Motherhood – Emily Writes & Hollie McNish: WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

There was a welcome number of baby bumps and wee ones in the audience for the WORD Christchurch session on Motherhood with Kiwi blogger and The Spinoff Parents editor Emily Writes – who has recently launched her second book on parenting – Is It Bedtime Yet?  – and British superstar poet Hollie McNish, known for her poetry and writings on the lesser talked about aspects of pregnancy, birth and parenting, collated in Nobody Told Me.

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Emily Writes and Hollie McNish, at WORD Christchurch, September 2018

When Emily wasn’t sure whether to sit or stand to start off the session with a reading from her book, moderator Catherine Robertson jokingly suggested she just pretend that the audience are all in bed and that Emily is reading to us at our bedside. By the size of the sold-out audience, it’s evident even adults love being read to.

CoverIn the anthology Is It Bedtime Yet? Emily has edited together different perspectives of parenthood, be they single parenting, parenting from a Māori perspective, parenting a child with a disability or learning needs, older mothers, queer parents conceiving, stay-at-home dads and more. The variety of experiences shows that there are so many versions of normal parenting. Emily has said there is a danger in a single story or narrative of parenting so by sharing multiple variations of parenting it fosters empathy and the reassurance that actually, we’re doing it okay. Here, mothers are both equally ordinary and extraordinary.

This is most certainly not an advice book – just personal situations, reflections or a snippet in time on a parenting continuum. You can dip into the book anywhere – there are 50 short vignettes with half of them written by Emily herself and interspersed throughout the book. The stories range from poignant to the comedic. In interviews for this book, Emily has said: “We are all so different in the way we parent but that can be a thing that unites us.” She hopes these stories “make us change just a little bit in our day-to-day interaction with each other as parents – or to parents.”

The personal stories shared in Is It Bedtime Yet? are from both never before published writers as well as established authors, some of whom also regularly write for the The Spinoff Parents website. Humorous highlights from the book include musings on “competi-parents” – even those unwittingly being competitive without meaning to; the myth of the magical creature known as ‘the relaxed mother’; the anti-glitter brigade and the realisation that we’re not just mothers, we’re sudden experts in palaeontology to our dinosaur mad kids. The confessions chapter was especially funny! And after reading one dad’s vasectomy story, I will never see The Wiggles the same again!

CoverThere are plenty of WTF? moments in parenting shared in the book. And there’s no holding back on the use of the F word but unfortunately for the parents contributing, there’s not a lot of the Zzzzz word (which may have something to do with the former?) Ironically it was Emily’s lack of sleep after having babies that meant she had plenty of time (albiet in the wee hours) to write and we are benefiting from that with her books like Rants in the Dark: From one tired mama to another. “I’ve always been someone who writes to work out my feelings.” She hopes her books are like “a friend in the dark” as they offer realistic views of parenting versus idealistic notions. Judging by the 15,000+ emails she says she got right after her initial sleep-deprived parenting post (“I am grateful, now f*** off!”) went viral in 2015, there’s a few friends out there in the dark indeed. One mother in the audience said perhaps if she had been given books like Emily’s when she had her babies – instead of just Gina Ford parenting books – then she might have been a lot better off.

There’s one chapter which is just a literal recording of what Emily says to her wee son one day, starting from 5:00am. We don’t get to hear the child’s replies but the one-sided conversation of “put your shoes on” is oh so familiar. I read this transcription to my young son and he thought it was hilarious and spot-on, just change a few words and it could be any parent repetitively saying the same basic instructions to their kid and then amplifying their pleas with hollow threats.

There’s a few piss-takes in the book too and Emily read to the audience her humorous chapter on parenting styles. Move over ‘helicopter parenting’ and make way for the ‘cucumber’ style of parenting which consists of just giving your kid the only food they’ll happily eat. In this case, cucumber! Someone needs to invent a word for laughter crying because there was a lot of it coming from both the audience and guest speakers. In fact, before doing her reading, poet Hollie McNish shared her bemusement at Emily’s cucumber parenting description since she herself has pictures of her own child sharing a pram with a whole cucumber. (My first child too was so obsessed with cucumber to the point that he can be seen wielding one in the birth photos of his sibling). But Emily has ultimately decided on the style of parenting she got from growing up with the Cub Scout motto of ‘We will do our best’ – not ‘do THE best’ she clarifies – just YOUR best! And as Emily inscribed in her book at the author signing afterwards, “Hang in there!” – perhaps that’s a parenting style too?

HOLLIE McNISH

CoverRight on the back of National Poetry Day last week, we were privileged to have British poet Hollie McNish appearing at the festival at several sessions, including this one. Hollie writes of the shared unspoken experiences of pregnancy and motherhood and read a poem from her book on these themes, Nobody Told Me. The poem, Megatron, was inspired by her first post-birth date-night where her then partner took her to see the movie Transformers and after they had argued about who was the best Transformer, she realised she had become the ultimate transformer herself after giving birth – rib cages moving, hips widening, breasts becoming milk machines. Hollie only read one poem in this session and I would have loved to have heard more. Hollie became well-known for her poem about the stigma of breastfeeding in public, entitled Embarrassed, which got quite a reaction when it was published – both positive thanks as well as hate mail. Hollie wondered where this hate came from in the world – literally – so she checked the analytics on her website and saw a lot of abuse came from the United States – especially places like Texas where in fact, she discovered, there is a secret breastfeeding club of mothers too embarrassed to breastfeed in public or face religious vilification.

Watch the well-directed video for Hollie’s poem Embarrassed:

Hollie has noticed, while touring, that it is easier to be a parent in Europe in places like Sweden or France and that a lot of urban design isn’t made with parenting in mind (eg. don’t put sweets at the checkout counter!) Hollie was jealous that in France mothers get a year’s worth of free physiotherapy to help them regain their pelvic floor strength after birth. Hollie joked that she was doing her pelvic Kegel exercises “right now” in her chair on stage. Hollie and Emily are very open about ‘taboo’ subjects and they touched on things we don’t talk enough about like post-birth prolapse, sex after birth or even resorting to using our children’s nappies for ourselves in dire moments. It was perhaps apt that I accidentally pulled out my ticket for the WORD ‘Mortification’ show instead of my ‘Motherhood’ ticket when I went to enter the session. Sometimes society makes us feels as if these two go hand in hand but Hollie’s point is, they absolutely shouldn’t! Hollie wondered if people found pregnant women or breastfeeding confronting, in part, because people – like her grandparents – “could finally see I had sex.” In her grandmother’s day she said women weren’t allowed to talk about their vaginas or bleeding and sometimes didn’t even know where they had given birth from.

Regarding the disdain directed at mothers, likewise, Emily said that after giving birth she suddenly felt unwelcome in places she used to go, like cafes. Emily suggested we need to do away with the ‘half-human’ view of babies – and that we should view children as active members of society instead of waiting until they are fully-formed or until they become “tax-paying units” to consider them of equal worth in society. She also questioned the double-standard that happens when a guy goes out-and-about with a baby and onlookers are full of praise for what a wonderful dad he is whereas a mother with children is looked at in worry for when her kids might be an annoying disturbance. However, Is it Bedtime Yet? honours dads as well with their perspectives and author Brannavan Gnanalingam joined the session to read his chapter about dads not just being seen as ‘the babysitter.’

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Brannavan Gnanalingam, Catherine Robertson, Emily Writes and Hollie McNish having a laugh.

Q & A

In answer to the moderator’s question to the authors: “If you can change one thing … ” Emily joked/not joked: “Smash the patriarchy and destroy capitalism” – there was plenty of applause at this rally cry (although my spellchecker changed ‘applause’ to ‘applesauce,’ appropriate for parents perhaps). Brannavan wished there was more information given to parents from the start and Hollie specified “more government money into care and support for parents.” Lucky for New Zealand, they concurred, that we have a current government sympathetic to parents. (In fact, at the book launch for Is it Bedtime Yet? in Auckland, Emily said it was heartening to see a certain Prime Minister had popped in with her new baby).

