Wednesday, 30 April 2014

New Zealaland Post Book Awards - Advice to young writers from Des Hunt and Melinda Szymanik

Advice to Young Writers from two finalists in this year's New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards for Children and Young Adults

Advice to Young Writers from Des Hunt
Shortlisted for Junior Fiction Section
I believe that you must have something that you want to say in your writing; something that you feel passionate about. Unless you have a strong reason for wanting to write, then it will be too easy to give up when things start going wrong, which, from my experience, is very likely to happen. My passion was (and still is) New Zealand’s fascinating native wildlife, how they became so unique, and the problems they have surviving in a modern world. I wanted to include them in stories so that readers got to know them in a way that was not possible from a nonfiction book. I then wrote stories. Lots of them. More than a million words. Only one was ever offered to a publisher, and that was rejected. But many of those stories became the starter for the novels that have since been published.
From: Too Good to Miss (More New Zealand Writers and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults Volume 2 May 2011. Edited by Barbara Murison

Shortlisted for Junior Fiction Section
Advice to Young Writers from Melinda Szymanik
First – read.  The best way to learn how to write a good sentence and a good story is by reading a good book.  Second – practice.  A wise person once said it takes 10,000 hours of practice to get good at something.  And third - one of the most important steps I took in my writing career was to make friends with other writers.  They are the best people to share your dilemmas, your triumphs, and your writing with.
From: Too Good to Miss (More New Zealand Writers and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults Volume 2 May 2011. Edited by Barbara Murison

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Young Adult Fiction

NZ Writer
Karen Healey   While We Run
Allen & Unwin 2014  $21.99pb   338pp
ISBN 978 1 7434 3545 8

Themes:  Crowd behaviour/ Pollution/ Propaganda/ Science fiction/ Sequels

I feel this is a really stunning sequel to the writer’s earlier book When We Wake which has been shortlisted for the Young Adult Fiction Award of the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults 2014.
It is 2127 and charismatic speakers and singers, Abdi and Tegan, adored by the crowds, push the party line of the Ark Project wherever they go. The only problem is neither of them believes a word of the propaganda they are forced to promote. This is tense and exciting writing  - just don’t expect a completely happy ending.

Year 8 up / Age 12 up (and adults)

Find out more about Karen Healey (who lives and writes in Blenheim) by visiting her blog:
or her website:

Monday, 28 April 2014

Interview with Des Hunt New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young People 2014

An interview with Des Hunt, Writer of
 Project Huia Scholastic NZ 2013

New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults

Junior Fiction finalist

Des Hunt and Puku on Matarangi Beach Image: Vaughan Grigsby
The following questions were composed by Sarah Forster, Booksellers NZ apart from the last one which I asked Des to ask himself and then answer!

As an author, you must have a lot of ideas floating around. How did you decide to write this book?
I first got the idea for a story based on the huia when, in the 1970’s, I read The Book of the Huia by W J Phillipps. Page 99 tells of a huia 1947 sighting in the Manawatu Gorge by a Mr Olivecrona and his family. The event stuck in my mind because I was born and educated in Palmerston North, and went to Palmerston North Boys’ High School with one of the Olivecrona boys. Furthermore, the Hunt family farm was up the Pohangina Valley, not far from the Manawatu Gorge. I spent many school holidays on that farm, and my Uncle Bill, who farmed it, once told me that he’d seen huia when he was young; that is certainly possible, because he was born in 1895 when the birds were definitely
in the area, and for the first decade of his life there were still many suitable habitats.

Tell us a bit about the journey from manuscript to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in publishing this book?
This book was surprisingly easy to get published. Scholastic were looking to reprint an earlier book of mine called The Secret of Jelly Mountain. They asked me if I had a similar book that could be released at the same time. As I was close to finishing Project Huia, I offered them that. What followed was the shortest journey from manuscript to publication for any of my novels.

