Category Archives: NZ children’s book

Poetry Box review: Brigid Feehan’s The Life and Times of Eddie McGrath

Poetry Box October poem challenge here

My Whitcoulls Top 50 Kids’ Books popUP poem challenge here

The Life and Times of Eddie McGrath, Brigid Feehan, OneTree House, 2021

“Even in ordinary life you never know what is around the corner. And maybe that’s half the fun.”

I really love novels that keep you thinking and feeling things, that get you roving through the world and seeing little corners through refreshed eyes. Reading The Life and Times of Eddie McGrath did exactly that for me. It was like a reading odyssey.

First up let me introduce you to the cast of characters.

Eddie, the protagonist, is a book worm which got me wondering why readers get to be called book worms. I guess because a book worm chews its way from start to finish and books can be very chewy things as the poet Ruth Padel once said. But I personally like the idea of being a book cat. I love snuggling into a book, stretching and arching, purring and even hissing, sniffing and tasting. Eddie is a very cool character – more about her soon.

Eddie’s mum and dad are busy so she gets quite a bit of freedom. Her mum illustrates books and her dad is a builder.

Eddie has a cat called Olaf who is a snuggle puss.

Her sisters Beth and Claire drive her slightly mad.

Her best friends Liam and Meri are loyal and caring and adventurous. Liam is a vegan and Meri a drama queen.

Aunt Ruth, who also lives in the family home, is a radiographer and a Druid (think an ancient Celtic religion with maybe a whiff of magic).

Sylvia is a mysterious woman they meet in a ramshackle, rundown place – a turning point meeting!

Second up let me introduce you to the catch in the narrative.

Eddie has won a national competition – Spend a Day with an MP. She wrote an essay on voting at the age of 15. But she turned the award down as she hates speaking in public especially making a speech in front of a TV camera and the Prime Minister. She would have to spend the day with the MP listening to people’s issues, pick a problem and try to find a solution to fix it. And then make a speech!

BUT somehow Eddie moves from NO! to accepting the award. You could say the novel is an odyssey – a way of discovering more about who and how you are. Unearthing more about how to deal with mammoth challenges and little disappointments. You could claim the YES! as a turning point that unexpectedly shines a light on making choices.

The cast of characters is magnificent. I have such a soft spot for a protagonist who is concerned about chicken welfare (as is Liam!), who loves to read books more than once (heck yes!), who makes lists of heroines (and heroes), who believes in ghosts, and who finds comfort in books (double heck yes!).

The Life and Times of Brigid Feenan is an inspiring read. It made me think about how we treat animals, how we care about old people, and how we can create creative solutions to tricky problems. How things can and often fall into place. Oh and how democracy can work for the good of others.

I loved the advice the Prime Minister gave Eddie after telling her she did something rare and precious.

“You asked a good question. And you listened to the answer, really listened.”

I most definitely snuggled up close with this book like the book cat I am. I purred and stretched and smiled, and I read and read until it finished in one slow cat gulp. I think the novel would be suitable for intermediate ages. Recommended!

Brigid Feehan was born, raised and educated in Wellington.
She studied law at Victoria University and travelled overseas for a few years before returning to Wellington. She now lives in Island Bay with her family and her probably not very bright, but definitely very handsome cat, Magnus. Brigid has worked for the government in a number of roles, none of which have involved meeting the Prime Minister. Stella Star, Brigid’s first novel, won the Tom Fitzgibbon Award and was included in the Storylines List of Notable Books in 2006. A sequel, Maybe Stella, was published in 2007.

OneTree House page

Poetry Box Reading Back, Reading Forward: a new series

one of my overflowing children’s bookshelves in our spare room, with books hiding behind the first row, and not counting the children’s poetry shelves

An Introduction to Reading Back, Reading Forward

I recently emailed a number of children’s authors in Aotearoa. I shared my plans to revitalise Poetry Box along with my commitment to create a small hub for children’s books and writing. Local books yes, but also sublime books from overseas. All categories, and for readers and writers up to Year 8.

Loads of authors (and school librarians) are offering support and it feels like the Milky Way keeps landing in my inbox with glints and gleams.

