Tag Archives: New Zealand illustrator

Interview with CATs hero Claude D’Bonair

Award-winning author and illustrator, Donovan Bixley, is currently chronicling the heroic adventures of the famous CATs pilot, Claude D’Bonair.  Donovan very kindly put me in touch with Claude, who took some time out from fighting the dastardly DOGZ to answer my questions.

  • We’ve heard the tales of your daring missions so far.  What are the three most important things to take with you on a mission?
Phew Zac, you had to start with a hard question. Let me think … well, the truth is that we never know where the next mission will take us, or what danger we’ll be heading in to. You can’t rely on anything. You might find yourself deep in enemy territory without your squadron. You might even lose your plane … which happens to me more often than I’d like to admit! Quick thinking and fearlessness has helped me get out all sorts of dangerous situations. So, I guess the best thing I can take on a mission is my courage and inventiveness … that, and a packet of cat biscuits.
  • How do you prepare before going off on a mission?
You’re asking the wrong cat. I’m not much for preparing. I just try and figure out what to do as I go along. My friend, Syd – he’s actually more like an uncle to me – he likes to “prepare” for a mission by eating and sleeping. Syd says, “In war, you never know when you’ll get you’re next meal”… that doesn’t explain why he used to eat and sleep all the time before the war too!
For me, a change is as good as a rest. I like to clear my mind, practicing Meowzaki, the martial art I learnt from my dad.
  • C-for is the cat responsible for the brilliant inventions that help you on your missions. What is your favourite of C-for’s inventions?
It would have to be his exploding fake dog poop.
  • You get in to some pretty hairy situations on your missions.  Who is the best cat to have by your side when catastrophe strikes?
When catastrophe strikes, it usually means you’ve downed your plane behind enemy lines. In those situations you want someone who doesn’t just follow orders. You want someone who speaks their mind and thinks on their feet. I think I’d want to have Manx at my side when I’m in a tight jam. Manx and I just got back from a dangerous mission in Venice and really she saved my tail that time. Manx is a top engineer and real problem solver in tricky situations.
  • Your dad was a race car driver, adventurer and pilot and you certainly seem to have inherited his bravery.  What was one of the most important lessons that you learnt from him?
Ha ha, that makes me think of a time when I was young, when dad and Syd took me on one of their crazy adventures to Japan. Syd is always suspicious of new things – but this one time, he thought wasabi paste was a lip cream – ha ha – after that, he wouldn’t eat Japanese food for the rest of the trip.
My dad was completely different. He was never afraid to try new experiences. It can be scary at first, especially when you’re in a new place and you don’t speak their language, but you soon find that they are just like you. Whether someone was cat or dog, ginger striped, or black and white spotted, my dad always treated others they way he wanted to be treated. So I guess he left me with two great lessons: to be fair and to be fearless. I owe my life to those lessons, and even though CATs are at war with the DOGZ army, I’ve often made friends with dogs who’ve helped me when I’ve been in greatest need.
  • What do you like to do when you’re not off foiling the DOGZ plans?
You know, I’m not one of those cats who like to lounge around sleeping all day (unlike some cats I could name). I love to get out and see the world and try new things. One day, when cats and dogs are living in peace again, I want to take off and see some of the friends I’ve made around the world. That will make for some exciting adventures.
Claude

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Ruru’s Hangi by Nikki Slade Robinson

Nikki Slade Robinson’s award-winning picture book, The Little Kiwi’s Matariki, is my favourite book to read around Matariki.  In this book Nikki Slade Robinson introduced young children to Matariki through Kiwi and his friends in a simple yet fun way, using a mixture of English and te reo in the text.  In Nikki’s latest book, Ruru’s Hangi, she introduces young children to the concept of a hangi as the creatures celebrate the arrival of Ruru’s babies.

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Ruru has been sitting on her eggs for 30 days and 30 nights and on day 31 the eggs wriggle and hatch.  Kiwi hears Ruru’s elated cries and goes to tell the other creatures in the forest.  Kiwi has an idea to celebrate the arrival of Ruru’s babies and gets the other creatures to help out.  They dig a hole and gather all of the things that they need to make a hangi.  When the hangi is ready they call Ruru and they share the kai together to celebrate.

Ruru’s Hangi is a perfect introduction to the hangi for young children and is another wonderful bilingual text from Nikki Slade Robinson that is great to share with young children, especially preschoolers.  Nikki introduces children to native birds and creatures, like the Tui, Katipo and Weka who all help to prepare the hangi. Nikki’s illustrations are fun with each of the creatures having a distinct personality.  The Te Reo used is basic and weaves effortlessly in with the English, so this is a great book to share even if you know very little Te Reo.  Nikki uses lots of repetition in the text, like:

‘Ka pai, perfect!’ they said. Shhh! Don’t tell Ruru!’

