Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Captain Underpants!

Captain Underpants is one of the most popular book characters for kids and his books are hardly ever on the library shelves.His hilarious adventures have kids laughing out loud. On Sunday morning at the Auckland Writers Festival, I joined hundreds of Captain Underpants – both young and old – to listen to his creator Dav Pilkey talk about his books.

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

Here are 10 things you may not know about Dav Pilkey and Captain Underpants:

  1. Dav Pilkey was a super happy kid because he could do what he liked all the time…until he started school. School wiped the smile off his face because he found it really hard.
  2. He has ADHD and dyslexia but he hasn’t let this stop him from doing what he loves the most – writing and drawing comics.
  3. His teacher gave him the idea for Captain Underpants when she used the world ‘underwear’ and all the kids in his class cracked up laughing. He discovered that underwear is very powerful. He drew his first picture of Captain Underpants that day.
  4. That same teacher told him he couldn’t spend the rest of his life making ‘silly comic books’. He proved her wrong!
  5. He likes to be close to nature and loves kayaking.
  6. He has a pet giant beetle called Megalon.
  7. He writes his books in a cave.
  8. He has written two more Ricky Ricotta books because he pinky-swore to a kid a signing that he would finish the series.
  9. The Adventures of Dog Man, written by George and Harold in kindergarten, is coming out next year. This will be Dav’s 60th book!
  10. There is a new Captain Underpants book coming in August – Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinksalot. In this book we get to meet the adult versions of George and Harold.

Dav Pilkey’s presentation was full of action, thrills and laffs and was one of my favourite sessions of the Auckland Writers Festival.

Come and meet Dav Pilkey in Christchurch!

You too could meet Dav Pilkey in Christchurch this weekend. Dav is going to be talking and signing books at Fendalton School this Saturday 23 May from 12 to 1pm. If you would like to go along you’ll need a ticket, which can be collected from The Children’s Bookshop.

The action-packed life of Anthony Horowitz

Anthony Horowitz is a multi-talented writer. Not only has he written books for children and teens, but he has also written for TV (Foyle’s War, Poirot and Midsomer Murders) and delved into the world of James Bond and Sherlock Holmes. Today, he lives a very comfortable life thanks to the millions of sales of his books worldwide, but his life didn’t start off so great. Anthony had an unhappy childhood but he found himself in books. Stories helped him to escape. In his dormitory, which he describes as a horrible place, he told stories to the other children to cheer them up. He created Jimmy and Edward who had Willard Price-type adventures. The books that Anthony has written for children are his attempt to relive his childhood and be the child he wanted to be. Anthony commented on how his childhood has affected his writing saying:

You either have 19 million sales or a happy childhood.

The Alex Rider books were the books that put Anthony on the map. The creation of Alex Rider came out of the Iraq war and the lies that the Secret Service were telling. He has spent “15 years being the biographer of a 14 year old boy”,’ but he hinted that he may eventually write a book about a 28-year-old Alex Rider whose life is messed up after all his missions. Such a book hasn’t been written about a children’s character before, and Anthony seems intrigued by the idea. Anthony says that he tries to write books that have a seriousness of intent. He believes that children’s books need to have good language and he tries to write well.

In the past few years Anthony Horowitz has redefined himself as an adult writer. He wants to step back and let someone else take his place as a writer for children. Robert Muchamore has been doing this with his Cherub series and Anthony has welcomed this series as it keeps encouraging his own fans to read. He has gone on to write two Sherlock Holmes novels, House of Silk and Moriarty, and is working on his untitled James Bond novel.

Anthony Horowitz has this advice for young writers:

  • The more you read, the more you will write.
  • Get outside, have adventures, do something illegal
  • You have to believe in yourself!

I’ve read some of Anthony Horowitz’s books for children and teens but I’m certainly going to add his Sherlock Holmes books to my to-be-read list.

The silly and serious sides of Morris Gleitzman

Morris Gleitzman is the only author at this year’s Auckland Writers Festival to have interviewed themselves. Whether it was planned this way or not, Morris Gleitzman spent his session on stage talking just to the audience, rather than an interviewer. He is a great speaker and talked to his audience for almost the full hour, telling us about his books and his strong connections to his characters.

Morris describes writing as ‘a collaboration with the main characters,’ who can be a boy or a girl that are facing the biggest problem that they have in their life. He became known for books that have humour and warmth with a silly surface, but this changed over the last 10 years. The surface of his books have changed and now have are much more serious.

My favourite books by Morris are the Once series (Once, Then, Now, and After) about a boy called Felix, set in Poland during and after the Second World War. With this series he didn’t set out to write about war, but about friendship. Morris says that the danger about writing about friendship is that the story can seem too cosy and too feel-good. He decided to put friendship to the test by surrounding his characters with the most unfriendly behaviour – war.

