Category Archives: NZ Author

Poetry Box review and some popUPpoem challenges: David Hill’s Three Scoops

Three Scoops, David Hill, One Tree House, 2021

David Hill is a writing whizz and has penned some of my all-time favourite Aotearoa fiction for children. His new book Three Scoops is genius. He has written three long SHORT stories. One is historical, one is fantasy and one is science fiction. I gobbled them all up at the weekend.

One Tree House page

A history story (‘Coming Home’): Harry and his horse Blaze are inseparable. He and Blaze are heading to South Africa in 1890 by ship to fight in the Boer war. Harry thinks it is a great adventure and has no idea about the harsh realities of war. Blaze has no idea what is going on and runs away before boarding the ship. The two stories interweave. Lost and confused, Blaze is trying to find his way home. Harry is discovering war has much graver consequences than those of an adventure. He misses and is worried about Blaze. He misses home. Men and horses go hungry, get wounded, die. On both sides. So many complicated questions simmer as I read.

A fantasy story (‘I wish’): Trent and his mum move to a new town which means a new school and new friends. Only problem is Trent finds life boring and thinks he is boring. Until he finds a mysterious box of books in the lounge. Open one of the books changes everything. What I love about this story, is the way it is real life gritty while also letting a bit magic in. Stories can have so many layers whatever the genre. Read this one and you will find David’s characteristic wit, humour and wisdom as well as the bounding imagination. What sells it for me, is the way the story digs into things that shape and challenge us. How sometimes you feel awkward and not good enough. How sometimes you have to choose between helping yourself out and helping someone else out.

A science fiction story (‘Strange Meeting’): David reminds us of how the world was 70 million years ago, and what happened when an asteroid hit Earth and wiped the dinosaurs out. Cut to a time in the future. Sophie’s parents work at the Mahoe Launch Site where a rocket/satellite is about to take off. Sophie is about to give a talk to her classmates when Pita interrupts because he is worried something bad is about to happen. His wise Koro communicates with a power and understands the preciousness of the land. The story navigates science, and what-ifs, and how our relationships with other people and with the land (Earth!) are so very important. Is the space work good for Earth or will it place it in danger? The story is tense, yet is layered beyond a fast moving plot. Again questions simmer as you read.

Three deliciously complex stories that are compulsive reading because you can’t wait to find out what happens – but also deliver vital questions for you to ponder over. AND that get you thinking about what it means to be a human being on planet Earth. Wonderful!

David Hill lives in Taranaki, and has been writing fiction and nonfiction full time for 40 years. His novels and stories have won numerous awards, and have been published in around 15 countries and nearly as many languages.

The popUPpoem challenges

A history poem: Find a person in the past and use them as a starting point for your poem. You could use someone you know (an older relation) or someone you don’t know from the past. Before you start your poem write down a few questions you would ask them if you could, or will ask them if you can. See if you can find out some fascinating things about them.

A fantasy poem: Take a box of books as your starting point and let your imagination go flying. Is there a question your poem explores? Without saying the question out loud. Over to you: this is also a chance simply to enjoy a dose of fantasy (imagination) as you write.

A science fiction: Set your poem in the future where the world is a little bit different than it is now. What is good and bad about how it is different?

Deadline: Friday October 1st

Send to:

INCLUDE: your name, age, year and name of school

Don’t forget to put Three Scoop poem in subject line so I don’t miss your email.

I will read all the poems the day after the deadline and will post some poems on OCT 5th. I will have a copy of Three Scoops to give away and maybe another book or two.

Poetry Box interviews Laura Shallcrass (Hare and Ruru: A Quiet Moment) plus a POP-UP POEM challenge for you

Laura Shallcrass by Laura Shallcrass

Laura Shallcrass’s Hare and Ruru: A Quiet Place is an extraordinary book. It is the perfect book to read when you feel like everything seems too much and all you want is a bit of quiet in our topsy turvey world. Hare struggles to find a quiet place so goes searching. Everything seems to make a noise. Ruru comes up with Quiet solution. Genius. I just adore this story.

The writing is a honey current. The illustrations are even sweeter.

Laura kindly answered some questions because I got curious about quiet things – and I have popped a poem challenge at the bottom of the interview. When we get out of L4 lockdown in Auckland I will have a poetry book to give away. This is not a competition, I just like giving books away, and sharing the poetry love.

Hare and Ruru: A Quiet Moment, Laura Shallcrass, Beatnik Publishing, 2020

The interview

Paula: Do you like quiet corners? Do you have one?

Laura: Quiet corners are rare in our house so mine tend to be outside. My favourite is not so much a place but a time. I love 5 o’clock. It’s time to feed the animals and it’s usually a beautiful peaceful time.

Paula: How do you feel in your quiet place?

Laura: I feel relaxed, fulfilled and calm.

Paula: Where do you write and draw? Do you like it to be quiet?

Laura: I write and draw in a small studio off our garage. But I don’t need quiet for these things. When I’m writing I like to listen to music and when I’m drawing it’s usually an audiobook or a podcast.

Paula: If you shut your eyes now, what can you hear?

Laura: I can hear birds, one of my sons looking for food or craft supplies, horses munching and plodding out in the paddock and the pitter patter or our whippet checking up on everyone.

Paula: What inspired you to write this story about an animal (Hare) hunting for some quiet?