A question from the audience followed on from this theme: “How do we get the government to change?” or as rephrased: “How am I going to go back to work to afford avocados?” For some, becoming a mother immediately politicises them and they become an instant activist wanting to fight for change but as their children grow, their priorities for what they want to fight for the most also changes – eg. do you give stretched energies to supporting midwives or supporting teachers? How do we get traction when needs change as our children grow? Emily said that the only way we can make change is to make heaps of noise! “Protest, hikoi, engage in conscious-raising – talk to people around you about what’s important to you” – like publicly praising why teachers need a raise or the importance of midwives (who saved her life) and just generally “combat bullshit.” Emily closed the session impassioned: “We need to be noisy and use our voice!” At this, there was enough applause from the audience to wake a baby!

Special thanks to the the Christchurch Art Gallery for offering free ‘babysitting’ (aka a kid’s art workshop) –  while parents were attending this Motherhood session at WORD. More of this kind of thoughtfulness for parents in society is needed! Check out the art gallery’s monthly Parent & Baby tours (Prams welcome). 


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Follow our coverage of WORD Christchurch Festival 2018

Read Aloud Day – 2018 NZ Book Awards for Children & Young Adults

CoverThe winners of the 2018 New Zealand Children’s Book Awards for Children and Young Adults were announced last night with Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story written and illustrated by Gavin Bishop, published by Puffin, Penguin Random House, being honoured as the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year (it also won the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction).

Each year, ahead of the announcement, a Read Aloud Day takes place, and some nominated authors and illustrators head on tour around the country to speak to primary and secondary school children about their work, to share insights about their process, and spark a new generation of writers and artists. This year, students in Canterbury got to hear from the following speakers: Fleur Beale, Sophie Siers, Suzanne Main, Joanna Grochowicz, Alison Ballance, and Gavin Bishop. The events were presented by: New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in association with WORD Christchurch and Harcourts Gold.

Lyla: Through My Eyes – Natural Disaster Zones by Fleur Beale

CoverA dramatic teen-view of the Christchurch earthquakes. Lyla is at the mall when the big quake strikes. Having lost touch with her friends and family, she finds her way home through a crumpled city. The long days and weeks that follow bring new challenges, and Lyla works with others to help with the clean-up and opening their home to those in need. A vivid insight into terrifying events and the impact on those who experienced them.

This story will be close to home for Cantabrian readers, but Fleur Beale gave an unlikely introduction to her book by advising some people in the audience not to read it! She offered this word of warning for anyone for whom the earthquakes are still a difficult memory. She said she had to do a lot of research for a story about the earthquakes to be believable to her readers so she collected real stories from people she knew about what had happened to them during the quakes and incorporated them into her book.

“There’s nothing like real life for putting into a book… but you still have to make it work to fit into a story.”

Beale’s advice for young writers:

“Be prepared to murder your darlings” was her advice. By this she explained that you have to be willing to let go of some of your work in the editing and redrafting process. She says its traumatic but necessary to bin stuff. For this you need to let your writing sit a while and come back to it. With an established writing career spanning over 40 books, you can trust her word on it.

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Author Fleur Beale, August 2018

Into the WhiteScott’s Antarctic Odyssey by Joanna Grochowicz

Into the White - Grochowicz, JoannaThe enthralling and harrowing true story of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition, with evocative photographs, and illustrations by Sarah Lippett. An exciting story following the ill-fated Scott expedition to the South Pole. Scott’s team battles storms, killer whales, extreme cold, and a changing frozen landscape, even before they get off the boat. The reader can almost feel the cold and gnawing frostbite in this riveting reimagining of the horrors that this group of brave and resilient men endured as they battled the elements to follow their dreams and their leader.

Christchurch City Libraries were fortunate to host Joanna in the libraries last year. Her book contains well-researched and compellingly told tragedies set in inhumane places and recount the resilient, perseverance and curiosity in human endeavours.

Joanna was a hit with the audience of school children and brought the historic subject of lesser known yet interesting characters from Scott’s South Pole expedition to life, such as the photographer and the chef. Herbert Ponting who had the important job of keeping a visual record of their Antarctic journeys. In one riveting story, an encounter with killer whales nearly stranded him on the ice.

Thomas Clifford, the expedition chef, had to cook 3 meals a day for 25 men for a year – without fresh food like fruit, vegetable or usual meats like chicken. Instead he served penguin and seal, which horrified the children in the audience and would be illegal today. But they need a fresh source of meat to get vitamin C to avoid scurvy. Reports tell us that “seal liver curry was a favourite among the men”.

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Joanna Grochowicz

How Not To Stop a Kidnapping Plot by Suzanne Main

CoverWhen Michael overhears some men plotting to kidnap a student at his school, he and Elvis decide they must prevent the crime, even if it is his sworn enemy Angus who is the victim. A series of misadventures and wild assumptions see them zipping across town by bike, staking out the school painters and breaking a few rules. This fast-paced romp will keep the reader wondering until the very end.

When Suzanne Main described her childhood devoid of technological devices like the internet and smartphones – and gasp – no ‘Fortnite’ – there was a sound of shock and horror from a good portion of the audience. And what’s more, she says “TV was only in black and white!” So, for entertainment, she read and read and read. Authors like Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl were favourites and she laments that there wasn’t a lot of New Zealand writing back then. She loved to read so much that she barricaded herself in her room to avoid siblings interrupting her.

If she loved reading so much, why did it take her so long to become a writer she wondered? She said school back in her day didn’t put emphasis on creativity but rather getting the right answers so she focused on maths which was ‘black and white’ whereas writing is neither right or wrong. Suzanne has been an accountant most of her career but about 10 years ago she realised the desire to be a writer was buried deep inside her. She joked that it is a bad thing to be creative if you’re accountant – and such a sense of humour is a feature of her stories too.

She says as a child she was held back by shyness, being timid and a lack of confidence. By sharing this with the audience, she hopes that others who feel like she did won’t let it hold them back:

“Creative writing is like putting a tiny piece of yourself in the world for people to judge and criticise, which is hard for shy people. My fear was that I would suck” but, she advised the students in the audience, “you have to risk being rubbish when you are trying something new. Put aside your fear of not being good – you’ll become good if you put in the time and effort and determination even if you’re not good at it. Something you’re not good at today, you might be in the future.”

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Author Suzanne Main, August 2018
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Finalist authors and illustrators Sophie Siers, Alison Ballance and Gavin Bishop, St Margaret’s College, August 2018

The Gift Horse by Sophie Siers

A gentle story about a sad little girl and the horse she bonds with, which will sit with the reader long after it is finished. Sensitive pastel illustrations work well with the text, setting the emotional tone, and reflecting the themes of patience and grief. Layered with meaning, the story deals with complex emotions in a thoughtful way, giving readers a sense of hope that life will get better.

Sophie advised aspiring writers of the old adage to place your stories in an environment you know well, to help create more authentic stories. For her, this is the farm with her many animals, such as the horse that features in her story about dealing with grief, The Gift Horse. She talked about the reasoning behind writing a sad story. When something has happened to you, reading other stories about similar situations can help you understand your feelings. On the other hand, if you haven’t had a particular bad thing happen to you, maybe it has happened to someone you know or might happen to you in the future so it fosters empathy and understanding by reading about it.

