Tag Archives: Melinda Szymanik

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: Melinda Szymanik’s The Time Machine & other stories’


Melinda Syzmanik The Time Machine & other stories Ahoy, The Cuba Press 2019



I remember reading short stories as a child and loving them – stories with various characters and settings and situations. Fables. Myths. Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree. And in the past few years I have ADORED Joy Cowley’s Snake and Lizard (Although that has the same characters).

Melinda Syzmanik is a versatile writing whizz (The Were-Nana, The Song of Kauri, A Winter’s Day in 1939) who recently published a terrific collection of short stories (18 stories and a novella). Not surprisingly it has been shortlisted for the NZ Children’s Book Awards this year.

The writing flows like honey. The characters are catchy. The situations surprising. Sometimes there is sense of fable  – not that these have animals as protagonists or they are at all surreal. No these stories are bitingly real. And that’s what I love – understated lessons on what it is to be human. Instead of dogmatic messages there are questions. The questions are like the hot bright core of story and the stories unfold about them in kaleidoscopic directions.


Here are a few favourites:

What does a cool teacher do when you just can’t sit still in class?

What do you do when you don’t have a horse but desperately want one?

What happens when you think you are hopeless at maths and your grandmother turns in the middle of the night with a recipe for soup?

What happens if you think museums are boring (maybe even the world is boring!)?

What happens when a farming family is ordered to leave their farm during WWII?

What hope is there when you are picked on as a child?

How can you find strength in being different?


So many of these questions have affected us. We can’t always fit into the rules and regulations. Surely we all suffer from self doubt at times. At not being good enough. Some of us have been bullied. Some of us have found life boring.

I love the way such important questions hide in the stories and Melinda comes up with surprising and wise responses. There will be crocodile teeth! A speeding go-kart. A time machine. A pirate’s eye patch. There is braveness and daring.

Good short story collections are like a chocolate box for me – a sweet array of different tastes that pop on your tongue – eat one and you carry the flavour all day. And then you try a different flavour. Melinda’s stories can be sweet, sharp, crunchy or smooth. They can be sad, fascinating, zinging with facts, spinning feelings and discoveries. They shine a thousand lights on what it means to be human. There are hurdles and there are joyful discoveries.

This is a chocolate treat of a book – that deserves to be an award finalist.

So a big celebratory bouquet to New Zealand’s writing whizz and her first short story collection.


The Cuba Press author page










Poetry Box bubble time: Melinda Szymanik reads her alien-mother story and offers a challenge or two







Melinda Szymanik reads ‘My Mother is an Alien’ from her collection Time Machine and other stories  (Ahoy: The Cuba Press, 2019).

You can find details of the book here.



SUMMARY Nathan befriends a new student, Mark, at school. While hanging out at Nathan’s place, Mark meets Nathan’s mother who has an uncanny ability to know what’s going on even when she isn’t in the same room as the boys. She also has other unusual skills and abilities. Mark might have joked about his mum being an alien, but it’s actually Nathan’s mum that is from out of this world.

THEMES Families, friendship, secrets, aliens

QUESTIONS (For older students)

Irony is a particular feature of this story. What is dramatic irony? What does the reader know that Mark doesn’t know?

How does Nathan get on with his sister? What impresses Mark about her?

DISCUSSION Hunt for 5 things Nathan’s mother does that suggest she’s not an everyday mum. Are these really alien? Or are they things a mother might actually be capable of? Is there anything your mum does that seems otherwordly?


Draw a picture of Nate’s Mum.

Write a poem or little story about an ‘alien’ mother or father and/ or draw a picture.


Melinda Szymanik writes picture books, stories and novels for children, with several named as Storylines Notable Books. Fuzzy Doodle and A Winter’s Day in 1939 were finalists in two categories in the New Zealand Children’s Book Awards and The Were-Nana was a Children’s Choice winner. A Winter’s Day in 1939 also won Librarian’s Choice at the LIANZA Awards.

When she is not writing, Melinda likes reading, baking (especially with chocolate), going to the movies and travelling with her family. She has three grown-up children, a cat and a husband, and lives in Mt Eden in a house with a view of the mountain.



send to  paulajoygreen@gmail.com

please include your name age and name of school

don’t forget to put Alien challenge in subject line so I don’t miss it

don’t put your surname on drawings or paintings or collages (Poetry Box policy)


There is no deadline while we are living in our bubbles! Every Friday I will post some work by children. I will always answer your emails but not straightaway. If I haven’t replied after 3 or 4 days nudge me as I may have missed it.