Laura: I wanted to write a story about mental health and a few key things which have helped me in my struggles with anxiety in a way which wasn’t too confrontational and could be easily understood by young people.

Paula: Has anyone ever said something wise to you (like Ruru does to Hare) that has really stuck?

Laura: I’ve read lots of wise words but can’t think of any spoken ones off hand.

Paula: The world is full of sound. What sounds do you like to listen to? That make you feel good.

Laura: I love the sound of our kids playing happily, of the horses munching and blowing, pretty much everything I’m listening to now!

Paula: What do you do when the world gets TOO loud?

Laura: I like to go for a ride. Horses force you to be completely present and forget anything else. I find it a bit like meditating, when I get off I’m completely refreshed.

Paula: I love the illustrations. How did you make these?

Laura: I like to draw with pencil and paper first, it helps me get the composition and proportions right. Then I scan it in, trace the line drawing and add the colour.

The POP-UP challenge

Try writing a poem that is QUIET.

Try writing a poem about your favourite QUIET place.

Shut your eyes and listen to the sounds you can hear. Turn those sounds into a poem.

Write a poem that showcases all the sounds you hear on a walk. Or in your kitchen. Or your garden.

Write a poem about the quietest QUIET you have ever experienced. Even the quietest places I know have sounds!

Gather up QUIET words – use them to make a quiet poem word pattern.

Write a poem that tells a story about a quest for QUIET.

Where do you like to hang out when you want to be QUIET? Make a poem.

You can send an illustration too if you want.

Use your imagination and come up with your own QUIET idea for a poem.

Deadline: Monday 13th September

Send to:

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

Don’t forget to put QUIET Poem in subject line so I don’t miss it

I will post some favourite poems on 15th September. I will have books to give away! I will read all the poems at the deadline. I can’t post PDFs!

Laura Shallcrass is an artist and author who lives near Queenstown with her husband, two boys and an ever-growing zoo of furry friends. So far these include three horses: Giddy, who is enormous but kind, Taffy the pony, and Cash, who is overexcited and likes to party, Kota, the Labrador, and Frida, the whippet. Laura’s first book, Hare & Ruru, won the Russell Clark Award for Best Illustrated Book at the 2021 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Beatnik Publishing page

Laura Shallcrass website

Poetry Box NATIONAL POETRY DAY celebration: 8 NZ children’s authors read a poem for you – plus poetry challenges – plus book giveaways – IDEAS for SCHOOLS and for LOCKDOWN TIME

National Poetry Day is on Friday August 27th. To celebrate I invited 8 of my favourite children’s authors to read a poem they love. I have put some poetry challenges under each reading for you to try. I am fairly sure National Poetry Day events will be reinvented online so I am sharing this poetry festival now.

Perfect for National Poetry Day but even more perfect for lockdown. Writing and reading poems is my happy place! Have a go!

I am currently in a state of drift and daze so do let me know if I have made mistakes – I am always grateful not offended.

🌻 A big bouquet of warm thanks and salty west-coast air and mānuka scent and blue skies to the eight authors who did such glorious mahi out of poetry love and the poets who gave permission. Thank you!

Listen to the authors read a poem

Try some of my poem challenges

Deadline: 10th September

Send to:

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

Don’t forget to put National Poetry Day Poem in subject line so I don’t miss it

I will post some favourite poems on 17th September. I will have loads of books to give away! I will read all the poems and email you back by this date.

IF YOU MAKE a video – I need parental permission to post it if I pick it.

TOP TIP: Leave your poem for a day and then read it out loud. Listen again before you send it to me.

Happy National Poetry Day!

Keep safe, be kind, share the joy in poetry.

The Poets reading Poems

Vasanti Unka

Vasanti Unka reads ‘When the Lid Slides back’ by Bill Manhire

Poem challenges

Choose a favourite object and write a poem about it.

Pick five favourite words in Bill’s poem and use them in a poem of your own.

Bill loved using his coloured pencils. What do you love doing? Write a poem, long or short, about a favourite thing to do. You might start with an object or you might collect verbs to get you started.

You could turn any of these ideas into a picture/shape/concrete poem. You could make an audio or video of yourself reading your poem or even making your poem!! (need parental permission to send me)

Poem source: Bill Manhire is one of my favourite NZ poets and I especially love this poem. I picked it for A Treasury of NZ Poetry for Children (Penguin Random House). It is in Bill’s collection The Victims of Lightning (Victoria University Press).

Vasanti Unka is a picture book creator who writes, illustrates and designs books for ages, 4 – 108 year olds. Over the years, her work has won a range of awards. Her latest book, I Am the Universe won the Booksellers best kids book for 2021. She was born in Pukekohe and presently works out of her sunroom in Auckland. Vasanti’s blogspot. Penguin author page

Bill Manhire’s most recent poetry book Wow (VUP) was longlisted for the NZ Book Awards 2020. He was New Zealand’s inaugural poet laureate, and founded and for many years taught at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington. Many New Zealand poets have been through this highly acclaimed writing propgramme. In 2005 he was appointed a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit and in in the same year was named an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate. He has edited major poetry anthologies. You can listen to some of his poems here.

Gareth Ward

Gareth Ward reads ‘The Door’ by Daniel Stokes (written aged 10)

Poetry Challenges

Choose a portal, maybe a door or window, and build a poem around it. Your poem might be IMAGINARY or REALISTIC.

