Monday, February 9, 2015

Buzzy Bee's Birthday Party and three other stories by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Richard Hoil

This is just the sort of bright popping digital illustration and story-telling by formula that I instinctively don't like. But that's a personal taste thing, and I wanted to look more closely at this book to make a judgement that's not just whether I like it or not - essential if you have to judge books for awards, as I do at the moment.

When I looked over these four stories again I started to appreciate the cleverness. Joy Cowley is, of course, one of our most lauded writers for children, and is particularly known for the number of books she's written for the educational market, which this fits in nicely with. It's no easy task to use a restricted vocabulary and blend creatively story-telling with teaching facts like the days of the week, counting to ten and the like, but Joy does find ways to twist the tale with cleverness and play, as in the title story where Buzzy Bee carefully counts out his nine invited guests and makes sure he has nine of everything ready for the party, only to discover that there is nothing for him because he didn't count himself. Clever, and I wonder how many children will work that out as they repeatedly count to nine as the story progresses.

From an illustrative point of view this is a fairly straightforward task for the illustrator who isn't required to do more than illustrate the text, there's no sub-plot going on here, as we would look for in a more 'literary' picture book. One requirement is that he depicts the characters accurately as they are all based on classic New Zealand wooden toys - Buzzy Bee, Loopy Lou, the ducklings... The small children enjoying the books might not already know these characters but the parents and grandparents likely to be purchasing the books almost certainly will, and perhaps the toys themselves will be bought along with the books. We do love our Kiwiana here in New Zealand and I think there will be plenty who will respond to seeing their familiar toys on the cover and want to buy.

So I can't go as far as to say this is a literary masterpiece, but I can say it's an excellent example of its genre, with interesting stories to teach basic concepts, and nicely produced by Upstart Press, who are pretty new on the block.

Buzzy Bee's Birthday Party and three other stories
Written by Joy Cowley
Illustrated by Richard Hoit
Upstart Press, 2014
ISBN 978-1-927262-06-1

2-7 years
Each story can also be found as an individual book

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