I feel even more compelled to do this since the editors of Annual 3, in a radio interview, suggested their anthology and the School Journal are the books worthy of attention, when there are scant good books available for readers aged 8 to 12 in New Zealand. Annual 3 is wow! – it’s magnificent glorious inspiring, but I’m suspicious of statements from any editors that are universalising, patronising, hierarchical. But, grumble aside, I can’t wait to review the book, plus there will be a review from one of my young reviewers. The anthology is to be celebrated along with so many other equally good local books. My current aim is to promote and showcase children’s books and authors on Poetry Box, and to open up wide, far-reaching, multi-hued paths through the world, both real and imagined, for young readers and writers.

My new series is one way of encountering New Zealand books for children. Of returning to past words and stories in order to move in refreshing ways through the present and towards the future. In Annual 3, there is a brilliant essay by Madison Hamil, ‘Harry Potter and the Missing Letter – and me’. Sometimes you cross the bridge into a piece of writing and the luminous connections spark and sparkle. Madison shares her reading life as a child, and how she emerged from ‘background character’ to confident. Books can be transformative!

Oh and I have other series in the pipeline.

Reading Back, Reading Forward

Bill Nagelkerke came up with the idea of shining light on forgotten New Zealand children’s books. Or books that are out-of-print. He wrote:

I’ve always thought it would be nice to look back at good NZ children’s books long out of print, but worth remembering and worth hunting for in library store rooms and second hand book shops.” Bill Nagelkerke

I loved the idea so much, I invited some authors and librarians to join in, either with a one-off piece or a now-and-then contribution. The books can be any category but suitable for readers up to Year 8. So watch this space!

Most of my own children’s books are no longer available, and that is the same for many other local writers. We are such a small publishing industry in New Zealand, I understand why. But it does make me a bit glum, especially when I think of just the right person to give a copy of something to. Especially Aunt Concertina and her Niece Evalina, with my partner Michael Hight’s gorgeous oil paintings (Random House, 2009) or Flamingo Bendalingo with Michael’s magnificent acrylic paintings of animals (AUP, 2006). Same goes for beloved treasure by other New Zealand authors whose books are no longer available to buy or are hard to track down in libraries.

When I went scavenging for poems for the children’s anthologies that I have edited, I was heartbroken at how few children’s poetry books were still in print. Poetry is like the skinny shadowy corner of our children’s books market – so few get published, probably because so few by individual poets get bought. Yet poetry is such a cool way of unlocking the reader and writer in every child, with rich music, intriguing miniature stories and expanding wonder. And of course the ever present, wide ranging POETRY PLAY!

I love hunting for book treasures in second-hand bookshops and in library archives. Such fun as you never know what you will discover.

I am remembering the glorious novels by Barbara Else (especially The Travelling Restaurant series, Gecko Press, 2011- 2015), every glorious book Margaret Mahy ever published because not all are still available, the earlier brilliant poetry books of Joy Cowley (Mallinson Rendel, 1991) and the equally brilliant poetry of Shirley Gawith (d’Urville Press, 1991). Not only did I track down copies of Shirley’s children’s poetry books, I got to visit her in Nelson! We enthused about books and writing! She was maybe in her seventies or eighties, and she was over the moon that, after so many decades, her out-of-print poetry books were getting attention and her poems had appeared in A Treasury of NZ Poetry for Children (Random House, 2014).

Meeting Shirley Gawith in 2014

I do hope this new series spurs you to go scavenging for out-of-print books, to remember and celebrate examples from the past, to read new and fascinating pathways both towards the future and within the present. Reading shapes us. If we are what we eat and breathe, maybe we are what we read, especially when the world is abrim with astonishing books, ideas, feelings, flavours. Bon appetit!

May your days shine with good BOOKS

Poetry Box review: Steph Matuku’s Whetū Toa and the Hunt for Ramses

Whetū Toa and the Hunt for Ramses, Step Matuku, Huia Publishers, 2021

Steph Matuku’s children’s novel, Whetū Toa and the Hunt for Ramses came out last year. I have only just read it and love it so much want to track down the first one (Whetū Toa and the Magician) – more importantly I want to sing its praises to inspire you to read it too.