Did you tailor this book to a particular audience – or did you find it found its own audience as it was written?
From the beginning, I targeted this book at 10 to 13 year-olds. The story features a relationship between grandfather and grandson, that many of that age will be familiar with: an aging person sharing events of their youth with a grandchild.

Would you recommend any books that you love, that inspired or informed your book in any way?
My favourite book as a child was The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is not one of his Sherlock Holmes stories, but instead features a scientist call Professor Challenger who leads a party into a remote part of the Amazonian jungle looking for living dinosaurs. My book is also a journey looking for an animal that was considered extinct.

Tell us about a time you’ve enjoyed relaxing and reading a book – at the bach, on holiday, what was the book?
I was eighteen when I discovered a writer called Howard Spring. The book was These Lovers Fled Away. Although, as the title suggests, there is some romance in the story, it is mainly about life in the first half of last century. One of the characters became a nuclear physicist involved in building the atom bomb. Another became a famous writer. I read the book in the holidays before starting at university to study for a science degree, hence my interest in the physicist in the story. But it was the writer character that has had the greatest impact — he gave me the idea that maybe, sometime in the future I too could be a writer.

This is the well-known huia painting by Johannes Keulemans for the 2nd edition (1888) of Walter Buller's A History of the Birds of New Zealand
    What are your favourite things to do, when you aren’t reading or writing, and why?
     I walk along the four kilometres of Matarangi Beach. Not only does it give me the exercise I need after sitting at a computer for much of the day, it allows me to think about my writing, what I have achieved and where it might go from there. I find that some of my best ideas are generated while walking by the sea.

     In Project Huia there is the suggestion that someday the huia may be brought back to life through cloning. Where did that idea come from?
In 1999 Hastings Boy’s High School held a conference to discuss the possibility of cloning a huia using huia DNA and a host bird such as the Australian Magpie. I borrowed their idea. See for more details.

(I did an interview with Des back in 2012 and I will put some parts of it on this Blog over the next week or so.)

Friday, 25 April 2014

Maori Myths and Legends

NZ Writer and Illustrator
A.W. Reed, illustrated by Alan Stuart Paterson
Maori Tales of Long Ago
New Holland 2014  $29.99pb   136pp
ISBN 978 1 8696 6423 7

During my years as Children’s Librarian at Wellington Public Library the children in the Branches and Central Library wore out countless copies of Maori Tales of Long Ago and Wonder Tales of Maoriland, first published by A.W. and A.H. Reed around 1949/1950. These two hardback titles contained the stories in this new volume.  It was practically all we had at that time to introduce children to the feast of tales about Maui and Tutanekai, about Kae and the whale, about Hatupatu. The 16 traditional stories based on ancient Maori legends are built around two children, Hine and Rata as they listen to old Popo the village storyteller. The stories are easy to read aloud and are written down with an underlying sense of humour.
This volume has the original illustrations by A.S. Paterson and I feel they have stood the Tests of Time.

Age 5 up/ Year 1 up

Book Launch of The Red Suitcase

A Real Family Affair

The Red Suitcase by Jill Harris Mākaro Press 2014 was launched last night by Jill's husband (very appropriately on the eve of ANZAC Day) at the Children’s Bookshop at Kilbirnie amidst much talk and laughter and general good will- it was standing room only. The launching area was appropriately enhanced with photos including one of the original red suitcase plus a life size model dressed in an authentic World War 2 Royal Air Force uniform.  

