pictures comforting.  I Went Walking by Sue Williams is a perfect first book. The words are basic yet they incorporate repetition, questions, rhymes and humour. And the illustrations by Julie Vivas are sublime; leading the eye across the page in a dance of line, shape and colour. (See her gorgeous version of the Nativity too). 

Max’s Bath by Barbro Lindgren is another delightful book for preschoolers. Max dumps his toys and his food in the tub and then tries to wash the dog with predictable results. Max is a classic ‘terrible two year old’ combining charm and mischief.

The picture book Seasons by French artist, Blexbolex is a unique, meditative book for young children that adults will relish for it’s design. It’s a tactile treat, printed in chunky hardback on rough paper, like old comic annuals. Each page has a single word and a subtle image to illustrate it. No garish colours here, just the quiet passing of seasons.

New Peace Book

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

A compelling, empowering book. – David Hill

My new book, Peace Warriors (Mākaro Press), tells the true stories of people who chose non-violent resistance in times of conflict. Young readers will discover that peace-making and people power can be more effective than military force.

Buy Peace Warriors

Radio interview about the book:

Peace-warriors-front-cover-web


Struwwelpeter

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

The book has long oscillated between being accepted as harmless hilarity and being condemned as excessively horrifying- Humphrey Carpenter

Struwwelpeter (Pretty Stories and  Funny Pictures) by Dr Heinrich Hoffman (1845) is a classic of gleefully gruesome cautionary rhymes about naughty children. Hoffman was a psychiatrist who founded an influential Frankfurt asylum and pioneered counselling as an alternative treatment to cold baths. The characters in Struwwelpeter were inspired by his child patients – he’d tell them stories and draw pictures to calm them down. Hoffman was looking for a book for his three year old son and could only find ‘stupid collections of pictures, and moralising stories’, so he created Struwwelpeter. It was one of the first picture books designed purely to please children – before 1850 children’s books were mainly religious and moral lessons with titles such as An Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy Lives and Joyful Deaths of Several Young Children. Read more about ‘Shock-Headed’ Peter here.

The Awful Warning carried to the point where Awe topples over into helpless laughter.– Harvey Darton

struwwelpeter

 

The Magnificent Moomin Comics

Saturday, December 6th, 2014

There is great exuberance in the Moomins, and a delightful battyness. – Jeanette Winterson

The Moomin comic strips by Tove Jansson (originally from the 1950s) are reprinted in five magnificent hardback volumes. The comics are a lovely balance of  humour and optimistism. The free-spirited Moomins live in the moment and these comics are still relevant, commenting on consumerism, the environment and work. For example, in The Conscientious Moomins, an officer of the League of Duty admonishes Moominpappa for being a drop-out; but when Moominpappa joins the establishment, all the pleasure goes out of his life, and he returns to his old philosophy of

‘Live in peace, plant potatoes and dream!’

 

The Strawberry Snatcher book

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher is a classic picture book that almost didn’t make it. It took Molly Bang years to create and it was repeatedly rejected by publishers – they said it was ‘peculiar-looking’ and that ‘children won’t relate to an old woman as a protagonist’. The manuscript sat in a drawer for years, was re-worked and finally published to some critical reviews, writes Molly Bang: ‘The New York Times that said that the weird-looking characters and flashy colors were an indication that I was part of the drug culture and the detailed pictures told no real story but were merely an excuse to show off.’ Then it won a Caldecott award and everything changed. Why? It’s a one-of-a-kind, off-the-wall book, and very creepy! I love the tiny fungi that grow where the Strawberry Snatcher has trod.

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A Wonder Book

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

The classic picture book Calico the Wonder Horse — The Saga of Stewy Stinker by Virgina Lee Burton was published in 1941. I adored this comic-book style cowboy adventure as a child mainly because of the bad guy. Stewy Stinker is so low he steals Christmas presents from children but in the end he repents. This picture of him crying out his rottenness always made me feel sorry for him:

The word ‘Stinker’ was censored from the book in the 1940s as it was considered inappropriate for children. Burton was one of the great illustrators and the idea for Calico from seeing her sons engrossed with comic books. The wonderful design, cartoon framing and action scenes of Calico are worthy of a modern graphic comic: the flash flood and stagecoach crash are gripping highlights. But it’s that haunting image of Stewy that will stay with me.