Sophie has also recently published another book Dear Donald Trump that takes Trump’s idea of building a wall and translates it into the bedroom of two brothers in New Zealand who aren’t happy sharing a room. Letters to Trump from the younger brother debating the merits of the wall fill the book as the “great idea” of a separating wall is revealed to be not so great after all. This book makes a great read-aloud to school children and generates conversation about conflict. It is a lovely use of a topical political discussion translated into domestic family life.

Author and illustrator Sophie Siers engaging with readers, alongside a collection of her books, most notable her series about Allis the tractor. 

New Zealand’s Great White Sharks: How science is revealing their secrets by Alison Ballance

New Zealand's Great White SharksFrom the cold waters of Stewart Island to the warm tropics of the Pacific, New Zealand’s great white sharks are tracked by scientists seeking answers about these magnificent ocean predators. In this book, vivid descriptions and plentiful photographs capture the excitement, demands and rewards of tagging and tracking great white sharks. They demonstrate how a career in science can lead to all sorts of adventures, and how sharks and the marine environment deserve our respect and protection.

Alison Ballance is a zoologist, diver and wildlife documentary maker. She has written 29 books and dived with 14 kinds of sharks. She even has a shark named after her from Stewart Island. She says that electronic tagging has revolutionised mankind’s understanding of sharks. She says that electronic tagging has revolutionised mankind’s understanding of sharks. She showed us a map of ocean waters with the travel lines showing where specific sharks have travelled. There are websites you can track individual sharks on their journeys. Despite advanced technology, she says that there are still many questions left unanswered about sharks. Perhaps the next generation will find out more answers? Certainly many children have a fascination with sharks, as the audience’s keen questions about her team’s close calls with sharks proved.

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Author Alison Ballance, August 2018

And the winner is….

Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story written and illustrated by Gavin Bishop, published by Puffin, Penguin Random House, honoured as the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year (it also won the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction).

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Author and illustrator Gavin Bishop

Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story by Gavin Bishop

This wonderfully bold and abundant book, large in format and scope, takes us from Aotearoa’s prehistory to the modern day with stories of the people, places and events that have shaped us. The dramatic and detailed illustrations, with taha Māori integrated throughout, are complemented by minimal text providing context and inspiration to find out more. A book for every home, school and library.

Known for Mrs McGinty, The House that Jack Built and original stories and retellings of Māori myths, this accomplished author and illustrator nonetheless felt panic set in once he accepted the publisher’s challenge to produce an illustrated 64-page history of Aotearoa. Since he couldn’t include everything, he realised that “this book will be about as much as I leave out as what we put in.”

“We were told a skewed impression of the history of Aotearoa at school”

he says, and Bishop’s work in this book helps rectify the misinformation he was given in his childhood. He talks about the importance of his work being checked by historians and Māori language experts. Māori brought with them their idea of the creation of the world, so Bishop covers Māori myths and legends in the book as well.

Researching other topics ranging from the influenza epidemic to WWI animals, Bishop was constantly astounded and overwhelmed by what he learnt in his research. In creating this book, he says:

“it made me think about where we have come from and where we might be going.”

Before and after: Gavin Bishop’s showed the audience how his illustrations take shape.

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A selection of Gavin Bishop’s books

More:

Read the winners of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

The HELL Reading Challenge

The New Zealand Book Awards Trust have teamed up again with HELL Pizza to encourage school-age children to read more. Their reading programme runs through schools and libraries nationwide. Christchurch City Libraries is again offering this reading challenge reward system.

New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults – 2018 finalists announced

The finalists for the 2018 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults have been announced.

“From sharks and dawn raids to earthquakes, kidnap plots, Jean Batten and the familiar chaos that is kids at breakfast time, their range is diverse. But they all share the magical ability to transport, inform and delight, says convenor of judges, Jeannie Skinner. “These books, fiction and non-fiction, help us try on different lives, see the world through another’s eyes, and be inspired by stories of our past, present, and possible futures.”

The judges say the real strength of the shortlist is the range of vividly drawn and memorable characters who encounter challenges, both physical and mental. They were also delighted by the richly authentic voices, which reflect the unique New Zealand landscape, vernacular and humour, with convincingly drawn family and peer dynamics. Powerful settings of imagined futures, whether dystopian, inter-planetary or steampunk, add variety and wild imagination to the vibrant mix. (Read the judges’ full comments).

The awards are administered by the New Zealand Book Awards Trust and the final award winners will be announced Wednesday 8 August 2018.

A special congratulations to Canterbury finalists Gavin Bishop for Non-Fiction and Jenny Cooper (Amberley) for Illustration.

Finalists

Picture Book Award Finalists

Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction Finalists

The authentic voices of young New Zealanders are heard loud and clear in the Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Junior Fiction shortlist. Whether in the past or present, drama or comedy, the judges found the characters to be warm and vividly real, as they face challenges and negotiate relationships.

Read Christchurch City Library’s interview with Stacy Gregg about The Thunderbolt Pony and keep an eye out for her following book The Fire Stallion (due out late September 2018).

Copyright Licensing NZ Award for Young Adult Fiction Finalists

The Copyright Licensing NZ Award for Young Adult Fiction was another exceptionally strong field this year, with themes of survival against the odds, challenges and mental health issues. Most importantly, the judges say, the authors in this category all nailed the voice of their young adult characters “in these well-written and deftly plotted books”.

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Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction Finalists

The judges were excited to see such a bountiful number of high calibre nominations for the Elsie Locke Non-Fiction Award and they say the finalists shine with the authors’ expertise and passion for their subjects. “These non-fiction books take sometimes complex subjects and distil the essence, clearly and honestly, for their young audience to show what makes our world so interesting, wonderful, and various.”

Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for Te Reo Māori Finalists

The entries in the Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for books written entirely in te reo Māori were described as ‘Ahakoa he iti he pounamu’ …they were “precious like greenstone”, and the judges praised both the content and the quality of the language used.

  • Hineahuone, Xoë Hall, translated by Sian Montgomery-Neutze (TeacherTalk)
  • Te Tamaiti me te Aihe Robyn Kahukiwa, translated by Kiwa Hammond (Little Island Press Ltd)
  • Tu Meke Tūī! Malcolm Clarke, illustrated by Hayley King (AKA Flox), translated by Evelyn Tobin (Mary Egan Publishing)

Russell Clark Award for Illustration Finalists

Best First Book Award

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Christchurch City Libraries was pleased to host a session with author Joanna Grochowicz in the 2017 school holidays based on her book about Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey, Into the White.

More information about the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults:


An integral part of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is the HELL Reading Challenge, now in its fifth year. It has been hugely successful in getting kids reading and enjoying the pleasure of stories (and pizza). Kids can pick up their reading challenge cards at Christchurch City Libraries (open until December 2018).

Earth Day, Every Day for Canterbury Kids

Love the Earth? So do we! Earth Day is celebrated globally on 22 April each year and Christchurch City Libraries is kicking off an Earth Smart programme for kids this April school holidays as part of the Christchurch City Council’s commitment to sustainability and climate change initiatives. The following initiatives, programmes and resources are a great introduction to ‘environmental literacy’ for our tamariki, the future guardians of the Earth.

Reduce reuse Recycle

Earth Smart – school holiday programmes 

A school holiday programme with an emphasis on sustainability and recycling. Children explore environmental issues with a focus on connecting to the planet around them using books, interactive activities, digital media and craft.

If you miss these sessions, look out for more later in the year.

Eco-conscious Books and Resources for Kids

Borrowing from the library is the ultimate in recycling – check out these eco-friendly reads!

Environmental Picture Books 
These picture books and narrative non-fiction books contain valuable messages about the environment, pollution, recycling, the importance of trees, water as a resource, sustainability and saving the Earth. These environmentally-friendly themed resources include eBooks and apps and New Zealand content.

Non-Fiction Environmental Children’s Books
A selection of non-fiction informational text and how-to guides for kids on related topics around recycling, climate changing, caring for the earth, sustainability, composting and water resources. Includes craft activities.