You could do a list poem. A window is … OR A door is … OR A gate is …

Or you could write a poem that uses a portal to tell a story. Think of the scene, the mood, fascinating things that might be on the other side.

Poem source: Toitoi 21. This is a wonderful journal of writing and artwork by children. You can find details about it here.

Gareth Ward, a.k.a. The Great Wardini, is a magician, hypnotist, storyteller, bookseller and author. He has worked as a Royal Marine Commando, Police Officer, Evil Magician and Zombie. He basically likes jobs where you get to wear really cool hats. He currently resides in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand where he runs two independent bookshops, Wardini Books and Wardini Books Napier with his wife Louise. He has a goldfish called Luna, a dog called Tonks and is certain his letter from Hogwarts has been lost in the post.

His first novel, The Traitor and the Thief, a rip-roaring young adult Steampunk adventure, won the 2016 Storylines Tessa Duder Award, the 2018 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Youth Novel, a 2018 Storylines Notable Book Award and was a finalist in two categories at The New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. His second novel, The Clockill and the Thief was released in August 2019 and won a Sir Julius Vogel award for best youth novel. Brasswitch and Bot is Gareth’s third novel and the first in the Rise of the Remarkables series. It is set in the city of York, where Gareth went to University.

My name is Daniel, I was born in Hamilton and still live here. I am 11 years old, turning 12 in December. I live with my sister (Abby), my mum (Kate) and my dad (David). My many hobbies include Irish dancing, reading, and trumpet, which have all become very important to me. I am working towards Grade 5 for practical trumpet and music theory.  I have also developed an interest in waterpolo earlier this year. I am very passionate about that and look forward to the next season. 

The first writing I enjoyed was poetry, which my many teachers at my old school, Hukanui School, made me do all the time. That then brought me into the world of writing. In the last few years I went from disliking writing quite strongly to enjoying it very much. The problem that I had always had with writing was not the actual ideas and content, it was the physical writing and having a link between what I was thinking (which goes 100 miles an hour) to what I was writing (which was much, much slower). Poetry allowed me to think less about grammatical structure and the amount of words and more about how I could bend words to my advantage, by investigating how groups of words sound together to paint a picture.

Philippa Werry

Phillipa Werry reads ‘If you feel blue get on your skidoo’ by Margaret Mahy

Poetry Challenges courtesy of Phillipa:

Write a poem about another mode of transport that plays on its name, as Margaret does with skidoo.  You could pick submarine, double-decker bus, helicopter, train, bicycle, balloon, snowboard, lorry … or something other fascinating means of travelling. 

Write a list poem that starts If you feel ….. (some emotion). You could feel happy, sad, scared, lonely lost, cross, shy, bored … you pick!

Write a poem with some made-up words in it. 

Your poem might tell a story or just have fun with WORDS!

Let your imagine go flying!

Poem source: This fabulous poem is in Margaret’s fabulous poetry collection The Word Witch, edited by Tessa Duder, illustrations by David Elliot (HarperCollins)

Philippa Werry writes fiction, non-fiction, plays and poetry for children and young adults. She has a particular interest in history which has led to titles such as Anzac Day, Best Mates (illustrated by Bob Kerr), Waitangi Day, The New Zealand Wars, The Telegram and This is Where I Stand (illustrated by Kieran Rynhart). She has also been to Antarctica!

Margaret Mahy (1936 – 2012) is one of New Zealand’s most beloved authors. She wrote over two hundred titles from dazzling picture books for the very young to award-winning novels for teenagers. She wrote poems, novels, non-fiction, picture books and countless school readers. Margaret was awarded the Hans Christian Anderson Medal which is an enormous, international honour.

Donovan Bixley

Donovan Bixley reads ‘The Circus’ by Joy Cowley

Poetry Challenges

Donovan says he loves funny poems and poems with an AH HA! moment in the middle. I do too!

Try writing a poem that is funny. It might be a funny character, a funny event, a funny place, funny food, funny jokes.

Write a poem about something funny that has happened to you.

Write a poem that has a surprise or a twist in the middle or at the end.

Poem source: Elephant Rhymes, Joy Cowley, illustrated by Brent Putzee (Scholastic) I am such a fan of Joy’s poems. Check our her Gobbledegook book (see her bio).

Donovan Bixley is one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed picture book creators with over 120 books published in 31 countries. His award-winning titles span high–brow to low–brow and every brow in between, from his illustrated biography Much Ado About Shakespeare, to the hilarious hijinks of pussycats in planes in Paris in his Flying Furballs seriesHe’s most well-known for his best-selling pre-school books such as The Wheels on the Bus and The Great Kiwi ABC Book, as well as his colourful and humorous retellings of of the legends of Māui. Among his many accolades Donovan was the recipient of the 2017 Mallinson Rendel Illustrators Laureate Award, which places Donovan’s body of work alongside some of New Zealand’s most celebrated artists. His books have been twice selected for the International Youth Library’s White Raven award which annually lists the top 200 children’s books in the world, and in 2021 he was named a Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for his services to New Zealand children’s literature.Donovan grew up in Taupō and still lives beside the great lake. When not immersed in the world of picture books Donovan is involved in local theatre and plays saxophone in several bands.

Joy Cowley is one of New Zealand’s best-loved writers. Her awards include the Margaret Mahy Medal; the NZ Post Children’s Book Award 2006; the Roberta Long Medal, Alabama, USA; and the AW Reed Award for Contribution to New Zealand Literature. She is a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Gecko Pres published the utterly magnificent gathering of Joy’s poems, with illustrations by Giselle Clarkson in The Gobbledegook Book: A Joy Cowley Anthology.

