Tag Archives: Gecko Press

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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2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards Finalist: The Queen and the Nobody Boy by Barbara Else

The Queen and the Nobody Boy by Barbara Else is a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.  I love the world of Fontania that Barbara introduced us to in The Traveling Restaurant.  I reviewed it in September last year,  so if you want to hear all about it and find out what makes it such a worthy finalist, read on.  You can also read my interview with Barbara Else and Barbara’s guest post about The Queen and the Nobody Boy here on the blog.

Last year, Barbara Else took us on a magical journey through the land of Fontania, with Sibilla and The Traveling Restaurant.  Now she takes us back to Fontania and introduces us to some wonderful new characters in The Queen and the Nobody Boy.

Hodie is the unpaid odd-job boy at the Grand Palace in the Kingdom of Fontania.  Fed-up, he decides to leave and better himself.

The young Queen, 12 -year-old Sibilla, is fed-up too.  Sick of gossip about her lack of magical ability, she decides to run away with Hodie, whether he likes it or not.

The Queen and the Nobody Boy is a magical story, full of adventure, danger, royalty, spies, flying trains, stinky trolls and poisonous toads. Trouble is brewing from the very beginning of the story.  The Emperor of Um’Binnia threatens war with Fontania and he hopes to destroy what magic there may be in the world.  The Fontanians have been looking for ‘The Ties’ for many years, but nobody really seems to know what they are, and for the Emperor to carry out his plans he must get his hands on them too.  Little do they know how important an odd-job boy might be.

Your favourite characters from The Travelling Restaurant return, including Sibilla and the pirate chef, Murgott.  Hodie is the main character of this tale of Fontania.  Even though he’s not treated very well in the Palace, he’s smart and brave, and determined to make something of himself.   My favourite quote from the book sums up Hodie, ‘Whether a boy was somebody or nobody, if he was normal he was expected to be curious.’  Hodie and Sibilla meet lots of other interesting characters on their journey, including a rather strange Um’Binnian spy called Ogg’ward, and a very persistent squirrel.  The Um’Binnians themselves are quite interesting.  They have a different way of speaking and their names look and sound strange.

If you loved The Traveling Restaurant you have to get your hands on The Queen and the Nobody Boy, but if you haven’t read it this book will make you fall in love with the land of Fontania.  You certainly won’t be able to go past this book on the shelf without wanting to see what magic is inside, thanks to Sam Broad’s brilliant cover.

4 out of 5 stars

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The Day My Father Became a Bush by Joke van Leeuwen

Before he becomes a bush, Toda’s father is a pastry chef. He gets up at the crack of dawn to bake twenty different sorts of pastries and three kinds of cake. Until, one day, everything changes. Fighting  breaks out in the south and Toda’s father has to go there to defend his country.

Luckily he has a manual called ‘What every soldier needs to know’. This tells him how to hide from the enemy by using branches and leaves to disguise himself as a bush.

Toda remains in the city with her grandmother but even there it’s no longer safe. She is sent to stay with her mother who lives across the border. Toda’s journey is full of adventure and danger. But she doesn’t give up. She has to find her mother.

The Day My Father Became a Bush is a touching story about war told from the unique perspective of a girl who is caught in the middle.  The war that is taking place in the story is not identified as a specific war, only that the north is fighting the south.  The events of the story, including families being split up, fathers going away to fight, children being sent away, and a dangerous journey to get to safety are applicable to any war though, which makes Joke’s story universal.

As in some of the best stories about war, this story is narrated by a child (Toda) who is caught in the middle of this horrible event.  Toda is one of those characters you can’t help but love because she has a unique way of looking at things.  It’s her view of things that bring some humour to the situation she is in.  When Toda is hiding in the forest waiting for the coast to be clear, she finds the best thing to do is to give her brain something to do.  She lists her favourite foods (including her father’s pastries), her classmates, and then she lists things in alphabetical order (from Ape to Zebra).  I love the way that Toda describes different things too, like the way that she feels.  When an old couple take her in to their home and offer her some food she says, ‘My stomach was full of homesickness.  There was no room for anything else.’

On her journey, Toda meets some strange and interesting characters too.  There are some families who come to the public welfare home to give books and toys to the children, but then end up taking them away as they seem ungrateful, there is a room of old women who want to adopt her as their granddaughter, a strange old couple who try to kidnap Toda, and a captain who has deserted the army because he can’t command.  This captain was one of my favourite characters because he gives you a different perspective of the captains who give the orders during war.  One of my favourite quotes from the book came from this captain.

“I couldn’t command,” he said. “When I had to call out, ‘Open fire!’ I said instead, ‘Perhaps we should try shooting now, as long as it’s not too dangerous and not too much trouble for anyone.'”

Special mention needs to be made of the wonderful translation of Joke’s story by Bill Nagelkerke (recent winner of the Margaret Mahy Medal).  You really get the sense that Bill has remained true to the tone of the story while carefully choosing language that is beautiful to read.

The Day My Father Became a Bush is the best war story I’ve read that is told with so few words.  There is more emotion and character packed into this little book than some authors put in to 300 pages.  It can stand alongside John Boyne’s The Boy in Striped Pyjamas and Ian Serraillier’s The Silver Sword as a must-read war story.

