It’s no secret that we love getting to learn and share publisher insight, so much so that we dedicate a NZCYA Awards finalist category every year to it! This year it’s the Elsie Locke Nonfiction finalists so without further ado, here are the publisher stories—from Massey University Press, Reading Warrior, Mila’s Books, Oratia and Allen & Unwin!
Sylvia and the Birds, by Johanna Emeney, illustrated by Sarah Laing (Massey University Press)
I knew of Auckland’s famous ‘Bird Lady’, Sylvia Durrant, as I had interviewed her in her little Brown’s Bay flat—where there were penguins in the bathtub—when I was a writer at Metro. So when one day the wonderful Jo Emeney told me she was thinking of writing a children’s book that would begin with Sylvia and then widen its scope to all things birds and how to care for them and that Sarah Laing would illustrate it – well, how could anyone say no?
When […] the wonderful Jo Emeney told me she was thinking of writing a children’s book that would begin with Sylvia and then widen its scope to all things birds and how to care for them and that Sarah Laing would illustrate it – well, how could anyone say no?
As these things do—and because Jo has such a wide ranging curiosity, energy, determination and vision—the book grew and grew and pulled in so many helpers: photographers, illustrators, native-bird experts, mana whenua and more along the way. It’s now a sizeable book for a children’s title, and there are hours of entertainment, fascination and knowledge within its pages.
It can be read in so many ways and in just as many layers; young readers may start with the graphic-novel sections in which a couple of kererū tell terrible dad-bird—or is it bird-dad?—jokes while others will be struck by the almost unbelievable story of Sylvia’s tough childhood and her later triumph over adversity. Some will love the activities and recommendations for attracting birds into their backyards. Others will be inspired by Charlie, the young conservationist who is the new generation of kaitiaki of our taonga manu.
… there are hours of entertainment, fascination and knowledge within its pages.
Throughout, Sarah Laing’s amazing gift as an illustrator propels the book like a band’s rhythm section. She packs so much intelligence and brio into each image. This element of the book will also inspire a legion of young illustrators I am sure!
Sylvia came to our book launch late last year in Auckland. She is elderly now and, after caring for an estimated 140,000 birds, has handed over her bird rescue work to others. It was a huge audience, and many had come especially to honour her for all she has done for our birds. I have a wonderful photo of Jo with Sylvia, taken that night. Her smile is wide as the wings of a kererū in flight.
… Sarah Laing’s amazing gift as an illustrator propels the book like a band’s rhythm section. She packs so much intelligence and brio into each image.
Nicola Legat, Publisher, Massey University Press
Sylvia and the Birds
By Johanna Emeney
Illustrated by Sarah Laing
Published by Massey University Press
Freestyle: The Israel Adesanya Story by David Riley, illustrated by Ant Sang (Reading Warrior)
I wrote Freestyle: the Israel Adesanya Story because I wanted to inspire our tamariki by sharing the challenges Israel overcame to achieve his dreams.
The book explores a range of ideas: from his struggles with dyslexia and racism as a child, to notions of goals and achievements, as well as what it’s like to believe in yourself when seemingly no one else does. A Kiwi with African heritage is not just placed at the centre of this work but championed.
A Kiwi with African heritage is not just placed at the centre of this work but championed.
The word ‘inspire’ was a theme for me throughout the process of writing this book. I discovered that it means ‘breathe into’ and is the opposite of ‘expire’. When we say that someone inspires us we’re saying that something about them breathes life into us. That is such a powerful thought! My dream is that young people who read this book will be inspired by Israel’s journey – that the words and pictures will breathe life into them.
Freestyle is actually one of five books I made in 2022 which were intended to provide inspiration and content for underrepresented groups in New Zealand literature.
The other books were:
On Your Side: The Ibrahim Omer Story – an illustrated biography of the first person with African heritage to become a member of the NZ parliament, focusing on his challenges as a refugee and how his Eritrean heritage of excellence inspires him. This is another book that champions a Kiwi of African heritage which is so important as there are very few New Zealand children’s books that offer that specific kind of representation.
Tokelau Toku Tupuaga Fakapelepele: Tokelau My Treasured Heritage – I worked with twelve Tokelauan youth in a series of workshops exploring what it means to be Tokelauan. The young people created pieces of writing in English inspired by their love of their heritage which were then also translated into Tokelauan.
Rotuma ‘Otou Hanuạ Pumue: My Precious Home Rotuma – This book is part of the same series as the Tokelauan one and is also translated into Rotuman.
He Moana Kirikā: Ocean Fever – This is a book of creation stories written by tamariki Māori, in te reo Māori and English, and features art by children too.
When we say that someone inspires us we’re saying that something about them breathes life into us. That is such a powerful thought!