Melinda Szymanik

Melinda Szymanik reads ‘Sun Sonata’ by Elizabeth Pulford and ‘Waxing and Waning’ by Elena de Roo.

Poetry Challenges

Try writing a very small poem about the sun OR the moon that shows them in a new light.

Collect sun OR moon words and make poem patterns with them. Have word fun!

Write a very small poem with both the SUN and MOON in. Test out favourite lines and pick your favourites.

Poem sources: Elizabeth Pulford’s ‘Sun Sonata and Elena de Roo’s poems are both in A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children, edited by Paula Green (Penguin Random House).

Melinda Szymanik is an award-winning writer of stories and poetry for children and young adults. She was the 2014 University of Otago, College of Education, Creative New Zealand Children’s Writer in Residence, a judge for the 2016 NZCYA Book Awards and runs an online writing competition called Fabostory, for primary and intermediate age children with 9 other authors. Her most recent books are Moon and Sun (Upstart, 2021), My Elephant is Blue (Penguin, 2021) and Batkiwi (Scholastic, 2021).

Elena de Roo is a children’s poet and author who lives next to Cornwall Park in Auckland. As well as having a sweet tooth, she loves thinking up poems in her head while walking around the park. Her latest book, Rush! Rush! (illus. Jenny Cooper) One Tree House, is a story-poem inspired by a walk in Awhitu regional park. Elena also has several poems soon to appear in RoarSqueakPurr: A NZ Treasury of Animal Poems, (ed. Paula Green, illus. Jenny Cooper), Penguin Random House, due out in November. 

Elizabeth Pulford lives in a small village not far from the city of Dunedin, New Zealand, with one extra nice husband, and a gentle garden. She has two adult children and two grandchildren. She has published stories, poems and articles for both adults and children. Over sixty books for children, from early readers through to Young Adults; plus one adult’s novel. Many of her adult short stories have won competitions, while four of her children’s books, The Memory Tree (Scholastic NZ), Call of the Cruins (Scholastic NZ), Tussock (Walker Books Australia) and Finding Monkey Moon (Walker Books Australia & Candlewick USA) reached the finals of the New Zealand Children’s Book Awards.

Tania Roxborogh

Tania Roxborogh reads ‘My Sister’s Top’ by Ruth Sun (Year 7)

Poetry Challenge

Think of an everyday object that you can describe in a poem, and that says something about who you are and your place in the world.

Use someone’s favourite piece of clothing to write a poem about them.

Choose your own favourite piece of clothing and see where that takes you in a poem. You might get a story, a word pattern, a picture poem, a list poem.

Poem source: Ruth wrote this poem when she did writing workshops with Tania over six weeks in 2006.

Tania Roxborogh (Ngāti Porou) is a veteran educator and an award-winning writer of over thirty published works. Her latest children’s novel, Charlie Tangaroa and the creature from the sea, published by Huia Publishers September 2020, won the Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction and Margaret Mahy Book of the Year in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, 2021. Tania’s happy places are: her classroom, at home with her husband and her young border collie, enjoying pyjama days, and wherever she can snatch time to read – most often books recommended by her students.

From Ruth Sun: I was a massive reader all through my teenage years, at the time I really liked fantasy and always wanted to be the next Tamora Pierce or Terry Pratchett. I was at Columba College in Dunedin. I used to read and write constantly, although I didn’t actually like poetry much at the time. 

Unfortunately I don’t really do any writing anymore, although it’s something I always think about getting back into. Funnily enough I love reading poetry now, I still love Tamora Pierce and Terry Pratchett as well. I’m now a dentist based in Wellington/Porirua. I have a big collection of books but they’re all in storage at the moment. I’m sure mum still has that top somewhere!

Elena de Roo

Elena de Roo reads ‘Parcel’ by Bill Nagelkerke

Poetry Challenges

Think of a place you love and unwrap it in a poem! It might be your grandparents’ place, or aunt or uncle’s, or in another town or city, in the countryside, another country.

Hunt for detail that will make the place glow in your poem.

Poetry Source: The Night the Moon Fell Down and other poems, Bill Nagelkerke (Copy Press) – some terrific poems in this collection! PG

Elena de Roo is a children’s poet and author who lives next to Cornwall Park in Auckland. As well as having a sweet tooth, she loves thinking up poems in her head while walking around the park. Her latest book, Rush! Rush! (illus. Jenny Cooper) One Tree House, is a story-poem inspired by a walk in Awhitu regional park. Elena also has several poems soon to appear in RoarSqueakPurr: A NZ Treasury of Animal Poems, (ed. Paula Green, illus. Jenny Cooper), Penguin Random House, due out in November. 

A former children’s librarian, Bill Nagelkerke has written short stories, poems, plays and books for all ages, as well as translating other people’s books from Dutch into English. His most recent titles are a collection of poems, The night the moon fell down (dist. The Copy Press, 2019) and a ghost story, The ghosts on the hill (Cuba Press, 2020). His translation of the children’s novel I’ll keep you close (Levine Querido, 2021) by Dutch writer Jeska Verstegen will be published towards the end of the year.

