One Question Quiz
Illustrator and bookshop owner Jo Pearson
Illustrator and bookshop owner Jo Pearson

BooksMay 22, 2024

‘Anyone who’s written one will tell you…’: Jo Pearson on the picture book that nails it

Illustrator and bookshop owner Jo Pearson
Illustrator and bookshop owner Jo Pearson

Welcome to The Spinoff Bookseller Confessional, in which we get to know Aotearoa’s booksellers. This week: Jo Pearson, illustrator of Five Wee Pūteketeke (written by Nicola Toki) and owner of children’s bookshop and studio Pictura in Port Chalmers, Ōtepoti.

The book I wish I’d written

I Want my Hat Back by Jon Klassen. A deceivingly simple story about a bear and his missing hat. Anyone who’s written a picture book (or tried to) will tell you how incredibly difficult it is to do, let alone do well, and this one just absolutely nails it. Not only does it never fail to elicit a laugh when I’ve read it time and again it to my kids, but the use of colour as a narrative tool in the illustrations is genius.

Everyone should read

The Arrival by Shaun Tan. This is a large-format graphic novel, completely wordless, documenting the experience of a father emigrating to a land far from his own. I could suggest almost anything by Shaun Tan as a must-read, but this book is particularly moving. Through the photo-realistic and surreal illustrations you begin to understand what it’s like to be someone who has left their home and everything they know to look for a better life. A masterpiece.

From left to right: the book Jo Pearson wishes she’d written; and the book she thinks we all need to read.

The book I want to be buried with

I asked for my 10-year-old’s thoughts on this question and he simply replied “…ew”. I think he has a point. Presumably this question asks how I’d like to be remembered, rather than what book I would read in the afterlife which, given I’d be dead, would be a stretch. Therefore, if my bones were discovered clutching a tattered copy of my first picture book, Five Wee Pūteketeke, then at least it would be proof that I was at one time published.

Dystopia or Utopia

Dystopia every time. I recently read almost everything by Emily St John Mandel and particularly enjoyed Station Eleven and Sea of Tranquility, both with dystopian themes. I have always been drawn to dystopian fiction I blame reading Z for Zachariah and a teenage obsession with Radiohead. Perhaps I find hope in melancholy.

The book that made me cry

The last time I became choked up was reading The Lord of the Rings to my daughter. I was anticipating the (spoiler alert) demise of Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring and I could feel my throat closing up when it actually happened. She was floored; it was awesome.

From left to right: the book Jo Pearson would be buried with; one of the dystopias she’s enjoyed; and the book that made her choke up.

The book that made me laugh

I love to read cartoons and graphic novels and Will McPhail is my current favourite New York Times cartoonist who has published two books recently. IN. is a fresh and modern graphic novel which is of course extremely funny, but there is an undertow of loneliness and sadness and it will tug on the heartstrings in unexpected ways. Really beautifully done. He also recently released Love and Vermin, a collection of cartoons which features a small reprisal of Lady No-Kids (if you know you know). Recommended for a good chuckle.

Food memory from a book

Absolutely The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr. The little chocolate muffins that the Tiger eats; I could taste them. But even better was when the Tiger leaves no food in the house and they have no choice but to pop out to a cafe for tea. The fact that it’s dark outside and the “street lamps are lit and the cars have their lights on”; at the time that just seemed like an enormous treat… to go out at night! To a cafe! And eat sausages! So special; a core childhood memory.

Favourite author encounter

In my 20s in London I worked in the office of a private members club for artists, writers and other painfully cool people. During my time there I helped organise a members-only event with Quentin Blake, totally to serve my own purposes. He was gracious and kind and, of course, inspiring. I was too nervous to say anything meaningful to him, but it was a very cool moment for me.

Best thing about reading

There are lots of wonderful things about reading, but reading to my kids is something I have found particular joy in, although those days are numbered now they’re getting older. Seeing their little minds blown or hearts broken or bellies laughing is just the best.

First book I remember reading by myself

The Halfmen of O by Maurice Gee. I still have my copy which had a very creepy cover and I remember it being the first time I felt immersed so completely in a fantasy world; it left a big impression on me.

From left to right: the book that made Jo Pearson laugh; best food memory from a book; and the first book she remembers reading by herself.

What are you reading right now

At the recent 24 Hour Regent Book Sale in Dunedin I picked up someone’s entire collection of Posy Simmonds’ cartoons for the Guardian. She has been a cartoonist and graphic novelist for many years. I particularly enjoyed her graphic novels Tamara Drewe and Cassandra Darke so this collection was a score for me. I’ve also just started reading I’m Glad my Mom Died by Jeanette McCurdy, inspired by her interview with Louis Theroux on his podcast. Enjoying it so far!

Five Wee Pūteketeke by Nicola Toki and illustrated by Jo Pearson ($23, Allen & Unwin, with $1 from every sale going to Forest & Bird for their conservation efforts) is available to purchase from Unity Books Wellington and Auckland.

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