 Jill amongst her readers

The Publishing Team
Mary McCallum, the publishing director of Mākaro Press founded in 2013, and Catherine Harris, Jill’s daughter-in-law who proofread The Red Suitcase. In the background you can see Paul Stewart, Mary’s son, who typeset and designed the book.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Fiction - 11 years and up


NZ Writer
Jill Harris
The Red Suitcase
Submarine (Makaro Press) 2014  $24.99pb 238pp
ISBN 978 0 9941 0690 2
Themes:  Bullying// Friendship/ Indonesia/ Time slips/ World War 2
One day, by chance, Jill Harris found a red suitcase with nearly 100 blue aerogrammes written by her uncle to his mother when he was a bomber pilot operating out of the UK during World War 2. It was such amazing material that Jill, a committed writer of stories for children and young adults, realised at once she had the makings of what she calls ‘a rattling good yarn’ in front of her. With real skill she blends fact (the terror of the bombing missions and the people involved) during World War 2 with the fictional story of 14-year-old Ruth. In the story it is Ruth who, after returning to a lonely life in Takapuna, Auckland, having survived a terrorist attack in Indonesia where she and her family have been living, finds the red suitcase and the letters. Frighteningly and inexplicably the letters are a channel that cast Ruth back into the time of the war over 60 years ago. This always happens at an inconvenient and unexpected moment – during a social studies period at school, while she is swimming with her father off Takapuna Beach, out in her grandmother’s garden first thing in the morning. It is obvious from the meticulous detail that much research went into the production of the story – both here and in the UK. Memories of Jill’s time in Indonesia where she spent three years teaching English in Central Java are also used. . 
Year 7 up/ Age 11 up

Other books by Jill Harris:
At the Lake                        HarperCollins 2011
Notable Books Storylines 2012
Missing Toby                  Longacre Press 2007 
Sil                                   Longacre Press 2005
Honour Award 2006 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards / Notable Books Storylines 2006

The Red Suitcase 
will be launched 
The Children’s Bookshop, Kilbirnie
Thursday April 24th 2014 at 6pm 
If you would like to be there, please rsvp to

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults 2014

The Award Ceremony in Auckland is now only 2 short months away and before then the finalists will be involved in a frenzy of activity. I hope to show some of it here.

An interview with Melinda Szymanik,

Writer of A Winter’s Day in 1939 Scholastic NZ 2013

New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults

Junior Fiction finalist

Melinda with the Polish ambassador, Beata Stoczyńska, who launched

A Winter’s Day in 1939 at the Children’s Bookshop, Kilbirnie, Wellington on 
Saturday April 13th 2013.

Image: Barbara Murison

          You must have a lot of ideas floating around. How did you decide to  write this  book?

            As my siblings and I were growing up, our father and mother sometimes told us stories about their own childhoods in Poland when World War 2 broke out. Parts of the stories were heartbreakingly sad and parts were truly incredible. When I had some writing published my mother started suggesting I write my father's story but I didn't think it was something I could do justice to. Eventually I wrote a short story for children based on one brief fragment of Dad's experience and it was published in the Australian School Magazine. When Scholastic called for short stories for an anthology they were putting together, I submitted this short story along with a few others. It didn't end up in the anthology but after a while they got back in touch and asked if I would like to turn the short story into a novel. It seemed like the time had come to give it a go.

            I was very fortunate to have the notes my father had made outlining his experiences. His own personal history provided all the elements of an amazing story of courage and survival. So much of this story is true.


            Tell us a bit about the journey from manuscript to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in publishing this book?

            I initially wrote the story in the third person. It seemed the right approach at first as I was basing the novel on my father's life. To help me see him as a character and to enable me to transform the real experience into fiction I wanted the distance that writing in third person allowed. This enabled me to complete the first draft but it was too distant. I went back to the manuscript and rewrote it in first person but I still didn't have the voice quite right. And I'd removed some of the fictional elements that I wasn't sure about in the rewrite, but the publisher said, 'we want them back in!' So I rewrote the story again, focusing on the voice, adding in the elements I'd removed, and strengthening the overall storyline. I am grateful the publisher was so patient with me, and my wonderful editor just kept pushing me in the right direction and giving me the best advice.

            Did you tailor this book to a particular audience – or did you find it found its own audience as it was written?

I made the character the same age my father was during World War 2 (he is 12 at the start of the story), so this affected who the potential readership might be. And I did temper the material so it wasn't too horrifying for younger readers. With that said, the book is being read and enjoyed by a broad range of readers from under 10s to adults.

