Tag Archives: Gecko Press

That’s NOT a Hippopotamus! by Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis

Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis are the dream team when it comes to picture books in New Zealand.  They have written and illustrated so many fabulous picture books, from the Marmaduke Duck series to Toucan Can.  Their books are always a joy to read aloud and their latest book, That’s NOT a Hippopotamus! is no exception. Adults and children alike will love this book!

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In That’s NOT a Hippopotamus! we follow a class of children and their poor teacher on an outing to the zoo. They discover that the hippopotamus is missing and they race off all over the zoo as they try to track it down.  Some of the children think they’ve found the hippo but they don’t quite get the right animal.  One of the children, Liam thinks that he sees the hippo but no one pays attention to him.  When it gets to the stage that the children are all forlorn and their teacher has almost had a nervous breakdown Liam finally gets everyone to listen to him.

That’s NOT a Hippopotamus is a hilarious story that will have adults and children in fits of giggles.  After creating so many books together Juliette and Sarah have a real knack for creating funny, entertaining, but also very clever, picture books.  The thing that makes this picture book stand out for me is that there are so many layers to it.  As the children chase after different animals (thinking they’ve found the hippopotamus) Juliette gives the reader little details about each animal so you can guess what it is.  There is this great sense of anticipation about what the animal will be, and you often get it wrong (which makes it even better).  On one page a boy says ‘I see him Miss! He’s on the ground.  I’ll get him while he’s snuffling round.’ There is an elephant’s bottom poking around the end of the page so you think it might be an elephant, but it’s actually a warthog.  Another layer of the story, told through the illustrations, is Liam spotting the hippopotamus.  He tells his teacher that he’s seen the hippo but she doesn’t pay him any attention.  The hippo is actually hiding in the exhibits though, and if you look carefully you will spot him.

I love the way that Juliette MacIver plays with words and she has certainly had fun with this story.  She has used some very clever rhyming and I love what the children yell out each time they catch an animal, ‘I got ‘im, Miss! I got ‘im, Miss! I got ‘im by his trotter, Miss!’  I know kids are going to love calling out ‘That’s NOT a hippopotamus!’ too.

This is a picture book that kids will beg to read over and over again and it is one that I think adults will be very happy to.  I absolutely love it!

 

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Gecko Press’ Gorgeous Annual

Unfortunately I’m not of a generation that grew up with annuals.  I didn’t experience the joy of these volumes, chock-full of activities, stories and quizzes. Thankfully the wonderful Gecko Press have brought back this format with their gorgeous new book, Annual, that a new generation of kids will love.

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Editors Kate De Goldi and Susan Paris have mined the talented authors and illustrators we have here in NZ and gathered these gems into a truly radiant collection.  There are stories, short essays, comics, a song, crafts, activities and a hilarious board game.  There are well-known authors and illustrators, such as Barbara Else, Bernard Beckett and Gavin Bishop, but also some incredibly talented debut authors such as Gavin Mouldey, whose story B.O.N.E. is an absolute wonder.

Annual arrived on my doorstep on the morning that I was going away for a school holiday break with my family, so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect!  There is hours of entertainment in this book and there is something for the whole family. I especially enjoyed Kirsten McDougall’s A Box of Birds, a collection of odd words to take on a road trip.  I was thinking about some of these words as I was driving and I thoroughly confused my family when I yelled out ‘Tally ho, the salt!’ (a phrase to use when you first catch sight of the ocean).  We all enjoyed a ‘pootle’ (a wander along the beach with no destination in mind) and with 12-year-old boys in the car there were more than a few winkybubbles (you’ll have to look that one up yourself).

There are so many things that I love about Annual.  Being a Gecko Press book the standard of production is excellent, from the eye-catching red hardcover to the smell of the high-quality paper.  The variety of pieces in the book is brilliant, with something for every type of kid (and adult for that matter).  There are pieces to make you think, pieces to challenge you, pieces to make you laugh and pieces to unleash your creativity.  One of my favourite pieces is the comic strip Bad Luck Zebra by Sharon Murdoch and Susan Paris, which cracked me up every time I read it. Kate De Goldi, Susan Paris and Gecko Press deserve a standing ovation for this gorgeous book.

You will want to come back to Annual again and again to revisit your favourite bits and uncover some new delight that you might have missed last time.  Get a copy of Annual for everyone on your Christmas list.