It took him many years of research to write these books but he still had trepidation because he was aware of the feeling among many people of ‘if you weren’t there, don’t go there.’ He has jumped around in the timeline of Felix’s story when writing it (from during the war to the end, forward to when Felix is 80, then back to just after the war), but he hasn’t finished telling Felix’s story yet. The next book in the series, Soon (coming later in the year), is about Felix picking himself up when he thought he could give a huge sigh of relief. He needs to reconnect to the optimism that has gotten him this far. After writing Soon, Morris realized that he couldn’t leave Felix quite yet, especially after he has been a part of his life for so long.

Morris plans on writing a total of 7 books in the series before he lets Felix go completely. For this I am incredibly thankful to Morris Gleitzman as I have been hugely touched by Felix’s story and don’t want to let him go either.

Morris also talked about his latest book, Loyal Creatures, which is about the men and horses of the Australian Light Horse brigade during World War One. The book started off as a play that Michael Morpurgo asked him to write to accompany the stage show of his books War Horse when it toured Australia. The story sounds incredible and I will be hunting it out at my library when I’m back in Christchurch.

Morris’ next book will be serious but with a much more comedic surface. Apparently it is going to be a book for younger readers about wine, possibly called Plonk. He hinted that when he tours this book it could be accompanied by wine tasting. I’ll look forward to reading it when it shows up on our library shelves some time soon.

The Weird and Wacky World of David Walliams

Cover of Awful AuntieI’ve been a huge fan of David Walliams since he introduced the world to Little Britain. His weird sense of humour was right up my alley and I was excited when he decided to turn his humour to books for kids. Though a little sceptical at first (another celebrity trying their hand at writing children’s books) David Walliams soon showed that this wasn’t a phase he was going through. He is an absolutely wonderful writer for children, introducing children and adults alike to the weird and wacky characters that live inside his head.

It was clear by the massive audience that came to meet him at the Auckland Writers Festival this morning that he has a huge fan base of children of all ages in New Zealand.

David Walliams started his session by telling us that he writes for the love of writing and that his ideas coming from his ‘dark and troubled mind.’ Evil characters are always his favourite characters to create and he clearly has a lot of fun doing so. The inspiration for the villain in his book, Rat Burger, came from a contestant on the show Britain’s Got Talent, a strange man whose act was eating live cockroaches.

David tries to think back to what books he would have liked to read when he was a kid and write those sorts of books. He believes that it is really important for kids to find books that they really want to read. This is how he discovered Roald Dahl, a favourite from his childhood. Illustrations are a huge part of his books as he thinks they’re important to grab readers, especially those children who aren’t readers.

It was watching comedians like John Cleese, Rowan Atkinson and the Monty Python crew that made David want to be a comedian who wrote his own material. While writing for his show, Little Britain, he realised that writing was his passion. He thought it would be great to do something like Little Britain – but suitable for kids. After writing his first few children’s books, he found that he enjoyed writing for children so much that he kept on going. He has now written 7 novels and 2 picture books, with plenty more ideas to come. His picture books, although he admits are harder to write, are a great way for younger family members to get in to his books. They have the same great humour and are incredibly wacky.

Several of David’s books have been made in to movies, including Mr Stink and Gangsta Granny. David often thinks of actors when he’s writing his books and has both written the screenplay and starred in each of the movies of his books. The character that he has most enjoyed playing was the Prime Minister in Mr Stink, although children often get confused and think he is the Prime Minister in real life. When asked if he would like Sir Peter Jackson to make a movie of one of his books he laughed and said ‘if he made it it would be a 9 hour epic!’

My favourite part of the session was when David Walliams read parts of his books. He reads them so well and does lots of great voices for his characters. David told us that outside of the UK, he is most popular here in New Zealand so hopefully we’ll get to see him again some time soon.

Christchurch City Libraries connects you with the Auckland Writers Festival on from 13 to 17 May at the Aotea Centre. You can follow the action by reading our Festival posts.

The World of David Walliams

We learnt a lot about David Walliams last night thanks a soldout WORD Christchurch event:

As a kid

  • He used to pretend to be Wonder Woman (he demonstrated this with a nice twirl).
  • He dressed up in a silk dressing gown and put a “David Walliams Private Detective” sign on his door.
  • David was decked out in a mauve bridesmaid’s dress by his sister.

The World of David Walliams

Tips for budding writers

  • Have a very evil villain.
  • Write a story that you’d like to read.
  • Read as many books as you can.

His favourite books as a kid

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • The Lion, The witch and the wardrobe
  • Stig of the dump (approving noises from my other half for that announcement)

He remembers lying with his head on his Dad’s chest, as he read him Green eggs and ham.

David in action

David did a couple of readings, from Gangsta Granny and Awful Auntie.

We saw that he has the power to get kids to jump and down with fizzing excitement. And then sign books for them for aaaages. What a star.
The World of David Walliams

Coming up from David Walliams – a picture book called The Bear who went boo, and the tale of a little boy who busts his grandad out of a maximum security twilight resthome.