Bill Nagelkerke

Bill Nagelkerke reads ‘No rhyme’ by Tim Upperton

Poetry Challenge

Tim Upperton’s poem offers lots of challenges for poets! Try writing a poem where you use your imagination and see the world in surprising ways.

Look out the window and rewrite what you see in a poem, letting your imagination soar.

Poem source: ‘No rhyme’ was published in the School Journal Level 3 August 2015 

A former children’s librarian, Bill Nagelkerke has written short stories, poems, plays and books for all ages, as well as translating other people’s books from Dutch into English. His most recent titles are a collection of poems, The night the moon fell down (dist. The Copy Press, 2019) and a ghost story, The ghosts on the hill (Cuba Press, 2020). His translation of the children’s novel I’ll keep you close (Levine Querido, 2021) by Dutch writer Jeska Verstegen will be published towards the end of the year.

Tim Upperton is a poet, writer, reviewer and teacher, living in Palmerston North. He is the winner of two international poetry competitions. He has been published in numerous literary journals and has published several poetry collections.

Poetry Box review: Kimberly Andrews’s Moose the Pilot

Moose the Pilot, Kimberly Andrews, Penguin Books (Puffin), 2021

Kimberly Andrews is building an excellent series of picture books featuring animals as protagonists. I especially loved Hound the Detective (shortlisted for NZCYA Book Awards 2021, winner announced August 11th). The third in the series, Moose the Pilot, is equally appealing. The illustrations are a feast for the eye, and offer a mouthwatering visual narrative. Characters and scenes dance with life and intricate detail.

For an experiment I ‘read’ the illustrations in Moose the Pilot before I read the words. I love the way I get a sense of both place and character. I spend ages on each page soaking up the visual ‘sentences’. On the first double spread I delight in Moose’s bookshelf. Kimberly has had fun playing with book titles. Yes there is my old favourite, The Moosewood Cookbook, but there is also The Old Moose and the Sea, Hairy Potter, Moose around the World.

Moose is an extremely busy pilot delivering supplies in all weathers, from the Lofty Alps to Hive Ridge to Sunray Island to all the places in between. And yes there is a map! Everywhere he goes the grateful locals give him a gift or two, and the plane-load home seems to get bigger. I love checking out what people have ordered and the gifts they give. He is taking away life jackets that need repairing, dirty washing, coconuts, and a book of Sing-along Mega Hits! And much much more. He is dropping off ribbons, straw bales, surfboards and sun lotion. And much much more.

There is a rescue mission at the end of the book, and that is what gives the story the warm fuzzies. A rescue mission can go in a thousand ways, from successful to disastrous, but this rescue mission is unexpected. It is perfectly in tune with our current need to use what we have and be kind to others. Sublime.

Moose the Pilot is all about delivering things (in a cool little plane) to out of the way places, but it is also about delivering kindness, keeping in touch, making things, looking out for our neighbours. A warm treat of a story.

Kimberly Andrews is a trained biologist and geologist who grew up in the Canadian Rockies. She has lived and worked in New Zealand, Borneo and the UK. In London, she worked for The House of Illustration, whose main ambassador is Quentin Blake. She also worked at the Natural History Museum, both in the live Butterfly House and also behind the scenes, assisting the curation of mammal specimens in the dry stores.

Kimberly’s picture book illustrations have been widely acclaimed. In 2019, the first story which Kimberly both wrote and illustrated, Puffin the Architect (2018), won the Russell Clark Award for Illustration and was a finalist for Best Picture Book in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Hound the Detective was shortlisted in the same category in 2021.

Kimberly lives with her husband and daughter in a small shipping-container house near Wellington, where she illustrates and writes, and runs her business Tumbleweed Tees, screen-printed clothing featuring her illustrations of New Zealand plants and wildlife.

Penguin author page

Poetry Box review: Leonie Agnew’s The Memory Thief

The Memory Thief, Leonie Agnew, illustrated by Kieran Rynhart, Penguin, 2021

I picked up Leonie Agnew’s novel, The Memory Thief, not exactly sure where the book would lead me (I don’t usually read the blurb on the back as I like books to surprise me). Right from the first page the tension and mysteriousness crackled and sparked like electricity. I had to keep reading as the questions mounted. Who is he? Who is she? What dangers are lurking? It most definitely feels like dangers are lurking.

This is the story of Seth, who spends half his life (day) as a frozen stone statue of a shepherd, in a fenced off area in the public gardens. The other half of his life (night) he is a ravenous troll who feeds off human memory.

It is also the story of Stella, a girl he meets in the gardens, who both fascinates and disturbs him with conversation, who lives with her grandfather, mother and brother, and who would quite like to get rid of her bad memories.

I really dislike reading reviews that give away so much of the story it takes away the joy of discovery as you read. The startle moments. The warm fuzzy moments. And I definitely don’t want to do it with this glorious labyrinth novel.

I will say it is like entering the Public Gardens, with twisty paths, fascinating clearings, surprising arrivals, knots and undergrowth. This book speaks of the power of memory to shape and nourish us as human beings. To build strength and empathy.

In Stella’s view a troll who feeds off human memory equals a monster, but it all gets far more complicated than that. To spend time with a troll is taking a big risk. If you enter the public gardens of reading Leonie’s novel you will discover whether Stella’s risk pays off. Why does she keep hanging out with Seth? Why does Seth keeping hanging out with Stella? What memories are they hiding?

