In the run-up to this year's New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, we've asked the finalist authors and illustrators to tell us about meaningful reading experiences from their childhood.
We will share their responses in instalments, every Tuesday before the NZCYA ceremony on August 10.
Here's the exact question we asked:
We want to celebrate the life changing power of children’s books and how they can strengthen young minds and imaginations. Tell us about a book or reading experience from when you were younger that was a little bit life changing for you?
This week, we're featuring the finalists for the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction category.
The judges say these are the books that dared grapple with big, sometimes even uncomfortable, themes that stood out. With powerful stories told in flawless prose, considered design and impressive production values, the judges say the finalists are a masterclass in engaging non-fiction.
Rebekah Lipp for How Do I Feel? A Dictionary of Emotions for Children, illustrated by Craig Phillips (Wildling Books):
To be honest, I wasn’t much of a reader when I was little. I was lucky, however, that my mother is an avid book reader (she reads a book a day and cannot be without a book) and so was my little sister.
I remember mum reading us Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes at bedtime. We thought they were super hilarious and naughty. We loved how much he made the usual nursery rhymes into stories so much more fun and scandalous.
Jeremy Sherlock for Kia Kaha: A Storybook of Māori Who Changed the World, pictured herewith co-authorStacey Morrison (Penguin Random House NZ)
For me, books were about escape, learning and obsession – a very real place to inhabit. Whether it was the Māori myths retold by Peter Gossage that at once braced, terrified and enlivened; the series of over-sized nature books I’d pore over and trace from; the Scholastic book-club book called How Cars Work, which I studied tirelessly with the dream of becoming a mechanic just like my father (sorry I didn’t follow through on that, Dad) – the real power of books was to transport and inspire.
They not only charted new worlds – worlds that were foreign but familiar, exotic and exciting – but told me that other worlds could even exist. The belief in imagined realities is critical for young minds, as it’s a belief in opportunity and myriad futures. That’s something I still bear in mind to this day.
Simon Pollard for Why is That Spider Dancing?, Simon Pollard (left) and Phil Sirvid (Te Papa Press)
Reading The Wind in the Willows when I was 12 made me think differently about animals. I knew the characters were not real, but it made me wonder what the lives of toads, moles, rats and badgers were really like. When I was 20 and learning about animals at university, an eight-legged light went on in my head and I knew I wanted to study and learn about the lives of spiders.
I’ve always been interested in natural history, and that includes books on the subject. Powell’s Native Animals of New Zealand was my favourite and I wore out at least one copy as I tried to identify the creatures that lived around me. My family jokingly referred to as my bible!
Donovan Bixley for Draw Some Awesome (Upstart Press)
Growing up in small town Taupō in the 1970s, one of my favourite books was The Lorax by Dr Seuss. I used to run about the geothermal wilds of our neighbourhood imagining spiky tī kōuka trees as truffula tress and thinking I might see the Lorax pop out of one. The pictures in The Lorax were so energetic and moody and engaging. The words were fun and bubbly in my mouth, with a dancing rhythm that I can easily recall ALLLLLL these years later. The story was fascinating … but disguised underneath all that fun was a really important message that said ‘Hey! Let’s not wreck the planet’.
All through my childhood I loved drawing pictures and writing stories. I used to make books and comics all the time, about dinosaurs or undersea adventures or sailing to Antartica … but funnily enough I never realised that I was making books, it was just something I did.
After I’d grown up and studied art at university, I suddenly realised that I had been writing stories and drawing pictures my whole life. I didn’t know what to do with myself, but I thought, ‘If one day I could make a book like The Lorax, a book that was as beloved by children today as it was when it first published decades ago, and yet still conveyed such a great message in such a memorable way, then THAT would be a really worthwhile use of my talents as a writer and artist.’ And so, inspired by Dr Seuss and my love of The Lorax, I decided that I would try to become a children’s book creator.
Now, many years later, I’ve worked on over 120 books published in 30 countries and translated into 20 languages, and I’m still dreaming of one day making a book that will change someone’s life like The Lorax changed mine… perhaps I already have?