Uncle Trev and The Great South Island Plan
Cape Catley, Whatamongo Bay, 1991, $14.95
Does Daniel Wilmott Tell Lies?
Hazard Press, Christchurch, 1991
The Boy At The Door and Other Stories of the Supernatural
Hazard Press, Christchurch, 1991
After a splendid surge of children’s books starring female protagonists, it is time it seems for a change, judging by this selection of books for review. According to one learned source: ‘boys don’t read stories about girls, whereas girls don’t mind reading about boys’. This indeed may be true but for many years girls did not have the choice.
Jack Lasenby’s Uncle Trev and the Great South Island Plan, is the second in a planned series of books. The child narrator (presumably male) is recovering in bed, from a bout of polio and Uncle Trev proves to be a godsend – turning up at all hours to regale the invalid with tall tales. This reviewer found it difficult to get engrossed in the stories, possibly because it reads (to her anyway) rather like a Barry Crump primer. Trev’s the black sheep of the family – a ‘dyed-in-the-wool’ bachelor who revels in annoying his sister. She indulges him, exuding motherly concern, yet nags him for bringing his smelly dog inside – trekking across her clean floors in his muddy gumboots etc, etc. The book is set in the 1930s when stereotyped roles were without doubt commonplace. Even so, surely there could have been countrywomen who did not conform to the strictures of the day? Perhaps, in his next instalments, instead of perpetuating this, Lasenby could ’tilt the mirror’ a little and let Trev’s sister out of the kitchen and into the adventures. Otherwise, today’s young female readers may not find much in these books to inspire them and choose not to persevere with these particular stories. A minor irritation also, was the story of the ‘false teeth’, which is exactly like an episode of the classic television show, Steptoe and Son.
Juliet Martin’s picture book Does Daniel Wilmott Tell Lies? is a story that succeeds regardless of the gender of its chief character. Martin’s text is easy to read aloud and is enriched by David Johnstone’s colourful, humorous illustrations which subtly evoke the era of short pants, woolly jersey and trolley (as opposed to sweatshirt, trackpants and skateboard of today). The setting appears very English with wonderful stone houses and fences but the theme is one that is universal in its appeal. Daniel Wilmott explains to his three ‘hangers on’, the reasons behind his aunt’s absence. Daniel’s explanations are disbelieved and he is accused of telling lies. But does he? The gentle story teases the reader hot up until the end – and beyond.
Three out of five stories that comprise Anthony Holcroft’s collection, The Boy At the Door and Other Stories of the Supernatural, have a boy as the main character. Holcroft’s stories of the ‘supernatural’, however, are engaging and sensitively written and will, I am sure be enjoyed by both girls and boys. ‘Silver’, the story of a lost girl – one of the ‘mountain folk’ – has the dreamy, misty feel of a fable, complete with subtle wisdom, while ‘The Silkies’, is an enjoyable Sci-fi tale about weird goings-on in a ‘buzzy hole’ discovered by Hazel’s four-year-old brother, Simon. Holcroft’s language is often poetic: ‘She heard the rainbird stitching the air with its tight little thread’ and his stories precisely written and timed. Julian Holcroft’s black and white illustrations are an added bonus adding to the sense of mystery. It’s a pity that the small format just doesn’t do justice to the contents but then again, the paperback will fit snugly into pocket or schoolbag.
Vivien Joseph is a Wellington poet and reviewer.