This is the kind of children’s book where the stars align and everything falls into perfect place: characters, plot, ideas, feelings, language, tension, surprise, illustrations. The cover artwork underlines how this book might engage you. Steph knows how to get a story to do a cartwheel, a forward or backward flip, so you end up somewhere surprising and different. I had to keep reading reading reading it, but forced myself to save the second half for the next day.

Character is such a vital hook for the reader, and Steph’s characters matter. Whetū is about to start school. She and her mum live at the magician’s place (I don’t know the backstory yet!), and Whetū’s job is to care for the animals. I am talking horses, a chicken (who might become a squawking multitude), a golden ram named Ramses, and a very helpful cat named Tori. None of the animal crew are happy about Whetū’s school return. Even though she has pledged to get up extra early so she can still look after them!

I adore Whetū. She is exactly the kind of character I want to carry with me at the moment. She has cunning and she has grit, she has tenderness and a sense of justice. She gets into difficult situations and figures out what to do, even though the magic in her fingertips is scarcely working.

I also adore Tori the helpful cat. Ramses goes missing so it is up to Whetū and Tori to find the ram. This is where the story forward flips and somersaults. Where you care so much about the characters but are never sure what will happen next. The blurb mentions starbeams, strange worlds, other planets and an evil magician, so I am not giving anything away there.

Buckle yourself in and enjoy the exhilarating ride this book offers, so much fun, so beautifully written and illustrated. You get magic and daring, you get insight and empathy, you get a novel that taps into what it means to human.

I put Whetū Toa and the Hunt for Ramses down, smiled from head to toe, and felt immensely grateful our world is a book world, a story world, a world in which we can connect and converse through the stories we share. Thank you.

Huia Publishers page

Steph Matuku (Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Tama, Te Atiawa) is a freelance writer from Taranaki. She enjoys writing stories for young people and her work has appeared on the page, stage and screen. Her first two novels, Flight of the Fantail and Whetū Toa and the Magician were Storylines Notable Books. Whetū Toa and the Magician was a finalist at the 2019 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. In 2021, she was awarded the established Māori writer residency at the Michael King Centre where she worked on a novel about post-apocalyptic climate change.

Poetry Box review: Philippa Werry’s The Other Sister

The Other Sister, Philippa Werry, Pipi Press, 2021

Philippa Werry is one of my favourite New Zealand children’s authors. She is a fan of history and many of her novels take you back into the past. You get to experience historical events, characters and places that are so vividly detailed you feel you are there too. It is as though you are hiding behind the curtains witnessing a scene. It’s important, this rich research-dependent detail, but I am even more drawn to the way the past is reviewed in new lights. A trip to the past can reconsider how girls are shaped, how people of colour are treated, how damaging ideas are circulated. How individuals can make a difference.

Philippa’s most recent novel, The Other Sister, is set in 1920 after the end of World War One. It is sumptuous in detail and and resonates with refreshing lights. Tilly Thomas is about to go to secondary school. It is the beginning of a new decade and she wants to do ‘something remarkable’. But she has no idea who she is and how she wants to be in the world. Expectations for girls in 1920 were not what they are in 2022. Back then, marriage and babies was their chief destination.

I wished there was a map to follow, or a path, like the way I walked to school. I wished I knew that when I got to this intersection, this would happen, and when I crossed that road, I’d be up to that stage. The future’s so invisible. The Principal told us there were all these new opportunities waiting for us, but how would we know where to find them?

In her endnote, Philippa says the female characters are some of her favourite heroines. And I can see why. I love these young girls stretching into knowledge and new experiences, finding empathy. Tilly, of course, but also her sister Beaty, her best friend Olivia who lives in an orphanage, Ingrid, Molly, to name a few.

Even though the war had ended, the world was not the same. The sharp grim edges of war were brought home by soldiers – there were the wounded and there were the dead. The war was carried back on scarred bodies, in the troubled hearts and minds of the young men, and this heavy luggage affected friends and families. At the weekends, Tilly works in a nursing home with wounded men. At first she finds it tough. But she draws closer and closer to the residents and their stories, and it opens life wider. Education, as her school principal indicates, occurs in all kinds of ways. It is book learning, but it is so much more.

