Monthly Archives: June 2021

Poetry Box: A Booktown treat – poetry from tamariki in Featherston

When I was at Featherston Booktown Festival in May, I got to do a Speed Date an Author event with local tamariki. It was fast flying poetry! I got thirty minutes with each group and I got the children writing poems with me on the whiteboard and their own poems they could take away and finish. I challenged them to use their ears and eyes. I loved the way children got into the poetry zone and let their ideas and words go exploring.

I so enjoyed my time in the magnificent Wairarapa. I got the children to write poem postcards – poems that showed me somewhere in the Wairarapa they loved. It could be the ocean, a river, a maunga, a grandmother’s garden, a street, a cafe, a bookshop. Poems that showed me places I might like to check out! And because we had only a few minutes to share, I invited them to send me some.

How delighted I was to get this poem bundle from South Featherston School. Thank you for taking me back to your glorious region. I can tell your eyes and ears were working magnificently. Thank you!

Best yummiest dumplings ever at The Offering Cafe in Greytown.

The Poems


The buzzer on the

 door went beep 

as we appear

 through the door.

The books are clapping. 

The scanner is scanning.  

The coffee machine is 


The floor board is 


The people are chatting.

The cicadas chirp

 as we Exit on to the

 busy street.


 Wairarapa Ruamahanga River

Glistening emerald green

shining in the beam

of the sun rays.

River rustling round

banks rising over 

the ripples

wakes running high

boards flailing

banging the break.

shwish, shwish, shwish

People call the speed. 

Getting ready.


Tararua Ranges

The trees swish

The trees crash

High winds howl

Gravel scattering while people walk

Floor boards creek

Swing bridge sways

River crashes splashing on rocks

Birds flap

Birds squawk

Cicadas chirp throughout the forest.



Rugby is cool

Rugby is great 

Rugby is a game 

I play with my mates 

Sometimes I get muddy

And sometimes I get hurt 

The game gets frustrating 

And you might rage

But at least I’m with my mates



Balls flying

Birds chirping

Bush swaying

Rivers swishing moving

Hammers clanking

Wind howling brushing against you

Boots trending on the muddy ground

Rain hosing down

This is the Wairarapa



The wind whistles

The trees sway

It was a cold day

The crackling fire sizzled

My blankets ruffle

The stars glimmer in the sky

The moon glides into

The dark deep blue sky

I gaze off into

The galaxy next to us


The Lake, Wairarapa

it’s pretty fun,

trees, bushes, and water together,

children building, swimming, and laughing,

watch the ducks and swans glide across the water,

hear the tūī chirp above,

the clouds forming waves,

you should go there sometime.


Lake Wairarapa

Motor roars away

I vibrate as water crashes

Water pellets hit faces

Screams echo far

Hills covered with green

Big wave hits


We fall off.



Splash! Splash! Splash!

Crunch! soft soft sand

SQUAWK! Go the seagulls

Boom go the waves

 It’s going to be a very, nice, day.


It’s going to be a very nice POETRY day!

Featherston’s main road, a town with seven bookshops!

a very very very good children’s bookshop

On my way home after a heart warming week of words and very very good food! Thanks Wairarapa and Featherston Booktown.

Poetry Box bonus sun and moon poems from Joy

 The Moon

A luminous orb, a lopsided smile,

Waxing, waning, all the while

Never dimmed, though darkness approaches

 Never ceasing to beguile

The Sun

Shrouded in cloud


Kissed by mist


 looming in gloom


But mellow though stark

To scatter the dark


Joy, age 12, Year 8, South Wellington Intermediate

Poetry Box noticeboard: NZ Book Award for Children and Young Adults finalists announced

June poetry challenge FAVOURITE WORDS POEMS here

This year’s Picture Book Award shortlist beautifully combines delicate illustrations that connect to and enhance sometimes delicate themes. There are laughs, tears, sighs (both contented and wistful) to be had in equal measure.

Picture Book Award Finalists

Hare & Ruru: A Quiet Moment, Laura Shallcrass (Beatnik Publishing)

Hound the Detective, Kimberly Andrews(Penguin Random House NZ)

Kōwhai and the Giants, Kate Parker (Mary Egan Publishing)

The Hug Blanket, Chris Gurney, illustrated by Lael Chisholm (Scholastic New Zealand)

This Is Where I Stand, Philippa Werry, illustrated by Kieran Rynhart (Scholastic New Zealand)

Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Junior Fiction Award Finalists

Across the Risen Sea,
Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin)

Charlie Tangaroa and the Creature from the Sea, T K Roxborogh, illustrated by Phoebe Morris (Huia Publishers)

Red Edge, Des Hunt (Scholastic New Zealand)

The Inkberg Enigma, Jonathan King (Gecko Press)

The Tunnel of Dreams, Bernard Beckett (Text Publishing)

The top contenders for the Young Adult Fiction Award speak to the power of young people to profoundly influence the world around them, and don’t shy away from topics such as environmental destruction, oppression and injustice.