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Gus’s Garage by Leo Timmers

I’m a huge fan of Leo Timmers.  I always look forward to his books because they are so clever.  There are so many layers to the illustrations and you find something different every time you read his books.  Leo’s latest book from Gecko Press is Gus’s Garage and it is terrific!

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Gus the pig runs a garage.  Gus stores all sorts of stuff in his garage, stuff that looks like rubbish, but when his friends need help, he always has just the right thing for them. It’s up to the reader to figure out what stuff Gus might use to help his friends.  He certainly is one very clever pig.  Rico the rhino comes by on his moped and says ‘Gus, this seat – I’m overflowing.’ Gus looks through his bits and bobs and attaches an old seat that he has to Rico’s moped.  This carries on throughout the book until Gus has reused everything in his pile of stuff.

Gus’s Garage is another brilliant picture book from Leo Timmers.  It is a picture book that is both entertaining and gets kids thinking.  It makes them wonder what Gus will use from his pile of stuff to come up with a solution for his friends and then what might Gus’s final product be.  I love the sense of anticipation as you turn the page to find out what Gus has done.  I also love Gus’s refrain, ‘Let’s see. I have some bits and bobs. This goes with that. There. Just the job.’

One of the things that I love the most about Leo’s illustrations are the vibrant colours that he uses.  His illustrations seem to shine on the pages. There are lots of details to take in on each page. Something I only noticed on my third or fourth reading was that the sky gets darker and darker throughout the story as the day gets later.

Gus’s Garage is a picture book that will be begged to be read again and again.

 

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Tickle My Ears by Jörg Muhle

As a father of a 15 month old I’m always on the look out for some great board books to share with my girl.  She will certainly let me know if she doesn’t like a book (either by pointing to a different book or just getting off my lap and walking away).  We love going to the library and she’ll usually choose books that she likes the look of.  Every night we have 2 or 3 stories just before she gets into bed and I love having a bedtime book, one that signals it’s time for bed.  Our favourite bedtime book at the moment is the brilliant board book from Gecko Press, Tickle My Ears by Jörg Muhle.

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Tickle My Ears is the perfect book for bedtime.  It is very interactive, with lots of signs imbedded in this simple story that tell the child that it’s time for bed.  It is short and sweet but fun at the same time.  You have to help Little Rabbit get ready for bed by doing things like fluffing up his pillow (by shaking the book), tickling his ears, stroking his back and tucking him in (by turning the page).  We read this book almost every night so my girl has got the hang of it and will stroke Little Rabbit’s ears and rub his back.  There are some things I have to do myself, like saying ‘Hoppity Hop’ to help him get ready.  The great thing about this book is that it will work for different age groups, whether your baby is talking or just sitting quietly listening to you read.  I love the interactivity of the book and it is simply adorable watching my daughter stroke the rabbit’s back.  I never get tired of reading it and neither does she.

Get your hands on a copy of Tickle My Ears and make this brilliant book part of your child’s bedtime routine.

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What Dog Knows by Sylvia Vanden Heede, illustrated by Marije Tolman

How many times have you been reading a novel and desperately want to know more about the subject of the story?  I’ve read stories set in Venice and needed to know more about this magical place and read Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret and needed to know more about the early days of movie making.  Usually you have to go to a completely different book or website to find the information you crave.  However, in a brilliant new book by Sylvia Vanden Heede and Marije Tolman, What Dog Knows, fiction and nonfiction are mashed together for the perfect book for inquisitive young readers.

What Dog Knows cover

When Wolf finds a fact-filled book in the library, he thinks he will outsmart his clever cousin Dog.

Who knows more about robots, dragons, knights, and pirates?  And what about setting traps, playing tricks, and chewing bones?

What Dog Knows is a one-of-a-kind book that kids are going to gobble up. It’s a book that will make kids laugh and go ‘wow!’ It weaves the story of Dog and Wolf’s antics with information about all sorts of topics, from mummies to pirates and robots to dinosaurs.  Each section of the book focuses on different topics, with Dog and Wolf trying to one-up each other to prove they know more.  They are always picking up books to find out what they need to know. Fiction and nonfiction are presented in two different sized fonts but both weave together seamlessly.

There is a lot to love about What Dog Knows.  The conversations between Dog and Wolf are very funny and full of wit, so any adults who share this book with children will love it just as much as the children.  Boys especially will enjoy the humour and the jokes. Marije Tolman’s illustrations are quirky and perfectly compliment the text. Her diagram of Wolf mummifying a cat is brilliant. The thing I love the most about this book are the simple quizzes to test what readers have learnt and the activities for kids to try that tie in with each topic.

