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A Home of Their Own

Book Review
Puffin the Architect Written and illustrated by Kimberley Andrews (Puffin, $19.99)
Reviewed by Melinda Szymanik

puffin_architect_cover_webThis is a visually appealing picture book, with muted earthy tones and a charming central character in Puffin the Architect. We are quickly introduced to what being an architect means, and then the story leads us through a variety of fun, quirky examples to illustrate this, as Puffin tries to understand what her latest clients – her own children – want in a home of their own.

The text is mostly rhyming, and cleverly arranged with the repeating lead-in of, ‘a lot of clever cupboards’ as Puffin describes each home she has planned. Architectural ideas and terms are shown through small sketches next to the text, and words chosen such as ‘bracket, pulley operated, skylight, and rooftop decks.’ The text increases with each subsequent description, adding a new concept to all the previous recurring ones.

The architecture depicted is engaging and the illustrations provide plenty of detail for children to pore over. I did find the colour palette a little dark and subdued in places, and it would have been nice to have someone distinctly local amongst the global who’s who of animal home owners, but these are minor quibbles. As the pufflings reject home after home, it is clear that different creatures have very different needs, and the youngsters now have the language and understanding to explain what they hope their own dwelling will have. The end result is the right home for them.

It was refreshing to find that the working professional in this Puffin family is female and she is clearly very good at what she does, satisfying all her clients through careful listening and expert planning. I think older primary children will get the most out of this book and I can just see young readers imagining what they might include in their own future homes, just as I used to when reading Dr Suess’s Come Over to My Place as a child.

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The Politics of Eternity

Book Review
The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America by Timothy Snyder (Bodley Head: London, 2018)
Reviewed by Valerie Morse

unfreedom_coverFollowing closely on his international bestseller On Tyranny, Yale professor of history Tim Snyder publishes a stunning account of the mechanisms of contemporary Russian power in US and European politics. In telling this story he presents both startling alarms for our own society and some mechanisms of resistance.

Snyder’s premise is founded in the competing ideas of what he calls the ‘politics of inevitability’ versus the ‘politics of eternity.’ The former is a characterisation of life under Western neo-liberal capitalist democracies where there is a Francis Fukayama-like ‘end of history.’ Underpinning it is a set of assumptions that history is progressing linearly towards a better world, which looks a lot like what currently exists, and that there are no real, radically different alternatives to neo-liberal capitalism.

By contrast, the politics of eternity are the politics of neo-fascism; they are, quite simply, the politics of modern Russia. They seek to glorify a fictional past that can be reclaimed; they invoke myth and leader-worship where succession is impossible; they create culture wars that portray Russia as a victim of external plots and threats – for example claiming that homosexual and queer people in Russia are essentially enemy agents; they promise nothing and normalise massive inequality ensuring there is no mobility and no way out.

What is particularly useful about The Road to Unfreedom is Snyder’s amazing grasp of Russian and Ukrainian source material, and the application of his significant historical knowledge of Russian and Eastern Europe to make sense of the present.

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More Beach Cricket Please

Book Review
The Infinite Game: How to live well together by Niki Harré (Auckland University Press, $29.99)
Reviewed by Alex Beattie

infinite-game-coverI have an obsessive tendency to organise books into niche categories like those you find on Netflix. On my shelves I have Bromance Novels, Baby Boomer Fiction, and Urban Nature Writing. Then there are the subtler distinctions. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and Carl Newport’s Deep Work fall into the Play the Game category, as both these books provide guidance on how to get ahead in life. The more enterprising Break the Game books – Oliver James’ Affluenza or Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics criticise the status quo and imagine a new paradigm. Niki Harré’s The Infinite Game: How to Live Well Together, definitively falls into the latter and more ambitious camp.

The Infinite Game is a pop psychology-cum-philosophy book about radically reshaping society. Not into a commune, religious rally, or anything that would keep Mike Hosking awake at night; but into something else entirely. The Infinite Game is an intellectually stimulating read that is ideal for book clubs or any budding conversationalist who wants to move beyond tired discussions about the New Zealand housing crisis or nation-wide transport woes.

Getting the win

This isn’t a book that ignores central Kiwi issues. Rather, The Infinite Game examines the philosophical underpinnings driving how we live and discuss topical issues such as public transport, housing, or conservation. Harré’s central point is that we tend to frame these issues in terms of winners and losers, which structures our society around finite games: buying a house, climbing the corporate ladder, or in general, getting the best deal. If you manage to win at those games, then great – you’re on the right side of the numbers. The problem however, is that most finite games are rigged, with more Kiwis losing and becoming ‘have-nots’.

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A Kiwi Whodunnit

Book Review
Search for a Kiwi Killer by Des Hunt (Torea Press, $18)
Reviewed by Nikki Slade Robinson

des-hunt-cover2We live in a region with kiwi, weka, forestry, hunting, pig dogs and pet dogs.

So does Tom, the main character in Des Hunt’s newest book Search for a Kiwi Killer. But the story is not set in our region (though it easily could be). It’s set in Kerikeri, Northland.

Tom’s first claim to fame is tackling a wild pig on the forecourt of the local petrol station.  When he and his dad release the pig back into the bush, Tom discovers a dead kiwi. Killed by a pig? Closer examination shows the kiwi had been the victim of a dog attack. There’s a dog somewhere out there, killing the kiwi.

Things get a little trickier when Tom finds an injured dog in the forest. Before long, he has bonded well and truly with this dog, now called Buffy. He also gets to know another local dog, Harvey, who belongs to the rather wealthy Mrs Hopwood. Either dog could be the kiwi killer. Tom doesn’t want to lose Buffy, and he knows Mrs Hopwood couldn’t bear to lose Harvey.

Tom also learns that someone in the area is using imported GPS tracking collars on dogs. Collars with batteries that are likely to explode, potentially injuring the dog; collars that interfere with the forestry radio communication network. Read more »

Colourful Mystery

Book Review
Who Stole the Rainbow? A Mystery Thriller by Vasanti Unka (Picture Puffin, $19.99)
Reviewed by Melinda Szymanik

stole_rainbow_cover_webSuch a clever idea, this vibrant picture book explores what makes a rainbow by disguising the answer in a thrilling investigation by Inspector Beagle, who interrogates the wind, the rain and the cloud to determine where the rainbow has disappeared to. We have interviews, and police files, but the Inspector is stuck, until the mystery is solved with a clever twist and a well-placed fold out page.

The text is clear and simple yet never dull, utilizing a number of language techniques such as internal rhyme, personification and onomatopoeia to keep things fun and interesting. There are also plenty of ‘investigation’ related words to add to the vocabulary, like ‘witnesses’ and ‘clues’, ‘culprits’ and ‘accomplices’. There is drama – “the rainbow was GONE!”, and a lovely understated humour, as seen in the illustration that shows Inspector Beagle lying in the grass as he “searched the crime scene” above him, and then, when he is standing in a flood of tears.

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The art work is bold and confronting with fresh, vivid colours. This is entirely appropriate in a thriller about a missing rainbow, and young readers will be drawn in by the energy and personality in the illustrations.

I loved the effortless cool of Inspector Beagle, and children will enjoy spotting the mouse duo who spot the crime in the first place, and who can be seen popping up on every page. There’s a little engineering with a couple of fab fold out pages, and a handy brief science-based explanation as well as a code to scan for more information, at the end of the book. This is a terrific way to explain the rainbow phenomenon to a young audience while having a bit of fun and excitement along the way.