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03 June 2024

Author Q&A: Melanie Drewery

We chatted with author, illustrator, artist, and all-round amazing human Melanie Drewery (Ngāti Mahanga) about her latest offering for tamariki, Nanny Mihi's Harvest. Melanie is based in Nelson and is available for visits through the Writers in Schools programme.

How would you describe your new book Nanny Mihi’s Harvest to a young reader?

In Nanny Mihi’s Harvest, you can read about the seasons of a garden as Nanny Mihi teaches her mokopuna. But it’s not just you watching how the garden grows, because there are also the chickens…

Nanny Mihi’s Harvest is publishing ahead of Matariki 2024. How does the story link to Matariki?

Matariki is a time to get together with friends and whānau, share warm food and think about the years past as well as the year to come. While this story is not directly about Matariki, the idea of sharing a nourishing meal made from the year’s harvest fits well with the celebration.

What mātauranga does Nanny impart to her mokopuna in this book?

Always be wary of chickens! She teaches them about te taiao, the cycles of nature, the importance of caring for animals, plants and the soil, and how we can grow and save our own food. At the end ngā tamariki learn to look for the bright side in situations too.

Nanny not only plants in the books, but also gathers her own seeds. Why do you think that’s important?

I think it’s important that people learn to get the full benefits from their gardens and don’t need to outlay as much money for seeds. A lot of people pull their plants out before they seed, but I always leave a few. The flowers are nice too. Especially leek flowers.

Are there particular fruit and vegies that feature in the story?

The story mentions a variety of common vegetables.

There’s also a lot of preserving taught by Nanny. Do you think this is a skill today’s kids could do well to learn?

Yes, I think it’s a great skill to have. One of my children grew up to be a keen bottler. Preserving food avoids so much waste and the results are much healthier to eat, with a lot less salt, sugar and other preservatives than bought sauces and preserves.

“My chickens are now well contained, but this story was inspired by my own garden disasters.”

Do you garden yourself? What do you like to grow and eat?

Yes I do. My chickens are now well contained, but this story was inspired by my own garden disasters. I like a disorderly garden with veggies, fruit trees, herbs and flowers all mixed together. I grow all sorts of things, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. My friends who have an orderly garden grow much better vegetables than me, but I’m just not like that — so it’s scruffy vegetables for me. Every autumn I bottle enough pasta sauce, peaches, plums, apples, pickles and chutneys to last a year. I also freeze pesto, pumpkin and veggie soups, and mushrooms from the paddocks.

There are now four books in the new Nanny Mihi series. Any plans for more?

Yes indeed. The next one is brewing in my brain.

Do you approach a story differently knowing that it will be published bilingually, with a reo Māori translation?

Not really. I still scatter te reo Māori throughout the English text, so people can have a little or a lot.

You live in the countryside, so do you need to buy books online or do you get in to Nelson or Motueka for shopping?

I do both — online bookstores, and bookshops in town. I really like second-hand bookshops, op shops and markets as well. I love to read and have a friend who likes similar books to me so we swap books that we have enjoyed too.

Melanie Drewery (Ngāti Māhanga) works as a potter and writer from her home in Māpua, Nelson. She is an established children’s writer with over 20 titles to her name, including Nanny Mihi and the Rainbow, Nanny Mihi and the Bellbird, and Nanny Mihi’s Medicine | Ngā Rongoā a Nanny Mihi. Learn more about Melanie or book a school visit here.