Thanks to Gecko Press for publishing this special book in English.  Without Gecko Press we wouldn’t know about all the wonderful books that are published in other languages. Gecko Press also published Wolf and Dog by the same team and hopefully there are other books to come starring these two characters.

Put What Dog Knows in the hands of all the young readers you know.  Not only will they be entertained, they’ll learn a thing or two along the way.

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I Want Spaghetti! by Stephanie Blake

Gecko Press introduced us to Stephanie Blake’s naughty little rabbit, Simon, when they translated and published Poo Bum! a few years ago.  They’ve continued to publish Stephanie’s books, with more and more stories of Simon’s naughty antics.  I’ve loved each and every one (Stupid Baby is my favourite).  Gecko Press has just released the latest Simon the rabbit book, I Want Spaghetti, and it’s every bit as funny as the previous stories.  In I Want Spaghetti we get to meet Simon the fussy eater.

Simon only likes to eat one thing…spaghetti.  His parents try to get him to eat other things like sandwiches and soup but Simon thinks they are disgusting and he won’t eat them.  Simon isn’t fond of getting told what to eat or being told to go to his room so he throws a big tantrum.  His parents manage to tempt him with chocolate cake and just when they think they’ve got Simon eating out of the palm of their hand, he turns the tables on them.

I Want Spaghetti is a laugh-out-loud picture book featuring a character that both kids and adults love.  Simon is the child that you can laugh at but wouldn’t want as your own.  He’s a horrible little rabbit, with bad manners, who has tantrums and makes a huge mess, but you can’t help but love him.  Kids especially love him because he gets to do and say the things they aren’t allowed to.  I have read I Want Spaghetti to kids in schools around Christchurch and kids of all ages love it, from 5-year-olds right through to 12-year-olds.  In fact, the Simon the rabbit books are the most requested books that I get asked to read again and again.  That’s the sign of a really great book!

I love how sparse Stephanie’s books are.  The illustrations are quite simple, while showing an incredible range of emotions, and the colours of the pages are bright, allowing the text to stand out.  The text is also quite simple but it has real impact.  The design of the book is very clever, with the text changing sizes and being run together for emphasis.  I especially like the pages of text and illustration where Simon says ‘I Want Spaghetti’ increasingly louder.  The text gets bigger and the illustrations show Simon getting angrier and angrier.

The thing I love the most about Stephanie’s books is that there is always a twist in the story.  I love seeing kids’ faces and hearing them laugh when you turn the last page.

Thanks Gecko Press for continuing to bring us more of Stephanie’s Simon stories.  I certainly hope there are many more to come!

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Win The Bakehouse by Joy Cowley

Joy Cowley’s latest novel, The Bakehouse, is out this month from Gecko Press.  It’s a brilliant, multi-layered novel about secrets, lies and how the consequences of one boy’s actions ripple throughout his family.  You can read my review here on the blog.

Thanks to everyone who entered.  The winner is Benedict.

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The Bakehouse by Joy Cowley

Joy Cowley is a New Zealand legend.  Children grow up reading her books, from the very first school readers, through to school journals, picture books and on in to novels for children and young adults. She has been writing for many years and that experience truly shows in the depth and quality of her writing.  In the last couple of years the wonderful Gecko Press have been publishing Joy Cowley’s novels for older readers.  Her first with Gecko Press, Dunger, went on to win the Junior Fiction category at the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in 2014.  Then came the haunting, Speed of Light.  Joy Cowley’s latest novel from Gecko Press, The Bakehouse, takes readers back to Wellington during the Second World War.

Viewed from a distance of seventy-plus years, 1943 was history soup, everything mixed up, and it was difficult to separate reality from what he had read or been told.  One event, though, was crystal clear and refused to be forgotten.  He’d never talked about it to the others, not Meg and certainly not Betty, but he didn’t want to be buried with the truth.

Someone should know what happened that winter day.

Bert wants nothing more than be old enough to fight in the war—to handle weapons, defend his country, and have a life filled with adventure. Little does he know that the secrets and danger of war don’t always stay at the front line, and that one boy’s actions can change everything.

The Bakehouse is Joy Cowley at her best.  It’s a brilliant, multi-layered novel about secrets, lies and how the consequences of one boy’s actions ripple throughout his family.  Joy Cowley shows readers what life was like in New Zealand in 1943, with the threat of Japanese invasion and many of the men off at war.