Every little bit helps… What can you do in Canterbury?

Join the Kiwi Conservation Club for kids and participate in activities with the local branch in Canterbury.

Recycle Right!

Watch two Christchurch kids show us how to ‘recycle right’ !

When you toss your plastic bottles and containers into the recycling bin, are you unintentionally doing more harm than good? Christchurch people are great at recycling but a few common mistakes are causing issues at the city’s recycling plant. See how to make it easier for council to recycle.

Note sure which bin something goes in? You can download the Christchurch City Libraries Wheels Bin App to check, for iOS and Android devices.

Car share with Christchurch City Council’s electric Yoogo cars

Prime Minister Jacinda Arden and Lianne Dalziel recently launched the Christchurch City Council’s co-shared fleet of electric cars operated by Yoogo. The public can sign up to borrow these cars too!

Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2017

The end of one year and the start of another gives rise to lots of ‘Best of’ lists and reflections on what has stood out for the year. Here’s yet another literary round-up… 

The Best (& Worst) Children’s Books Evening co-hosted at the end of the year by the Canterbury Literacy Association and Christchurch City Libraries once again celebrated the best in children’s books.

Held annually, the event is a way to shout about and share the best books in a light-hearted end-of-year event, with no actual prizes awarded but an opportunity to hear from various experienced and enthusiastic practitioners and experts. It’s also a chance to gather together for the holiday season as a community of children’s literature enthusiasts, with like-minded folks across Canterbury. Attendees included a diverse section of professionals interested in children’s books from the National Library, the University of Canterbury, Christchurch City Libraries and Selwyn Libraries, to teachers and school librarians, all coming together at the newly rebuilt Ōrauwhata: Bishopdale Library and Community Centre.

And the ‘winner’ is…

CoverIt quickly became apparent that Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow – a debut novel by Australian Jessica Townsend – was the most notable book of the night, having been picked by several panellists who presented their top picks of 2017. But never mind about Nevermoor for now, let’s have a look at their other individual favourites…


Bookseller Picks

First up presenting was a representative from Paper Plus Bush Inn, Jo Harvey, who – aside from just Nevermoor – was also enthusiastic about:

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She also wants everyone to know about Those Shipwreck Kids by and Magnus Chase Ship of the Dead. And as for favourite picture books, she picked Tidy by Emily Gravett.

PaperPlus Bush Inn kindly donated bursting book bundles for the evening’s raffle draw.


Dyslexic-Friendly Texts

Katie Lumsden, from Christchurch City Libraries, spoke next about dyslexic friendly texts, and sang the praises about new changes to Overdrive (Overdrive is a digital content platform used by libraries to offer eBooks and audiobooks). It now has a feature to make some texts more accessible for dyslexic readers. An app called Libby has a feature that highlights the text as it reads aloud (only applicable on our Read Along collection). Katie has recently delivered talks on dyslexic-friendly texts and resources at the 2017 LIANZA conference in September in Christchurch.

AshboyKatie chose Ash Boy: A Cinderfella Story by Lucy Coats as her top dyslexic-friendly read of the year. It’s a good fun story says Katie, and, like other books from publisher Barrington Stokes, is printed in traditional dyslexic-friendly reading format using yellow pages, specific layout techniques and sans serif typeface. It has an interest level of age 8-12, yet is edited to a reading level of age 7, to allow ease of reading while still pitching to older readers.

When Cinder Ashok’s father remarries, Cinder finds himself lumped with a horrible new step-mother and step-brothers! They bully Cinder terribly – all he wants is to be left alone in the library, his favourite place in the world. But will a fairy godfather and a royal quintain tournament mean Cinder has a happily-ever-after on the horizon? Fun spin on the Cinderella story.

You can read the first chapter of Ash Boy here.


Top Student Picks

Each year we hear directly from the voice of young readers themselves. Primary school children from Waitākiri Primary School and Redcliffs School Mia, Otto, Evie & Flynn each spoke well and confidently about their favourite titles they read in 2017:

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Katie Lumsden (L) and Sophie O’Rourke (R) presenting their top picks at the Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2017 event, Ōrauwhata: Bishopdale Library and Community Centre, November 2017 

Best Picture Books

Sophie O’Rourke, junior teacher at Waitākiri Primary School, shared her plethora of engaging picture book titles of 2017 that stood out in her classroom, reading some funny highlights and telling us about the reactions and responses she gets from her Year 0-2 to the books – the real test of how well the authors and illustrators have hit the mark. A few highlights from the dozen chosen are  The Scariest Book Ever, Triangle, Creepy Pair of Underwear, A Place to Read (also titled as Are You Sitting Comfortably?) and Bug Bear.

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Read Sophie O’Rourke’s full list of Best Picture Books of 2017


Best Junior Fiction

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Zac McCallum, school librarian

Zac McCallum, formerly a children’s librarian from Christchurch City Libraries and also a previous children’s book awards judge, and now school librarian at Halswell Primary School, shared his delights of 2017 in the junior fiction category, including Nevermoor and:

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson. Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Matthew is trapped in his bedroom by crippling OCD, spending most of his time staring out of his window as the inhabitants of Chestnut Close go about their business. Until the day he is the last person to see his next door neighbour’s toddler, Teddy, before he goes missing. Matthew must turn detective and unravel the mystery of Teddy’s disappearance… Page-turning, heartbreaking, but ultimately life-affirming, this story is perfect for fans of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and Wonder. It is a book that will make you laugh and cry. See Zac’s glowing review of The Goldfish Boy.

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See Zac’s Best of 2017 Junior Fiction book list

Also check out My Best Friends are Books, Zac’s brilliant blog of children’s book reviews.


Best Older Fiction and Young Adult Reads

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Author Rachael King, WORD Christchurch Literary Director

Ending the evening was author Rachael King, Literary Director at WORD Christchurch, who told engaging anecdotes about her favourite older fiction and young adult books read in 2017. She was also a judge in the 2017 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children & Young Adults so naturally her list includes a number of notable New Zealand titles.

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No surprise Nevermoor was also in Rachael’s top picks along with The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman and also by Pullman, a graphic novel: The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship 

See the full list of Rachael’s Best of Older Fiction & Young Adult Reads of 2017 and read the library’s interview with Rachael King which includes her all-time top picks of books for children and young adults.

Rachael also wanted to give special mention to what is actually an adult book, Tess, a page-turning eerie novella about a 19-year-old woman – a somewhat supernatural story set in late 1999 Masterson, by New Zealand author and publicist Kirsten McDougall.

WORD Christchurch also donated tickets to raffle off to celebrity children’s author David Walliams sold-out show which they were hosting. Priceless!


That’s a wrap…

Nevermoor was certainly the favourite on the night with three speakers having brought the book along as their favourite of 2017. Touted as Harry Potter meets Alice in Wonderland, the story is about “a cursed girl who escapes death and finds herself in a magical world – but is then tested beyond her wildest imagination.” The panelists said they were pleasantly surprised to find that the book really did live up to its marketing hype. (There are eight more books in the series due out!)

And as for the ‘worst’ part of the event’s title? The books chosen as the ‘worst’ of the year are of a ‘you have to have been there’ type nature – Chatham House rules – but we can say that books about poo got the poo poo!


Big thanks to MC Scott Wolfe, literacy facilitator at UC Education Plus, and member of the Canterbury Literacy Association, who did a cracker job mc’ing – and cracking jokes – at this end-of-year event.