Literacy plays a vital role in helping people find fulfilling careers that are not just in demand but pay well too. I aim to provide reading material for, and with, our young people from all backgrounds – material that is engaging, inspiring and, most importantly, about them. I hope the books encourage them to dream big and know that they can achieve great things in life, in a variety of fields, just like anyone else.
Every young person in NZ should be able to find themselves represented in literature, to go into a library and pick up a book that celebrates who they are. That’s one of the basic motivations for reading: the ability to connect and relate to stories in written form.
The aforementioned five books enable children from minority groups in New Zealand to participate in meaningful reading and writing experiences. Research shows that the mental and emotional wellbeing of young people improves when they feel a strong sense of belonging to their heritage.
My hope is that they will also see how possible it is to create books and hopefully some of them will take this knowledge and use it to create their own work in the future.
Every young person in NZ should be able to find themselves represented in literature, to go into a library and pick up a book that celebrates who they are
David Riley, Author and Publisher, Reading Warrior
Freestyle: The Israel Adesanya Story
By David Riley
Illustrated by Ant Sang
Published by Reading Warrior
A New Dawn by Emeli Sione, illustrations by Darcy Solia (Mila’s Books)
When Emeli first found the courage to offer her dawn raid experience for publication, she was told that ‘it was too sensitive for the people of New Zealand. We are not quite ready for it’.
When I heard this, I thought about all the things Pasifika peoples here in Aotearoa have gone through and were not ready for, the many stories that weren’t being told, and the impact this had and continues to have on all of us in New Zealand (Pasifika or otherwise) as a result. My gut instinct was that A New Dawn needed to be published not just for Emeli, her family, and our Pasifika peoples, but New Zealanders as a whole to help all of us begin to heal from the traumatic experiences that came from the dawn raids.
… A New Dawn needed to be published not just for Emeli, her family, and our Pasifika peoples, but New Zealanders as a whole to help all of us begin to heal from the traumatic experiences that came from the dawn raids.
Before Emeli’s story, I had never read a first account of a dawn raid that made me feel like I was actually there; everything that took place felt like it was happening to me and my own family. I was drawn to the simplicity of the language Emeli used, and the step-by-step snapshot events which ultimately underpinned the vision for A New Dawn as it was developed. Emeli’s story spoke to the heart in a truly unforgettable way.
From the beginning, Emeli was open to developing and sharing her story in a way that highlighted the story of Pasifika peoples here in Aotearoa. Unfortunately many Pasifika people still feel that they do not belong and that they are not valued or accepted for who they are here in Aotearoa. This is why it was important for us to showcase the power of our stories as Pasifika in a way that encouraged talanoa, the sharing of stories, while also developing understanding for non-Pasifika to better connect with Pasifika.
Emeli’s story spoke to the heart in a truly unforgettable way.
We decided early on to do something that had never been done before by including the different info sections to provide a full circle dawn raid experience for readers. One of the highlights of creating this book was that we got to work with, and received the blessing of, the Polynesian Panthers Legacy Trust. We also got to include the official dawn raid apology speech notes in the final work. Making Emeli’s story, providing the additional supporting evidence, and ensuring it’s accessibility was key and is something we continue to receive positive feedback on from those who are using A New Dawn in their organisations, and across primary, high school and tertiary schooling levels.
It was an honour and privilege to publish A New Dawn and we are so proud and grateful for everyone who took part in its creation because we as Pasifika, as New Zealanders, deserve a resource that increases awareness around the history of Pasifika peoples in Aotearoa. We deserve a book that not only reminds us of where we have come from but also how far we have to go.
We deserve a book that not only reminds us of where we have come from but also how far we have to go.
Dahlia Malaeulu, Publisher, Mila’s Books
A New Dawn
By Emeli Sione
Illustrations by Darcy Solia
Published by Mila’s Books
Weather and Climate New Zealand by Sandra Carrod (Oratia Books)
Oratia Books launched The NZ Series in 2019 to introduce aspects of New Zealand geography, history and society in a concise, illustrated format for general readers and students. By 2020 we had published five books but only Volcanoes and Earthquakes had a scientific basis. Meteorology seemed to be a logical next title. The subject is always topical, never more so than in an age of climate change. In commissioning Weather and Climate New Zealand we sought a book that would set New Zealanders’ experience of weather in the context of the world climate.
But we needed an author. Carolyn had edited Sandra Carrod’s Weather Watch New Zealand in the twilight days of Reed Books in 2007, and now needed to track her down. To the rescue came Mike Bradstock, an outstanding publisher and occasional editor for Oratia, who (it turned out) had sailed in the Pacific with Sandra’s husband Steve. Before long the Lagahetau-Carrod editor-author relationship was rekindled and the book started to take shape. We bounced around ideas for structure and contents, made some joint decisions, and then left Sandra to her work.
… we sought a book that would set New Zealanders’ experience of weather in the context of the world climate.
