Sharon Holt is an award winning children’s author who has written dozens of books, articles, stories, poems and plays for the trade and educational market. She now works full time on writing and publishing her multi-award winning series called Te Reo Singalong. In 2007 she was a finalist in the non-fiction category of the New Zealand Post Book Awards, alongside illustrator Ross Kinnaird, with It’s True! You Can Make Your Own Jokes. Holt is available to visit schools as part of our Writers in Schools programme, as well as lead Professional Development sessions for teachers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Holt, Sharon (1959 - ) writes and publishes Te Reo Singalong books. Each book follows a simple sentence structure in te reo and includes a singalong CD which turns the book into a song. The books also include an English translation, guitar chords, glossary and ideas to help teachers to turn each book into something more than just “a fun book to do on the mat”. The series has won several awards: 2013 winner at the Māori Language Awards; 2015 winner at the CLNZ Educational Publishing Awards; 2015 winner for Teachers’ Choice at the CLNZ Educational Publishing Awards. She started writing and publishing the books in 2012 and within four years there are already 11 books in the series. Her Waitangi book, published in January 2016, offers a new perspective on this important day for all New Zealanders.
Te Reo Singalong books are loved by teachers in mainstream primary classrooms and early childhood centres because they are so easy and fun to use – even by teachers and children with no confidence in te reo. As well as improving te reo Māori pronunciation, the books extend the knowledge and use of basic sentence structures in te reo. She originally started writing and publishing the series to make it easier for non-Māori teachers to pronounce te reo, but has found the books are just as popular in kohanga reo and kura kaupapa Māori.
Sharon publishes the books under her company, The Writing Bug Ltd, and visits younger students dressed as a ladybug. She presents the books using actions, puppets and props and gives teachers ideas on how they can bring the books to life.
Before beginning her journey with Te Reo Singalong books, Holt was an author of children’s fiction, non-fiction, plays and poems, published by educational publishers and trade publishers. She was born in Auckland and is married with two teenage children. Holt and her husband recently moved from Hamilton to Te Aroha and are absolutely loving their new life under the mountain.
Holt’s published stories in English are about daily family life, and many have a ‘story behind the story’, which she loves to reveal when visiting schools to talk about her School Journal stories, poems and plays and her Ready to Read books No, Skipper! (2002) and Skipper’s Happy Tail (2003). In 2007, her collaboration with illustrator Ross Kinnaird, It’s True! You Can Make Your Own Jokes, was nominated as a finalist in the non-fiction category of the 2007 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Holt enjoys talking about how this book came about and to share a quick “joke writing” workshop with children.
Holt also wrote two books in Scholastic's popular My Story series for older children. Her 2008 book, My Story: Sabotage! The Diary of Rowan Webb, Auckland, 1985 was recently republished by Scholastic as part of the 30 year anniversary of the Rainbow Warrior bombing. It is about 13-year-old Rowan Webb who gets herself a French penpal and unwittingly become involved in an event that shocks not only the nation - but the whole world. The Rainbow Warrior was the flagship of the Greenpeace movement, when it was sunk by agents of the French Foreign Intelligence (DGSE), while anchored in Auckland harbour, on the 10th of July 1985.
Holt's second book in the My Story series, No Survivors, was published in 2009. It tells the story of a 13-year-old girl in the 1970s, and builds up to the Erebus tragedy. It was inspired by the true story of one of the youngest people on the ill-fated flight.
In 2009 Walker Books published her picture book called Your Mother Didn't Do That! The book, illustrated by 2009 NZ Post Picture Book category winner Brian Lovelock, looks at the differences between how human and animal mothers care for their babies. Your Mother Didn't Do That! was listed as a 2010 Storylines Notable Book.
WRITERS IN SCHOOLS INFORMATION
Holt is happy to work with schools in three main ways.
1. She is happy to speak to large groups or small groups about her life as an author and the path she has taken to get there – particularly about her journey of writing and publishing her Te Reo Singalong books.
2. She is happy to present her Te Reo Singalong books to small and large groups, using actions, puppets and props. She also speaks to children aged 5-7 years about the Skipper books in the Ready to Read series and how the story of Skipper started as a story about a cat called Moose. She can also read and discuss her new picture book, Your Mother Didn't Do That!
3. Holt enjoys speaking to older children from upper primary to intermediate school levels about her writing for their age group. She has a wealth of information about the research and writing of books in Scholastic's My Story series. She can also talk to children from this age group about her joke writing book and has taken joke writing workshops in schools, based on the book.
She is also available to lead Professional Development sessions for teachers.
KAPAI: Kids' Authors' Pictures and Information
Where do you live?
I live with my husband in Te Aroha, with an awesome view of the mountain. I grew up in Auckland and went to school in Glen Innes. We moved from Auckland to the Waikato in 1997 and lived in Leamington, near Cambridge for just over two years before moving to our home in Kihikihi, where our two children grew up. Before moving to Te Aroha in December 2015, we lived in Hamilton for five years while our children were at high school there.
What books do you read?
I love reading children’s picture books. When I have time to read adult books I prefer biographies.
Who is your favourite writer?
