Holidays are a great time for tucking a collection of short stories into the beach bag along with towels and sunblock – especially when the theme is friendship. Following a format established some eight anthologies ago, GREAT MATES: 30 NEW ZEALAND STORIES FOR CHILDREN (Random House, $29.99) is edited by Barbara Else with illustrations by Philip Webb. Unpublished gems from such beloved writers as David Hill and Janice Marriott sit between tales from newer talents, including Robin Fleming – whose “Climbing Hector” takes a couple of young trampers up one of the Tararua ranges’ best-known peaks – and journalist Cushla Managh – whose “The Ultimate Competition” sheds new light on the idea of friendship.
For younger readers, STUCK IN THE MUCK (Five Mile Press, $24.99), another variation on the rollicking, rhyming, down-on-the-farm theme that made A Bigger Digger a success, brings to life a moo-ving picture book story from Kiwi Brett Avison and Australian illustrator Craig Smith. When dear old girl Milky strays from her comfy home in the barn, she gets stuck in the mud – and efforts to pull her out call on more forces than the Toyota ad it strongly resembles. In the end, Milky pops up out of the muck from sheer fright.
Katherine Paterson is one of the all-time greats of children’s literature – who can forget Bridge to Terabithia? THE FLINT HEART (Candlewick Press, $27.99), featuring a malicious stone carving that unleashes viciousness in its wearers, is a handsome production co-written with husband John Paterson and dedicated to author-illustrator Steven Kellogg and his wife – plus “our dear Margaret Mahy, who introduced us to the original story”. Paterson believes JRR Tolkien must have read this “wonderful, whimsical” 1910 story about the abuse of power, by English writer Eden Phillpotts – as “there are many echoes of The Flint Heart in The Lord of the Rings”. Illustrator John Rocco, a former creative director at Walt Disney, brings to life the fairy adventure beneath Phillpotts’s beloved Dartmoor. The film, needless to say, is already “in development”.
JK Rowling “absolutely adored” Elizabeth Goudge’s THE LITTLE WHITE HORSE (Lion Children’s, $29.99). It won the Carnegie Medal in 1946. So why on Earth has it taken me so long to get around to reading it? I was charmed from the opening sentence by the story of Maria Merryweather, an orphan who goes with her governess, Miss Heliotrope, to live with great-uncle Benjamin in the vale of Moonacre – and breaks the spell that has seen generations of Merryweathers doomed to repeating their mistakes. As revealed by the cover illustration of this special edition, which has C Walter Hodges’s original Regency-style illustrations, the little white horse of the title is a unicorn, but he makes only a rare appearance – as indeed such magical beasts should. A book to share with a special child.
Another for sharing is the Violet Mackerel series, but then I’m a sucker for Violets – the flowers as well as Anna Branford’s character. It’s not just that the little girl and her family are so crafty – in the nicest Saturday-market sense – I just love following her convoluted thought processes in the beautifully produced little hardbacks. In VIOLET MACKEREL’S NATURAL HABITAT (Walker, $24.99), our heroine – sensitively realised for the third time by expat Kiwi illustrator Sarah Davis – is helping her big sister with a science project while learning about what ladybirds don’t like to eat.
SWITCHED (Tor, $19.99) is an ebook publishing sensation. This is the first in a YA trilogy by 26-year-old self-published Minnesota author Amanda Hocking (a unicorn enthusiast, by the way). That this paranormal series features trolls is also a first, although they’re not as we know them. The Trylle Trilogy – “unique in an overcrowded genre”, according to one blogger – has sold a million in under two years. Yes, I enjoyed it, and may even read the sequels, Torn and Ascend – due in February and March.
Ann Packer is a Wellington writer and journalist.