Her manuscript drew on her wide experience as a teacher, ocean sailor and author to make the weather easily comprehensible. She followed The NZ Series template for liberal use of illustrations, photos and ephemera – in colour where possible. Information is chunked into short chapters and sections, with fact boxes and info panels, to make for easy digestion of sometimes complex ideas.
Sandra and Carolyn put together a tightly written text that ranges from consideration of world weather patterns, to Matariki, to the causes of climate change. Karsten Schneider, a brilliant computer artist and former marine scientist, produced the dazzling graphics that help lift the book to a new stratosphere (ok, so we got carried away by metaphors here, but we just love how the text and imagery complement each other and tell a complete picture). Then Sarah Elworthy worked her design magic to fit it all in and super-charge the presentation.
[Sandra’s] manuscript drew on her wide experience as a teacher, ocean sailor and author to make the weather easily comprehensible.
In short, everyone who brought Weather and Climate New Zealand to print ended up thinking that this is the best book we had read on the topic. We were thrilled for Sandra and Karsten that it made the shortlist for this year’s Children and Young Adults Book Awards, after being highly commended in the latest Storylines Notable Book Awards. Sandra, Carolyn and Sarah have just completed a teacher resource to assist the book’s use in schools, made even more relevant by this year’s extreme weather events (see https://www.oratia.co.nz/teacher-resources).
… everyone who brought Weather and Climate New Zealand to print ended up thinking that this is the best book we had read on the topic.
Peter Dowling, Publisher and Carolyn Lagahetau, Editorial Director, Oratia Books
Weather and Climate New Zealand
By Sandra Carrod
Graphics by Karsten Schneider
Published by Oratia Books
Te Wehenga by Mat Tait (Allen & Unwin)
We had the great privilege of working with Mat when he illustrated The Adventures of Tupaia. He won the 2020 Russell Clark Award for Illustration for it, and there were many glowing reviews for that incredible book:
‘Spectacular.’ NZ Herald
‘Astonishing.’ Hera Lindsay Bird, Newsroom
‘Exquisite.’ Briar Lawry, The Sapling
‘An essential book. A magnificent book in debt to mahi and aroha.’ Paula Green Poetry Box
Mat’s background research and preparation for illustrating Tupaia was astounding – his passion for the project was deep and he read extensively around the topic. It was that level of attention to detail and close engagement with the subject that led to such an exquisite piece of work. His illustration and design ideas elevated Tupaia into the powerful and important book that it is today.
So I was very keen to work with Mat again, and for him to illustrate and write this time. We discussed him working on the Māori creation myth, aimed at the 8-12 age group, so we could tell this foundational story to a new generation. Mat is a fluent speaker of te reo Māori and he wanted to create an innovative bilingual book.
… I was very keen to work with Mat again, and for him to illustrate and write this time.
Mat developed a detailed and thorough concept for the book, as shown in the following quotes from his book outline:
‘I will use elements of traditional Toi Māori (Whakairo, Kōwhaiwhai, Tukutuku, Tāniko) as well as more modern forms, and the narrative flow will be informed by comic book/graphic novel formal conventions with a close marriage of text and illustration in a way that is engaging to children.’
‘I would like to incorporate both languages into the pictures themselves so that they become part of the artwork in a way appropriate to, though different from, the way in which traditional Toi Māori incorporated narrative and whakapapa for tangata whenua. This aesthetic choice is also inspired by the work of such artists as Ralph Hotere, Shane Cotton, and Colin McCahon, as well as drawing from the formal conventions of comic books (which those artists themselves may well have been inspired by). Te Reo Māori will be the most important element in this format, taking the lead.’
I would like to incorporate both languages into the pictures themselves so that they become part of the artwork in a way appropriate to, though different from, the way in which traditional Toi Māori incorporated narrative and whakapapa for tangata whenua.Mat Tait, notes from Te Wehenga outline
Mat worked extensively on the book over the next two years. I don’t know that I have ever seen someone work so hard on a book project. He thought so deeply about every aspect of this book and the intensity of his interrogation of the topic has resulted in an extraordinary piece of work.
The very essence of the book—the darkness—presented challenges both for Mat in the illustrative process and for us in the publishing process. We had many proofs made of the images trying to get just the right level of colour onto the pages. The darkness needed to be dominant but also accessible for the reader.
We are immensely proud of Te Wehenga and in awe of Mat’s creative genius in creating this taonga.
I don’t know that I have ever seen someone work so hard on a book project. [Mat] thought so deeply about every aspect of this book and the intensity of his interrogation of the topic has resulted in an extraordinary piece of work.
Jenny Hellen, Publishing Director, Allen & Unwin
Written and Illustrated by Mat Tait
Published by Allen & Unwin
Check out our coverage of the other Book Awards for Children & Young Adults categories: