Category Archives: book week

Poetry Box audio spot: Barbara Else reads ‘Selina Tusitala Marsh’ from Go Girls


selina marsh_Ali Teo.jpg

Illustration by Ali Teo



Barbara Else reads ‘Selina Tusitala Marsh: Poet‘ from her book Go Girl: A Storybook of Epic NZ Women published by Puffin, 2018.


Barbara Else has held the University of Victoria Writing Fellowship and the University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children’s Writing Fellowship. She also holds an MNZM for services to literature and has been awarded the Margaret Mahy Medal for services to children’s literature. In her opinion she has simply been doing what she loves best, writing and working with other writers on their manuscripts. Her most recent novels for children are the Tales of Fontania Quartet (Gecko Press), starting with The Travelling Restaurant and ending with The Knot Impossible.  She loved working on real life stories for a change, in Go Girl.


Read my review of the book here.

Find my May challenge inspired by the book.

Puffin author page.




A festival of letters to NZ children’s authors: William, Renita, Francesa, Tyla and Isla write to Joy Cowley



Dear Joy Cowley 

I read Wishy Washy Wonder and I loved it. The part that I liked was when the animals made a card for Mrs Wishy Washy. This showed the animals were very kind to do that. Mrs Wishy Washy is great and I think you are too. 

We have a huge cardboard Mrs Wishy Washy and the animals on the wall in our library. 


Aged 8 Year 4 

St Francis Primary School 


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Dear Joy 

You are my favourite New Zealand author. You come up with very good stories and funny ones. I like Greedy Cat because these books helped me to read but also Cowshed Christmas. I love the part at the end when the secret is revealed and all the animals see that Jesus is born. 



Aged 8 Year 4 

St Francis Primary School 

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Hello Joy

I read Greedy Cat and the Sneeze. It is my favourite because it is easy for me to read. Greedy Cat is always hungry so Katie has to feed him.

Katie likes to play with her dolls.


Aged 9 Year 4

St Francis Primary School




Dear Joy Cowley 

I love your books especially the Greedy Cat ones and they inspire me to read and write all the time. I have been reading them since I was small. My favourite is Greedy Cat and the Pet Show because all the pet animals are so cute.


Aged 8 Year 4 

St Francis Primary School




Dear Joy Cowley 

I have read many of your books like Breakfast, Cricket’s Storm and The Remarkable Cake Shop but your Greedy Cat books are the best as they taught me to read. I remember the first book I read by myself was Greedy Cat and The Goldfish and I loved it because it made me want a cat of my own. I still don’t have one but I will keep asking for one.

My Mum would always read them to me too as bedtime stories. It was the same every night “More, more! Please, pretty please’ 

“Alright,” my Mum would say. 

Can you tell me what inspired you to write all those books about a cat? 

Thank you 


Aged 8 Year 4 

St Francis Primary School 


#nzbookweek – Whose Beak Is This? – This book should be in every classroom




Whose Beak Is This? is written by Gillian Candler with illustrations by Gillian Candler. It has just been published by Potton and Burton.

You get to see a beak and you have to guess which bird it belongs to.

What a great idea! I had a go and I got some right and some wrong. I had just seen kaka pecking the apple on the deck when we were on Stewart Island, so I knew those.


There is lots of good information with clear writing and strong  Illustrations.

This book should be in every classroom.

#nzbookweek – Changing Times: The story of a NZ town and its newspaper


This is a new book written by Bob Kerr and published by Craig and Burton, and is aimed at 7 to 12 year olds.

Matt is cycling round town delivering the town’s last newspaper. The book takes us back to see stories from different moments in the history of the town. It is like a graphic novel/picture book/ bunch of newspaper clippings.





It made me think about how my grandparents used to do things. How I used to do things.

Like  –  post someone a letter instead of sending them a Facebook message or a text.

Like  – get the milk from the milkman.

Like  –  write everything by hand and then on a typewriter.

Like – only have two TV channels to pick from (we didn’t have a TV though).


With our newspapers under threat, they and have to keep reinventing themselves. This book is timely.

It is a book that will spark all kinds of discussions about who we are, who we have been and who we will be.


I got lots of ideas for poems in this book.  A changing times poem.

I loved it. It is a little treasure trove that you can spend hours engrossed in. Go  hunting!


Every class should have a copy of this book.