Sci-Fi Classics

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

I loved science fiction when I was a young teen – especially short stories about time travel, which usually had surprise endings. In Arthur C Clarke’s All the Time in the World, a man freezes time a second before a nuclear blast; in A Sound of Thunder, by Ray Bradbury, the death of an insect changes the course of history. I still have my old copy of Bradbury’s Golden Apples of the Sun; the Corgi paperback cost me 65 cents new in 1970 (about the hourly rate for raspberry picking in my summer holidays). A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle was a novel ahead of its time in 1960 (it was rejected 26 times by publishers). Its plot combines wormholes and angels and has a classic ending: a giant disembodied alien brain is defeated by love. L’Engle liked to tackle grand themes, as she said:

You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.

Tibet in Comics

Saturday, May 31st, 2014

Old Tibet was once the essence of the mystical in Western eyes: with tales of mysterious Shangri-La and the yeti; the remote Himalayas; the serenity of Buddhism and its Dalai Lama. This essence has influenced many comic stories, such as wartime hero, Green Lama (1945), who got his strength by reciting a peaceful Buddhist mantra. Tintin (1958) experienced the power of Tibet when led by a vision to find a lost friend – even the Dalai Lama praised Tintin in Tibet.

Old Tibet was no paradise but, sadly, the culture is fading fast. China invaded in 1950 and destroyed 6,000 Buddhist monasteries; and in 1959 the Tibetans rose up and thousands died. There’s since been a long struggle against the occupation – some Tibetans want independence, others (like the Dalai Lama) would settle for religious freedom and some autonomy.

The Curioseum – Review

Friday, March 28th, 2014

This is a wonderful collection for children aged 8-12… Museums are hives of story, both real and imagined. These 22 authors have created new stories surrounding some intriguing objects from Te Papa Museum… Raymond Huber writes one of the most memorable stories in the collection, of a unique breed of humans who mature into insects (a highly original allegory). – Sarah Forster

The_Curioseum_cover_large

Classic Comics 3. The Beast Is Dead!

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Comics were banned in WW2 occupied France but Edmond-François Calvo secretly produced a powerful satirical comic that became a French icon after the Germans retretaed in 1944. La Bete Est Morte! is the story of the bloody European war told with Disney-style animal characters: with the French as rabbits; British bulldogs; and German wolves (Goebbels is a weasel, Himmler a skunk). La Bete Est Morte! is a forerunner of the brilliant graphic novel, Maus, with its Nazi cats and Jewish mice. Here’s an extract:
My dear little children, never forget this: these Wolves who perpetrated these horrors were ordinary Wolves … They were not in the heat of battle excited by the smell of powder. They were not tormented by hunger. They did not have to defend themselves, nor to take vengeance for a victim of their own. They had simply received the order to kill.

Classic Comics 2: Max and Moritz

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

Max and Moritz (1865) by William Busch is one of the world’s first comic books (actually, the Egyptians began the style in the pyramids). Two naughty boys create mayhem with booby-traps that torment animals and authority figures until the boys are finally punished (by ducks!) in keeping with the morals of the times. The exaggerated wickedness follows the style of Shock-headed Peter (1845).

Through the chimney now, with pleasure

They behold the tempting treasure.

Busch was the first comic artist to use motion lines to show rapid movements, such as his eye-popping piano virtuoso playing furioso:

Classic Comics 1: Quadratino

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Quadratino (1911), ‘Square Head’, is an Italian comic strip by Antonio Rubino. In each story, Quadratino’s mischief is punished by an ‘accident’ in which his head is squeezed into a new geometric shape – he rolls downstairs and it becomes a circle; a biscuit tin squashes it into a rectangle – and Mother Geometry must ‘redraw’ his square.  Maths has never been such fun! According to 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die Quadratino is “the best conceptual homage to comics” because he’s a living comic strip frame. I love his cat (click image to enlarge).