            Can you recommend any books that you love, that inspired or informed your book in any way?

I adored reading (and re-reading) the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Flambards books by KM Peyton, when I was a child and I thought these books had the perfect blend of storytelling and historical background. They gave me a love of historical children's fiction and I wanted to achieve the same sense of historically grounded fiction that they exemplified.


            Tell us about a time you’ve enjoyed relaxing and reading a book – at the bach, on holiday, what was the book?
A recent summer holiday read was Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races. What a wonderful book. Luscious, evocative language and a truly original tale woven out of the little known myth of the Scottish water horse. The best kind of writing and a thrilling ride. It’s not really a holiday if I don’t have sufficient time set aside for  reading.                                                   
                                                                                  Image: Acknowledgements to Melinda

            What are your favourite things to do, when you aren’t reading or  writing, and why?

Spending time with my family. We enjoy each other's company and spend a lot of our time together laughing. It probably explains why 'family' is often at the centre of my stories.

            How does understanding what happened to these Polish Refugees in World War 2 help New Zealand children today?

While the story is set mostly in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union the experiences of the refugees is relevant to us in several ways. Towards the end of the war over 700 orphans and other polish refugees (including my aunt and uncle) came to live in New Zealand and many stayed to make their lives here once the war was over. Some were joined by other family members (including my Dad and Grandfather). I have been surprised and delighted by how many people count these folk as friends or are related in some way to these refugees. They, and their experience, have been part of our society for decades now and having a glimpse in to their past helps strengthen our social bonds. And while their backgrounds and stories might be different, today's refugees making New Zealand home benefit from the empathy we develop reading books like this. I also think part of New Zealand's terrific social progressiveness comes from our broader understanding of historical world events.   

Questions were prepared by Sarah Forster at Booksellers NZ apart from the last one. For this I asked Melinda if she would like to add a question, and then answer it herself.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults 2014

Over the next couple of months I will be bringing you news of the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards starting over this coming weekend (Easter that is) with a question and answer session with Melinda Szymanik shortlisted in Junior Fiction for A winters day in 1939
This will be followed by a similar session with Des Hunt also shortlisted in Junior Fiction with Project Huia.

I hope you like the new logo for the awards. 

(And, of course, I must do something about the increasingly large pile of books sitting beside me now and waiting to be reviewed on this Blog. As you know I do like to read every word of every book I post up here so it can be a long process.)

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Non-Fiction Age 8 up

NZ Writer and Designers
Julie Ellis

Flags of the World
Young Reed 2014  $16.99pb 48p
ISBN 978 1 9215 8015 4
It was time another book on flags appeared. Once libraries were almost overflowing with them in all sizes and designs but they were often just an alphabetical listing of flags from each country from Africa to Zambezi and with a predictable image of the flag to accompany the slightly static words. 

This book, written by New Zealander, Julie Ellis, who has been both a librarian and teacher, is far from static and makes the most of the wonderfully colourful nature of the subject. It moves from the Crusades to Middle Ages, to the World Wars, to the changing faces and boundaries of countries to the World Flag of the future. The book was first published by New Holland Publishers, Australia as a hardback in 2010 but if you missed it then, here is a new paperback for students to enjoy and use. 
Currencies of the world by the same writer is also available as a paperback -

ISBN 978 1 9215 8016 1

Year 4 up/ Age 8 up

Monday, 14 April 2014

Fiction Age 8 up

NZ Writer & UK illustrator
Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Tony Ross

Tale of a Tail
Orion 2014  $19.95pb 169pp

ISBN 978 1 4440 1422 8

Themes: Dogs/ Fantasy/ Funny stories/ Magic/ Polish life and culture/ Read aloud stories/ Wishes

With warmth and wit and a large dose of mischief, Margaret Mahy shares with us the story of Tom and Tomasz, boy and man and of Najki a large and happy dog with a magical tail capable of granting wishes. Add the flawless writing of this much-missed and much-appreciated storyteller and the clever drawings of Tony Ross and there is a special book to read and then read again and enjoy even more the second time.