We meet Bert as an old man in a nursing home, who recalls the story of the Geronimo Bakehouse for his grandson.  There is something that Bert needs to get off his chest, something to do with the Bakehouse, and as the story progresses you wonder what the big secret is that Bert has been keeping for seventy-odd years.  It is Bert who first ventures in to the Bakehouse and claims it as the family’s bomb shelter.  He cleans and tidies it ready for his family, and one day decides to show his sisters.  It is on this day that they discover a soldier hiding in the Bakehouse.  The soldier, Donald, has escaped from the army and is hiding in fear of being captured and court marshalled.  Bert and his sisters keep Donald as their secret and look after him, bringing him food and clothing.  Life gets complicated for the children, but little do they know what is to come and how much their lives will change in one moment. You know that something bad is going to happen but I wasn’t sure how it was going to pan out.

The way that Joy tells the story reminds me of John Boyne’s The Boy in Striped Pyjamas.  Like Bruno in that story, Bert is a naive boy who doesn’t quite understand what is going on around him.  There are several incidents in the book where, as an adult, you know what is being implied but Bert has no idea.  Bert can’t understand why his sister Betty wants to go and visit Donald so much, especially without her brother or sister.  When Bert’s Auntie Vi takes him and his sister to the movies, but then ends up meeting her friend and a couple of soldiers, disappearing with them, we know what is implied but Bert is confused.  It is very good storytelling.

Gecko Press should be applauded for once again producing a wonderful little package that matches the other Joy Cowley books that they have published.

The Bakehouse is a must-read book from a New Zealand legend.

Recommended for 9+

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I Can’t Wait For…The Bakehouse by Joy Cowley

Viewed from a distance of seventy-plus years, 1943 was history soup, everything mixed up, and it was difficult to separate reality from what he had read or been told.  One event, though, was crystal clear and refused to be forgotten.  He’d never talked about it to the others, not Meg and certainly not Betty, but he didn’t want to be buried with the truth.

Someone should know what happened that winter day.

Bert wants nothing more than be old enough to fight in the war—to handle weapons, defend his country, and have a life filled with adventure. Little does he know that the secrets and danger of war don’t always stay at the front line, and that one boy’s actions can change everything.

I have loved Joy Cowley’s previous books from Gecko Press, Dunger and Speed of Light, and The Bakehouse sounds equally as good.  Gecko Press always produce beautiful books and their covers for Joy Cowley’s books are no exception.

The Bakehouse is released in NZ in August.

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Picture Book Nook: Toucan Can by Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Sarah Davis

Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis are incredibly talented in their own rights, but when they combine their talents they create magic.  Juliette and Sarah have previously worked together on the wonderful Marmaduke Duck books for Scholastic, and when I heard they were collaborating on a new picture book for Gecko Press I knew it was going to be a great book.  In their new picture book for Gecko Press, Toucan Can, Juliette and Sarah introduce us to a very colourful and talented Toucan.

Toucan can do lots of things!

Toucan dances!

Toucan sings!

Toucan bangs a frying pan!

Can you do what Toucan can?

 

Toucan Can is one of my favourite picture books of the year.  It’s got all the ingredients of a wonderful picture book.  Juliette MacIver’s delightful text will tangle your tongue and trip-up your lips, and once you get going you just can’t stop.  Toucan certainly can do lots of things but I’d like to see him try to read this book perfectly without tripping up.  Sarah Davis’ illustrations are absolutely stunning and they make the colourful characters jump off the page.  I love Sarah’s style of illustration because you can see each brush stroke and pencil line, and the colours she uses are so rich.  I really like the layered effect that Sarah has used in these illustrations.  The further back the animals are in the illustration, the more faded and washed out they are.  The expressions on the animals faces are also delightful.  Toucan especially has lots of different expressions, from ecstatically happy as he dances to slightly worried when he’s asked ‘Can Toucan do what YOU can do?’

One of the things I like the most about Toucan Can is that it addresses the reader and engages you.  You’re asked ‘Can you do what Toucan can?’ and Juliette suggests there are many things that you can do that Toucan can not.  Sarah’s illustrations also bring the focus back to the reader.  As Toucan and his friends dance, juggle, flip and flop, they’re looking out at you from the page.

Everyone should go out and grab a copy of Toucan Can to treasure and read again and again.  It is certain to add colour and laughter to your life and will have you dancing along with Toucan and his friends.

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