War is old

Monday, February 10th, 2014

Alice Walker’s picture book Why War Is Never a Good Idea begins with the bright, comforting colours of a book for young children, but as War devastates the land the images become grim. It’s a scary message and parents will have to judge if it suits their children. The illustrations by Stefano Vitale are evocative and Walker’s words are true:

Though War is old

It has not become wise.

Though War has a mind of its own

War never knows who it is going to hit.

Walker comments: ‘War attacks not just people, “the other,” or “enemy,” it attacks Life itself … It doesn’t matter what the politics are, because though politics might divide us, the air and the water do not … Our only hope of maintaining a livable planet lies in teaching our children to honor nonviolence, especially when it comes to caring for Nature, which keeps us going with such grace and faithfulness.’

Rare Bee Novel

Monday, November 18th, 2013

Children’s fiction about honey bees is rare and this gem from 1957 is hard to find. A Swarm in June by Rosemary Garland is a charming junior novel that beautifully combines bee lore with childhood wonder. Seven year old Jonathan  finds a wild swarm in June (‘worth a silver spoon’) but a visiting cousin is scared of bees. It takes an attack by a stoat to unite the cousins in the end. It’s an innocent tale and the bee wisdom is timeless: beating a gong to attract a swarm; tracking bees with thistledown; and ‘telling the bees’ about important events in our lives. Best of all is the way the boy is so comfortable around the bees.  IMG_2465

Classic Books For Babies

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

There’s a real tenderness and occasional profundity stitched into them. – Helen Brown (Telegraph)

It shouldn’t work but it does. Classic novels including War and Peace, Pride and Prejudice and Oliver Twist as board books for babies. Each book is cleverly condensed into twelve words suitable for very young children. The secret is in the charming photographs which tell the story with hand-made felt dolls posed in famous scenes from the novels (not the gruesome bits). The books are simple, funny and will appeal to adults as much as children. The series is Cozy Classics.

Cozy-Classics-Pride-and-Prejudice-Muddy1Picture 1: Elizabeth Bennett gets muddy on the way to Netherfield.

Picture 2: Andrei and Natasha dance; Pierre is jealous.

Cozy-Classics-War-and-Peace-Dance

Flight of the Honey Bee Launch

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

This handsome, respectful volume deserves a place on the shelf … it succeeds in accurately dramatizing honeybee behavior. – Kirkus Reviews

Flight of the Honey Bee review by artist, Claire Beynon:
“Given the state of our environment, the sooner we introduce our children to bees – to their intelligence, their intricate behaviour and increasing vulnerability – the better. Flight of the Honey Bee is the perfect book to do this, combining as it does Raymond  Huber’s careful language and well-researched text with Brian Lovelock’s meticulously observed paintings. Cleverly formatted, fiction and non-fiction – story and fact – are woven together as two discreet yet interconnected strands: young readers can choose their flight path.

Exquisite to look at and a pleasure to explore.

HONEYBEE COVERScout the bee – named after the feisty protagonist in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird – and her tightly-knit community of hardworking bees demonstrate these small creatures’ importance in the pollinaton of plants and the well-being of our planet. Flight of the Honey Bee is about bee behavior but it will also teach children about subtler things; wonder, beauty, the value of group functioning and collaborative effort, reproduction, risk, courage, the joys of flight – those rhythms and principles essential for any thriving community. The hum of the parts.

This book has all the essentials of a satisfying story: it asks questions and it informs. It invites observation and participation. There’s drama. Suspense. Conflict. Danger. Hope. And a happy ending. At the close of her adventure, Scout is a wily-er bee than she was when she set out from her hive on her first nectar-seeking adventure. As all characters must, she grows through her experiences. We come to care about her and her safe passage home.