Nikki ends the book with a simple explanation of how to prepare a hangi, just like the creatures in the book have done.  Ruru’s Hangi is a invaluable resource for early childhood centres and schools.  It is a book that will be used by teachers and librarians around the country but also a book that children will love.  Anyone who is looking for a wonderful bilingual story to share with their children should get a copy of Ruru’s Hangi.

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Winners of the 2016 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults

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The winners of the 2016 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults were announced last night in Wellington.  Congratulations to all the winners and those who were chosen as finalists in the awards.  Congratulations also to the judges of this year’s awards who had the tough job of choosing the winners from all the fantastic books that were submitted.  It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.  I personally think they made some great choices for the winners.  Kids also made some fantastic choices too in the Children’s Choice Awards.

Here are the winners of the 2016 New Book Awards for Children and Young Adults:

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  • Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and winner of the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction

ANZAC Heroes by Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivancic; Scholastic New Zealand

  • Best First Book Award

Allis the little tractor by Sophie Siers, illustrated by Helen Kerridge; Millwood-Heritage Productions

  • Te Kura Pounamu Award for the best book in te reo Māori

Whiti te rā! by Patricia Grace, translated by Kawata Teepa, illustrated by Andrew Burdan; Huia Publishers

  • Picture Book Award

The Little Kiwi’s Matariki written and illustrated by Nikki Slade Robinson; David Ling Publishing (Duck Creek Press)

  • Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction

From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle by Kate De Goldi; Penguin Random House (Longacre)

  • Young Adult Fiction Award

Battlesaurus: Rampage at Waterloo by Brian Falkner; Pan Macmillan Australia (Farrar Straus Giroux)

  • Russell Clark Award for Illustration

Much Ado About Shakespeare illustrated by Donovan Bixley; Upstart Press

New Zealand children enthusiastically voted for their own specially selected finalists’ list for this year’s HELL Children’s Choice Awards. Each book wins $1,000. The winners are:

  • Te reo Māori

Te Hua Tuatahi a Kuwi written and illustrated by Kat Merewether, and translated by Pānia Papa; Illustrated Publishing

  • Picture Book

The House on the Hill by Kyle Mewburn, illustrated by Sarah Davis; Scholastic New Zealand

  • Junior Fiction

The Girl Who Rode the Wind by Stacy Gregg; Harper Collins

  • Non-Fiction

First to the Top by David Hill, illustrated by Phoebe Morris; Penguin Random House (Puffin)

  • Young Adult Fiction

Stray by Rachael Craw; Walker Books

You can read the full media release here, including the thoughts of the judges on each of the winning books.  You can download the Winners Poster here.

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Win a copy of Fuzzy Doodle

Fuzzy Doodle is the stunning new collaboration between the very talented Melinda Szymanik and Donovan Bixley.  Fuzzy Doodle will be a favourite with young and old alike and I think everyone needs to own a copy of this wonderful book.  You can read my review here on the blog.

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Thanks to the lovely people at Scholastic NZ I have a copy of Fuzzy Doodle to give away.  All you have to do to get in the draw is email bestfriendsrbooks@gmail.com, with the subject ‘Fuzzy Doodle,’ along with your name and address.

Thanks to everyone who entered.  The winner is Craig.

 

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Flying Furballs: Dogfight by Donovan Bixley

Donovan Bixley is one of our most talented illustrators in New Zealand and I’d have to say he’s my favourite illustrator.  Not only has Donovan illustrated stories for other wonderful authors like Kyle Mewburn, Yvonne Morrison and Margaret Mahy, he has also written and illustrated his own books.  His style is unique but it varies slightly depending on the topic, with a particular talent for poo, vomit and snot.  Donovan has recently released a new series, called Flying Furballs, that he has both written and illustrated.  The first book in the series, Dogfight, really proves why Donovan is one of our most talented creators of great books for kids.

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Strap on your flying goggles, prepare your bi-plane and get set to join Claude D’Bonair and the CATs Air Corps for adventure, crazy missions, dangerous rescues and plenty of laughs.  Donovan Bixley shows us the Great War like we’ve never seen it before.  It’s the CATs (Cat Allied Troops) versus the DOGZ (Dog Obedience Governed Zone) as the CATs try to stop the DOGZ from taking over Europe.  It’s up to Claude and the team at CATs HQ to fight for all of katdom.  In this first book Claude decides to take matters into his own hands when the CATs most famous dogfighter, Major Tom, is captured and held in the DOGZ castle headquarters.  It’s up to Claude to rescue Major Tom and bring him home.

