Friday, August 11, 2017

Three very different picture books from Duck Creek Press…

Nina’s Phantom Friend by Andy Conlan, Duck Creek Press
Andy Conlan is a man of mystery – I couldn’t find out much about him. But his website at says “Author and Illustrator of Books for the World’s Luckiest Children,” as well as identifying him as a professional photographer and filmmaker. The website also introduces two previous picture books – Mr Gloomingdale’s Downpour, and Portrait of a Waiting Pig. I suspect these are written in the same wry (some would say blackly humorous) style as Nina’s Phantom Friend.

The book is certainly a departure from the usual Duck Creek Press publications – good on them for venturing out of their comfort zone. This story is best regarded as a sophisticated picture book – it’s definitely not for the littlies. Nina’s cat, Masaccio, has died, and she misses him terribly. But his ghost visits her, and tells her that she must retrieve his remains and bury them. To do this, Nina must venture into the underworld where she meets and outwits the Ferryman and the Bone Counter, both very spooky characters. Definitely shades of Orpheus in the underworld here, also Garth Nix’s Sabriel series. The artwork is stunning – as well as being challenging and unsettling. Picture in your mind a mountain of skulls…

Recommended for readers of intermediate age and older. It would also be of interest to art teachers and students – it’s really cutting-edge stuff.

ISBN 978 1 927305 32 4 RRP $19.99 Pb

So Special by David Hill, illus. Nikki Slade Robinson, Duck Creek Press

David Hill needs no introduction – as one of New Zealand’s most prolific and recognised children’s writers. He’s recently turned his hand to writing picture book texts – he received the 2016 Children’s Choice Non-Fiction Award for First to the Top: Sir Edmund Hilary’s Amazing Everest Adventure.

Nikki Slade Robinson has illustrated over sixty children’s books and readers as well as writing and illustrating her own stories, with several having been published by Duck Creek Press.
This latest picture book was created in collaboration with the New Zealand Defence Force. It addresses the difficult issues faced by children when a parent is deployed overseas. The story is suitably low-key, with an easy-to-read text featuring a boy called Oscar. People keep telling him he’s special because he comes from an Army family, and his Dad is special too because he’s helping out in war-ravaged countries. But all Oscar can think of is how much he misses his Dad. The story is probably most suitable for primary-aged children, particularly those with parents away from home for long periods of time.

The illustrations are done in a straightforward style with clean lines, calming colours, and plenty of white space. The book will be available in September, and there will also be a Maori language version available for the same price – He Tino Taonga.

ISBN 978 1 927305 33 1 RRP $19.99 Pb

Dragons under My Bed by Kath Bee, illus. Lisa Allen, Duck Creek Press

Here’s one for the littlies, pre-schoolers and early primary age. It’s the first picture book from Kath Bee, an award-winning children’s songwriter who has travelled all over New Zealand since 2002. Her most popular and requested song, Dragons Under My Bed, which won the 2014 APRA Children’s Video of the Year, has been turned into a book - with the song downloadable. I also found a version of the song on Kath’s YouTube channel.

As always with picture song books, the words are at their best when being sung. Any glitches in the rhythm of the words are miraculously ironed out when there’s a musical background. It’s a bouncy light-hearted tale told from the point of view of a little boy who has a bunch of pesky dragons living under his bed. It’s amazing how often they come out and create chaos after lights out!

I can see this book being welcomed by children’s librarians, pre-school and primary teachers, and musically-minded parents – anyone who likes to combine music and singing aloud with a popular song.

ISBN 978 1 927305 35 5 $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

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