reviewed by the junior classes at Green Bay Primary
To my shame, I must admit that, at first, I did not get this book. Then, after reading it to several groups of five- and six-year-olds, I finally got it. This book needs to be read aloud, to be performed.
In a Q&A for Booksellers NZ author Vasanti Unka, who says this books comes from ‘one of her silly ideas’, muses, when asked about the target audience for this book: “The book’s message is something I really believe in. [..] [T]he book does seem to have found its own audience. Kids are more sophisticated than we give them credit for and I hear of so many kids from 4 upwards and heaps of adults who love the book.” And this is exactly what I have observed. The children who had the most fun with this book were the ones who cannot actually read very well yet.
The illustrations go from intentionally bleak and boring to an explosion of words and colour. Words escape from drab standardised books and spill out into the world, because words need to be free.
Words are the text, words are the illustrations, words are the message.
After the last reading to a class of just-turned-five-year-olds (Go Room 19!), a silence fell across the room. The children looked around and started pointing at alphabet lists and individual words displayed along the walls. It’s true, they said. Words are everywhere. A very wise boy in the back row slowly raised his hand and said: “We live in a word world”.
We do, indeed. And it’s no boring one.
‘The Boring Book’ is certainly a firm favourite among the young ones.
P.S. It really helps, if you pretend to fall asleep halfway through the first page.
For the full Q&A see below.
Q&A with Vasanti Unka, author of The Boring Book (Puffin) for the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults:
- As an author, you must have a lot of ideas floating around. How did you decide to write this book?Yes, I’ve always been accused of having lots of silly ideas. This one I managed to verbalise to Katie Haworth who was the children’s commissioning Editor at Penguin.Whenever I bumped into her she’d ask if I’d written ‘that book’ yet. It was probably her urging that made me think that this silly idea I had might actually be a good idea.
- Tell us a bit about the journey from manuscript to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in publishing this book? The journey from manuscript to published work was honestly dreamlike. I enjoyed every aspect of it. I’ve been involved in children’s books before, either designing or illustrating them. But as this book was my ‘baby’ (it really feels like its a piece of me) I pushed myself hard to make sure it was amazing. However, the biggest challenge I faced was that as I have never written a fictional book before, I constantly felt inadequate. One day during the process, my younger brother died. The understanding of the fleeting nature of life became very acute to me. I made myself stop listening to the girl inside me who was telling me, “You can’t write, give up!”
- Did you tailor this book to a particular audience – or did you find it found its own audience as it was written? I didn’t tailor the book to a particular audience. I know I am supposed to. The book’s message is something I really believe in. For me it was important to convey the message succinctly, illustrate in a way that was authentically me but also ensure it was pure fun. Despite all that, the book does seem to have found its own audience. Kids are more sophisticated than we give them credit for and I hear of so many kids from 4 upwards and heaps of adults who love the book.
- Can you recommend any books that you love, that inspired or informed your book in any way? I was inspired by a couple of books that fully utilise design to accentuate their message. One book I love is, Sara Fanelli’s, The Onion’s Great Escape. While you read this beautifully illustrated book you are prompted to answer questions about yourself. At each page you can peel off a layer – the book ends up being shaped like an onion.
- Tell us about a time you’ve enjoyed relaxing and reading a book – at the bach, on holiday, what was the book? My holiday book memories are mostly filled by NZ authors. Patricia Grace, Maurice Gee. Lloyd Jones, Elizabeth Knox. This year it was Eleanor Catton’s, The Luminaries of course. It seems apt to me to read NZ stories when surrounded by our dramatic countryside and beaches.
- What are your favourite things to do, when you aren’t reading or writing, and why? My favourite thing to do when I’m not reading or writing is drawing, making concoctions in the kitchen or making crafty kind of stuff.