Dogfight is a witty and very funny start to the Flying Furballs series.  Donovan really knows his audience and tells a story that kids will love.  Donovan’s trademark humour shines through in both the illustration and the text.  There are cat and dog puns galore dotted throughout the story.  At one point in the story when Claude meets Major Tom he says that he was afraid that the DOGZ were torturing him and Major Tom’s reply is:

‘Oh yes, got plenty of that.  They pulled my tail. Rubbed my fur the wrong way.  Dunked me in a bathtub.  And the mongrels dangled a piece of wool in front of me, just out of reach  – for a week!’

Even the characters names are hilarious, from Syd Fishus, the cat who flew with Claude’s father, to Commander Katerina Snookums, and C-for, the CATs resident inventor.

Like the Dinosaur Rescue series and Dragon Knight series Donovan has included some cool diagrams in Dogfight.  These explain how gadgets and planes work and show the different important parts.

Dogfight will have you laughing out loud and desperately wanting to get hold of the next book in the series.

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The Little Kiwi’s Matariki by Nikki Slade Robinson

Matariki books for children are always in high demand.  There are only a couple that are suitable for introducing Matariki to preschoolers, while also being a fun story.  Nikki Slade Robinson has just released a wonderful new Matariki book, The Little Kiwi’s Matariki, that is perfect for sharing with our young tamariki.

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In The Little Kiwi’s Matariki, Kiwi wakes up to the moon shining deep into her burrow.  She knows that something is different from other nights and sets off to tell everyone that ‘its coming.’  All of the other creatures tell Kiwi ‘Kao. No, no little Kiwi,’ it’s their tummy rumbling or their singing in their dreams.  They all follow Kiwi though, and when they get to the sea shore they see the light is coming from Matariki.  The book ends with a simple explanation of Matariki that is perfectly aimed at young tamariki.

The Little Kiwi’s Matariki is my new favourite Matariki book.  It’s perfect for introducing our young tamariki to Matariki in a fun way.  It is an ideal book for parents, teachers and librarians who want to share a bilingual book with their tamariki.  Nikki has included some basic te reo, alongside the English equivalent, which is great for those who aren’t confident speakers of te reo. Nikki has also used repeated refrains, like ‘Kao. No, no little Kiwi,’ that tamariki can join in with.

The illustrations are also very appealing to tamariki.  As well as Kiwi, there are lots of other native birds and a spider that tamariki will be familiar with, including Tūī , Ruru and Katipo.  Nikki has given each of them a distinct personality.  I especially love the Ruru’s huge eyes.  One of the other things I love about Nikki’s illustrations is the way that the moon and the stars of Matariki glow on the page.

My favourite aspect of Nikki’s book is the way that the different characters are used to highlight the different aspects of Matariki celebrations.  Tūī, for example, says ‘Matariki? Time for music and dance!’ This fits with Tūī’s personality, so you know that a lot of thought has gone into choosing the right creatures for the story.

If you only buy one Matariki book for your home, school or centre this year make it The Little Kiwi’s Matariki.

 

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Interview with Maria Gill

Maria Gill is one of our queens of children’s nonfiction in NZ.  She has written some fantastic books for all ages and on many different topics, from dogs to Kiwi and volcanoes to politics.  Some of Maria’s most recent books have profiled remarkable Kiwis from all walks of life.  In Maria’s latest book, Anzac Heroes, she tells the stories of the triumphs and tragedies of 30 heroic Australasians during World Wars One and Two.

I had a few questions about Anzac Heroes and Maria Gill kindly offered to answer them for me.  Maria talks about some of the extraordinary men and women she discovered while writing her book and the collaboration process with Marco Ivancic.  Thanks for joining me Maria!

  • Who is the ANZAC that fascinated you the most?

Hard to pin down to one. Charlie Upham, perhaps. Not just for his bravery on the field – he sacrificed his life many times for his men and the Anzac army – but also, for his tenaciousness at trying to escape prisoner of war camps eight times! When he came back to New Zealand, locals had fundraised and bought him a farm to thank for his service to his country. He refused it. As far as he was concerned, unless they were going to give a farm to all the soldiers, he wasn’t going to be singled out for a gift. Australian Joice Loch was another.

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  • Did you have a personal connection with any of the heroes in your book?

None of the heroes are relatives or friends’ relatives. However, Albert Knight’s story touched me personally. It was very difficult finding any information about Aboriginal soldier Albert Knight. I only found two sentences online about his life. There were no archived newspaper stories about him. Sadly Aboriginal soldier stories have gone unreported. I had to find his family and speak to them. I only had his surname and the town he was born in over 120 years ago. I rang many phone numbers until I found a family member. That person put me on another family member, and they told me to ring another. Between Albert’s relatives, I pieced together his life story. There was a lovely outcome that came out of talking to his family – read his story to find out.