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Picture Book Nook: That’s Mine! by Michel Van Zeveren

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the little frog finds an egg.

“That’s mine!” he says.

But the snake wants his egg, and so does the eagle, and so does the lizard…But what does the angry elephant want?

 

 

 

That’s Mine! by Michel Van Zeveren is a gem of a picture book that’s simple, yet surprising.  You start off thinking you know where the story is going, but it veers off in a completely different direction (these are the best sorts of stories).  The illustrations are bold and I love the expressions on the animals faces, especially right at the end.

 

The thing I like most about this book though is the text and the design.  As each of the animals appears the sound they make turns into a word, like the eagle who flies in saying “Ack…ack…ack..actually it’s mine.”  Children can follow the direction that each animal appears from by following the direction of the words (the hsss of the snake drops down from the top to the bottom of the page).  I love the way that the text changes size depending on how loud the animal is talking and in relation to their size.  On a page featuring all the animals, the text is largest for the elephant and smallest for the frog, so it’s clear that each of the animals has a different voice.

That’s Mine! is the perfect picture book for reading aloud.  You can do different voices for all the animals and make it really silly.  It could even be acted out in the classroom, with each child being a different animal.

4 out of 5 stars

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Picture Book Nook: Anton and the Battle by Ole Konnecke

Anton and the Battle is one of those picture books that you know is going to make kids laugh just by looking at the front cover.  How can you not laugh when the two boys are swinging a cow and a cello at each other?  The cover hooks you in and you want to find out what the battle is about.

The story starts with Anton and Luke arguing about which one of them is the strongest.  Anton can lift a big stone, but Luke can lift an even bigger stone.  They keep trying to out-do each other by proving that they’re stronger or louder or braver – until they meet a ferocious puppy.

Anton and the Battle is a wonderful story about the power of the imagination and the joy of play.  Both the text and the illustrations are so simple, but really funny.   Ole has coloured his two characters but left the rest of the page white so that they and their imaginations stand out.  The white space allows the giant horn or the bombs to take center stage and draw the reader’s attention.  The illustrations will have children laughing out loud, as Anton and Luke chase after each other with giant hammers, swing lions and tigers over their heads and get stuck up trees.  The page where they are swinging lions and tigers over their heads is hilarious (just look at their faces)!  I love the twist on the story when Ole throws a puppy into the mix and even when they’re stuck up a tree, they’re still trying to out-do each other.

It’s a story with lots of anticipation that keeps children guessing.  Before you turn the page you could ask them what they think might happen next.  Even after the story is finished you could ask children to suggest other things that Anton and Luke could battle with or ways they could show they’re stronger, louder or faster than each other.  They could even draw their own Anton and Luke battle scene.

Anton and the Battle is one of Gecko Press’ first releases of 2013 and is available in libraries and bookshops now.

 

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Win Mister Whistler by Margaret Mahy and Gavin Bishop

Mister Whistler is the wonderful new picture book by Margaret Mahy, with stunning illustrations by Gavin Bishop.  I absolutely love Mister Whistler and it’s my favourite New Zealand picture book of the year (you can read my review here).  Everyone should have this book on their bookshelf!

Thanks to everyone who entered.  This competition is now closed.

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Picture Book Nook: Stupid Baby by Stephanie Blake

One of my favourite picture books from last year was Stephanie Blake’s Poo Bum!, published by the wonderful Gecko Press.  It’s a book that kids immediately love (and end up repeating Simon’s favourite phrase) and divides adults (they either love it or hate it).  Thanks to Gecko Press I have a Poo Bum badge that I wear with pride in the library, which makes a great talking point.  Gecko Press have just published Stephanie Blake’s second book featuring Simon the rabbit, Stupid Baby, and it’s just as hilarious as Poo Bum!

In Stupid Baby, Simon has just gotten a new baby brother.  Simon is always getting told off because he’s making too much noise.  Of course, Simon doesn’t like his new brother at all and wants the ‘stupid baby’ to go back to where he came from.  His parents tell him that the baby is here to stay, but he won’t stay forever will he? What a stupid baby!

Stupid Baby is a spectacular picture book!  I loved Simon in Poo Bum and he is certainly on fine form in this book.  He’s such an amusing character, who is pretty horrible, but loveable at the same time.  Although he acts all tough and mean, he worries just as much as most kids.  He’s scared of the dark and the wolves that are coming to get him, and he’s scared that his baby brother might stay forever.  The text is simple, but the wonderful translation and the design of the text make the story special.  The variation of the text size helps the reader to put the emphasis in the right place, whether it’s the Ka-boom! of the rocket or whispering around the teeny, tiny baby.  Stephanie Blake’s illustrations are big, bold and bright (similar to Lucy Cousins’ illustrations) making them appealing to kids.  There is no white space in Stupid Baby, every page is colourful.  The bright red cover, with Simon in his superhero outfit, jumps off the shelf and shouts ‘READ ME!’  I love the page where Simon is worrying about all sorts of things, as his expression goes from worried to angry.  I also love Simon’s wide-eyed expression when he’s worrying about the wolves.

The ending is unexpected and will have kids rolling around on the floor laughing.  Get a copy of Stupid Baby now and meet the worst role model in the picture book world.

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