Where, I wonder, has this manuscript been hiding since Margaret died nearly 2 years ago? Are there yet more treasures to be revealed?
Year 4 up/ Age 8 up

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Storylines Wellington 2014


Last night most of the ‘old’ committee of Storylines, Wellington met at National Library’s Happy Hour in the amazing Home Café and talked to the incoming chairperson Eileen Mueller.

We had such a convivial time and made so many suggestions for Storylines 2014 some of us almost began to wonder why we were standing down! Plus one of the group has decided to 'stay on'. 

The old committee (missing is Clare Forrest)  - Sue Jane, Barbara Murison, Katrina Young Drew and Sarina Hutton (retiring chairperson).

Photo: Steve Drew

Eileen Mueller (new chairperson)
(Google her name for lots of interesting information, details of her books etc.)

Photo: Acknowledgements to New Zealand Society of Authors

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Book Launches in the Wellington Region

Three book launches in 72 hours is really a feast of riches. The last two were held at the Children's Bookshop at Kilbirnie.

You have already seen images for the launch on Monday night of Lucy Bee and the Secret Gene (Anne Ingram). Here as promised are the images for Best Mates (Philippa  Werry and Bob Kerr) – see the reviews earlier on the Blog -  and Mrs. Mo’s Monster  (Paul Beavis) - also reviewed earlier. Just go to the search box.

 Paul is about to read his story with appropriate voices for the monster and for Mrs Mo which was appreciated by the many children at the launch.

Photos: Barbara Murison

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

More about Lucy Bee and the Secret Gene

Lucy Bee and the Secret Gene (reviewed on this Blog on 8.4.14) is available from selected bookshops including several on the Kapiti Coast including Paper Plus and Take Note.

However, if you have any difficulty locating it you can order it from:

White Gull Press at 
and for more information go to: 


Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Picture Books Fit for a Prince

What a week so far and it is only Tuesday!
There is the glittery news about the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards shortlist and the ‘involvement’ with Prince George. What a wonderful way to put New Zealand children’s literature on the world stage for the next 15 years as the little boy grows up.
Go to:    This will give you the details of Prince George’s New Zealand book collection plus full details of the short list - with jackets. 

Then there are book launches of children’s books in the Wellington Region– last night (see earlier post)/ tonight and tomorrow (details of the last two here on Thursday morning).

Picture Books fit for a prince!

Fiction 9 and up

NZ Writer
Anne Ingram
Lucy Bee and the Secret Gene
White Gull Press, Kapiti 2014  $19.99pb  203p
ISBN 978 0 4732 7999 8
Themes: Best friends/ Bullying/ Family life/ Genes/ Science Fairs

Like many children, Lucy Bennett suddenly has a terrible moment of doubt. Are her parents really her parents? They swear they are but what if there had been an unnoticed switch in the hospital? And why does Lucy not look like any of the rest of the family – especially with her frizzy red hair. Lucy decides to track her genes and the quest keeps the reader guessing until the last pages.
This is one of those stories you simply do not want to put down and would make a good read aloud over about three sessions.

Anne Ingram is well known for her many books, among them titles of Asian fairy tales and a novel for older primary readers, The Sea Robbers. All these books, mainly written some 20 years ago, are still in libraries today and I found on the net that the Singapore Central Library holds up to five copies of all her titles.
I was privileged to be asked to launch Lucy Bee and the Secret Gene at the Paraparaumu Public Library last night. It is a book I feel will do very well indeed and that this marks the beginning of a return to writing for a voice that has been missed.
Year 5 up/ Age 9 up

Anne signs a copy of the book for a reader at Paraparaumu Library last night.

Image: Barbara Murison