Young Adult Fiction Award Finalists

Draw Me a Hero, N K Ashworth (Lasavia Publishing)

Fire’s Caress, Lani Wendt Young, (OneTree House)

Katipo Joe: Spycraft, Brian Falkner (Scholastic New Zealand)

The King’s Nightingale, Sherryl Jordan (Scholastic New Zealand)
The Pōrangi Boy, Shilo Kino (Huia Publishers)

The judges found the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction a particularly strong category this year, stating “to say there is something for everyone is an understatement, this list has everything, for everyone”.

Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction Finalists

Egg and Spoon: An Illustrated Cookbook, Alexandra Tylee, illustrated by Giselle Clarkson (Gecko Press)
Mophead Tu: The Queen’s Poem, Selina Tusitala Marsh (Auckland University Press)

New Zealand Disasters, Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivančić (Scholastic New Zealand)

North and South, Sandra Morris (Walker Books Australia)
You’re Joking: Become an Expert Joke-Teller, Tom E. Moffatt, illustrated by Paul Beavis (Write Laugh Books)

The judges faced an outstandingly strong and large pool of entries for the Russell Clark Award for Illustration. The finalists are characterised by a diversity of styles and media, but the books all have in common an expert use of colour and line to communicate emotion and pace and skilfully add texture to the narrative.

Russell Clark Award for Illustration Finalists

Hare & Ruru: A Quiet Moment, Laura Shallcrass (Beatnik Publishing)

I Am the Universe, Vasanti Unka (Penguin Random House NZ)

Kōwhai and the Giants, Kate Parker (Mary Egan Publishing)

Moon & Sun, Malene Laugesen, written by Melinda Szymanik (Upstart Press)
Te Uruuru Whenua o Ngātoroirangi,
Laya Mutton-Rogers, written by Chris Winitana (Huia Publishers)

The finalists in the Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for books written entirely in te reo Māori will appeal to a broad range of abilities. Te reo in its simplest form will lift the language for beginners, while there are also titles with a depth of language to send the imaginations of confident speakers soaring. The judges were pleased to see a marked increase in the number of books written in te reo Māori, rather than translated from English.

Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award Finalists

Aroha Te Whai Ora, Rebekah Lipp, illustrated by Craig Phillips and translated by Karena Kelly (Wildling Books)

Mihi, Gavin Bishop (Gecko Press)

Pīpī Kiwi, Helen Taylor, translated by Hēni Jacob (Penguin Random House NZ)

Ngake me Whātaitai, Ben Ngaia, illustrated by Laya Mutton-Rogers (Huia Publishers)
Te Uruuru Whenua o Ngātoroirangi, Chris Winitana, illustrated by Laya Mutton-Rogers (Huia Publishers)

Finally, the finalists for the Best First Book Award left the judges reassured that the future of children’s literature in New Zealand is in good hands. In fact, the standard is so high, that four of the books are also finalists in one or more of the main categories.

Best First Book Award Finalists

Laura Shallcrass for Hare & Ruru: A Quiet Moment (Beatnik Publishing)

Kate Parker for Kōwhai and the Giants (Mary Egan Publishing)

Jonathan King for The Inkberg Enigma (Gecko Press)

Amy Haarhoff (illustrator) for The Midnight Adventures of Ruru and Kiwi, written by Clare Scott (Penguin Random House NZ)
Shilo Kino for The Pōrangi Boy (Huia Publishers

Poetry Box review: Melinda Szymanik and Vasanti Unka’s My Elephant is Blue: a book about big, heavy feelings

Poetry Box June challenge: favourite words poems

My Elephant is Blue: a book about big, heavy feelings

by Melinda Szymanik, illustrated by Vasanti Unka, Penguin (Puffin imprint) 2021

Melinda Szymanik and Vasanti Unka have produced an exquisite combination of words and images, story and illustration, for My Elephant is Blue: a book about big, heavy feelings. First up you have to run your fingers over the big blue elephant on the cover and feel the folds of skin. Penguin have done a terrific design job and I love the generous size. You need a big picture book to hold big feelings and a big blue elephant.

The first sentence will surprise you and most certainly encourage you to keep reading: ‘One morning I woke to find an elephant sitting on my chest.’