As I hide and observe from the nooks and crannies of the novel ( I am so embedded in it!), I take such comfort in seeing a young girl grow in strength and wisdom. To see her question racism and sexism. She is friendly with Jim Lee, a Chinese delivery boy, and despises the way others treat him. She becomes best friends with Ingrid, a German girl, and despises the way she is treated.

I love this intricately crafted, exquisitely written, entertaining book, that brims with warmth, humanity, insight. With life! I love how Tilly looks up to her older sister (she was the town’s first telegram girl in wartime), and is then able to find her own directions, her own self belief. In 2022 we live in a precarious time. Back then, there was the flu pandemic, and now we have Covid. We still witness and experience unspeakable racism, sexism, genderism, global hunger, a threat of war, actual wars. I am thinking too of the online misogyny directed at our Prime Minster (and other women MPs) because she is a woman. These things overwhelm and feel unspeakable, yet we must speak them.

We must speak the past in new lights in order to speak and address the present. Philippa’s sublime and enriching novel does exactly this. It is a book of now as much it is a book of then. I love it so much.

Philippa Werry website

Philip Werry lives in Wellington with her family. She was born in Auckland, went to school in Wellington, Auckland and New Plymouth. She wrote poems and stories from the age of six, some of which were published in The Evening Post. She studied Greek and English at university, travelled, trained to be a librarian, got married, travelled some more. Her writing has been published in the School Journal and her novels include The Telegram, Enemy at the Gate, The Lighthouse Family and Harbour Bridge. She has also written the nonfiction book: Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story.

Poetry Box review: Sally Sutton’s Crane Guy

Crane Guy: A game of I SPY from up high, by Sally Sutton, illustrations by Sarah Wilkins

Puffin – Penguin Random House, 2022

Sally Sutton’s large format picture book is a delightful form of I SPY, with exquisite illustrations by Sarah Wilkins. Instead of looking out a car window on a long road journey, you are sitting in the cab of the crane driver, hunting for things.

Crane guy, up so high,
Building towers in the sky,
Tell me, tell me  what you spy.
Something beginning with …

The crane driver will spot some things for you, and then it is your turn to go eye scavenging. The language is lively. The kind of language that is FUN to read out loud because it is brimming with alliteration and leap-hopping sounds: ‘Shrieking, swerving, swirling, looping’.

You get to SPY on the sky, the ocean, city streets, a bridge, a playground.

I had such fun hunting. The illustrations are ABUZZ with movement and hidden things. In case you have missed something, there is a chart at the back of the book listing everything under the FIVE letters.

I especially love the HAPPY ending where you get to hunt for someone not something!

Inside the book Carla Sy’s DESIGN is brilliant. She brings the words to DANCING DIVING DANGLING life on the page.

Crane Guy is such a captivating read, I am wondering if it could be the first one in a series. I’d love that! Maybe playing I SPY in unexpected places, from the eye of an adventurer: underwater, in space, in a desert, on a high mountain, along the longest river in the world. I recommended this book H-EYE-GHLY.

Aucklander Sally Sutton has been writing picture books, children’s novels and plays for two decades. Her stories are celebrated for being ‘busy with joy, and colour, and words that boing off the page’ (The Spinoff) – making reading her stories a magical moment between parent and child. Sally has been awarded several Storylines Notable Book Awards for her work, and in 2009 she and illustrator Brian Lovelock won the Picture Book category of the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults for Roadworks. Her 2018 story about a cat’s amazing true journey, The Cat from Muzzle (illustrated by Scott Tulloch),was a bestseller. Read more about Sally at her website

Sarah Wilkins was born in Lower Hutt. The middle child of seven, she dreamt of becoming a solo explorer. Dreaming and drawing, which she loved, go together, so she became an illustrator instead. Her award-winning images can be found on buildings, buses, bags and many other curious places around the world, but they feel most at home on the pages of beautiful books. Sarah works from a light-filled studio perched high on a hill overlooking the Wellington Harbour. She is curious about visually communicating science for young and old, and illustrated Abigail and the Restless Raindrop while completing her Master in Science in Society. Find out more about her work at her website.

