Ron Brooks’s collaborations with Jenny Wagner on John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat and Margaret Wild on Old Pig remain among the best picture books to address the themes of old age and approaching death. His memoir DRAWN FROM THE HEART (Allen & Unwin, $59.99) not only makes a Who’s Who spanning three decades during which children’s literature blossomed, but also offers insights into the collaborative creative process picture books demand – “looking for what is not written. Looking for the unsaid”. Brooks writes with excruciating honesty about the depression that came close to extinguishing him. And in the process, he says (quoting CS Lewis), he has been “surprised by joy”.
Travelling around the world and back again before bedtime, Australian Jedda Robaard’s TOM AND TILLY (black dog books, $27.99) is a comforting tale for toddlers that will repay repeated reading. Told in the simplest of words and pictures, Tom’s adventures with his bear Tilly in a paper boat folded from a map are actually encounters with bathtime toys – making them all the more reassuring. Instructions for constructing the boat are included.
What makes Chu sneeze? The multitalented Neil Gaiman’s first picture book, CHU’S DAY (Bloomsbury, $24.99), features a dust-sensitive panda visiting the library, eating at a diner and going to the circus. Texan illustrator Adam Rex populates his pages with a veritable Noah’s Ark of birds and animals. The sneeze, when it comes, is cataclysmic, neatly revisiting Chu’s day (geddit?) – and all before bedtime.
Kiwi duo James Russell (journalist/columnist/editor) and Link Choi (illustrator/ artist/Weta worker) introduce brothers Paddy and Flynn, plus their chocolate labrador, in THE DRAGON HUNTERS (Dragon Brothers Books, $29.95), the first of three fantasy adventures. The rhyming text is occasionally clunky but the cartoon-like illustrations carry the story along. Appropriately Tolkienish endpaper maps hint at adventures to come.
Typical boys, Ole Konnecke’s Luke and Anton engage in classic “mine’s bigger than yours” challenges. In ANTON AND THE BATTLE (Gecko Press, $19.99), the hero of Anton Can Do Magic faces off with his friend in competitions – cleverly realised through line drawings – until a dog frightens them into an alliance … but not for long.
Finally, a trio of fundraisers: two picture books exploring the experience of blindness, which will make excellent classroom resources (royalties to the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind), and a cookbook for kids to support the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Margaret Mahy’s FOOTSTEPS THROUGH THE FOG (Puffin, $19.99), with understandably muted illustrations by Gavin Bishop, describes a walk to the beach and back from two perspectives. Anthea’s sighted (and rather patronising) siblings lead the way to the waves – but when fog rolls in the blind girl guides them home. “I can’t see the sea but I can smell it,” she explains. “I can feel the sand … I listen hard.” Includes a Braille alphabet and cover title. In Dawn Macmillan’s COLOUR THE STARS (Scholastic, $19.50), two boys interpret the world for each other through their predominant senses: sighted Isaac uses the natural world to describe colours to his friend Luke, who shares his alternative ways of experiencing them. Keinyo White’s illustrations cleverly combine dark backgrounds with bursts of saturated colour. Clear photographs make the recipes in NIC’S COOKBOOK (Scholastic, $10) a breeze even for kids new to cooking for the family. Nic Brocklebank, 11, has cooked since he was eight; he won a kids’ TV bake-off in 2011 and was a Bow Tie appeal ambassador last year with Judy Bailey.
Ann Packer is a writer and journalist.