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A large audience of enthusiasts in attendance at the Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2016 Event, South Library, November 2016

 

Child’s Play – Lauren Child

New Zealand is fortunate to have been visited by internationally celebrated children’s authors such as David Walliams, Andy Griffiths and Dav Pilkey in the last year or so, and I have had the pleasure of hearing them. One of the visitors was Lauren Child, the Children’s Laureate for 2017-2019. The best-selling children’s author and illustrator spoke to a huge crowd of fans at her appearance at the Auckland Writer’s Festival in 2017 and we got to hear about her fictional ensemble, what inspires her stories … and what next?

When you think of children’s books you wouldn’t think of Hitchcock, film noir and James Bond but all these are inspirations behind best-selling children’s author and illustrator Lauren Child’s popular books series Ruby Redfort.

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Children’s author Lauren Child speaking at the Auckland Writer’s Festival, May 2017

Beginnings

Child, the multi-talented, prize-winning creator of the Charlie and Lola, Clarice Bean and Ruby Redfort series has sold millions of books, but only – she is at pains to point out –  after years of rejection. Child says:

I never decided I wanted to be a writer… it was drawing and design and love of film that brought me to writing.

Child’s mother was a creative writing teacher who was always trying to get her to write “more exciting” and gave her helpful writing advice, such as the technique of starting a story right in the middle of the action.

For anyone aspiring to break through with their craft or talent, she says “hang in there!” Hers wasn’t instant fame.  She was in her 20s when she wrote her first book (Clarice Bean) but it was a long time before it was published. After it faced many years of rejection, she says she succeeded through determination, not just talent, and having the strength to resist suggested changes she felt would compromise her original vision.

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Behind the stories: movies and screen as story-writing inspiration

For Child, the subject of Clarice Bean is ‘family’ and “about finding peace and quiet and a place of your own in a busy household.” She adds: “we need daydreaming, floating out the window, blank time” – it is how we get our ideas. Where did Child get her ideas from? Child loved watching TV, especially with other people, when she was growing up – “there was community to it” which she says we have lost with watching things on devices.

Child said growing up her family couldn’t afford a TV Guide, so they just watched whatever came on next. In fact, Child loved television so much she said she would even watch the test cards! One show she loved was Hart to Hart, about a millionaire couple and socialites (complete with a butler) and she got her story-writing ideas from this TV series. Jonathan and Jennifer Hart were an inadvertent crime-solving couple who were disconcertingly upbeat despite the murders that occurred around them each episode. Child says she loves the combination of thriller, comedy, jeopardy and domesticity in stories like this and brings that to her own writing.

Ruby Redfort started as a TV show that Clarice Bean watches in her stories. Ruby is a clever 13-year-old American school-kid who is recruited to a secret agency as a coder. Child has given Ruby vacuous dim-witted parents and their butler is a secret agent minding Ruby and training her up. Child has always been a fan of big thrillers from the 60s, 70s, and 80s – like Hitchcock and Bond – and likes their slower pacing. She loved Bond’s gadgets like poison pens and sleeping dust and set her Ruby Redfort stories in the 1970s because technology then wasn’t like it was today- it was all about “gadgets” (like Ruby’s watch radio) she said then the idea of having your own personal phone would have been amazing. Instead, she makes it so that Ruby has to go to the library (fancy that) to learn new things versus using things like Google and smartphones that are so pervasive in our world today.

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecturally famous Fallingwater was the inspiration for Ruby Redfort’s home.

Movies and TV have really inspired my work. TV made me understand from a very young age how to construct a story. Movies are like picture books in a way because you’re telling as much in pictures as you are in words.

She wrote Ruby Redfort as a film:

I can only write when I can see pictures so although most of them are not illustrated, I can see it like a movie.

Child says she was really moved by Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands because he’s such an auteur… “he’d made something that beautiful in so many ways… it was joined up – one vision where everyone employed to be a part of the film created the vision he wanted so it looked and sounded like a Tim Burton film.”

When she was announced in June 2017 as the new Waterstones’ Children’s Laureate, she declared that her aim will be to forge “stronger links between the world of children’s literature and other art forms such as fine art, film, music, television and design.” The question is, since she loves film and screen so much, when is she going to work on a movie based on her own titles?

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Child admires the auteur work of filmmaker Tim Burton.

Love of reading

Over the years, changes have been made to Child’s books when translated to the small screen. In the Charlie & Lola animated series, junk food chips were changed to banana chips and gymnastics had to be portrayed on a mat instead of a lawn (to role model health and safety.) PC-police aside, Child says that it’s about getting children hooked on reading – “it should be about a love of reading –  not what we should read – so I made Clarice Bean be crazy about this fictional writer and I made it as stupid as I could.”

Child’s childhood – miniature worlds

Child has a young daughter recently adopted from Mongolia, but she doesn’t abide by some by people’s view that unless you’ve had your own children you can’t possibly write for the children, “because we were all children once.”

What seems like an interesting aside to Child’s life is actually another manifestation of her compulsion to create stories. As a young child she got involved in making doll houses and models from about age 7. She was mentored by a miniaturists, becoming one herself. She was using power tools at a young age and says “making miniature scenes taught me a lot.” She explains there’s more sophistication to this than it seems:

You’re creating a world and theme and you’re creating story, there’s quite a lot going on – controlling your world and having things play out they way you want.

She has been working on one particular doll house miniature since she was a a teenager and finds it therapeutic “making and doing.” Later Child got a job as an assistant to renown artist Damien Hirst, albeit only doing spot painting.

Artful text

Child shared with her audience the joy she gets from the interplay between typography, illustration and story. Child says she loves how words can be illustrated (like POW!) and how things don’t have to stay in one form and that it was helpful for her to think about comics when she was writing. She likes using type as animation and with Clarice Bean, she gave each character their own font and typefaces as the ‘voice’ of the character.

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Lauren Child’s miniature scenes are used to illustrate classic fairytales such as her versions of Goldilocks and the Three Bears and The Princess and the Pea: In Miniature : After the Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

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Children’s author Lauren Child signing books at the Auckland Writer’s Festival, May 2017

What’s next?

Now that she’s finished the Ruby Redfort series she is currently working on a young fiction series that is heavily illustrated – she says it is sort of like the Nigel Molesworth stories (about a boy talking about his school life). We look forward to seeing where her inspirations and talent take her readers next.

 

Bic Runga Drive’s back to Christchurch

Soulful singer-songwriter Bic Runga, born and raised in Christchurch, is coming back to her hometown for a 20th anniversary concert celebrating her first album Drive, on Friday 20 October at Issac Theatre Royal.

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She will be playing her much-lauded and loved songs that have stood the test of time such as Sway, Suddenly Strange and Bursting Through, alongside songs since then, included in The Very Best of Bic Runga (released 2017).

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There must be quite a few of us who, in their 20s, would have filtered their relationships and emotional experiences through the lyrics of Bic Runga’s songs when the album was first released, and sang along to Drive, while driving around. Her music has cross-generational appeal and now I don’t know who is the bigger fan, myself or my daughter, but we’ll both be there up front in the majestic theatre to sway to her beautiful and equally majestic voice.


We caught up with Bic for a few quick questions ahead of her concert in Christchurch. She shares her reading interests and formative library memories.

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Bic Runga on tour in Australia, March 2017. Photo credit: Amanda Lee Starkey

Bic, you grew up in Christchurch, in Hornby, and went to Cashmere High School… what special places do you think of fondly here?

My favourite places are the Arts Centre where I did a lot of hanging out as a teenager. Lyttelton and Governors Bay are also really special places to me.

What role did libraries play in your life growing up?

I used to catch the bus to the library in town most Saturdays, and I discovered all the music I love there. I used to get out cassette tapes and that’s where I discovered The Smiths, The Sex Pistols, The Cure, The Cocteau Twins. It was unlike the music my parents played at home, so it was really my own place.

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Literature Arts & Music: audiovisual issue desk, Ground Floor. 1995. Flickr Arch52-BWN-0036

What type of reading do you enjoy? Any recommendations? What are you looking forward to reading?