Ready, set, READ

Kids who read succeed stickerMy toddler loves books and at only one year-old he already has his favourites (Boom, baby boom boom! gets regular outings) however he’s a bit young yet to read them himself. But how do you know when your littl’un is ready to start tackling the mighty task of reading?

For advice you need look no further than our recently revamped Ready for Reading pack.

In it you’ll find an informative booklet that outlines the important skills your child needs to have in order to start reading, some handy tips on how to get preschoolers interested in books, and suggestions of further resources to help get your child on the road to reading.

Artwork from Storytime Te Wā KōreroThe pack also contains a special bilingual storybook, Storytime Te Wā Kōrero which features a simple story for young readers and gorgeous illustrations with a Christchurch feel. Also included are stickers and a magnet.

And the best bit? The Ready for Reading pack is free to all four-year olds. Just rock up to one of our libraries with your budding reader in tow and claim yours!

Check out these kids at the Ready for Reading launch at Aranui Library this week. Those are some book-keen future readers.

Ready for reading launch at Aranui Library

Freerange Little Prints – your chance to collaborate on books for kids

We thought you might be interested in this opportunity from Freerange Press:

Book out and read in: FESTA - Tree Houses for Swamp dwellersFreerange Press is calling for submissions for original, imaginative and interesting children’s books, based around our journal topics, which explore themes responding to life for an urbanized humanity (the city, politics, design, art, pirates). We want to make books that both kids and adults love, that encourage a shared reading experience, as well as exploration and discovery.

We are looking for a combination of great language and illustrations/visual material in the following categories:
Non-fiction (all ages – up to 12 years)
Picture books, from simple (think 3-7 years old) to relatively complex (6-9 years)

We want to hear your thoughts, imaginings and artistic expressions on how to interpret our journal themes for kids. These publications have canvassed a myriad of ideas, from the big to the silly, from the city and the self through to tricksters, gardens and humanimals.

We welcome those who wish to collaborate on a book as an illustrator or writer, and we are happy to discuss proposals at all stages of development, including conception, ongoing or relatively complete projects that are seeking publication. They just need to fit our focus. Read more about the journals and submission process here.

The first round of submissions closes on 31 May.  Please contact Emma for more information: emma@projectfreerange.com

Free Comic Book Day

On Free Comic Book Day – Saturday 2 May 2015 –  I went to Comics Compulsion in Papanui, and we bought a My Little Pony comic and got some freebies.

Meanwhile 31 teens were at Papanui Library celebrating Free Comic Book Day with a fun workshop and pizza and comic swap. Spencer Hall and Elijah Lopez, two graphic artists, helped the budding comic-makers with drawing technique tips and advice.  Comics Compulsion came to the party with free comics.

Free Comic Day at Papanui Library

Spencer thought the teens “made some really great work!” He animated some of their pictures together on his blog.

Find out more

Happy Mother’s Day

Kia ora and Happy Mother’s Day to all the Mums. Here are some Mums of days gone by:

Mothers and babies gathered outside St. Helen’s Hospital, Sydenham CCL PhotoCD 2, IMG0075

The hospital, a wooden building in Durham Street, Sydenham, had been opened about two years earlier. It was a birthing place for the wives of working men. The hospital was, like other hospitals, named St. Helen’s to commemorate the birthplace of the recently deceased Premier, Richard John Seddon (1845-1906).


Proud mothers and their chubby children. Prize- winners in the baby competition, which was a feature of the picnic held at Kowhai [Kowai] Bush, by the combined staffs of the Christchurch City Council. The weekly press, 1 Feb. 1928, p. 37

And some mother photos from our Flickr site:
Mother and daughter Mother and Daughters in Cathedral Square Family Portrait Off to Church Four Generations   The Riley Elf

Four Generations of women

For more Mother pictures, have a look at the Digital NZ set Mums.

Horowitz and Gleitzman and Walliams, oh my!

Some of the biggest names in the children’s literature world are descending on Auckland next week for the Auckland Writers Festival.  I’m lucky enough to be going to the festival and I’m incredibly excited about meeting my literary idols.

There is a brilliant line up of children’s authors coming to the festival this year and some really big draw cards – Alex Rider author Anthony Horowitz, the hilarious David Walliams, Australian author Morris Gleitzman and the creator of Captain Underpants, Dav Pilkey. All of these authors have a huge number of young fans all over the world and I’m sure their sessions will be sell-outs.

Cover of Eagle strikeCover of Mr StinkCover of NowCover of Captain Underpants and the revolting revenge of the radioactive robo-boxers

I’m especially looking forward to David Walliams session. I loved his TV series, Little Britain, and was sceptical when he started writing for children, but his stories are hilarious. His style of story is very similar to Roald Dahl, with lots of laughs and characters that make you squirm. If your children haven’t tried his books yet they are well worth a read. They are especially great for reading aloud and will have you and your children laughing out loud.

I love having the chance to hear authors talk about their books and it’s fantastic that the Auckland Writers Festival have managed to get such big names over here in little old NZ.