Kyle Mewburn has written some of my all-time favourite picture books for children. He was born in Brisbane, went roaming the world for awhile and has lived in New Zealand since 1990. He now lives in Central Otago where he gets to write and write and write (amongst other things!). He has won lots of awards. He won the Picture Book Category and the Children’s Choice Award at the 2007 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards for Kiss! Kiss! Yuck! Yuck! His glorious picture book, Old Hu-hu, won the 2010 NZ Post Book of the Year Award. This Year Melu was shortlisted. You check out his web site here.
There is no magic formula for writing a good picture book (you can’t buy it at the shop and hey presto you make story magic!), but Kyle seems to have the magic touch when it comes to writing for children. I reread three of his books at the weekend (Old Hu-hu, Hill & Hole and Melu). I am not going to tell you what happens in these books as that would spoil it, and I want you to go hunting for the books and read them yourself! So instead I will tell you why I think Kyle is an honorary poet and the bees-knees as a picture book writer (he does write other fabulous things but that is not what this post is about).
1. Kyle knows how to keep a story simple (just like some of the very best poems are really simple).
2. Every sentence is a little treat for the ear — they sing on the line.
3. His books are moving — like watching the sun go down and you think wow! that is just beautiful. But you don’t feel sick with feeling — it is always just the right amount.
4. You always want to read the book again and again.
5. Kyle’s stories have great characters with little challenges. I love the way Hill wants to be Hole and Hole wants to be a Hill.
6. His stories have little nuggets of humour, but they also have little nuggets of wisdom (he might not like me saying that, but it is true!).
7. He always finds a good way to end his stories that make you feel warm (even if you might have a tinge of sadness).
8. Some of the best books in the world open little windows on what it’s like to be alive in this wonderful, bustling, beautiful world — that’s what Kyle’s do. You feel better, for having read them
If that doesn’t send you in search of his books …. ! Let me know which is your favourite book by Kyle and I will post your letter. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, age, year and name of school.
Kyle kindly agreed to answer some questions for Poetry Box:
What did you like to write when you were little?
Like most boys, I suspect, I liked writing thrilling action adventures
full of aliens and monsters. My stories weren’t bloody and violent though, they were generally funny with lots of weird and unexpected things happening.
What did else did you like to do in your spare time?
I was rather sportsmad when I was young. I played soccer and basketball
and cricket and spent as much time as possible bodysurfing at the beach. I tried a few hobbies like stamp-collecting (boring!) or model plane making (I was way too clumsy and usually ended up with my finger stuck to the plane!) but never got excited about them.
Name three of your favourite New Zealand children’s books. What do you like about them?
I didn’t grow up in NZ and don’t have children, so I have only recently
started reading NZ children’s books. Three books that immediately spring to mind are The Fat Man by Maurice Gee (because it is incredibly atmospheric and spooky – really gave me chills!); The Changeover by Margaret Mahy (because I love MM’s elegance and the rhythm of her writing. It was also a rivetingly sinister story.); and anything by Des Hunt, really (because they’re exactly the kind of exciting adventure stories I used to read when I was growing up).
Do you have any favourite poetry books for children?
I’m afraid not.
You are really good at writing stories. I think you have the ear of a poet as your words shine and your lines sing. What do you think is important when you write a story book?
I think it’s just as important to have rhythm in picture books (or any writing, really) as in poetry. Picture books are, like poetry, meant to be read aloud, so it’s vitally important to choose the right words. You can’t afford to waste a single word. I also think it’s incredibly important to let the story unfold in its own way, and in its own time. I try really hard to be honest with my stories. Sometimes that means the story ends up being totally different than what I imagined when I started. Kids are very clever (mostly) so they can tell if they’re being tricked or cheated.
What do you like to do in your spare time now?
I like gardening – but only growing stuff I can eat. We’ve also got
chickens and a couple of sheep, so we spend a lot of time just watching
them doing chickeny and sheepy things. It’s much more exciting and interesting than watching tv. Sometimes we even discover where our chooks are hiding their eggs. That’s always a wonderful surprise!
Have you ever written poems? (I think your picture books are like long, splendid poems!)
When I started writing “seriously” I wrote poems. I was travelling at the time so didn’t have a typewriter and my writing is so messy I wouldn’t have been able to read more than a few words. So poetry seemed the perfect option. I sometimes write poems but mostly just for fun. It’s good practice for picture books, too.
Do you have any tips for young writers?
Read. Read. Read. The more you read the more you start to get an idea of the difference between a brilliant story and an average one. But you have to be careful not to fall into the fan trap – by that I mean thinking because you love reading a certain type of story, you’ll be good at writing those types of stories. Every writer has their own unique voice and style (though it can take a long time to find out exactly what your writing voice sounds like). But sometimes our voice just doesn’t suit the kind of stories we love to read. For example, I always loved reading science fiction, so when I started writing seriously I imagined I’d become a famous sci-fi writer. Unfortunately, when I try to write sci-fi my writing gets very stiff and just doesn’t sound right. I think it’s because I’m trying too hard to write like my favourite sci-fi writers instead of writing like me. I tried all sorts of stories until I discovered my voice is perfect for picture books!
Thank you Kyle!