The Memory Thief is a terrific mix of racing-heart as you read, cool characters, plot tension, intriguing twists and turns, brain-feeding ideas …. and it is so sweetly written. Glorious.

Leonie Agnew is an award-winning children’s author, a former copywriter, and currently moonlights as a primary school teacher. Her first story, Super Finn, won the Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon Award in 2010. This book went on to win multiple awards in the 2012 New Zealand Post awards: the Junior Fiction award, the Best First Book award and the Children’s Choice award. It was also a finalist for the LIANZA Esther Glen Finalist that year. Since then she has written two more novels, The Importance of Green and Conrad Cooper’s Last Stand (winner of the 2015 Esther Glen Medal). She lives in Auckland.

Kieran Rynhart is a freelance illustrator who was selected as one of Luerzers Archive Best 200 Illustrators Worldwide for 2010–2011. He creates his beautiful, distinctive and evocative images using a mixture of traditional and digital techniques, and works on a wide range of commissions from children’s picture books to commercial graphics and music videos. He is the illustrator of The New Zealand Art Activity Book by Helen Lloyd (Te Papa, 2013), If I Was a Banana by Alexandra Tylee (Gecko, 2016) and Seagull, Seagull by James K Baxter (Gecko, 2020). He lives in Wellington.

Penguin Books page

Poetry Box review: Kate Parker’s Kōwhai and the Giants

Kōwhai and the Giants, Kate Parker, Little Love, 2021

Kate Parker’s Kōwhai and the Giants gets three big ticks from me. Unlike many children’s books it provides details on the illustrations along with an author bio. I like this. I wish all children’s books did it. Two very big ticks. The third big tick is really a whole forest of ticks because the writing and the illustrations are dreamy and gorgeous and important.

Kate Parker is of Ngāti Maniapoto, English and Greek descent, and grew up riding horses and bush roaming in Kāeo, in the Far North. She is a theatre-maker and an artist living in West Auckland. A perfect place for someone who loves wildlife, the bush and the sea.

Kate’s artworks for the book were created during an artist’s residency at Anawhata and were displayed at the Arataki Visitors Centre in 2017. The work is back up at the Centre until May 3rd. The images were made from hand-cut paper, put in plywood boxes and lit from behind (see image above). As illustrations in a book they work so beautifully – magical, luminescent and, like much poetry, they offer complexity and simplicity. A sweet sweet combination in a picture book.

I live in a house in a clearing in the bush and can see the tail end of the Waitākere ranges. Our cabbage trees are in flower at the moment and the kererū are going crazy for the blooms. They whoosh and flap, fast and loud, from one tree to the next. In the bush where we live the kauri and tōtara are growing up amongst the mānuka and kānuka. The regenerating bush is something to protect and to celebrate.

A kōwhai tree is at the centre of Kate’s book. We see everything through the tree’s eyes. The story begins when Aotearoa was rich in tree and bird life, but without people. We are then carried along to the the arrival of the first people (the Māori), and later to the arrival and hunger of the second comers (the settlers). So many forests were wiped out after the second comers arrived, the natural habitat of the birds threatened.

Three words resonate for me: breath, birdsong and hope. The story is so exquisitely crafted: simple, poetic, vital. My ears and eyes look and listen harder. I am reminded of the way the forest is a living breathing entity. I am reminded of the way we can stand still in the bush and hear native birdsong. I am also reminded of how stories and poems breathe and sing. Kate’s story is alive with breath and song – and out of that comes hope. I love that.

Kōwhai called out, and her voice

was mist and wind and rustling wings.

Some heard her. Others did not.

She held her arms wide, but she could

not stop the great giants falling.

I am feeling such terrible sadness at what we have lost and are still losing as I read this book. Tree sadness. Planet sadness. BUT this is a story of hope. Yes I am still feeling morning sadness but HOPE is in the carried seed, the planted seed, the little actions that are the tiny steps to help our planet (okay I know we need the bigger steps that Governments must put in place) but little steps can help too. Hope is in the native birds dropping seeds on the bush where I live.

Kōwhai and the Giants is clearly written by an author and artist who cares about our planet and wants to do something to help. An information page tells you to be native-plant detectives and discover more about planting native seeds / seedlings in whichever neighbourhood you live in. Once upon a time all kinds of ferns and trees and vines would have lived there!

So YES a FOREST of TICKS for Kōwhai and the Giants. It is an essential book to share with children. It is a terrific starting point for discussions – and a springboard for plantings both in the soil and in children’s own stories and artwork. A sublime gift gifted out of aroha and mahi. Thank you.

$3 from the sale of each book goes to Forest & Bird. You can find more information and activities and their website.

Kate Parker website

Little Love page

Kōwhai and the Giants FB page

Poetry Box review: Sandra Morris’s North & South: A Tale of Two Hemispheres

North & South: A Tale of Two Hemispheres, Sandra Morris, Walker Books, 2021

This week I am reviewing three New Zealand picture books that have caught my attention. On Tuesday Melinda Szymanik and Malene Laugesen’s beautiful Moon & Sun with its friendship wisdom, and on Wednesday Elena de Roo and Jenny Cooper’s sublime long poem Rush! Rush!, an exhibition of word joy and picture exuberance.

Today Sandra Morris‘s North & South: A Tale of Two Hemispheres. This magnificent book was motivated by climate change, by a need to join together to do our utmost to save our precious planet. Sandra has used her strengths (writing and illustrating) to draw us close to Earth. I love this book so much. I love the care both author and publisher have put into the book; it makes the subject matter doubly precious.

