Thursday, July 23, 2015

A cracker of a creative non-fiction picture book from David Hill and Phoebe Morris

First to the Top: Sir Edmund Hillary's Amazing Everest Adventure by David Hill, illustrated by Phoebe Morris (Penguin Puffin)

I'm a huge fan of creative non-fiction picture book biographies. I have a small collection that include biographies on Jacques Cousteau, Albert Einsteen, and Charles Darwin. I also have one from Random House Australia's delightful series called 'Meet ... Captain Cook'. They've published stories on several other famous Australians including the notorious Ned Kelly.  I'm not sure if Penguin Random House (NZ) intends this book being part of that same series but they are publishing a few of these biographies in picture book format.  The first, naturally, is about our most famous New Zealander ... Sir Edmund Hillary.

We first meet Edmund Hillary as a boy who enjoys building rafts and exploring the Waikato River. He grows up and goes onto bigger things ... tramping up the Southern Alps, flying planes in the Pacific during WW2, and then his most famous achievement - climbing Mt Everest. David Hill skillfully keeps up the suspense on the big climb; Edmund is rescued from a fall down a crevasse by Tenzing, and has to cut a path between two massive rocks until he and Tenzing reach the summit. Read on to find out what other amazing achievements Edmund Hillary made.

First time illustrator Phoebe Morris has used a stylised realistic illustration style. It looks like she has drawn the outline in pencil then scanned it into her computer and painted in the figures using a software art programme. Some pages are full double page spread illustrations, others have one page illustration complemented with half or quarter page illustrations. The effect is very striking (especially the cover). On second and third looks you'll find things you missed the first time ... see if you can find the swirling moster face on one page, the bees on other pages, and look at what some of the shadows are doing.


Who is the book targeting? Children who enjoy a great adventure or historical story. This is also an excellent resource for teachers and librarians. It introduces history to a younger age group. If I was still teaching I'd be reading this story to kids from ages 8-13 years old. I'd use it as a starter for a unit on famous people or leaders, or if the class was studying Nepal.  It definitely should be in every Primary, Intermediate and Public library.  I can see grandparents (and parents) buying it for their grandchildren too. Teachers, there is a useful timeline at the back of the story too.

Expect another picture book biography out next year too, also written by David Hill.

ISBN: 978-0-14-350687-4
$25 hardback
Release: 29 July 2015


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