Reading Festival: Tessa Duder can’t imagine a life without books


Tessa Duder is one of New Zealand’s most beloved children’s authors. She writes all kinds of wonderful books and works tirelessly to support our children’s literature.


Tessa answered some questions about her childhood reading:

Where did you like to read? By day, curled up on my bed. I’d always read before going to sleep, and quite often, under the covers with a torch.

What were you favourite books? Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses and all the books of A.A. Milne. Milly Molly Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley (oh, so English!). And one New Zealand book, Richard Bird in the Bush by Mollie Miller Atkinson. From that I learned all the names of New Zealand birds.

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What kind of books did you like to read? Until I was about 12, books about horses, ballet, theatre, school stories, adventure. I’m sorry I didn’t discover Arthur Ransome’s sailing classic Swallows and Amazons or the great myths and legends as a child.

Did you have a favourite illustrator?  I don’t think I noticed illustrations much at all. During and after World War 11, the 1940s and 1950s, there weren’t all the lovely coloured picture books there are now.

What did the library mean to you? A place where I went with my mother every week to get armfuls of books, five or six at a time.

Do you remember being read to? Not much, I think I was an independent reader from about six.

Was there a book that stood out that a teacher read to you? I don’t remember being read to by a teacher at all.  There wasn’t the same focus on storytelling for the sheer fun and excitement of it that there is now. Perhaps we did read poems, Walter de la Mare and Tennyson and such.

Who hooked you on reading? My parents weren’t great readers, in the sense of having piles of books by their bed. Their bookshelves were modest, mostly lives of mountaineers or about music, not novels. I don’t think it was any one person, just the importance my mother placed on taking me to the library every week.

What did books mean to you? How did they add to your life? Ever since about age five or six I’ve had one or more books ‘on the go.’ I can’t imagine a life without books, stories, poems – the ideas, knowledge and entertainment these give me. I read myself to sleep every night.  I love biographies, history, novels, thrillers, humour, but don’t read much fantasy or sci-fi. The planet we live on is fascinating and strange enough!

Any anecdotes? My parents wouldn’t let me buy or read comics, Superman and Batman and the like. So I used to go across to a friend’s place – her name was Marilyn O’Keefe – where she had big brothers, and I’d devour a whole pile in one sitting. This would have been before we left Palmerston North to go to Auckland, so before I was five.

Do you still read children’s books? Do you have a favourite this week? Yes, lots. I’m re-reading Swallows and Amazons, because I’m also enjoying a biography of Arthur Ransome, about his life as a journalist and probable spy in Russia at the time of the Revolution.

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