I like non-fiction. I like science books and I love books about space! And I like music biographies. I liked Patti Smith‘s Just Kids, and I love Marianne Faithfull‘s autobiography Faithfull. The Phil Collins‘ autobiography Not Dead Yet I’ve heard is really funny, I’ll get to it soon!

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Are there any special books or stories you remember fondly from your childhood? And what books are your own children enjoying at the moment?

I remember reading the Ramona Quimby series (about 3 sisters) when I could first read a chapter book. And any of the non-fiction Usborne Books for children. Anything by Roald Dahl worked on me as it does my children now.

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My kids are mad about Minecraft, there’s an unofficial Minecraft book they quite liked called the Elementia Chronicles by Sean Fay Wolfe. So if you can’t peel your child away from Minecraft, you could try the book!

Can you recommend any music or artists out of Christchurch who have taken your interest?

At the show at the Isaac Theatre Royal I’ve asked Asti Loren to sing a duet with me, she has such a beautiful voice. I love how self motivated she is, she posts a lot of stuff online and really does everything herself which is such a different world from my generation when you needed record labels and directors and stuff.

If a young person was interested in being a musician today, what advice would you give them?

I’d say just practice a lot, practice slowly and make it your meditation. Everyone wants fame, but it seems no one wants to practice enough!

We asked Bic to share a surprising fact about herself (and it may just be her next creative project) …

I’ve just learned how to draft clothing patterns slowly over the last few years and I’m ready to do a fashion project, maybe using wool. I’m really excited to do something creative that’s not music, but I think the two will work together well.

Finally Bic, you are donating money from every ticket purchased to your Christchurch show to the Māia Health Foundation, who are raising money for projects for Canterbury’s health system. Can you tell us more about that?

I’m proud to be an ambassador for the Māia Health Foundation alongside (fellow Cantabrians) Jake Bailey and Brendon McCullum. It’s still quite a new charity so I’m constantly trying to raise their profile in everything I do. Our main projects right now are a helipad as part of the hospital so the rescue helicopters don’t have to land in Hagley Park 8 minutes away, and more beds for parents in the children’s ward so families can stay together.

 


Bic has won a multitude of awards and worked on many musical projects and collaborations in the twenty years since Drive was released, too numerous to mention here. Most recently, Bic has written a song for a New Zealand children’s annual of stories, poetry, comics, art and other miscellany Annual 2 which has just been published is aimed at 8 to 12 year olds. Her song, Next Thing You Know You’ll Be Happy, is based on the idea that happiness comes from simple pleasures.

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Annual 2

 

Take a look inside Annual 2

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Bic Runga’s song about simple pleasures, composed especially for Annual 2 (2017)

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Buy Tickets: Friday 20 October, Isaac Theatre Royal
Listen: Bic Runga’s CDs in our catalogue
Browse: Bic Runga’s website
Read: In-depth background on Bic on Audioculture
Watch: Before she was famous, she formed the duo Love Soup with Kelly Horgan as a seventh former at Cashmere High School in Christchurch and they entered the Smokefree Rockquest Canterbury Finals in 1993, earning her first recording contract afterwards (see their performance of Superman Song from the 5 minute point in this video).

 

Stacy Gregg’s latest pony book is close to home: an interview with the author of The Thunderbolt Pony

Stacy Gregg’s latest pony book The Thunderbolt Pony is a children’s novel very close to home, both for Cantabrians and for the author. Set in the aftermath of an earthquake in the real life town of Parnassus, near Kaikoura, the story is about 12 year-old Evie and her determination to save her beloved Arabian pony Gus, her loyal border collie Jock and her aptly named cat Moxy.

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Stacy Gregg portrays strong, independent, fearless girls in her books and here Evie bravely overcomes not only the forces of nature but her anxiety disorder, which she has been suffering since her dad became terminally ill. Evie’s OCD manifests itself in the belief that she if she doesn’t stick to set routines, it will cause bad things to happen, making her the ‘bringer of earthquakes.’ Evie must embark on both a physical and mental journey, in a race against time to get to a rescue boat.

Stacy Gregg has experienced the effects of anxiety disorder firsthand, with her own daughter developing OCD a couple of years ago, and she brings the specificity of what it can be like into the story. In fact, Stacy manages to intertwine quite a lot into this pacy yet reflective story. There’s also Greek mythology in here too with reference to Poseidon, who makes the perfect tie-in as not only the god of the sea but of earthquakes and horses as well.

You don’t have to be a horsey person for this story of adventure and animal friendship to appeal. Gregg’s style of historical fiction applied here will particularly resonate with many middle-school children in New Zealand and those around Canterbury, the Hurunui and Kaikoura will feel especially immersed in the familiar settings. Overriding everything, however, is Stacy’s signature quality storytelling.

Interview with Stacy Gregg

We interviewed Stacy on the release of her latest book – she talks about her research and writing process and about her experiences with anxiety disorder in her family.

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Children’s author Stacy Gregg. Photo credit: Carolyn Haslett (photo supplied). 

Stacy, what types of research did you do for The Thunderbolt Pony?

As well as reading lots around my subjects, I’ve always travelled for my research. My books have taken me to Arabia and Spain, Italy and Russia and now for The Thunderbolt Pony, Kaikoura and the East Coast of the South Island. It was important to me to travel the route that my heroine will take, the 64-kilometre stretch between Parnassus and Kaikoura. I was hoping the earth might move while I was there, but it didn’t. I had to rely on second-hand accounts of what the earthquakes were like because I’ve only ever been in a minor tiny tremor once here in Auckland.

What did you find in your research of the earthquakes that surprised you?

That they are noisy! You don’t think about the sound an earthquake makes, you think about the feeling of the land moving underneath you. But everybody I spoke to talked first about the noise. The boom that comes beforehand and the sound like a train surging beneath you. Like the rumble of the thunder that comes before the lightning – it gave me the title for the book.

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Read first-hand accounts of the November 2016 Kaikoura earthquakes in Surviving 7.8 and Aftermath. And for a child’s fictionalised point of view, My New Zealand Story Canterbury Earthquake.

Stacy, did you have a real person in mind when you were writing the character of Evie, who has OCD?

Evie’s journey is based very much on my own daughter’s struggles with OCD. When I first had the idea for writing the book I asked Issie what she thought about having a character who suffers from OCD and she was really, really supportive of me writing about it. She felt like it was important to raise awareness of the condition so that kids who are suffering from anxiety disorders realise how common it is and that they aren’t alone. There’s been such an overall increase in anxiety disorders in pre-adolescents, but this is especially true in places like Canterbury and Kaikoura where the kids have been through an earthquake and the ongoing aftershocks. Statistics in a recent study in Christchurch have shown that four out of five kids in the region have some level of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). It’s a very real issue.

What did you find in your research about anxiety disorders like OCD that surprised you?

My daughter gets really cross people say stuff like “Oh I totally need to keep the kitchen clean – cos I’m so OCD!” Because that’s not OCD at all – that’s just liking things to be neat! I remember there was a time when the word “schizophrenic” was misused in the same way. Then the mental health community stepped up and reclaimed it and said “hey it’s not okay to talk about schizophrenia as if it means you have a split personality -it’s actually a real condition that people suffer from.” I think the same thing will happen now with OCD.

There are a lot of mistaken preconceptions about OCD being a ‘clean freak’ condition where you have to wash your hands or keep things perfectly tidy. Yes, it can manifest in that way, but it’s just as likely for you to have OCD and have a super-messy bedroom! For many OCD sufferers it’s about wanting to protect people – or animals – you love and make them safe by adhering to rituals and counting. It’s a bit like superstition on steroids. If you have OCD you are compelled to carry out your rituals and you get really anxious and upset if you can’t do them right as you really do believe you are risking harming everyone that you love. You’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. In The Thunderbolt Pony, Evie is fighting her OCD and trying to get a grip on her actual reality, but she’s got a lot to contend with.