The book is divided into the months of the year. A double page for each month with the northern hemisphere on one side and the southern hemisphere on the other. Each hemisphere features particular animals and both animals are linked by a theme. This carefully planned focus is genius. We slow down and we look at an animal in detail. The connecting themes range from ‘Cunning Camouflage’ to ‘Mothers and Babies’, ‘Feisty Feathers’, ‘Showing Off’, ‘Building a Home’ ‘Armoured Animals’ (there are twelve!).

We explore the way animals manage the different seasons and climates.

In the deserts of Western Australia, some

honeypot ants have a special role as food larders.

During the flowering season they gorge on nectar

so their bellies swell up like balloons.

Sandra also includes the conservation status of the selected animals and the threats they face. There is a glossary and an index at the back.

The illustrations are simply divine. You feel like you are with the animal, you are discovering the animal, and you are most certainly absorbing its preciousness.

The writing is equally sublime. Factual books can rely on matter-of-fact writing and be very good indeed, but Sandra’s sentences bring the subject matter to life so beautifully. The sentences flow like honey – she dips into the poetry pot and uses alliteration and words that sound good in your ear. She keeps things simple but she makes words sing and thus makes the animals so alive.

With his beautiful

bright-blue feet, the

blue-footed booby

steps, struts, stomps

and, pointing his bill

skywards, makes high-

pitched whistles.

I learnt a lot as I lingered over animals I knew very little about along with those I did. Such fascinating facts. Such fascinating connections. Sandra spent a lot of time researching before she started writing and it shows. She had to ditch some animals after sadly discovering they were now extinct. Her chosen animals are very much alive but in many cases very much under threat.

The green tree python mother guards her eggs,

keeping them warm by coiling her body around

them in her nest in a hollow tree. January marks

the end of the mating season.


More than any book I have read in ages, North & South makes me feel the precious of both wildlife and the planet as an interconnected whole. When I read the list of things at the back of the book I can do to help stop climate change, I know I want to do better.

This beautiful, lovingly-produced, wisely-structured, astutely-researched, goose-bumpingly illustrated and word-nectared book is an utter JOY TO EXPERIENCE.

A sumptuous book we should gift every child this year, put on every school bookshelf, on every family kitchen table and then take time to read for ourselves with an excited swarm of children.

Sandra Morris is an author and illustrator from New Zealand. She gained her Masters in Fine Arts in 1990 where she completed her first picture book, One Lonely Kakapo, which won her the Russell Clark award for illustration in 1992. She has since written and illustrated Discovering New Zealand Birds, which was a finalist in both the Aim Children’s Book Awards and the Non Fiction Library awards. Sandra also holds a Graduate Diploma in Plant and Wildlife Illustration from the University of Newcastle, Australia. It was while she was in Australia that she developed a love for field sketching and this work has been exhibited in museums and galleries. Sandra also runs her own illustration agency promoting New Zealand illustrators overseas. Sensational Survivors was her first book with Walker Books. It was a finalist in both the Non-Fiction category of the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards, 2011; and the Elsie Locke (Non Fiction) Award, LIANZA Children’s Book Awards, 2011; and also named as a Notable Young Adult Fiction, Storylines Notable Books List, 2011.

Walker Books page

Poetry Box review: ‘Rush! Rush!’ by Elena de Roo, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

Rush! Rush! by Elena de Roo, illustrated by Jenny Cooper, One Tree House, 2021

Over the fence,

and down with a whoosh!

Onto the track!

Into the bush.

Elena de Roo is my favourite New Zealand poet for children and I have long hoped for a collection from her. Her new book Rush! Rush! is definitely a start. The book-length poem is an absolute JOY to read. A young girl is racing to get from home to the beach. Maestro illustrator Jenny Cooper has painted the girl in her pyjamas and dressing gown, because she has pulled the curtains back, peeked at the beautiful day, and then whizzed through the door. Rush! Rush! Rush! The illustrations are sublime. So full of exuberant life. Read the book and savour the images as you race along with the poem and the girl. You will get breathless too!

Every word is pitch perfect. One of the reasons (and there are many) I admire Elena as a poet is because she has a deft musical ear. She listens to how the line sounds. She avoids the clunky predictable rhythms and rhymes of so many picture books. She catches the rhythm of a child rushing, breathing in sights and sounds, and who is too excited to stop. The rhymes are a treat, especially the near rhymes that add knottiness to the musical flow (blind / time; sheep / bleat). She dances between soft and sharp sounds. Ah! she is a poet musician extraordinaire!

It felt like I read the story poem in one delicious breath – and I really liked the ending. A perfect ending (a single word!) to open the story wide like the girl’s arms stretched wide on the cover.

This book is a JOYFUL INVIGORATING POETRY treat and would be the very best book to read aloud to a class or your children. I was reminded of Margaret Mahy’s fabulous A Summery Saturday Morning. I love Rush! Rush! And it has given me an idea for my April Poetry Challenge.

Swoop round the shed,

In a ground-hugging loop.

What’s all the fuss about?

Rattles the roof.

Elena de Roo completed this book when she was the 2020 University of Otago College of Education / Creative NZ Children’s Writer in Residence. She has written a number of award-winning books and lives in Auckland.