Visually, Flight of the Honey Bee is exquisite to look at and a pleasure to explore – each double page spread is as stunning as the one preceding it. It will be immediately appealing to young readers. I was struck by how beautifully integrated the text and images are; they belong together like honey and honeycomb. The language is tender and witty (the line about ‘sun-powder’ is a wonderful change from ‘gun-powder’); and the paintings  – a combination of watercolour, acrylic ink and coloured pencils – are spectacular; compositionally bold, delicate, exuberant and information-rich. Looking at them through my adult eyes, I can’t help thinking about fractals, the mathematics inherent in nature, the ever-present background dialogue between shape and sound, pattern and colour.  Children will  pore over them. And they will love Scout for her feisty resourcefulness.

More Flight of the Honey Bee reviews.

 

Monster Picture Books

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Here are three of my favourite New Zealand picture books that give children a manageable dose of horror. Gavin Bishop’s Horror of Hickory Bay has grown on me over the years. The story of a bland family on a Canterbury beach and an amorphous beast seemed a bit coarse to me 25 years ago, but now I love the earthy monster (which has a new force in quakey times). Diane Hebley said it best:

I find this book fascinating for its masterly use of colour and design, its grim humour, its coherence of idea, text and image, and for its acceptance of the dreamworld reality.

hickorybay

The Were-Nana by Melinda Szymanik is a creepy delight about a visiting relative who might just be a monster. The suspense is nicely built up and the double surprise ending (true to horror traditions) is brilliant. Odd cover choice but fine shadowy illustrations by Sarah Nelisiwe Anderson.

Te Kapo the Taniwha by Queen Rikihana-Hyland is out of print but was always popular in class. It’s the story of a half-man, half-monster who was given the job of shaping the South Island. Zac Waipara’s pictures are stunning as usual.

New Moomin Book

Friday, January 11th, 2013

firstmoominbookAt last! The original Moomin book has been released in an elegant hardcover English edition for the first time.  Moomins and the Great Flood (1945) is a junior novel that reveals the Moomin’s origins.  Moominmamma and her son leave the world of humans (where they lived behind stoves) and become refugees, seeking their lost beloved, Moominpappa, who has been swept away by a flood. We meet the characters who will populate the later novels: Sniff, the Hemulen, the Antlion and the surreal Hattifatteners, who “did not care about anything except travelling from one strange place to another.” This poignant story was Jansson’s response to the Second World War that had interrupted her painting career. The book has her beautiful atmospheric watercolours.

 Reading this book in the light of the suffering of the Finnish people in 1939 as they were caught up in the turmoil of their Winter War casts a different glow over what is essentially a classic adventure story.– Esther Freud

Grimm Birthday

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Everything in the tales appears to happen by chance – and this has the strange effect of making it appear that nothing happens by chance, that everything is fated. – A. S. Byatt

Two hundred years ago today, the Brothers Grimm published their Household Tales. One of the appeals of the tales is how random events seem connected; as A. S. Byatt says in her excellent essay (online here). They are stories of princesses, simpletons, brothers and sisters who meet with good or bad ‘luck’ on their quest, yet are bound by the rules of the fairy tale world – a kind of guided randomness – usually with a happy ending. Perhaps this is the way children see the world: capricious, sometimes scary, but in the end, a hopeful place. As a child I loved how the characters meet the forces of their fickle, often gruesome world with kindness and cunning. (Illustration  by Arthur Rackham; more Grimm illustrations here).

Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.– G.K. Chesterton

Banned Children’s Books

Friday, October 5th, 2012

It’s Banned Book Week. Read some classic banned children’s books, such as  Alice in Wonderland (was banned in China for ‘humanizing animals’); The Diary of Anne Frank (was banned in Lebanon for portraying Jews ‘favourably’); or the delightful The Rabbit’s Wedding by Garth Williams about a black and white romance (was banned in Alabama).  Shel Silverstein‘s poems were often the target of censors (who considered them ‘anti-family’). I love his gently subversive collection A Light in the Attic, which includes a poem about a critical spirit, ‘Almost Perfect’, and my favourite, ‘With His Mouth Full of Food’:

Milford Dupree, though he knew it was rude,

Talked with his mouth full of food.