As you can imagine getting up was a problem, letting alone moving around, brushing teeth, when the big blue elephant just wouldn’t move!

Melinda has created the most inventive heartwarming story about what to do when a big blue feeling won’t budge. In an interview with Read NZ Te Pou Muramura, she explained what prompted her to write the story:

I was having some big heavy feelings of my own. I’ve often found writing can help me process my own thoughts and feelings, and the story that results can provide some sort of solution or way forward and that was definitely the case here. And the best thing is it doesn’t just help me, it can also help the young audience for whom I write.

The child’s parents chip in with suggestions, research elephants by reading books and phoning specialists, by helping the child do things and do more things, go walking round the block, pack a picnic. Even with the big blue elephant in tow.

The premise of the story is significant – we all have heavy feelings to manage, both as children and as adults. The elephant metaphor is genius. The sentences are so sweetly and economically crafted, they serve the big heavy feeling beautifully. The persistence of child and parents to solve the weight of the big blue elephant is crucial. The ending is significant, genius, beautiful.

Vasanti’s illustrations are tone perfect. Both the child and the big blue elephant will enhance the mood that grows inside as you read. And I adore the delicate soft-palette of the background, where the scene borders on transparent. Her colours keep step with the story, from the pale windows with the pale outside to the explosion of picnic colour to the final scenes: significant, genius, beautiful.

My Elephant is Blue is a very special book. It dares to go into a tough zone, to make human experience achingly real, and to offer the little steps that lead to hope and lightness. I love this book so much.

One day an elephant came and sat on my chest.
I found it hard to get up or move around, to breathe or talk.

“I’m Blue,” the elephant said.
“Can you please move, Blue?” I asked.
“I don’t want to move. This is a good spot for me to sit.”
“You’re crushing me,” I said.
“Yet I find you very comfortable,” said Blue.

Melinda writes picture books, short stories and novels for children and young adults. She has been a finalist for a number of awards, and five of her titles are Storylines Notable Books. Her picture book, The Were-Nana, won the New Zealand Post Children’s Choice Award in 2009, and was shortlisted for the 2010 Sakura Medal. Her novel, A Winter’s Day in 1939, won Librarian’s Choice at the 2014 LIANZA Awards and her picture book Fuzzy Doodle, was a 2017 White Raven Selection. She lives in Auckland with her family, and loves watching movies, eating out with her favourite people, and travelling abroad when the stars are aligned. She strongly believes that you can never have too many books, and you can never be too kind.

Vasanti Unka is an award-winning writer, designer and illustrator noted for the originality of her storytelling, her riotously colourful and inventive illustrations and the gorgeous design and production of her picture books. Vasanti is the illustrator of award-winning Hill & Hole by Kyle Mewburn. The Boring Book (Puffin 2013), which Vasanti wrote, illustrated and designed, was named the 2014 New Zealand Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and also took out the Best Picture Book Award category. Stripes! No, Spots!, published by Puffin in 2015 and described by poet Paula Green as ‘scrumptious in every way’, was lauded as a 2016 Storylines Notable Picture Book and was simultaneously published in the UK and US. Vasanti lives in Auckland, New Zealand, where she juggles creative work and numerous book projects.

Penguin page

Interview with Read NZ Te Pou Muramura

Poetry Box June challenge: FAVOURITE WORDS poems

a favourite word gathering

I love words

I love stringing words together and listening to the way they spark and zing, whisper and hum. I love long words and short words. I love words I don’t know the meaning of. I have truckloads of favourite words like honey and caterpillar, wild and trickle. It’s not only the meaning or picture of the word, but the way the word sounds when you say it aloud. Poets love saying words out loud.

My love of words has given me a crazy idea for the June challenge.

I challenge you to hunt for words you love

(say 1 or 5 or 10 or 20 or 30). Over to you how many words you collect. You could do what I did in the picture above!

Then use some of them in a poem

(say 1 or 3 or 5 or 7). Over to you how many favourite words you use. And ADD as many other words as you like as you write.

Try playing with your words before you write the poem

make strings of words that sound good

short or long lines

play with patterns of short words and longer words

use your ears and listen to your word strings

Now write your poem and let the words FLOW

Your poem can be about anything

Your poem can be long or short

You can set the poem out however you like

This is your poem and there are no rules

Have fun and send me your poem:

Deadline: 26th June

Send to:

Include: name, age, year, name of school or homeschooled

Don’t forget to put FAVOURITE WORDS POEM in subject line so I don’t miss it

AND I will post some favourites near end of month and have a few books to give away

I read all the poems at the end of the month and get back to you then.

I have trouble accessing GOOGLE DOCs unless you give me permission so send poem in email or as Word file.