#NZbookweek – In the Bush -explore and discover NZ’s native forests – If you are like me, and find the bush fascinating, and love spending time in it to walk, listen and stop, then this is the book for you


This book is written by Gillian Candler, illustrated by Ned Barraud and published by Potton and Burton.


It is jam packed with great information about our bush. Everything we need to know.

The trees that grow in it.

The birds that sing in it.

The reptiles and bats and amphibians that live in it.

Some pages tell a story and some pages have information.


If you are like me, and find the bush fascinating, and love spending time in it to walk, listen and stop, then this is the book for you.

The illustrations make everything come alive so beautifully.

This is a must have book for the classroom. And bush nuts like me!


Poetry Bonanza Monday: Home sweet home and a challenge for you

photo 2

How lovely to go away on a Northland Tour and how lovely to be back home.

Still time to do these things and then I have  challenge for you at the bottom for this week.


1. If you vote for the  Children’s Choice books at The NZ Children’s Book Awards you and your school will go into the draw to win some books. A vote for The Letterbox Cat is a vote for Poetry! Voting form here.

2. Don’t forget I am on the hunt for children to pick a NZ author to interview. You pick – I try and set it up for you (class, reading group or an individual). It is a golden opportunity to do something special.

3. I am on the hunt for children to review NZ books – any genre!


4. Still time to enter Fourth Fabulous Poetry Competition

You send in 12 poems in total from your school  (an age range is an advantage but not essential).

There is no theme.

You can write any kinds of poems you like.

They get sent to The New Zealand Book Council not me.

Only winners will be notified.

Finalists and winners will be posted on the blog and on NZBC web site on Monday August 10th.

You need to send in one entry form with all the details completed.

Each poem must have child’s age, name and year.

Entry Forms here


5. This week’s challenge

Write a poem that shows me something you love about home. Home might be a town or village. It might be your back garden. It might be the people you love.


* Collect lots of words, especially things you love about your home.

*(for older children who want an extra challenge) Write two or three words that show me what you think of home (for example: fun, beautiful, loving, nice). Don’t use these words in your poem. Find things and verbs and different adjectives to show me how your home is like this.

* It might be what you play with, who you play with, what you eat or wear or do. Your favourite places to be. What you do with your favourite people.

* Write your poem and put no more than five words on the line.

* The more detail you use of real things the better your poem will be. That will help it stand out.


DEADLINE for your Home-Poem Challenge: Wednesday August 5th

Send to Include your name, year, age and name of school. You can include your teacher’s name and email.

PLEASE say it’s for the Home-Poem challenge. Put in the subject line of the email please.

I will post my favourites and have a book for a poet (Year 0 to Year 8).


The Treasury Interviews: Room 21 children of Royal Oak Primary School interviews Jenny Cooper



Room 21 children of Royal Oak Primary School (dressed for Book parade here).

Room 21 is a year 4 class. There are 27 of us not including the teachers (Suzie Gurr and Robyn McConnell). We have 15 boys and 12 girls. This term we are researching native birds and how to attract them into the school grounds by offering foods that they will like to eat.


bio pick 2013 9780143505907 9781775430469

Meet the illustrator of A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children. See below for Jenny’s biography. She has done such an outstanding job with this book I have two interviews with her to post!

The Interview:

Dear Room 21, thank you for your great questions.

What inspires you and makes you want to illustrate a book? Mainly it is that I like drawing so much. When it is going well, it is a real pleasure, it is very calming and very rewarding, drawing away for hours a day. And I like the mental challenge of making up characters. It takes a lot of practice to be able to imagine a character, and then be able to get that down on paper. When it works, you feel very proud of yourself. When it doesn’t work, it is very frustrating, and that is when I want another job.

When did you first begin drawing? I have drawn all my life, since a baby. We have photos of me as a tiny child drawing away happily. The reason I can draw well as a grown up is because I drew so much as a child, and all through school. All my books were covered in doodles. That is the best training to be an artist or an illustrator…. Start drawing young.

Why is there often a mouse in your illustrations when there is not always one in the story? The answer to this is a little complicated, but it is a very good question, which no-one has ever asked me before. When I illustrate a book, I am working for an editor, and editors have very strict ideas about what is and isn’t allowed in a book. No dangerous running or jumping, no sad children, no climbing big trees, children must always be shown safe and well behaved. But if I add a mouse, or a dog, or a cat, those rules don’t apply, and I can have more fun with them, and they can do silly things. So it is often a way to get a bit of fun into a book, which isn’t in the story.

