In the run-up to this year's New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, we asked the finalist authors and illustrators to tell us about a moment when they saw themselves reflected in a book as a child. Or didn't, as the case may be...
We will share three of the responses we received each week before the NZCYA ceremony on August 11.
Please meet Laura Shallcrass, the author and illustrator of Hare & Ruru: A Quiet Moment (Beatnik Publishing), which is a finalist for the Picture Book Award.
Laura is also a finalist for the Russell Clarke Award for Illustration and the Best First Book Award.
We asked Laura, when did you see yourself reflected in a childhood book?
"Given the fact that I am Caucasian I saw myself in many books as a child and definitely took that for granted without really considering what it was like for people who didn’t feel as represented. I had books which spoke to me like The Lion in the Meadow, The Velveteen Rabbit and The Black Stallion, all very European feeling and quaint.
The books I remember loving as a child didn’t really address big themes outside of “it’s good to be loved and accepted, be kind or time passes” which is something I see changing and one of the reasons I wrote Hare & Ruru. My goal wasn’t as concerned with the cultural diversity discussion (I think others are better placed to do that than me) but more about the breadth and acceptance of human emotion. However, I just re-read my answer I’ve realised that all the main characters of the books I listed are boys! Gender is an issue I’ve tried to mute in my characters by purposely not gendering them. I want all kids to see aspects of themselves in all of the characters without feeling drawn to one or another specifically based on the character’s gender."
Philippa Werry is the author of This Is Where I Stand (Scholastic New Zealand), a book that pays tribute to a World War One soldier. This is Where I Stand is also a finalist for the Picture Book Award. Of her own childhood reading experience, Philippa writes:
"Most of the books I read as a child were by English or American authors. I took it for granted that they would be set elsewhere and just got used to fitting myself into the story.
Maybe because my mother was English, and we had lots of English family, the books from there felt half-familiar already. But I love the fact that our tamariki can now read so many more books set in New Zealand and see their own lives reflected here."
Kieran Rynhart is the illustrator of This Is Where I Stand (Scholastic New Zealand). He writes:
"The first time I saw myself reflected in a piece of fiction while a young person was when reading Raymond E Feist's fantasy epic Magician. I immediately identified with the young central character Pug. His adventures, misadventures and the sense of possibility that his future could hold mirrored the hopes contained within my own internal dialogue at that time.
We were both on the verge of leaving childhood behind and entering into a bewildering new phase of our lives. The new future which Pug faced included many of the same things I would come to know about besides the obviously fantastical events far beyond his control that he would soon encounter.
My future on the surface of things would seem far more ordinary and conventional in comparison, yet it didn't change the fact that in the process of growing up I would face my own seemingly insurmountable forces beyond my control as well. Pug would overcome his trials and so would I, thanks to the many outstanding fictional creations capturing the human experience and illuminating the way.