Penguin Random House page

Poetry Box review: Stacey Morrison & Jeremy Sherlock’s Kia Kaha – A storybook of Māori who changed the world

Kia Kaha: A storybook of Māori who changed the world, Stacey Morrison & Jeremy Sherlock, Penguin, 2021

E huri tō aroaro ki te rā, tukuna tō
ataarangi ki muri i a koe

Turn to face the sun and let your
shadow fall behind you

(Georgina Beyer page)

Kia Kaha: A storybook of Māori who changed the world is my favourite children’s book of 2021. It is groundbreaking, ground restoring, remarkable in its reach and empathy. Stacey Morrison and Jeremy Sherlock have gathered together Māori who deserve recognition and celebration (they acknowledge there are so many more they wanted to include). Stacey and Jeremy share the stories in a lovingly produced book that is like a meeting place, a heart lounge, a conversation map.

The book includes Māori who have excelled on the sports fields and courts, those who have worked hard to make the world a better place by fighting for the rights of Māori, of the Takatāpui and LGBTQIA+ communities. Those who have done amazing things in law, health, politics, education, the promotion of te reo Māori. Those who work hard in film, the arts, music, comedy, literature. Those who are activists. There are navigators, entrepreneurs, fashion designers. There are teams of people (the Māori All Blacks, the 28th Māori Battalion, the Māori Women’s Welfare League) and there are numerous individuals (Dame Whina Cooper, Dame Tariana Turia, Stan Walker, Patricia Grace, Taika Waititi, Ralph Hotere).

It was a genius idea to select twelve illustrators: Akoni Pakinga-Stirling (Te Arawa, Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāi Tahu), Haylee Ngāroma Solomon (Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi), Isobel Joy Te Aho-White (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu), Jessica Kathleen Thompson Carr aka Māori Mermaid (Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāruahine, Ngāpuhi, Pākehā), Josh Morgan (Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Rongowhakaata), Kurawaka Productions, Miriama Grace-Smith (Ngāti Hau, Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Toarangatira and Ngāto Porou), Ngaumutane Jones aka Ms Meemo (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu, Tainui, Ngāi Tūhoe, Whakatōhea), Reweti Arapere (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Tūwharetoa), Taupuruariki Whakataka-Brightwell (Rongowhakaata, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Toa, Te Arawa), Xoë Hall (Kai Tahu), and Zak Waipara (Ngāti Porou, Rongowhakaata, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Ruapani). The artwork is dynamic, fresh, full of life. Glorious.

As I read each story I feel like I am sitting beside the editors on a warm rug (I have never met them) but it is though they are speaking to me, to all of us readers, and we are listening spellbound. Each story flows like honey, like everyday conversation. Glorious.

I also love the sayings that head each story. Little pieces of wisdom that catch important things about each person.

I see this magnificent and important book, this gift, this taonga, as a waka that sets sail into the future with song and recognition, ideas and heart, mahi and aroha. This is my favourite children’s book of 2021, no question.

E kitea ai ngā taonga o te moana
me mākū koe

To see the gifts of the ocean,
you must get wet

(Sir Hekenukumai Busby page)

Stacey Morrison (Te Arawa, Ngāi Tahu) is a radio and TV broadcaster whose projects have spanned 25 years. She is also a mama to three young tamariki who have been brought up with te reo Māori as their mother tongue. Stacey herself didn’t learn to speak Maori until she was an adult. It required a lot of research, determination, wonderful mentors and the support of a community to achieve her goal of becoming fluent by the time her children were born. Stacey and her husband Scotty co-wrote Māori at Home to help other families use te reo in everyday settings, and Stacey’s first children’s book, My First Words in Māori, became a number-one bestseller. Both Stacey and Scotty work with many groups and families to build Māori-language friendships and community for whanau. Stacey has also been an advisor on pre-schooler and children’s TV shows, which, along with her experiences with her own children, has helped her identify the words children pick up early in their language learning. As a winner of Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori Champion Award in 2016, and the winner of Waipunarangi – Te Reo and Tikanga Award 2021, as well as a graduate of Te Panekiretanga o te Reo (the Institute of Excellence in Māori Language), Stacey loves encouraging the learning and use of our country’s beautiful native language.