(I will have pop-up mystery giveaways for the other activities every Friday when I post your work. See the list below!).


You can also try:

Send me pictures, photos or poems of curious things you see on your walks

Listen to Maisie and I read fish poems and invite you to do fishy things

Listen to my unpublished very very very strange tail story and do some illustrations for it or invent your own strange tail!

Try writing a postcard poem from where you’d like to be!

Mixed up animals and hear Paula read ‘Anifables’ poem

Sally Sutton’s magic hat challenge

Celebrate your hero and listen to Barbara Else read

Tell me about your favourite bookshop or library

Play Pass the Poem with at least one other person

Write draw video comic strip letters poems stories about being in your bubble

My cloudy challenges and hear my cloud poem

My thank our supermarket workers challenge

Listen to me read Aunt Concertina and offer a cool challenge

Listen to me read my poem ‘Lick Lick Riff’ dog poem and offer a doggy cat tiger bat any animal challenge

Check out David Hill’s wonderful photo challenge

Listen to Swapna Haddow read her book and try a rabbit challenge

Try Johanna Aitchison’s hunt the teddy challenges

Ruth Paul reads her muddy poem and I offer muddy challenges


kia kaha

keep well

keep imagining









Poetry Box audio spot – Melinda Szymanik reading Fuzzy Doodle



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Fuzzy Doodle was published by Scholastic in 2016.


Note from Paula: I love this book so what a treat to hear Melinda read it.

You can hear other New Zealand children’s authors reading poems in my audio spots: look in the side bar under audio spot or for David Hill, Kyle Mewburn, Apirana Taylor, Fifi Colston, Elena de Roo, Janice Marriot, Bill Nagelkirke, Stephanie Mayne, Renee Liang and James Brown. You can also find Barbara Else reading her piece on Selina Tusitala Marsh, our Poet Laureate.



Find Melinda’s blog

Born in Auckland, Melinda Szymanik still lives there with her family, writing picture books, short stories and novels for children and young adults. A science graduate, Melinda initially worked in hospital administration, then went back to university to study literature and began writing seriously when her children were small. Several of her books have been shortlisted or won awards in New Zealand and overseas, and her short stories have appeared in trade and educational publications in New Zealand and Australia.

She is a regular ‘writers in schools’ visitor, was the 2014 University of Otago College of Education Creative New Zealand Children’s Writer in Residence, and has appeared at writers festivals across New Zealand. She teaches creative writing workshops for adults and children, blogs on writing and is one of ten New Zealand writers who run an innovative online writing experiment for children called FABO Story.


Selected Bibliography

A complete list is available on her blog


Picture Books

The Were-Nana, illus. Sarah Nelisiwe Anderson, Scholastic NZ, 2008, (Out of Print).

The House That Went to Sea, illus. Gabriella Klepatski, Duck Creek Press, 2011.

While You Are Sleeping, illus. Greg Straight, Duck Creek Press, 2013.

The Song of Kauri, illus. Dominique Ford, Scholastic NZ, 2014.

Fuzzy Doodle, illus. Donovan Bixley, Scholastic NZ, 2016, Scholastic Asia, 2017.


Junior Novels

Jack the Viking, Scholastic NZ, 2008.

A Winter’s Day in 1939, Scholastic NZ, March 2013.

Poetry fireworks: Storylines Hui poems from children’s authors Gavin, Stephanie, Melinda, Heather and Kerin


I took a poetry workshop at the Storylines Hui in October with about 30 children’s authors. It was fast-speed fun! We spent 90 minutes playing with words.

I loved the hui – so many highlights but what a treat to do workshops with Kate De Goldi and Joy Cowley and catch up with all my friends in the children’s book world.

I got the writers to send in some poems, even though, for most of them, poetry is NOT what they usually do. I think they are  word-sparkingly good and I just love the energy that sparks from their sounds and images and surprise!

Just the thing to say out loud in the rain!


from Gavin Bishop (who has the most amazing new book (Aotearoa A New Zealand Story) which I will review soon):




Tongue and groove dripped ginger beer

onto the bench-top, onto the floor.

Like a guinea pig to the door, I slid,

like a pig through the door – the dripping kitchen door.



Window View


The Alps zig-zag between the frame.

The foot-hills scramble across the glass.

Looking down now, with kahu eyes, the city jives beneath my gaze.



Sun Shower

The sunshine is awash with water.

A blue raincoat flaps in light.

Sparrows spray aside as my daughter splashes by,

on her hydroponic bike.




from Stephanie Mayne (who has excellent poems in A Treasury of NZ Poetry reissued this month):


In My Pocket.

A blade of grass, a rusty nail

Marbles blue as a peacock’s tail.

Pale white shells, and out of reach

Sand, from swimming at the beach.

Half bus ticket, scrunched up note

(Hard to read what the writer wrote!)

Leaf I liked, old cough lolly

One glass eye from my sister’s dolly.

Half a biscuit, apple core

Yellow crumbs and ants galore.

Soft grey feather, cicada case

Fidget spinner? No more space!



from Melinda Szymanik (who wrote the completely amazing A Winter’s Day in 1939 among other excellent things):


Water’s for Ducks

Sun’s out

Birds try

Bird bath

Clouds come

Rain drips

Slow fills

Bath, spills

Clouds go

Sun’s out

Drips dry

Birds try

Bird bath


In Your Pocket

In your pocket

Are five pink

Shrink-wrapped sausages

Wriggling worms

In close white

Knitted tight

On knuckled digits

Hand in glove

In your pocket



Here. In School

I went to work

A school visit, close to home

And because I am polite

Not rude

I put my phone on silent

At morning tea

Messages are always checked

And this time,

This time

The message was different

“Is your boy home sick?” they asked

Just checking

Because he’s not at school.

I’d seen him off that morning

Uniformed, lunch packed, back pack hoisted.

Heart sick.

I felt heart sick

My boy was not in school

As he should be

Not in school

The message was different

Had I heard it right?

At lunch

The message was different

They had not heard him


When he said “here”

In school.



from Heather Haylock whose first picture book is to be published by Penguin Random House next year (Granny McFlitter the Champion Knitter – the current Gavin Bishop Award book, illustrated by Lael Chisholm):


River Fog
Low and slow, the dampness creeping.
Hid beneath, the river weeping.
Dark and deep, moving, masking,
underneath, the dragon dancing.


My pocket left home this morning,
Full of possibilities.

My pocket came home
bulging with shame.

Two detention slips.
Another teacher’s note.
Grades too far down the alphabet.

My pocket, my friend,
hid my shame.

Until washing day.


From Kerin Casey who is busy writing children’s stories:


Griffin’s Hug


Wiry warm arms

Wrap tight around my neck

Squeezing love in

Wringing forgiveness



Snug as a bug in a rug

Griffin’s hug




This soggy day of bedraggled entanglements

Drips and slips

Through my melting fingers

Sticky and limp




In My Pocket


In my pocket is a small round stone

Sea green

Warm heart

Whipped smooth by sand on a cold surf beach

Foam flying

Waves smashing

Found, weighed, then tossed by a friendly hand

Moves on


Returns and seeks it out, desperate

Sea green

Warm heart

Smooths a gnarled thumb across its surface

And thinks of me






The Treasury Interviews: Lily interviews Melinda Szymanik


Melinda Szymanik is a writer for children and young adults, and has a Master of Science in Zoology. She has published a number of short stories, picture books and novels.

Her picture book, The Were-Nana won the Children’s Choice Award in the 2009 NZ Post Book Awards for Children and was listed as a Storylines Notable Children’s Book. Her novel A Winter’s Day in 1939 was a Junior Fiction Finalist in the NZ Post Book Awards.


The photo was taken at the WORD Festival (where they got to hear Melinda and loved it!) – Lily is the one sitting next to her teacher, Mrs Visser.

Lily Renwick is a Year 8 student at Russley School in Christchurch. Lily attended the WORD Festival’s Read Aloud Programme and heard Melinda Szymanik speak about writing. Lily had recently read A Winter’s Day in 1939 and really enjoyed listening to Melinda read from the novel and talk about her father’s experience in Poland, which inspired the book.


The Interview

Hi Lily – thanks for the terrific questions. I hope you enjoy the answers.

  1. Have you always been interested in reading and writing or did you develop your interest later on in life?

Definitely early! I fell in love with books in primary school. They were endless fun and an exciting escape from every day life. I quickly became an avid reader. And after reading some amazing books like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Little Town on the Prairie, The Dark is Rising and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, (and many, many more) I started to dream about writing my own books. I first started working on my own stories when I was 9 or 10. I’m glad I started early too, it gave me the chance to do a lot of practice.

  1. Szymanik is difficult to pronounce; did your Polish surname ever cause you problems at school?

It sure did. I got mispronunciations like Zimanik, Zymanik and Shizmanic all the time (and still do). I got all sorts of weird variations – Sizematic, Shizzmatic and many more. Yet even though I got married and could have taken my husband’s name (which is very easy to spell and pronounce) I decided to stick with my own very tricky name. It’s my family name and I’m very proud of it J (and it’s pronounced Shi-manic).

