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A curious collection

The Curiouseum, edited by Adrienne Jansen (Te Papa Press, $29.99)
Review by Nikki Slade Robinson

Curioseum_floatWith a tantalising title of The Curiouseum, and an equally enticing cover design, it’s hard not to be, well, curious as to what lurks within. And this ‘collected stories and poems of the odd and marvellous’ for children certainly rewarded my curiosity.

This book is the result of letting 22 New Zealand authors loose in Te Papa Tongarewa – the Museum of New Zealand – on Wellington’s waterfront. Authors span the familiar to more recent up-and-comers, such as Margaret Mahy, Joy Cowley, Barbara Else, Bill Manhire, Jo Randerson, Mandy Hager and Tusi Tamasese, to name but a few. Their brief was to explore the museum for a day, and choose an object/s as an inspiration – a starting point – and create ‘new and wonderful stories’ about those objects.

The first collaboration between Te Papa Press and the Whitireia Creative Writing and Publishing Programmes, the collection was edited by Adrienne Jansen, who writes for adults and children, and also teaches writing. Quirky line illustrations by the multi-talented Sarah Laing weave their way around and over every spread.

It’s aimed at readers aged 8–12. With its combination of short texts and plenty of illustrations, the book should appeal to young readers who may still find a full chapter book a bit daunting. At the same time the content will engage more advanced readers who want to kick back and have a bit of fun. Some of the stories have a neat, clear ending, some have a little sting in the tail, and others let you come to your own conclusion.

For example, one of my favourite pieces was by Joy Cowley, ‘Puss, Puss, Puss’. Taking a cat to the vet is never easy or fun, but this story takes such a trip to a new level… and as it turns out, a trip that is not in the interests of giant squid preservation. Meanwhile, Tusi Tamasese’s ‘The Demon in the Village’ has a spine-chilling twist at the end, and Elizabeth Knox’s ‘A Doll for the Captain’ leaves you to fill in the meaning at the end.

The concept of choosing an unusual object as a starting point for a writing project, and then letting your imagination run away, may also serve as a source of inspiration to budding young writers – or to teachers wanting to get their class fired up on a creative-writing project.

This is a beautifully produced book with a lovely embossed matte cover with ends that fold inwards to give an added robustness, and the pages within are on lovely thick stock. That adds a nice touch to a beautifully curious read for boys and girls.