Jeremy Sherlock (Tainui, Ngāti Awa) was born and raised in the small town of Coromandel. Growing up, he loved sport, music and drawing and was always a bit of a bookworm. At the time, there wasn’t much of a selection of books written about and for Māori, but his grandfather’s tall stories, family histories, and Peter Gossage’s picture books about the myths of Aotearoa made a big and lasting impression. A couple of decades later, he joined the publishing industry as an editor of non-fiction. Over the years, Jeremy has worked in New Zealand and Australia for Reed, Penguin and Penguin Random House, specialising in biography and memoir, sports, history, pop culture and all things Māoritanga. He currently lives and works in Tamaki Makaurau as a freelance publishing consultant and writer. Kia Kaha, a collaboration with Stacey Morrison, is his first book.


Poetry Box review: Laura Shallcrass’s What Colour is the Sky

What Colour is the Sky? Laura Shallcrass, Beatnik Publishing, 2021

I am a big fan of Laura Shallcrass books and a big fan of the sky. I sit at my kitchen table daydreaming as I gaze out the wide open doors to the wide open sky. It makes me feel good to sky gaze just as it makes me feel good to read a new picture book by Laura.

Pīhoihoi wonders what colour the sky is. Pīhoihoi has a sky puzzle to solve. How would you answer the question?

Pīhoihoi asks Hedgehog but that just makes it even more confusing. So they decide to go on a big QUEST to solve the mystery. They ask snail and they ask mouse and they ask frog. And on the quest goes. A seed of an idea starts to grow in Pīhoihoi’s head and it grows into a GENIUS answer!

I love the simplicity of the story and how musing and questing is such a good thing, especially about something tricky. I love the tremendously BEAUTIFUL illustrations. Works of art! I love the learning notes at the end that tell you more about why animals see things differently. Fascinating.

This book is sublime SKY treasure! Beatnik Publishing have put their usual love and care into the making of the book and produced something special.

Laura Shallcrass works from her home in the hills near Queenstown, where she lives with her husband and children, along with 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 webpage

Poetry Box review: John R Lewis’s What Do You Need Little Rhino?

What Do You Need Little Rhino?, John J Lewis, Upstart Press, 2021

John J Lewis is a stop motion animator, writer and director who lives in Christchurch. What Do You Need Little Rhino? is his first picture book and it is one of the best picture books about feelings EVER! My all time FAVOURITE.

John got the idea when his daughter Harriet had a tantrum. He had no idea why she was angry. He discovered that when he gently asked her ‘What do you need little rhino?’ the situation was diffused. So he used this technique as the starting point for a story about a little rhino who is stamping mad. The rhino’s mum and dad keep trying to find out what she needs but the little rhino just doesn’t know. I know the feeling. Sometimes the pile of tantrum or angry or upsetness is so hard to explain. To ask what I need is a cunning and useful diversion. Genius. And I love the ending. So perfect.

John has used real art materials such as watercolours for the oh-so-pink illustrations, and they are simple and rich in feeling – especially the ink splots and splashes. Harriet (now 8) handwrote the dialogue text and deliberately mixed up capital letters and lower case. She also came up with the idea for the end and title pages. Beautiful.

Every home deserves a copy of this book – no matter how old you are. And we might all sometimes need someone nearby saying ever so gently – ‘What do you need little rhino?’ GLORIOUS!

John Lewis is a stop motion animator, writer, and director. He is best known as an animator on the feature film Mary and Max, the TV series Kiri & Lou, and the short film The Story of Percival Pilts which he also co-wrote and co-directed. John lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he spends his days playing with plasticine dinosaurs, riding an electric unicycle, rock climbing, and being a father.

Upstart Press page

Poetry Box celebrates new books: my Donovan Bixley drawing challenge picks

Draw Some Awesome: Drawing Tips & Ideas for Budding Artists, Donovan Bixley,
Upstart Press, 2021

I loved Donovan Bixley’s drawing book so much I gave children 48 hours to draw the shape of a fruit or vegetable and then transform it into something else. I got the idea from the book! You can read my glowing review here.