Jenny Cooper is an award-winning illustrator and has illustrated more than 70 books. She lives in Amberley, Christchurch.

One Tree House page

Elena de Roo website

Poetry Box review: ‘Moon & Sun’ by Melinda Szymanik and Malene Laugesen

Moon & Sun by Melinda Szymanik, Illustrated by Malene Laugesen, Upstart Press, 2021

Welcome to the dreamy, swirling-colour illustrations of Malene Laugesen. They remind me of watercolour paintings where the light shines through. The images gleam and shine and radiate. This is the perfect choice for a story about the sun and the moon.

Melinda Szymanik’s writing flows beautifully too. The moon is unhappy because she thinks no one likes her. She sees the sun and is blinded by her warmth and dazzle and bright light. Everyone loves the sun, she thinks. No one loves me, she thinks. So yes the moon is feeling very sorry for herself and believes no one could ever admire her.

Her sister, the sun, is full of wisdom and, as the story unfolds so exquisitely, I am reminded of a fable unfolding. I love the messages about being in the world, and about learning to love who you are, and how we all have different strengths and weaknesses. I also loved seeing the sun show how we can help those near us see their own gleam and shine.

A glorious story that I gobbled in a flash and then felt warm and toasty inside with a sun and moon load of good feelings. It is perfect to have this special book in the world.

Melinda Szymanik is an award-winning children’s author (chapter books, short stories and picture books). The Were-Nana won the Children’s Choice at the 2009 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards and Fuzzy Doodle was a 2017 White Raven selection.

Malene Laugesen was born in Denmark and moved to Christchurch in 2008. She has illustrated more than a dozen books.

Upstart Press page

Poetry Box review: TK Roxborogh’s Charlie Tangaroa and the Creature from the Sea (with a 24 hour challenge for Tāmaki Makaurau children)

T K Roxborogh, Charlie Tangaroa and the Creature from the Sea, Huia Publishers, 2020

T K Roxborogh’s junior novel begins with a question: ‘I’m curious. What would you do if you found a mermaid washed up on the beach?’ My curiosity was sparked. Would I freak out? Write a poem? Call the mermaid savers? Just sit and watch and wait? Who knows. Write a poem maybe! I liked the way I was involved in the story from the first sentence.

I loved reading this book, this story that borrows from ancient traditions of myths and legends. I read it in one delicious gulp (at the beach in fact with the soundtrack of waves lapping and gulls squawking). Charlie is a very cool character. He gets teased at school but he is gathering layers and layers of wisdom from his grandfather. He has an annoying little half-brother Robbie. He does ‘beach patrol’ because he wants another tick in his Sea Cadets service book. He is sick to death of out-of-towners dumping rubbish on their beach and threatening sea life (think dolphins, whales, sharks for a start). Charlie has a prosthetic leg which he used to trick two rubbish-dumping youths into running off.

Charlie doesn’t know who is father is (he disappeared at sea when he was younger) but he does know his grandfather matters more than anything and family is important. They live with his much-loved mum in Tolaga Bay.

One significant day Charlie and his brother rescue a mermaid-like sea creature from the rocks and in doing so are flung into a story that demands courage, initiative, determination. This is why you need to keep reading the book until you get to the last page. You just have to know what happens next. Especially to Charlie. There are twists and turns and puzzles.

Charlie and Robbie discover the ‘mermaid’ is named Pō-nuia. She is a ponaturi, a sea goblin, and she is very much part of the story. Miraculously Charlie discovers he can communicate with her.

Grandad is a big help. The stories they have told and listened to are a big help. The songs they have sung are a big help. Because yes this is a gripping story with action and suspense but it is also an important story. It is grounded in mātauranga Māori and tikanga, with Māori Gods making an appearance. Te Reo Māori is equally important. Charlie’s big mission is to bring peace and undo an ancient grudge between Tane and Tangaroa (which is fired up by the building of a port in the bay). For the sake of the land. For the sake of the ocean. For the sake of his whānau.

T K’s novel is shining a light on our tilted world and how we must work together to heal the damage. I love the way in helping the Gods solve their terribly destructive argument, Charlie is also growing stronger and wiser in himself. He doesn’t let his disability stop him (and he does have pain and challenges). He doesn’t let bullies keep flattening him. He listens and he learns. He grows closer to his family.

Charlie is now one of my favourite children’s characters ever and he will stick with me for ages. Just as this glorious, beautifully crafted, rollercoaster, heart-warming story will stick with me. I adore it and I reckon children will too. Make this a must-read book to your class this year, to your own children, for yourself however old you are. This book SINGS! Read this book in Level 3 lockdown in Tāmaki Makaura Auckland.

Thank you T K Roxborogh and Huia Publishers.

POP-UP CHALLENGE: IF you live in Tāmaki Makaura you have until 9 am on Tuesday to tell me your favourite character in a NZ children’s book or favourite NZ myth or legend. Write a few sentences or a paragraph and / or do a drawing / or a poem even. I will give three copies away and see if I can get them couriered to you this week.


Include: your name, age, year, name of school

Don’t forget to write myth or favourite character in subject line so I don’t miss it

T K Roxborogh (Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri) is an award-winning author of more than thirty published works, both fiction and non-fiction. Her latest publication was My New Zealand Story: Bastion Point, which won the Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction at the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults and a Storylines Notable Book Award. She teaches English has been a writing mentor and a judge for short stories and for the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.