Dionne Christian is the NZ Herald’s arts and books editor

Book review: Tui Street Tales

Tui Street Tales By Anna Kayes.
Tui Street Tales By Anna Kayes.

TUI STREET TALES by Anne Kayes (Scholastic, $17)

I'm reluctant to say what I really think of Tui Street Tales lest it ruin a possible (early) retirement plan, but here goes: this book, a collection of seven interlinked short stories, is so good that someone ought to snaffle the rights and turn it into a stage play or kids' TV series.

I'm wondering if it's slightly sacrilegious to suggest this, given we're continually warned about the amount of time kids spend in front of screens and how we ought to encourage them to read more.

We most definitely should and Tui Street Tales is the kind of book which will inspire them to do so. New author Anne Kayes won the 2016 Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon Award, given to first-time novelists, and she's created a real charmer with this book. It's clever, sometimes mysterious and a little bit dark, but always great fun and thought-provoking without being in the slightest preachy.

Tui Street Tales is set in a typical New Zealand cul-de-sac - could be, say, urban Whangarei - a more rural centre in Manawatu or a quiet corner in Pakuranga, Auckland; the point being the location is vividly drawn, instantly recognisable and comforting in its familiarity.

The kids, a gaggle of girls and boys who go to the same local school, are written without artifice and allowed to have their own foibles; difference is treated as part of life rather than attention being drawn to it and focused on.

While it's highly contemporary, there's a nostalgic feel that will appeal to grown-ups who may be reading it with young ones. The writing is never patronising and while it has an innocence about it, the hard realities of life aren't ignored.

So Tui Street might seem like an ordinary place with ordinary kids but there are extraordinary goings-on here. Magical creatures walk, and fly, among its residents; each of the story's cast of young characters gets to star in an adventure where she or he is swept up in something fantastical and thrilling. There's even a twist. Each story is inspired by a well-known children's fairy tale so part of the enjoyment of reading Tui Street Tales is working out, from sometimes subtle clues, which traditional fable they're based on. Maori folklore is also included, giving the book an even more authentic New Zealand feel.

Highly recommended and very definitely cinematic.

- Weekend magazine

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