Friday, May 30, 2014

Great Read-Aloud Short Stories

Stories for 6 Year Olds, Random House NZ
Stories for 7 Year Olds, Random House NZ

I’m going to get something out of my system. I still mourn the passing of Random House NZ’s previous series of short story anthologies, edited by Barbara Else and illustrated by Philip Webb. They were truly handsome books, sturdily hard-backed, well designed and illustrated, and given a personal touch by the input of a skilled editor. They still have an imposing presence on my bookshelves.

So I’m trying not to be too tough on this new series of short stories. Each volume contains 25 excellent stories from a bunch of authors ranging from extremely well-known (eg. Margaret Mahy, Patricia Grace, David Hill, Kate de Goldi) through solid and trusted authors (eg. Janice Marriott, Elizabeth Pulford) , to names that aren’t quite so familiar. I read all the stories, and was impressed by their whimsical and humorous tone, as well as by the strong New Zealand flavour. I suspect some of the more entertaining stories were inspired by real events...

Note that these anthologies are only available in paperback and e-book. There is no named editor. The cover and illustrations are done in a very casual, childlike style of drawing. One eye-catching feature is the use of large print for the 7 year-olds and extra-large print for the 6 year-olds. I found this rather disconcerting - but I’m not the target audience, of course. I’m looking forward to reading this book with my 6 year-old grandson to see if the large print makes his reading experience more pleasurable... In the meantime, I’m sure primary teachers will find the stories just about perfect for reading aloud to a class.

ISBN 978 1 77553 612 3 $19.99 Pb

ISBN 978 1 77553 614 7 $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A book that's a little bit special

Dappled Annie and the Tigrish by Mary McCallum, Gecko Press

It pays to consider Gecko Press’s tagline when reading their books: “curiously good books”. This is another story which I would label “good” and “curious”. Good because it’s delicately and sensitively written (the style reminded me of Margaret Mahy) and curious because it doesn’t belong to the mainstream genres currently being published by the commercial publishers. It’s the kind of book that used to be published by Longacre and Cole Catley (both gone now). So all praise to Gecko Press for slipping into this niche.

This is an intriguing little fantasy that moves in and out of reality until the reader gives up wondering which is which and just goes with the flow. Annie is a lighthouse child - her father tends an unspecified lighthouse - so this gives a vague indication of when the story is set. She’s obviously an imaginative child, and the story takes us deep into a fantasy world where hedges talk and walk, and a mythical tiger-like creature flies through the sky, taking Annie on a rescue mission. But whether it’s Annie’s made-up world or a “real” world, the reader simply can’t tell.

The production of the book is worth mentioning - it’s a paperback with flaps, and contains cosy illustrations by Annie Hayward (both black pen drawings and colour plates).

I don’t see boys reading this story (too fanciful for them?), but it could appeal to girls of about 8 to 10 who love reading and writing stories about fairies and little people living in the garden.

ISBN 978 1 877579 91 2 $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman