Review: Five picture books to make young ones laugh

Five picture books to make young ones laugh: Nanas With No Manners, Dreams of a Moa, There Was a Farmer Who Swallowed A Fly, Tulip and Sprout, You Don't Know How Lucky You Are/ Me i Mōhio Koe ki tō Waimarietanga!

Review: Five nz picture books to make young ones laugh

Five picture books to make young ones laugh: Nanas With No Manners, Dreams of a Moa, There Was a Farmer Who Swallowed A Fly, Tulip and Sprout, You Don't Know How Lucky You Are/ Me i Mōhio Koe ki tō Waimarietanga!

Nanas with No Manners by Justin Christopher and Minky Stapleton (Scholastic, $21.99)

Full marks to Justin Christopher for writing an elderly woman character, Nana Martini, who rocks a pink bikini. You don’t often see that in a children’s picture book; in fact, you don’t often see it … anywhere except maybe on a Mediterranean beach or an airbrushed Martha Stewart on a Sports Illustrated cover. Nana Martini is not airbrushed but rendered, like the other characters here, larger than life. This is a book that will make kids laugh and, perhaps, adults roll their eyes – in a good way - at the rollicking, rhyming absurdity of three elderly people behaving very badly indeed:

 Nana Martini in her bright pink bikini.

Nana Bonita, the very noisy eater,

and Nana McCarten, who couldn’t hold a fart in.

This gives a clue that this book is full of toilet humour, something that provides no end of amusement and entertainment for many kids. The three nanas will only eat chocolate nachos with cheese - so there’s a new take on the whole phenomenon of fussy eaters - but they are forced to leave the City of Seas, where they never say thank you and never say please, when their favoured food runs out.  One characters comment about unfamiliar food being ‘muck’ rather reminded me of an elderly relative who refused to eat nachos…The rhymes are boisterous and it looks like Minky Stapleton had a ton of fun with the gloriously over-the-top illustrations of pugnacious pensioners, hotel buffet food, dodgy swamp-side restaurants and the heroine of the story, Sina McSlight, who is more than what she initially appears to be.  Definitely a great way to get young ones thinking more about manners – and following advice!

Dream of a Moa by Carly Middleton and Megan Salole (Little Love, $25.00)

There is a lot to like about this debut from Christchurch-based Carly Middleton.  It’s an imaginative story about a child who wants to know what happened to the moa.

One night as I snuggled down into my bed,

A questions kept swirling around in my head.

‘Hey Dad, I just want to know,


From there, Middleton crafts a humorous take on all the places, from sailing the Pacific to ballet dancing in Paris and strolling on the moon, where moa could have gone.  Some of the rhymes are a little uneven but they’re certainly inventive as to where these mighty birds may have ended up.  Megan Salole’s drawings shine. They’re packed with details of our unique flora and fauna and subtle hints about pursuing one’s dreams in the face of adversity.Middleton is true to her motivation for writing the book, to encourage readers to pursue their dreams even if there are challenges along the way and includes a fact page at the end of the book.  But I felt perplexed because, ultimately, the moa’s disappearance was for far more tragic reasons.  I could be taking it too seriously but I couldn’t help but think how a child might feel on discovering the unhappy truth.   

There Was a Farmer Who Swallowed A Fly by Peter Millett and Paul Beavis (Picture Puffin, $21.00)

A couple of years back, I read Peter Millett’s Pigs in Sheds – a Kiwiana take on The Three Little Pigs – to a class of 5 and 6 year olds and couldn’t believe how uproariously they laughed and delighted in the retelling of a very old story. So, I have no doubt that Millett’s take on the nursery rhyme There was an old lady who swallowed a fly will be equally enthusiastically received. It’s pure old-school fun with wordplays, playful phrasings of the rhyme and evermore ridiculous scenarios throughout:

There was an odd farmer who swallowed a fly.

I dunno why she swallowed a fly —
it’s such weird kai.

It’s also a carefully considered production, with peek-a-boo holes in each of the pages so readers can see what the odd farmer has eaten.  Millett and Beavis add some localised touches, like wētā, gecko and kune pigs being among the beasts consumed, and watch what TV programme screens on the final page.  The book is out on 4 July, so will make for good school holiday reading and I can see it becoming a favourite of kids for years to come.

Tulip and Sprout by Emma Wood and Carla Martell (Scholastic, $21.99)

When she was Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern gave a copy of Tulip and Doug: Friends to Prince William for his kids, saying it was one of her favourite children’s books. In this, the sequel, plucky Tulip grows a new/old friendship when her schoolmate, Max, goes on holiday and takes their other friend, Susan, who’s a rock, with him.  Left alone, Tulip has to make her own fun and her indomitable spirit shines through in a handful of amusing drawings which express exactly how she’s feeling and how she intends to deal with it.In keeping with the reputation she’s gained for ‘quirky, humorous’ stories for children (and adults who like a bit of wry realism blended with pure whimsy), Emma Wood tells a gentle, offbeat adventure story for those who prefer their escapades closer to home. Carla Martell captures the curious characters and their ever so slightly surreal, but beautiful, world well. It adds up to a story about friendship, making your own fun and appreciating life’s smaller miracles.

You Don't Know How Lucky You Are/ Me i Mōhio Koe ki tō Waimarietanga! by Belinda O'Keefe and Ross Kinnaird with Māori translation by Te Ama-Rere-Tai Rangihuna (Oratia, $21.00)

This colourful and cheeky bilingual book could well have been reviewed with other picture books that ‘help young ones make sense of big feelings’ because it certainly does that by pointing out that looking on the bright side of things is always good to do – or, at least, try to. You could accuse it, possibly, of minimising “big feelings” but there’s an argument to be made that teaching kids to pause, reconsider situations and think about how bad things really are – or not – is valid.When Izzy moans about unloading the dishwasher, her great-uncle Arthur declares, ‘You don’t know how lucky you are!’ From there on, this becomes his mantra reminding Izzy that whatever happens to her, he’d had it tougher: 

When I was your age I was camping in the middle of a storm.  There was thunder, lightning and gale force winds.  But that wasn’t the worst part. 

 An Angry bull charged through my tent, my pyjamas got hooked on a tent peg and I was dragged behind the bull, all the way to the edge of a cliff!”

It’s a great story to open conversations about intergenerational experiences - how things were back in the days when grandparents ‘walked to school in the snow in bare feet.’  As Belinda O’Keefe makes great-uncle Arthur’s stories wilder, Ross Kinnaird’s humorous illustrations get funnier. The look of the face of the ‘angry bull’ is delightful, the kitchen scenes a true kitchen nightmare.  As Izzy starts to realise what he’s playing at, she comes back with her own apt retort.  

 Reviewed by Dionne Christian

Check out the reading list...


  • Review: Five picture books to make young ones laugh