How challenging was it to write about a condition in your family? Was this a helpful process for you, to write about it?

It was tough at times to open the wound and examine it – but it’s better than letting it fester I think. Issie and I are both the same like that, we confront stuff head on and she was very honest with me and trusted me to tell the story. OCD is a rough gig. It can totally dominate someone’s life in a very debilitating way. Issie did a lot of really hard work with her clinical psychologist and that work gave her the tools to overcome it. I’m really proud of how open and brave she was, and I’m really grateful to our psychologist Hilary, for the support he gave her. The character of Willard Fox is very much based on him and he gets a big thank you in the dedication.

image_proxyWhat has been the response so far from readers of The Thunderbolt Pony?

I just toured in Australia around schools in Sydney and what amazed me was that the kids there all knew what OCD was and they were very open to talking about anxiety disorders and seemed to really naturally engage with it. I’m just about to begin the South Island tour now – kicking off in Kaikoura – and I admit I am anxious about talking to the kids who have actually experienced the real earthquake. It’s going to be special, going back to the place where the book is set, but it’s also daunting. I hope they like it.

One thing really engaging about your books is the historical fiction aspect, how you use real places, events and real experiences in many of your stories. Why do you choose to write this way?

I think it’s the ex-journalist in me – I love to do solid research and I like to have a true story as a base foundation for my fiction. The Princess and the Foal was the start of that for me – it is the real story of the childhood of Princess Haya of Jordan. Her mother died in a helicopter crash when the Princess was 3 and she became really emotionally withdrawn and shut down after her death. When the princess was 6 her father, King Hussein, gave her an orphan foal to raise and said. “This foal has no mother, just like you. It’s on your shoulders now to be in charge and care for this young life.” This was the turning point for Princess Haya and her whole life story, her incredible success as an Olympic show jumper and as a powerful world influencer, came from that moment. It was so special to me to tell her story and to be given access to the royal palaces and the stables. My love of telling a true story sprang from working on that book.

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You often write your historically-based stories from two points of view but in The Thunderbolt Pony we have just Evie’s viewpoints, one during the rescue adventure and one reflecting on her journey later (both physical and mental journey). Is this your way of using your ‘dual narratives’ device in this story?

That is a really good question in terms of discussing structure and the devices an author uses. I have frequently used dual narratives in previous books – dovetailing two girls with perspectives that are historical and modern-day up against each other. For this story though, there is just one voice, it is Evie’s story and hers alone. However, I didn’t want to write it in a linear fashion – I felt like we needed to see her two journeys – the physical and the mental – intertwined. It gives the book a different pace and that’s why we make time leap back and forth. The skill for a writer I think, is to construct a tricky timeline and make it feel like it makes sense and is effortless so that the reader doesn’t notice!

You’ve said you like to “get rid of the parents in a story” – can you tell us more about that and why?

It’s not just me who likes to get the parents out of the way. Look at Harry Potter. Or Lemony Snicket. Parents are a problem because they like boring stuff like routines and being safe. They are all about healthy meals and bedtimes and they are also on hand to help you when things get rough. If there are no parents you can have big crazy adventures where you must be brave and do everything yourself and there’s no one to stick their oar in and say “hang on a minute this is madness let’s stop and have a proper dinner!” That is why you get rid of the parents – they are too sensible and they ruin your fun and crush the spirit out of the adventure.

You write about strong female characters who are fearless, independent, self-sufficient. Can you tell us more about that?

I’ve always written strong girls as my heroines. Horses make girls powerful. You can’t be a powderpuff. You need to be mentally and physically tough to handle them. And at the same time you need to stay vulnerable and soft, because it’s in those unguarded moments that you create a true bond with a horse. My daughter rides competitively and when we roll up at competitions I’m always impressed at these women turning up driving massive trucks and handling enormous powerful warmbloods. We just don’t think anything of it – we don’t expect men to come and help with any of it. It’s a very feminist sport.

How long did the writing process take for this book?

I write a book a year. I spend about three months researching, three months writing and then another three months with my editor, pushing the manuscript back and forth through various stages beating it into shape. Then the next three months are publicity and touring and preparing to do it all over again. I love every stage of the process, I’m very lucky to do the job that I do.

What’s next? What are you working on at the moment?

My next book is called The Fire Stallion and it’s set in Iceland. As usual, I have the whole thing plotted out already – but I’m not giving away any spoilers yet!

What have you recently enjoying reading and what’s on you ‘to-be-read’ pile?

I have just finished Neil Gaiman’s book on Norse Mythology (OK that’s a big clue for the subject matter of my next book). But I won’t be able to read anything for a while now. I am an all-or-nothing reader and I can’t read other authors when I am in writing mode as I’m a terrible mimic. I have to isolate myself for the next few months and then I will binge read when the new book is finally done. On the bedside table until then are Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz, The Dry by Jane Harper, and My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent.

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Thanks for your time Stacy!

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Stacy Gregg at a book signing. Photo credit: Kelly Bold (photo supplied).

Thank you to HarperCollins.

The Thunderbolt Pony
by Stacy Gregg
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008257019

Win tickets to Captain Underpants: the First Epic Movie – plus an activity pack

Hey kids! Win a prize to celebrate the release of Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie on 28 September.

The author Dav Pilkey is passionate about promoting reading and writing and we have a Captain Underpants prize pack to give away to a lucky library member, including:

  • 2 movie passes to see ‘Captain Underpants: the First Epic Movie’ at any Christchurch Hoyts cinema, and a Captain Underpants activity book pack.  Thanks to Hoyts Northlands for supplying the movie passes!
  • All you need to is make up your own creative title for a pretend Captain Underpants book and complete the entry form.
  • This competition is open to ages 5 to 18.

Want some book title inspiration?

Cover of Captain Underpants Cover of Dav Pilkey Cover of Captain Underpants Cover of Captain Underpants Cover of Ricky Ricotta

Terms and Conditions

  1. Competition is open until 5pm Monday 18 September 2017.
  2. All winners will be announced on the Christchurch City Libraries Facebook page, and website.
  3. Entries must have all correct contact details completed on the entry form.
  4. Maximum one entry per child.
  5. We will notify winners by telephone and/or email. Please ensure membership contact details are up-to-date.
  6. Employees of Christchurch City Council are not eligible to enter the prize draw. Their immediate families are allowed to enter.
  7. If you are a winner, you consent to your name, photograph, entry and/or interview being used for reasonable publicity purposes by Christchurch City Libraries.
  8. The judge’s decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
  9. Prize are as stated and are not transferable.

Finalists in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults inspire Christchurch children

Pop! Bang! That’s what happened – literally – when a group of New Zealand children’s authors and illustrators presented inspiring talks to hundreds of Canterbury school children, just ahead of the announcement of the 2017 winners of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Several of the nominated authors and illustrators toured the country speaking to school children about their work and craft. Hosted in conjunction with WORD Christchurch, they addressed primary and intermediate students who came from across Canterbury to hear them speak at St. Margaret’s College. They talked about what it takes to be a writer and/or illustrator and what keeps them inspired and shared their working processes, all with the aim of sparking readers and the next generation of writers and illustrators. We share some of the highlights here.

Session One: Tania Roxborogh, Leonie Agnew and David Elliot

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Tania Roxborogh, Leonie Agnew and David Elliot, signing books after their talk in Christchurch, 7 August 2017

Tania Roxborogh

BastionPoint.jpg“Any change for good is powered by fury and passion to make the world a better place” says Tania Roxborogh, and this idea is a driving force behind the story in her book about the Bastion Point occupation for Scholastic’s My New Zealand Story series, told from a child’s point of view.

