Tag Archives: Melinda Szymanik

The Treasury Interviews: Lily interviews Melinda Szymanik

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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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.

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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!

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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).

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

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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.

Memory

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

much.

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