  1. What age were you when your father told you about his childhood?

I remember hearing the stories way back when I was in primary school (maybe when I was around 9 or 10) so I think he always told us when we asked. But he never went into great detail about how awful it all was back then, just focusing instead on the journey his family took.

  1. What was your favourite book to write, and why?

Oh, that’s a very difficult question. For each book there have been fun moments, and satisfying moments, but also incredibly frustrating and difficult moments too. And I think I’ve learnt something different about writing from each book. Perhaps it’s not so much a particular book that has been my favourite to write, but rather the favourite moment of satisfaction on every book when I’ve finally managed to tie up all the loose ends, got everything just how I want it, and written The End.

  1. Do you have a favourite animal, and does it appear in your writing in any way?

I like animals in general, and find all of them fascinating (I studied Zoology at University). All sorts of different animals make appearances in my stories. I do like cats and dogs especially (I have one of each in real life) and have included them in my picture books and short stories. In fact I wrote one picture book about the relationship between an old cat and a Chihuahua called Tatty and Tremble, which I hope will be published in the next year or two. And the dog in my short story The Man with the Dog Eye (in Pick ‘n’ Mix: Volume One) is based on our own little Westie, Robbie.

Thanks Lily and Melinda for a terrific interview. Melinda has a poem in A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children called ‘Fancy.’ It has a delicious similes which leave delicious images in your mind. I am big fan of Melinda’s writing and especially love, A Winter’s Day. I also love The Song of Kauri.

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Melinda Szymanik’s The Song of the Kauri is simple, poetic and important

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Melinda Szymanik, The Song of the Kauri, illustrated by Dominique Ford, Scholastic, 2014

This book has a beautiful cover in orange and browns with a shiny embossed koru that you can trace with your finger and feel its smoothness.

This is how the story begins: ‘Once upon a time, when the land was new, and time and memory were just beginning, a giant began to grow out of the rich earth.’

This a beautiful sentence– simple but full of possibilities.

The sentence leads you into the story of a kauri. The sun knew what it was good at. The moon knew what it was good at. And the kauri just kept growing and growing as the world kept changing and changing.

The story is simple, poetic and important. It makes you think about the place of things in the world by showing us what they do. It never preaches or shouts messages. It just tells a story using sentences that have been lovingly cared for.

And it has gorgeous illustrations — these too have been lovingly cared for. This is a book you should hunt down when it comes out in early July. It has been crafted with love by the author, the illustrator and the publishing team at Scholastic. I just adore it! I am sure it will become one of New Zealand’s best loved books!

You could try writing a story poem about a tree. Find the book first and read it and then have a go at a poem. Make you tree come alive on the page with great detail. Where is your tree? What happens to your tree? You might to do a bit of research. You might need to use your imagination.


DEADLINE for your Story-Poem Challenge: Wednesday June 4th

Send to paulajoygreen@gmail.com. Include your name, year, age and name of school. You can include your teacher’s name and email. PLEASE say it’s for the Story-Poem challenge.

I will post my favourites and have a book prize for some poets.



The Margaret Mahy Day at Storylines- a splendid morning all round



On an autumny Saturday morning I went to Storyline’s Margaret Mahy Day in Auckland.

Storylines works really hard for children in New Zealand. I took my girls to the Auckland Family Day for years and came away feeling inspired .. full of talk, stories and books.

Here are my highlights from Saturday (apart from catching up with all the writers, librarians, Storylines people and fans of children’s books!)

1. There is always an awards part and I was delighted to see Jenny Hessell, the author of the fabulous Grandma McGarvey books, got the Gaelyn Gordon Award for a Much-Loved Book.


When Jenny made her ‘thank-you’ speech, she said she woke up with the first two lines of Grandma McGarvey in her head, and that it was like a gift. And then she went on the big Grandma McGarvey adventure.  The books are all illustrated by Trevor Pye. See Scholastic page about news here.

2. Emma Vere-Jones was awarded the Joy Cowley Award for a Picture Book. The book will be published by Scholastic. Her book is called Stan and the Van.


I loved Emma’s speech. She thanked her parents for ‘giving me the gift of reading, it is truly a great gift.’ She also admired teachers that help children find books they are really passionate about.

3. There was the launch of last year’s Tom Fitzgibbon Award Winner, Juliet Jacka‘s book Night of the Perigee Moon. It is a novel about a 13 year old.

In her speech she said she gets easily distracted — but that when you get past the distraction you  transform yourself into what you want to be. Here is Juliet with the fabulous Fleur Beale (lots of writers made special trips to be part of the occasion!).


4. Terrific news! Tessa Duder announced that thanks to the  Walker Books Australia, The Tessa Duder Award for a YA novel would be run again. Entries have to be in by  October. Here is Tessa with the effervescent Deborah Burnside.


5. Melinda Szymanik won two Notable Book Awards for books I have sung the praises of on Poetry Box. While You are Sleeping illustrated by Greg Straight (Duck Creek Press) and  A Winter’s Day in 1939  (Scholastic). See my features here and here.  Well deserved!

IMG_4511 cv_while_you_are_sleeping


6. Finally David Elliot, winner of the year’s Margaret Mahy Medal and illustrator extraordinaire, gave The Margaret Mahy Lecture.  It was such a treat to see the images of his drawings and to hear stories behind them.  He told us that when The Moon and Farmer McPhee was finished, Margaret said: David and I have done our 50% of the work, now it’s your turn! I love the way as readers we get to bring a book into our own worlds as we read.

And a great fact: David used to be the Gatekeeper of a zoo in Britain which meant he lived in the Gatekeeper’s House. The house was in the wall and wasn’t much wider than the wall, and was TALL! And when everyone left for the day he got to roam and draw and imagine! Wow!

He told us how the zoo sparked his pen. How the lion keeper was large and gruff with a mane-like beard. He also said there were cages and fences for all the exotic wild animals that people came to see. But local British animals also snuck in – foxes, rats, badgers and they were all thieves!).

It was a wonderful talk and, if you get a chance, come and hear the talk of next year’s Medal winner. I have been to a few now and they have all been great.  Here is David signing a book for Matt Katz (also an illustrator).


Reading Festival: Melinda Szymanik still loves reading children’s books


Melinda Szymanik writes novels, picture books and short stories for young adults. She is the author of the fabulous  A Winter’s Day in 1939 (see my post here).

Snapshot of Melinda and her reading life as a child:

I loved to read in my bedroom, tucked up in bed…that hasn’t really changed. Some of my favourite books when I was very young include A.A.Milnes When We Were Very Young, (I think ‘The King’s Breakfast’ and ‘Disobedience’ were two of my favourite poems) and I also loved The Cat in the Hat, and any book on fairy tales. I still have some of my favourite books from back then. Libraries were places filled with endless potential for many happy hours of reading. I haven’t lost my love of reading children’s books and they still make up around 90% of my reading now.

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Melinda’s website

The memory-poem winner takes us to Scotland

Time to announce the winner of the memory poem challenge where you had to ask a grandparent for a memory and then turn it into a poem. I have one other favourite (see below) and a few that I might post later but they need a bit more work first. Jack wrote the standout poem for me as he found such great details to bring his Gran’s memory alive on the page. I think when you go on the hunt for real things they can make you feel and understand a big thing like war so much more easily. I also liked this poem because my Grandmother came from Scotland. I think the poem works having the short lines — it adds to the mood. Great job Jack (Fendalton Open Air School in Christchurch).

I am going to send you my copy of A Winter’s Day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik (Scholastic, 2013). I loved this novel. Let me know what you think of it Jack.

Only One to Share

One book to share

A sand tray for writing,

A big hole in the ground

Three classrooms after the bombing.


When the gates opened

She ran home;

Thinking the day was over.


A new school was built

The old one demolished,

She got to stamp the new books for class,

Poverty and struggle

In World War II

Long ago in Scotland.

Jack P, Fendalton Open Air School, Year 5,  Age 8      


I also liked this poem by Sylvia. She wrote a little letter to go with her poem which is lovely. I liked the detail of the bunny ears, and the jiggling like Christmas bells and the way memory is something that comes in bits and pieces. Great job Sylvia!

Hi Paula Green, this is for the Memory Mini Challenge, about your own memories. This is the furthest back memory I can remember. I was really excited when I was looking at the photo album and suddenly remembered, because I’ve been wondering what babies think like for years! I was about two at the time. My Dad used to have this sort of baby backpack that he’d put on his back and he’d carry me on it, when we were going on walks. I can’t remember much, just sort of the feeling.


The sand litters the ground,

I sigh in my head as I’m put in on my Dad’s back.

I’m jiggling up and down

like Christmas bells

as Dad walks.

We are at the beach

and I don’t understand


My baby bonnet is on my head

like a pair of bunny ears.

I look back on this in the future

and think

that human individuals really evolve.

Sylvia, Parnell District School, Year 8, aged 12