The drawings were ALL so amazing – thank you!! Such imagination. I have picked four to post. This is not a competition but I put all the names in the hat and am giving a copy of the book to Stephen.

Try the Donovan Bixley drawing competition on the Upstart page. You have until December 17th.

by Stephen G, age 7, Year 3, Ilam school

by Ava H, age 9, Pakuranga School

by Ye Wong L, age 7, Year 3, Ilam School

by Dante A, age 7, year 3, Ilam School

Poetry Box review: Donovan Bixley’s Draw Some Awesome

Draw Some Awesome: Drawing Tips & Ideas for Budding Artists, Donovan Bixley,
Upstart Press, 2021

Sometimes I feel like my brain will explode from so many ideas so I put them into sketchbooks.”

Ah 🧡 Donovan Bixley’s Draw Some Awesome 🧡 is a treasure of a book. If you love drawing, then this is the perfect book for you.

Donovan has loved drawing since he was a young boy – and that is where the book starts. He shares some drawings he did at the age of eight and the extremely cool books he made. You can carry things you love doing as a child all along the tracks towards adulthood. Glorious! He is like a character on every page, (such an excellent likeness!) giving top tips and making little jokes. He would copy artists he loved (Leonardi da Vinci, Edgar Degas, all the paintings at the Louvre in Paris, Dr Seuss for a start).

“There is no right or wrong way to draw.”

The book has loads of fabulous exercises. All you need is a pencil and some paper.You can use what is close at hand to inspire you and you can use your imagination. But Donovan gets you drawing. He will most definitely get you drawing. In fact he got me drawing. He might start with doodling. He might start with a kitchen pot or a pair of shoes. Using different kinds of lines and shading. Adding details. Making a catalogue of faces with truckloads of different expressions. He starts easy and then tries trickier. He might draw a fruit or vegetable shape and then transform it into something altogether different. Genius. He shows what a difference perspective makes by doing the same page twice, once with it, and once without. Genius. He will get you playing with shading and composition. There’s inspiration and there’s imagination.

Donovan has created a magnificent handbook for children who love drawing and for those who are just starting out. He writes and draws with his characteristic sense of humour. He makes things accessible. He includes ideas and wisdoms that I totally agree with and that work for those of us who love writing. Draw draw draw is like write write write. In the doing you will discover things. Copy copy copy (look look look) is like read read read (discover discover discover). Find ways that suit you. Like Donovan, as a writer I have never stopped reading and discovering how to write. What suits me. I write both inside and outside my comfort zones, and I reckon Donovan does that too.

He has a quote from Mozart: “Don’t wait for permission to be artistic. If you feel it in your heart, JUST DO IT!” Donovan definitely feels it in his heart as this is a book of FUN challenges and infectious HEART. I adore it.

A drawing challenge so I can give the book away:

You have until 5pm on Thursday to draw the shape of a fruit or vegetable and then transform it into something else. Try pencil or coloured pencils. I have had a go! I will post some on Friday and I will give one copy of the book away. This is not a competition – it is a challenge so you too can have fun drawing.


Include: name, year, age, name of school

Put DRAWING in email subject line so I don’t miss your email.

Deadline: 5pm Thursday 2nd December

Post: Friday 3rd December

But I don’t want you to draw like me. I want to teach you to draw like you!

Donovan Bixley is an illustrator and writer based in Taupo. Donovan has numerous bestsellers to his name, including the recent Maui series, and Much Ado About Shakespeare. Donovan created Pussycat, Pussycat (2015), Little Bo Peep (2014), The Wheels on the Bus (2010)and Old Macdonald’s Farm (2011) and The Great Kiwi ABC (2016). 

Try the Donovan Bixley competition on the Upstart page. You have until December 17th.

Watch the video of Donovan giving tips.

I had a go drawing using things I saw on the kitchen table – mug, apple, banana. I was thinking of mashup poems. Now I want to do a whole lot more and get better but also want to get the post up PRONTO! Paula