What was the first book you illustrated? The Birthday Party, a book which went to America. It was really badly drawn, because I was a new illustrator. I still get a little bit of money for it each year. I would like to burn every copy, it is so bad.

Which book or character is your favourite and why? I usually like my latest book, so it changes all the time. I like Harry from Harry’s Hair, that was a really fun book. In fact, I like his sister even more. I like the dog from Do Your ears Hang Low?, I love drawing furry animals. I like the llamas too, in that book, lots of fur. My favourite painting I have ever done is the sad page in Jim’s Letters, in the trenches. I really worked hard on that painting because it was so important.

What gives you the idea of what a character will look like? That is really hard to explain, because they all come out of my head, somehow. I get some hints from the story. For example, is the story funny, is it serious, is it realistic, do the animals talk, is there lots of action?….. this will all affect the character design. For example, funny characters might have bendy legs, large or tiny feet and hands, and huge or tiny eyes, crazy hair etc. Books with lots of humour and action are great for designing crazy, bendy animals and people, and exaggerated shapes. Real books about real children mean I have to come up with realistic people, often using photographs.

I get some ideas from knowing who will read the book. Books for very young children have to be very simple, because they are not really ‘reading’, they are guessing, from the pictures, so the pictures have to look exactly like the text. For older kids, I can have more fun, and add things which aren’t in the story, so the reader gets to discover things themselves, and I can use weird shapes, like the characters in ‘Harry’s hair’. Most of all, when I design a character, it has to be interesting to me, and a challenge. Often I will have seen someone else’s illustration, and be thinking, hmmm, I want to draw like that, and try it in my next book.


Note from Paula: Thanks Room 21 and Jenny for a terrific interview.  Jenny has done all the illustrations for A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children and they are simple gorgeous. They are little poems on the page themselves and are full of life and variety. I just love them.


Jennifer Cooper, one of New Zealand’s best known illustrators, has been illustrating children’s books here in Christchurch for the last 20 years. She trained as a graphic designer at Christchurch Polytechnic in 1987 and her first book was published while she was still a student.

As with most illustrators in New Zealand, Jenny is largely self taught. Her focus is on books for very young children and, in particular, Pacific Island children. Having lived for three years in Western Samoa, she has continuing ties with the islands, which lend warmth and authenticity to her drawings of these children and their world. She and her  children, Kenese and Kalia, maintain ties with their family in Samoa.

Jenny is not limited to one style but is able to choose from a number, ranging from realistic through to cartoon, depending on the theme and genre of the book.  She enjoys the variety and contrast this brings to her working day. Each new book is completely different and a new adventure.  She loves developing the different characters for each book, and begins each one thinking it will be her best, although illustration is a  complicated art and there is always a huge gap between what an illustrator sees in her head, and what she produces on the page. Jenny particularly loves drawing animals of all sorts, although she is in fact wary of almost all animals, which makes her research difficult.

She works from a sunny studio at home and loves the freedom and flexibility this gives her to garden, see friends, spend time with her partner and pursue  her many interests –  when, strictly speaking, she should be working!
Jenny has also tutored in illustration at Christchurch Polytechnic and taught night classes in illustration at the University of Canterbury. She is the 
winner of the 1991 New Zealand Post Student Stamp Design award, the 1991 Telecom New Zealand White Pages Art Award and has been short-listed twice for the Russell Clark Illustration Award and shortlisted in 2008 for the New Zealand Post Book Awards.

Jenny has illustrated so many books she has lost count. Some of her better known books are Down in the Forest  written by Yvonne Morrison, The Pipi and The Mussels by Dot Meharry, Shut the Gate by Elizabeth Pulford, McGregor by Rachel Hayward,  Illustrated Myths and Legends of the Pacific by A.W. Reed.,  The Littlest Llama, by Jane Buxton, The Reluctant Flower Girl by Melanie Koster and Peter and the Pig by Simon Grant, The Mad Tadpole Adventure by Melanie Drewery, Ria the Wreackell Wrybill by Jane Buxton,  There’s a Hole in my Bucket and Do Your Ears Hang Low, She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain and Farmer in the Dell,  sung by The Topp Twins, Le Quesnoy,  and Jim’s Letter’s by Glyn Harper and Harry’s Hair by Jane Buxton, plus numerous book for Usborne Publishing in the United Kingdom. She has three Storyline Notable Book awards, including Le Quesnoy, 2013 and Ria the Reckless Wrybill in 2011.

