Publishing a musical picture book

Penny Scown, the Senior Editor at Scholastic NZ, takes us behind the scenes in the publishing process of Tāwhirimātea, A Song for Matariki, a new dual-language picture book (with CD) by June Pitman-Hayes, Kat Merewether and Ngaere Roberts.

Detail of an illustration from the book

This story begins in July 2015 when I was asked to return a phone message. On calling back, I found myself speaking with a woman called June Pitman-Hayes (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Wai, Ngāti Pūkenga and Ngāti Maniapoto). She said she was a professional singer, working part-time in a Montessori School, and she had written a song for the children there. The children loved the song and had picked it up really quickly.

June sang it to me over the phone, and I was sufficiently impressed to ask her to send a sound file through that I could share with my colleagues, as well as a copy of the words.

Next day, she recorded herself on her iPhone, singing along with her ukulele, and sent that in. On a second listen, I liked it even more, but it did seem rather short for a picture book text, so I asked her to send me the pdf of the book dummy she said she’d made, with illustration directions.

On receipt of that, I transcribed the words into manuscript form and found that it was only 12 lines long. Coincidentally, just the week before, in-house at Scholastic, we had been discussing finding a new Matariki manuscript, so after discussion with the Publishing Manager, Lynette Evans, I went back to June to suggest that if she were able to extend the story and give it more of a Matariki focus, we would be keen to consider it further. It would probably require another 10 lines, and I pointed out that it also needed to follow a story arc.

I also explained to June that we didn’t need to be too prescriptive with illustration directions; that our children’s book illustrators are professionals at their craft and we trust them and their creativity. Often, illustrators will come up with wonderful additional touches that we and the author hadn’t even considered, which is all part of the fun of picture book publishing.

On receipt of the revised song, I warned June that the official submission process would begin and that there would probably be a 10-12 week wait before she heard anything more as we needed to send the story through our acquisitions process, which includes key staff from Publishing, Marketing and Sales divisions, who all needed to review the material.

It was mid-November when we could finally contact June with the happy news that yes, we wanted to publish her book – but it would be in time for Matariki 2017, as we already had a Matariki book scheduled for 2016.

Our next task was to engage an illustrator. Kat Merewether was an artist we hadn’t used before but whose art we knew well, and we were delighted that she loved the manuscript and waiata as much as we did, and was keen to illustrate it for us.

Given the subject matter of the story, it was ideally suited to become one of our dual language editions. So, after a little editorial tweaking of the words, the manuscript and song was sent off to the wonderful Ngaere Roberts, who does retellings for us in te reo Māori. Ngaere has worked with the NZ Ministry of Education in the development of Māori oral language proficiency in schools, and enjoys the challenge of translating playful texts such as Tāwhirimātea for children to enjoy and sing along to.

After she had retold the story in te reo, Ngaere spoke with June over the phone to work on the phrasing and pronunciation, then we were all set to make a date to record the waiata.

June already had a working relationship with the talented Mike McCarthy at Manuka Studios in Orewa, so Lynette and I met her there in June 2016 to supervise the recording. We had Ngaere just a phone call away in case we needed her, and the fabulous Mike was brilliant at smoothing the process and adding in the instrumentals. It was evident to us during the recording that June’s heart and soul was invested in this waiata, and her rich, velvety voice was a joy to listen to. The end result was just superb – a musical masterpiece that children will adore.

Come August, we were working through the illustration process with Kat. Our first meeting involved looking at her amazing vision for the feel of the book, and making suggestions on her initial roughs. Once all second-round roughs were approved, it was full-steam ahead to final illustrations and cover design.

Once the gorgeous final art was received, it was time to involve a book designer and typesetter – delightful Dana from SmartWork Creative. First, Dana supplied a selection of fonts to choose from, and then proceeded to work on the cover design and integrate the text with the illustrations and do all that necessary ‘technical stuff’ to create print-ready book files for us. The files finally went off to the printers in China in December 2016, so that stock would be shipped and received in store in time for a May 2017 publication.

Our fabulous 2017 Matariki title, Tāwhirimatea, A Song for Matariki, is now complete and awaiting its time in the spotlight … or should I say, ‘moonlight’.

Tāwhirimatea, A Song for Matariki

By June Pitman-Hayes

Illustrated by Kat Merewether

Māori lyrics by Ngaere Roberts

Published by Scholastic NZ

RRP $19.99

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Penny Scown

Penny Scown is the longest-serving staff member at Scholastic New Zealand. Despite actually leaving twice – the first time to go on her OE to the UK in the mid-80s, where she worked for Scholastic in London and later in Leamington Spa; and the second time for a few years when her children were small – Penny has been involved with Scholastic NZ’s publishing programme since its inception and has seen the NZ list grow from half a dozen titles per year to between 40 and 50. She still loves the work, because every book is different, and each one brings new challenges. She has worked with most of NZ’s wonderful children’s book creators and thoroughly enjoys their interactions. 'Children’s books are fun! You can forever stay in touch with your inner child.'