He never would burp or walk out of in the nude,

But he talked with his mouth full of food…

 

Weapons of Mass Instruction

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Imagine a world where instead of weapons of mass destruction, governments made weapons of mass instruction. Instead of spending $1.5 trillion a year on lethal weapons they could spend it on books. Here’s a better invasion strategy: Literacy Drones fly over villages and identify those without libraries; vehicles called Book Tanks (photo) move in to give away books to children; finally Seuss Troops visit schools to read aloud to them. Delivering books instead of bullets to children is a more effective way of fighting terror and raising living standards. Artist Raul Lemesoff already has a prototype Book Tank delivering free books all over Argentina, including to rural areas where there are few schools. Read about him in English or visit his Spanish website.

Animal Art

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

After reading Wolfram’s dramatic story I discovered his daughter’s wonderful art. Alexandra Milton is an animal artist and children’s book illustrator. She creates her creatures by collage, using hand-made papers with mysterious names: Korean mingeishi, Thai silk thread, Himalayan khadi, and Payhembury marbled paper. Her honey bee illustration below is warm and characterful (like bees).

I aim to celebrate all that is to be marvelled at in nature; to catch, in colour and form, a glimpse of the miracle of creation Alexandra Milton

Silent Movies

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Following up on my review of Hugo, here’s an excellent interview with the author Brian Selznick. The article describes Hugo as ‘a perpetual motion of correspondence‘ between book and film. Fascinating too that The Artist has emerged just now as another gorgeous recreation of silent movies (no talking, no colour, no widescreen, and yes, it works!). My favourite silent movies? Metropolis (photo), and anything with Buster Keaton. Read a New Yorker article about the acting style in silent films.

Silent film is another country. They speak another language there—a language of gestures, stares, flapping mouths, halting or skittering walks, and sometimes movements and expressions of infinite intricacy and beauty. David Denby

Writing Sci-Fi: Structure

Friday, February 10th, 2012

In his wonderful book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (p.76), novelist Orson Scott Card says all stories contain 4 basic aspects: Milieu, Idea, Character and Event (MICE!). Here are some sci-fi examples (YA):

  • Milieu: about a world or a society. Eg. Running Out of Time by Margaret Haddix about time travel to a past society.
  • Idea: begins with a mystery to answer. Eg. Protus Rising by Ken Catran, murder mystery in space.
  • Character: about character transformation. Eg.The House of Scorpion by Nancy Farmer about a clone who develops values.
  • Event: when something goes wrong in the world. Eg. Box by Penelope Todd about an epidemic that strikes New Zealand.

Which aspect of the story matters most to you? That is the aspect that will give you the story’s structure. – Orson Scott Card

Hugo Review: Movie and Book

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Scorsese’s Hugo is a beautiful movie complement to Brian Selznick’s brilliant novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The book is in the style of a film, using pictures interspersed with tightly-wound prose –and the movie takes the style of a novel, with a leisurely pace and richly detailed scenes. Both movie and book successfully use a children’s character to pay tribute to Georges Melies, pioneer of cinema. And much of the story is true: about his magical movies, his rise and fall, even the automaton and the train crash. (Watch a video about how the special effects were done). This film, The Four Troublesome Heads, made in 1898, shows Melies having fun:

Iconic Illustrations 2.

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

In The Crab With the Golden Claws (1940). Herge introduced one of literature’s best characters: Captain Haddock– and one of the most faithful friendships.  The drunken, cursing Captain is a perfect foil to the angelic Tintin. Herge hoped that some of Haddock’s frailties would rub off on Tintin, but as he wrote in a letter to Tintin,

…you took nothing from him, not even a tot of whisky. My wrist was seized by an Angel…

Read more…