“When I work on a book, of course I am thinking about the reader, and what they might want to see. But mostly I illustrate for myself. I hope that the things that interest me will also interest lots of children.”

“I am most interested in my character’s  faces, be they human or animal, and in capturing their emotions and the movement of their bodies. I don’t like painting backgrounds, they are too much hard work! As an illustrator, you are creating a whole world inside a book, and that can be a challenge, getting the details right, and keeping things the same all through the book. Sometimes I get lazy and don’t keep the details the same but I always worry about eagle-eyed readers catching me out, and noticing that the character’s socks change colour, or their hair gets shorter and then longer as the book goes on! Being an illustrator means that I have to keep my eyes open, and be interested in everything, because I never know when I may have to put it in a book, anything from rockets to rats to rubbish dumps, and everything in between.”

“Illustrating for children is the most wonderful job to have. I get to stay home all day, and do the thing which I love the best, which is to draw and paint. Every book teaches me something new. When I stop learning, I’ll stop illustrating.”


The Treasury Interviews: Grace interviews Feana Tu’akoi


Feana Tu’akoi

Do you really know what a fish is? Or a mammal? A reptile?

Before you answer, why don’t you look over Feana Tu ‘akoi’s prized books, following fascinating facts about most unusual creatures! But if you are sure you know all their is to know about amphibians and birds or have read her books till all the pages are dog-eared and the spines have frayed, then you may want to check out her other book Lest We Forget, which is about war and reveling over commemorating the ones who sacrificed themselves for the good of their country.

Feana lives in Hamilton with her Tongan husband and children. To her the world is an open book and if she has the ability to write anything, you could too.

Do you really know what a fish is? Or a mammal? A reptile?

Before you answer, why don’t you look over Ms Tu’ akoi prized books, following fascinating facts about most unusual creatures! But if you are sure you know all their is to know about amphibians and birds or have read her books till all the pages are dog-eared and the spines have frayed, then you may want to check out her other book Lest We Forget, which is about war and reveling over commemorating the ones who sacrificed themselves for the good of their country.


The Interview:

Lest we forget must have taken months of writing and editing to reach its exceptional standard. This book was very different to your short “What is a…” books and must have taken a lot to carry out the story. What did you do to keep yourself motivated?

I wrote Lest We Forget  very quickly – in one sitting, in fact – although I did spend a lot of time editing and re-editing, until I was happy with it. I didn’t need to do any research, as it was a mixture of all the thoughts I’d ever had about ANZAC Day parades. The understanding that Tyson comes to during afternoon tea is the understanding I came to, after studying NZ history at university.

When I was a kid, war horrified me. I didn’t want any part of it and I definitely didn’t want to celebrate it. But after talking to people who were involved in World War II, I realised that things weren’t as black and white as I’d thought.

And when I finally went to another Dawn Parade, I was shocked. Nobody talked about how glorious war was, or even that it was the right thing to do. They just talked about how important it was for us to remember, so that we could all continue to live in peace.

That was when I realised. We weren’t there to celebrate war. We were there to remember, so that we wouldn’t have to go through that again. Lest We Forget is just me putting those ideas and feelings on paper.


What was going through your head when you decided to write the “What is a…” series of children fact books?

The What Is A…? books on the other hand, took months of research, writing and rewriting. Scientific knowledge is always changing, as new discoveries are made. I had to check that all my information was up-to-date at the time of writing. I even read scientific papers! Every time you see the word ‘most’ in one of those books, you know that I found an exception to whatever statement I was making. Then it took many, many redrafts to make the books appear simple and straightforward, so that even young children could understand them.

And all of this started because I read somewhere that every animal with feathers was a bird. It seems obvious, but I’d never really thought about it before. And it got me wondering if I could come up with the same sort of classification statement for the other vertebrate animal groups.


Did you have a collection of random objects, a picture or spin wheel of genres for inspiration for a story? What gave you that juicy idea that sparked inspiration? 

I don’t tend to use random objects, pictures or spin wheels to spark ideas. I just write about stuff that interests me. If I’m interested, chances are that other people will be interested, too.


Do you have a routine or method? (I am a writer myself who finds it difficult to stick to one story).

As for routine or method – I am very disciplined and I just sit down and stay there until I’m done. I procrastinate before I start, but once I’m writing, I keep slogging away. And I’m happy to rewrite as many times as it takes for me to be happy with it. I would never send something out unless it was the best I could make it.

