Skip to content

Latest updates

Subscribe for updates
Receive our latest news, features author insights, previews, giveaways, events, and more.
09 May 2024

Monsters and more in Motueka

Read NZ Te Pou Muramura delivers hundreds of Writers in Schools visits each year. But what actually makes a school visit tick, and why is it something an author would want to be involved in? We asked poet and illustrator Rose Northey about her experience with the programme, and for the secret to her recent successful visit to Motueka High School.

The excitement of a visitor’s arrival lends a special hustle and bustle to any school: and there’s something particularly special about a ‘real author’ who has written or illustrated real books coming to visit. It can look different for each school: perhaps there’s a wriggly group of juniors waiting on the mat in a classroom, or a full school assembly whispering in hushed tones, or a group of seniors begrudgingly seated in the library. The format can look different too: is it a talk, a Q&A, a workshop?

What remains the same for each visit is the goal—to inspire students with a love of reading, writing, and creativity—and also to make these words meaningful and achievable to them. As Rose Northey puts it, “my goal is always to tell the students what would have been helpful for me when I was younger and ‘being an artist’ seemed like a distant possibility.”

Rose is, in her own words, a Wellington poet and visual artist and comedian and children’s book illustrator and mechanical engineer and muralist and clown and obsessive hoarder of professional titles. Schools’ feedback on her visits indicates that she’s both engaging and approachable for students: but this is about more than just youth and humour, it’s also about hard work and preparation for each visit.

Rose is well aware of the challenges of engaging tamariki and rangatahi for extended periods.

“To make sure they listen, I strive to be as entertaining and interactive as I can. I plan out the main beats of the story I want to tell, then I prepare a slideshow which is almost entirely image-based. I practice saying my presentation by myself, make stickers to reward questions, and make sure I have multiple ways to access my slides.”

Her mahi is also about being responsive to the needs of each group. “I tweak the order or content of the slides according to how responsive previous groups were. I also will add in ‘special request content’ if a school expresses interest in a particular part of my content.” Authors who visit schools are put in touch with staff prior to the visit to understand what the needs of the particular group they’ll be working with might be.

The prep isn’t all on the author’s side, either: the more that schools engage with the author’s work prior to the visit, the more excitement builds and the more effective the visit is likely to be.

At Motueka High, teachers used Rose’s Writer’s File to learn more about her work, and spread the word about the visit through the school’s notices and internal networks. They also created a display in the library celebrating Rose’s work.

On the day of the visit, flexibility is key. “My presentations vary according to the school's needs,” says Rose. “They can stretch from 20 minutes to an hour. I make sure I ask the kids lots of questions along the way to keep them engaged, and after my talk I’ll ask the students to ask me questions and reward good ones with stickers.”

One activity Rose uses for visits that’s proved extremely popular is monster creation. “If there’s time, I’ll draw a monster on the whiteboard, asking the students to give me suggestions for what type of facial features to give the monster.” This was one of the senior Motueka High students’ favourite activities. Michele Ayres, the teacher in charge, commented that the activity saw “very very enthusiastic responses that switched students’ brains on to extend their creative descriptive language.”

It’s not always simple running an off-the-cuff activity, and working with students’ submissions, but the school was delighted with Rose’s ability to draw students out. “One student contributed the word ‘um’, which was easily incorporated in the creative process.” Rose noted, too, that “it was a wonderful feeling when I managed to get some good interaction from the older students.” Feedback from schools often focuses on the validation a visiting writer can provide for students who aren’t confident in creating, or in contributing publicly to creative work.

After a cup of tea and chat with the teachers, Rose also worked with a junior class at Motueka High. This was quite a different session, with students very focused on a specific area of Rose’s work. “The younger group of students loved the poetry and requested more poems than I had prepared for them. It was so great to see them asking for more poetry!” Michele enjoyed overhearing one junior student, wide-eyed after the session, commenting “Wow! She was REALLY good!”

Sometimes there are opportunities for students to meet and simply chat with the visiting writer, which Rose loves. “Usually a handful of students will come up and tell me about their poems or show me pictures of their dogs, or their art. One student wrote over a page during the session, which was incredible to see!”

“The younger group of students loved the poetry and requested more poems than I had prepared for them. It was so great to see them asking for more poetry!”

What’s also significant for students is the ways in which the inspiration gained from a visiting author can be amplified by the school. Michele hopes that the visit’s timing - just prior to Easter break - allowed students to work on their own creative projects over their holiday. Now in Term Two, English teachers are using Rose’s poems in class, and the school is also purchasing copies of The Lighthouse Princess (illustrated by Rose) to use for senior art students.

For Rose, the positive impacts of the visit also continue. She’ll fill out a timesheet, and be paid for her time. “I love how Read NZ does a large part of the school visit admin - including dealing with money. This means I can focus on the part which will actually give value to the students - it’s so much lower stress.” And like the students, she continues to gain creative inspiration from the experience.

“I usually perform to adults and performing at schools over the years has helped me to stay in touch with how different age groups respond to different types of humour and language. This informs my writing and helps me to understand how different age groups would respond to my art. I get so much energy from talking to kids - usually, I will leave a school visit feeling ecstatic and creative.”

If you’re interested in becoming a Writer in Schools with Read NZ Te Pou Muramura, contact Programmes Manager Simie Simpson: or learn more about supporting our work at