Book Review – The Mapmakers’ Race by Eirlys Hunter

Happy New Year and welcome to Pendants and Paperbacks 2019. Holidays are the perfect time to catch up on reading and I have been doing a lot of that over the past week or so. As part of my regular book review series, I’d like to share with you my thoughts on  Eirlys Hunter’s junior novel, The Mapmakers’ Race.

Sal, Joe, Francie and Humphrey Santander’s father hasn’t returned from his latest expedition. Worn out with worry and with no money left, their mapmaking mother chooses to enter the family in the Mapmakers’ Race. Contestants have 28 days to find and map the best route through the unchartered wilderness from Grand Prospect to New Coalhaven. With a prize pool that will solve almost all of their problems what have the Santanders got to lose? Unfortunately, a lot. When the children’s mother is left behind at a train station en route to the start line, the children are stranded in Grand Prospect not knowing what to do. Finally, they decide to embark on the race by themselves, hoping their mother can catch up.

What ensues is a madcap adventure as the Santander children do their best to make their parents proud in spite of dangerous terrain, terrifying beasts, villainous adults and each other. Every day provides a new challenge for the children and they overcome each one through quick thinking, experimentation and perseverance. While not set in our world, the story is not completely fantastical either: perhaps the best way to describe it is magical realism set in a world similar to our own with just a splash of steampunk. Some of the scenes could be a little scary for younger children but I am a firm believer that in the safety of a book children need to see dangerous and scary scenarios worked through and overcome.

Eirlys Hunter has devised a strong cast of characters and an engaging plot to create a true adventure story where overcoming obstacles to meet the final goal is key. Not only does she write adventure with skill, but in the story’s down moments she also has a beautiful way with words. Here is a taste:

The moon hung so big and bright that he could barely make out any stars until he turned his back to the moon and looked towards the dark horizon where there were tens, then hundreds, then thousands of stars pulsing silently – chips of ice in an infinite, frozen world.

Alongside Hunter’s rollicking text are illustrations by Kirsten Slade whose map drawings add shape to the story.

If you are interested in investigating further, there is the Look Inside feature on Amazon plus an extract in The Sapling. The Mapmakers’ Race can be purchased at Amazon or the Book Depository. If you are in New Zealand please support your local bookstore or order online at The Children’s Bookshop, Wellington.

This review has also been posted on The Wonder of Words website.

Book Review – Once Long Ago

Once Long Ago, the book I read as a child until it fell apart, is the book I have chosen for my first review.

Once Long Ago: Folk and Fairy Tales of the World, first published in 1962 by Golden Pleasure Books, is a collection of 70 traditional tales from 49 different cultures retold by Roger Lancelyn Green and illustrated by Vojtěch Kubašta.

As well as compiling myths, legends, and fairy tales from around the world, Green was a biographer of children’s writers and a member of the Oxford literary group, the Inklings, along with J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.  In Once Long Ago, Green’s writing retains the fairy tale format of earlier versions while creating a magic that appealed to me as a child, and still does as an adult. My old favourites, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Snow White, are all included and I quickly gained new favourites: the Australian tale, The Bunyip, the Flemish tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and the Norse tale, Why the Sea is Salt.

I have read questions online about how accurate Green may have been in writing stories from cultures other than his own. We have to remember that this book was published in 1962 and to have a volume of such diverse tales from a wide range of cultures is to be commended. I am choosing to believe that Green researched these stories thoroughly and took due care and time when creating his versions of them. The English story, The Three Bears, does support this view since there is no Goldilocks in sight. Instead, the original character, a little old woman, is the antagonist.

Not only is this book a fine example of great storytelling, it is also a work of art. Born in Vienna, Kubašta moved to Prague when he was four. He studied architecture and civil engineering but soon moved into his life-long career as a commercial artist and book designer. He is perhaps most famous for his pop-up books. His illustrations in Once Long Ago are bold, bright and filled with emotion: the image of the old witch on her raft of snakes in the Armenian tale Zoulvisia is impressively evil, the arrogance of the chicken in the Spanish tale The Half-Chick is cleverly depicted, and my favourite image of all, that of the girl in the English tale Coat of Rushes accepting her new silver dress from the fairy, is hauntingly beautiful.

A few years ago, for a significant birthday, I treated myself to my own copy of the book to the tune of $NZ500. It may seem odd that I am reviewing a book now classed as “hard to find” and costing a fair penny to buy should you find a copy. What I want to illustrate is the need for children to be exposed to traditional tales. In New Zealand, books of Māori myths and legends by Peter Gossage or Gavin Bishop are strong contenders for any bookshelf, Xoë Hall is creating stunning editions of myths and legends in English and te reo Māori, and Annie Rae Te Ake Ake has retold 15 tales all impressively illustrated by young Kiwi artists. Look for volumes further afield too. I learnt about people different to me through the tales in Once Long Ago and I would like to think this created a strong foundation for fairness, acceptance and tolerance. I encourage you to find a modern collection of traditional tales from around the world; one filled with gorgeous illustrations and magical stories, preferably one where the stories are written and illustrated by people who grew up with them. Since this is such a personal choice I can’t recommend what volume you buy, but I can say that if your children read it until it is faded and frayed then it is a book well-loved and one they will carry with them forever.

The Re-Launch of Katharine Derrick

Welcome to the re-launch of katharinederrick.co.nz, rebranded as Pendants and Paperbacks.

I am a writer and a reader and have been known to read books until they fall apart. The first book I read until it was faded and frayed was a huge volume of folktales, called Once Long Ago. Unfortunately, it was on loan; I hope that when Mum returned it to the original owners, they understood just how much that book was loved. Since then the Harry Potter series has joined the ranks of books with sad-looking spines, although I maintain that was due to my children as much as me.

Once Long Ago started a life-long search for story. My first published work was a fifty-word micro; more recently I have been published in takahē magazine with my short story ‘The Auburn Trail’. I have had numerous pieces of flash fiction appearing online in Flash Frontier, one of which gained a Pushcart nomination. I am a key organiser for writing events in Northland, New Zealand, and teach applied writing online at NorthTec. My current works-in-progress are picture books and a YA novel.

Besides a love of reading and writing, one thing that defines me is the necklaces I wear. Now, I have no sense of style what-so-ever, I wear the most casual of clothes, I rarely wear make-up, I ignore my stylish mother when she tells me to dispose of a favourite, well-worn and tatty jacket. But I do make a statement with my necklaces – the bigger and bolder the better. What better tagline than one that encompasses who I am? And so Pendants and Paperbacks was born.

My aim with this blog is to be eclectic, to write about anything that takes my fancy, to be varied and interesting, to be me. Story is a key part of my life so I will review, discuss and comment on what I’m reading or studying or watching. And, of course, I will need to document my sense of style, so posts on necklaces or my favourite designer or things I wish I had the courage to wear will appear sporadically, as will posts about my pets because I think they are cute and funny even if no one else does. And very irregularly you might find me posting about what’s going on with me in the writing world.

Posts will appear every three weeks or so, or maybe every three months, or maybe randomly, or maybe never – let’s see how we go with that! This should give you confidence that you can follow my blog and not be inundated with my ramblings. I promise – unless something absolutely amazing is going down – once every three weeks will be the minimum gap between posts.

Thanks to Shelby Derks-Wyatt for the banner design. A selection of Shelby’s work can be viewed here.

You might also like to visit The Wonder of Words: Engaging readers in children’s literature, where I blog along with five other children’s authors.