When I think a piece is finished, I always read it out loud. I have this theory that if it sounds wrong, it is. So, anything that sounds clunky or forced is taken out.


What do you like about writing poems?

I love to write poems. I like reworking the words until I find the essence of what I want to say. My two favourite ingredients are humour and visual images – although I don’t always put both in at once. I especially like poems that make people think, so that’s what I try to do with mine. I love it when my poems make someone smile, or make them see something a little bit differently.


Do you have future plan for the rest of your career? What do you have in store for us next? 

As for the rest of my career. I just want to keep writing about things that interest me. And if I can keep being paid for it, even better!


Thanks for a fascinating interview Gracie and Feana. You can see Gracie’s poem-bio below. Feana has three poems in A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children. You can see she likes striking images and good sound.

9781869439514 9781877404740-2 9781869438050-1 9781775430216-1 9781775430124


Gracie Scragg has written her bio in the form of a poem.

I am 13

And I live on the cusp of 4-D’s last breath

I live in a word where watching infomercials is a sport.

I live in a place where we learn about

Body image and careers in the Botox division

Where authors

Believe in the writer’s block but it

Doesn’t really exist

Where all movies are classified NA and so are you.

I live in a world where dancing is prohibited

And dirt is the only words we sing

Where people die but come breathing because

You know there’s a second book.

Where being fat is an excuse

And your face determines your shoe size.

Where the seven thinking hats measure our beings

Where cancer is common and so are 10-inch heels

Where being yourself

Makes you a despicable, deceitful outlaw.

In this world spots are in and stripes are out

But I want to wear zebra design and write my own songs

I want to believe there is no such thing as writing block

I want to live with the invention of the words

Lament and Expository

Where we can write as dark and gruesome as we want

Without life peering over our shoulders.

Where king’s thrones can be occupied by any ordinary

Where judgment is kept is kept under the hat

And we can attend our own funerals

With dignity.

I also had a terrific visit to St Cuthbert’s cooking up poetry with the young poets

How I love the way children leap into poetry and take up my challenges and let imaginations go soaring and ears go hunting and eyes go searching.

This is what happened when I went to St Cuthbert’s. I had such a good time cooking up poetry with the young poets. It was a fabulous day. Here are some of our poems:


4MI, 4NA, 3BR & 2TH

Cheek Pockets

What does the bonnet macaque

Keep in her cheek pocket?

Crispy chips and hard bricks

Tiny mushrooms and crazy loons

Creeping lizards and crawling caterpillars

Bright rainbows and hard roads

Silvery snakes and quivering cakes

Sleeping babies and big blue whales

Healthy lettuce and purple turnips

Stripy cats and playful bats

Wolves that howl and bulls that bounce

Colourful posters and roller coasters

Squishy marshmallows and a soft pillow

Dogs with spots and dogs with dots


The Animal Poem

A fishagator swims like a shark

Caterfly walks along a leaf

Cox is searching through the forest

Micesnake chase their tails

Octobunny is slightly funny

Squirreldog stores nuts.


The Library

The library is my free pass to

The hills and the garden

The train station and the waterfalls

Sandy places and arctic spaces

Faraway lands and overseas

The rainforest and the sea

Dr Seuss and TV channels

Tropical lands and icy planes


5AR & 5BE

Kiwi Iwi

Pecking at worms

Chocolate fur

Shuffling, hopping in the dark

Dark brown streak running

Midnight eyes

Pecking at slimy worms

Walking in the shade


What does he do

In the midnight moon?


Cheek pockets

What does the bonnet macaque

Keep in her cheek pocket?

Black cats and dirty rats

Leopards and lettuce

Evil bats in heavy sacks

Silver Junes and Wednesday moons

Cooks and books

Elephants and pelicans

Colourful parrots and orange carrots

Lovely horses and tricky courses

Vicious dogs and big logs

What will we find

in store this time?


wobbly words meant I got to meet Phoebe


I was so delighted to meet Phoebe at Balmoral School’s Wobbly Word Week (Book Week).

She sent in an astonishing poem about her Gran for one of my  challenges so I sent her copy of Wonder ( a book I love so much). She told me she has read it and loves it. It is a book for Year 7 or 8 but maybe some Year Sixes might like it too.

If I come to your school and you have sent me poems do come and say hello!

You can read Phoebe’s poem here.