  • How did you choose the heroes to be featured in your book?

First I had to define ‘what is a hero’. Then I had criteria. I wanted Army, Navy, and Air Force servicemen. They had to have a range of jobs within those military forces and fight in different places so that I was covering as many of the wartime arenas as possible. Next I wanted four indigenous soldiers: two Aboriginal and two Maori. Lastly, I wanted to include women. Women couldn’t fight in the two wars, but the five women I chose were incredibly brave while operating in the war zones as ambulance drivers, doctors, nurses, rescuing refugees or as a spy. It means there aren’t just Anzac soldiers in the book, but in the Introduction, I say why I included all the others.

  • We hear so much about the male heroes but your book also features some incredible female heroes.  Can you tell us a little about one of these amazing women?

Dr. Jessie Scott was a young doctor from Canterbury. When she received a personal invitation from the Scottish Women’s Hospital to work in Europe – she caught the first boat out. She had been working in a hospital close to the frontline when the Austrians then Germans invaded Serbia. She and the other doctors decided not to desert their patients. Instead, they stayed. The Germans crammed Jessie and the other nurses and doctors into a train carriage with little food or water. For several weeks, they were taken from one country to the next while the American Red Cross negotiated with the Germans for their release. When they arrived back in London and Jessie was interviewed about her ordeal, she perkily said the Germans had treated them well, and they had enjoyed the scenery. They had only eaten once a day, slept on straw, and the Germans had taken most of their possessions off them. Jessie’s story didn’t end there, though…

  • What was your collaboration process like for this book? Did you work closely with Marco Ivancic?

I worked closely with the illustrator and designer of the book. For Marco, I took photographs at museums in Australia and New Zealand so he could use them for photo reference when drawing the pictures.  I also spent a day with an Army re-enactment group and took photographs of them doing a drill, acting out a war scene, and holding different guns. They kindly stood still in poses while I took photographs of them at all angles. Marco had asked for close-ups of details on their clothing, how they held a gun and expressions on their faces. The re-enactment group even stood in formation so Marco could see the stance and angles for the front cover illustration. For designer Luke Kelly I gathered different maps of Europe during WWI and WWII and marked in battle zones. I also found all the medals for the heroes, and for the medal page. Sometimes I could not get the real medals that belonged to that hero so had to line single medal images up in order and send to Luke. Luke, Jack Hayes (New Zealand military expert) and I put a lot of work into those medals! I also collaborated with different experts, museums, and Creative NZ enabled it to happen with their grant.

  • What does ANZAC Day mean to you? How do you celebrate it?

I believe Anzac Day recognises not only the sacrifice men and women made during the different wars but also the kinship between Australia and New Zealand while fighting. Common themes that resonated throughout the different Australian and New Zealand stories were their comradeship, incredible bravery, modesty, and down-to-earthness. Leaders fought with their men instead of sitting in their offices. It shows how alike Australians and New Zealanders are, compared to other nationalities.

I’m going to attend my first Anzac Day dawn parade this year. I have to confess my only interest, before writing this book, was in reading war stories. I love adventure stories where the hero survives at incredible odds. Most of the heroes in ‘Anzac Heroes’ fit that category.

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Anzac Heroes by Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivancic is available now from Scholastic New Zealand.

 

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My Favourite NZ Books for Kids and Teens

I love New Zealand books and I’m happy to shout it from the rooftops.  We have so many wonderful, talented authors and illustrators here in NZ who write for kids of all ages.  My personal mission, as a librarian and a blogger is to spread the word about New Zealand books and get as many kids (and adults) reading them as possible.  I’ve also had the absolute joy of judging our New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, which really highlighted the breadth of literature that we have here in New Zealand for our young people.

I’ve read and reviewed many NZ books here on My Best Friends Are Books over the years.  I’ve got so many favourite books that I come back to again and again (especially picture books).  Here are just a few of my favourite NZ books for kids and teens, along with the links to my reviews if you want to know more about them:

There are many more fantastic books that I’ve missed off this list, so it is no way complete.  I have a New Zealand category here on the blog so if you want to find more New Zealand content click on the category on the right hand side of the page.

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Win a copy of Pukeko Dancing on the Old Dirt Track

Pukeko Dancing on the Old Dirt Track is a wee gem of a book about a Kiwi Christmas.  It follows the Sandersons as they prepare for Christmas and the pukeko family as they prepare for the arrival of their chicks.  You can read my review here on the blog.

Thanks to the author and illustrator Lotte Wotherspoon I have a copy of Pukeko Dancing on the Old Dirt Track to give away.  All you have to do to get in the draw is email bestfriendsrbooks@gmail.com with the subject line ‘Pukeko Dancing,’ along with your name and address.

Competition closes Friday 23 October (NZ only).

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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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