Through the process of researching and writing this book, Roxborogh was reminded that: “Retelling history is never straightforward” because “people lie, self-edit, and mis-remember” and that “people remember different things.” She added that there is also the problem of bias in New Zealand media – from the right wing as well as the left wing – which she had to take into consideration when researching for this book.

When Roxborogh visited Bastion Point to help her find her point of view for the story, she found herself humbled, prompting her to ask: “What right do I even have to tell this story?” She realised, however, that regardless of who she was, the story of the protesters was a story worth telling.

Roxborogh teaches English and Drama at a Canterbury high school and has written over 50 books.

David Elliot

Snark

SnarkBeing a true history of the expedition that discovered the Snark and the Jabberwock … and its tragic aftermath.

Elliot’s illustrated book was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, and the Jabberwock and his presentation of museum-like artefacts and the stories he told about them would have had some in the audience wondering if his tale of the mission to discover the snark was true or not.

Elliot says he spent time living in a cottage inside Edinburgh Zoo and you have to wonder if this influenced his work illustrating weird and wonderous creatures.

Leonie Agnew

ImpossibleBoy.jpgWhat if…
For The Impossible Boy, Agnew asked: “What if a kid believes in something so much that his faith in it makes it real?” like Peter Pan’s belief in fairies, and on the flipside, “if you were an imaginary friend, what if you discovered you weren’t real?”

Agnew recommended using a little bit of non-fiction to make your fiction more real. In this case, she used the war-torn streets of Beirut in Lebanon as the inspiration for her setting of the story.

Various authors at the event talked about the hard parts of writing, when you feel like quitting or at least taking a break. Writing can take time! Agnew wrote 100 drafts of her book over 6 to 8 years. She says if you’re stuck, consider what Einstein said: You don’t solve a problem by looking at it in the same way, try looking at things from a new angle.

Agnew fits writing into her job as a primary school teacher by getting up at 5:30am to write before the school day starts. What inspired her to become a writer? Agnew “grew up in a house full of books” and her dad was a journalist who writes non-fiction, but really, she says, she “just wanted to do it.”

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Books by Leonie Agnew & Tania Roxborogh on display

In the first session with Tania Roxborogh, Leonie Agnew and David Elliot I felt an overall theme of the elusive – of capturing the elusive writing spark, capturing the Snark, and elusive invisible friends. Another theme that came through for me was the theme of imagination: imagine if someone was trying to take your land, imagine wondrous creatures and lands, imagine how an imaginary friend would feel if they discovered they weren’t real. Imagine.


Session Two: Des Hunt, Jenny Cooper and Simon Pollard

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Author Des Hunt, August 2017

Des Hunt

DesHuntSunkenDes Hunt has a love of adventure stories, science, New Zealand animals and he combines all of these into his stories. Sunken Forest was inspired by a real life summer camp he went on when he was 15 at Lake Waikaremoana, a trip that was memorable partly for sparking his interest in geology. The lake was formed during an earthquake landslide that drowned the forest. Standing tree trunks eerily remain there underwater today. Also trapped there are eels which can’t make their way back to sea to migrate to the Pacific islands to lay eggs. Unable to leave, they grow exponentially large.

In Sunken Forest, one such eel befriends Matt, who is sent to boot camp after his father, a boy racer, is sentenced to prison. At camp, Matt has to deal with bullies and getting the blame for things he didn’t do.

In his talk, Des Hunt totally engaged his audience from beginning to end, by which time he had them on the edge of their seats. He cleverly demonstrated the idea of building tension in a story by blowing up a balloon… about to burst at any moment. How do you really build tension in a story? He says: Add conflict and injustice, a disaster and… Pop!… an explosive climax.

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Author Des Hunt using a balloon to demonstrate the build-up of tension in story writing, August 2017

While many of those who spoke at the event started writing or drawing as early as their primary school years, surprisingly Des only published his first fiction book when he was about 50 years old but has since written heaps of books. His passion for writing is now so strong that he can’t imagine doing anything else and he hopes to be an author until he dies. This is good news for my young son who was so inspired by Des Hunt’s presentation he immediately went and read Sunken Forest, despite never having independently read a chapter book without pictures in it before. Des certainly inspired him reader to take his reading engagement to a higher level.

It was fantastic to see instant booktalking success in action! Des tours schools doing writing workshops so see if your school can be added to his schedule.

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Des Hunt with the audience, August 2017

Jenny Cooper

GladysgoestowarIllustrating is compulsive for Cooper: “It’s in my brain and I just can’t stop.”

Some of the many books Cooper has illustrated include...

DoYourEarsHangLowShe'llbeComingRoundtheMounatinJim'sLetters

She especially does a lot of research for illustrating the war stories, hiring models and WWI artefacts and taking hundreds of photos to draw from so she could get the details correct. The war stories she works on are “hard to illustrate because they are so sad” but equally she says, they are “really satisfying.” She added: “Sometimes the hardest and most challenging things you work on were the most rewarding.”

This was a sentiment shared by several of the speakers. Getting to a finished product takes times and many drafts! She tries 6 – 10 layouts before she has a rough drawing and after that, a finished painting may take up to 6 hours.

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Illustrator Jenny Cooper, August 2017

Simon Pollard

BugsPollard.jpgPollard is a spider expert, lecturing as an adjunct professor at the University of Canterbury and he has been working with spiders for 30 to 40 years. He is interested in telling stories about what spiders get up to and recently worked with WETA Workshop on the impressive display of oversized bugs for the Bug Lab show at Te Papa Museum.

Pollard is an engaging speaker and really brings bugs to life. He told stories (complete with eek-inducing pictures) about the jewel wasp that immobilises and enslaves a cockroach so it can use it as a living nursery, laying its eggs in it to hatch. Ingenious, but gross. We also heard about the clever Japanese honey bees that kill their enemy, the Japanese hornet, by gathering together in a ball around one and quivering – the heat of their buzzing wings stops the wasp from secreting their signal for more wasps to attack them.

Then there’s the insect that looks like a spider, but isn’t, just to scare off predators. After learning all these fun facts, we were left marvelling at the magic of the natural world.

Find books by Simon Pollard in our collection.

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Simon Pollard, August 2017

Questions from the kids

Primary and intermediate students from all over Christchurch lined up to ask lots of questions of the authors and illustrators after they spoke. Here are their inquisitive questions, and answers aimed at inspiring young readers, writers and artists.

What were some of your favourite books (growing up and now) and what writers would you recommend?

MillionsPhantomTollboothTheSecretGardenLostWorldTomorrowWhentheWarBegan

Which of the books that you’ve written are your favourites?

  • Leonie: Super Finn – She says: “It’s about a boy who wants to be a superhero and does crazy things. It’s great for years 3-6.”
  • Des: Frog Whistle Mine because he has spent time studying uranium, which the book is about.

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What advice would you give for budding writers and illustrators?

  • David: “Keep a visual diary, write things down, capture and value your imagination.”
  • Tania: “Read heaps… join groups and classes like the School for Young Writers, try different styles of writing.”
  • Simon: “Just write!” and “Write about what you know.”
  • Des: “If there is a book you really enjoyed, go back and read it again to try and find out why you like it.”

The winners of the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults will be announced at the awards ceremony held in Wellington Monday 14th August. 

READ MORE

You can read more excellent in-depth interviews with some of the finalist authors and illustrators here at The Sapling.

More awards information:

An integral part of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is the HELL Reading Challenge, now in its fourth year. It has been hugely successful in getting kids reading and enjoying the pleasure of stories (and pizza). Kids can pick up their reading challenge cards at Christchurch City Libraries (until December 2017).