SPECIAL COLLECTIONS : The Curioseum: collected stories of the odd and the marvellous



JANSEN, Adrienne (ed) Sarah Laing (illus.) The Curioseum. Collected stories of the odd and the marvellous Te Papa Press, 2014 160pp NZ$29.99 pbk ISBN 9781877385926 SCIS 1652874

What happens when you let loose a large group of writers into the national museum, Te Papa?  They are allowed to scatter around and scavenger, to locate various objects and muse upon the creative possibilities?  Who owned this?  Why has it been hidden?  What is the meaning of it?  What story can it tell?  You get, of course, a collection of the most odd and marvellous of stories!  Joy Cowley kicks the ball into action (to coin a phrase) with a story about an active cat which causes chaos.  As anybody knows when you transport a cat in a car, it meows loudly and persistently, so Mum tells the kids to do something about it.  They let it out of the cage and it nestles and purrs, until the car stops outside the museum.  It’s out and it’s off, which is most off-putting for the family.  They search and search (and the reader gets something of a tour guide to the museum).  Is it found or is it lost?  Why has the squid lost some of its tentacles?  Read the story and find out!

One story that captures well the interconnections between memory and recount, past and present, is the poignant story Soldiers by Dave Armstrong.  Set in Gallipoli, it retells the well-known story of the ANZAC soldiers and the Turks ceasing hostilities in order to bury the dead and the power of music to bring healing (if only for a short time).  Told through the voice of a Grandpa who is bereaving the recent loss of his wife, we hear in the recount the absences (secrets and all) as much as the presences when it comes to memories.  What if you befriended an enemy through the sharing of music across the trenches and what do you do when you have this man in your riflescope and you have orders to shoot?  What did Grandpa do?

Of course, story can give voice to the inanimate, and museums are replete with objects.  What if a hat could speak to a suit?  What stories could they tell?  Barbara Else tells a lovely story of enclosure and freedom in The Flyaway Hat where an opera singer’s blue hat wants to sing (though remonstrated against by a lace bonnet as being rather uncomely).  But laid on a workbench is a three-piece suit who warmly responds to the blue hat’s desire.  You can imagine what happens here…and check out the story too!  Accompanying the text are some wonderfully intriguing graphic images by the illustrator Sarah Laing that give further detail of past and present.  This is a book that can inspire young people to find stories…everywhere!  Recommended.

reviewed by John McKenzie

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