In New Zealand my favourite writer is Margaret Mahy. In the rest of the world my favourite writer is Kate Di Camillo. My favourite book, which I recommend as often as possible, is Kate Di Camillo’s book called The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Simply superb.
How do you think up your ideas?
I get most of my ideas from things that happen in real life with my family, my friends, our pets, or my own memories of childhood.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
The best thing about being a writer is seeing an idea that lived in my head finally become a real book. With my Te Reo Singalong books, which I publish as well, it’s such a buzz to be following my dream and getting amazing feedback from teachers and children about how much they love my books. These books are making a big difference in the lives of New Zealanders, which is a privilege and an honour.
Primary School Students
What sort of pets do you have?
We have had all sorts of pets over the years, including birds, fish, cats, dogs, goats, lambs, rabbits and guinea pigs. However, at the moment we only have a cat called Dora. Since our move to Te Aroha, we are thinking about getting more pets and creating a huge pond for them to live in.
What is your favourite colour?
What is your favourite food?
What is your favourite movie?
I can’t think of one favourite, but I love true stories of endurance and romantic comedies.
What is your favourite game?
I love all board and card games. I also like to watch games like cricket and soccer.
What is the most fun thing about being an author?
The most fun thing is hearing from teachers, parents and children about how much they loved my books. Sometimes it even makes me cry – which doesn’t sound like fun!
How do you make books?
For my Te Reo Singalong books, which are the only books I make now, I think of an idea or theme that children will enjoy and a te reo sentence structure to match it. When I have written the book, I get it checked by people who are better at the Māori language than I am, to make sure it’s correct. Then I organise the illustrator to work on the pictures and ask the singer/songwriter to put my words to a catchy tune. Then we record the song in the studio. When the pictures are finished I send the whole package to a printer to make the books.
Where do you go for your holidays?
We used to go to Waihi or Mokau. Both of these places have inspired some of my children’s writing. We have been to Fiji a couple of times and in 2015 my husband and I had a wonderful week in Vanuatu for our 20th wedding anniversary. I also visited a school there and gave them some of my books – including some that had been translated into French!
What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?
I wasn’t very naughty at school. However, once when I was about eight years old I leaned over my desk to talk to my friend sitting opposite me and the teacher, Mr Adams, smacked my bottom with a wooden ruler. That hurt my bottom and my pride!
Secondary School Students
How did you get started?
I always dreamed of being a children’s author – probably since about the age of seven years. I wrote lots of stories and entered competitions, which I often did well in. When I left school at 16 I wanted to just be a writer, which wasn’t very practical. I thought I should be a journalist first to earn some money. However, my father worked at the New Zealand Herald and he didn’t like the idea of his teenage daughter mixing with the journalists he knew – ‘they all smoked and drank too much’ – so he suggested I train as a teacher until I was old enough to make up my mind. I followed his advice but only spent two full-time years working as a teacher (in Napier) as I didn’t get any time to write and wasn’t very happy. I trained as a journalist and worked on many papers and magazines until I was married in 1995. I left work to look after my new baby in 1996 and still thought about being a children’s author, especially when I read stories to my children. When we moved to Kihikihi in 1999 I finally had a little more time to write creatively. I sent my first photo article away to Learning Media in Wellington. It was accepted. My next two stories were also accepted and I’ve never looked back since then.
Who inspired you when you were getting started?
I went to a writers’ course run by an author named Dorothy Butler and she was very encouraging about my ability. I was also inspired by the wonderful successes of New Zealand women such as Margaret Mahy, Joy Cowley and Lynley Dodd. I thought, if they can do it, so can I. My husband has always been very encouraging and has been happy for me to follow my writing dream, even though I could have earned a lot more money if I was working as a journalist or teacher.
What advice would you give an aspiring young writer?
Write, read, write, read, enter writing competitions, follow your dreams and never give up.
Is it difficult to make a living writing in New Zealand?
It’s very difficult and almost impossible for more than a handful of writers. It’s important to have another career at first, which earns money so you can feed yourself while you’re being a writer. Most writers work part-time or full-time in other jobs and do their writing early in the morning or late at night. Since September 2013 my husband and I have been making a living from Te Reo Singalong books. My husband left his job to help me with distribution of the books because I was so busy writing the books and selling them. We making a living from this small business and are really happy working so hard for our own dream.
What were you like as a teenager?
Pretty boring! I liked things like reading and studying and didn’t really like the taste of alcohol. I liked dancing though and enjoyed spending time with my friends. I didn’t drive a car or have a mobile phone or a computer! Our high school art teacher was an actor in the theatre and knew lots of theatre people. My friends and I often went with him to plays at Auckland theatres, which felt very grown up.
Additional Ideas and Information
Is there anything else you could tell students about yourself?
1. I learned to fly planes while I was living near an aero club in Napier during my first year as a teacher. I learned to fly before I could drive a car. I don’t fly planes now.
2. I had my tummy button removed by a surgeon because I had an illness which made it infected. He made me a new tummy button but I could have chosen to have no tummy button at all – not even a scar! I wish I’d chosen not to have a tummy button at all as it could have given me an interesting party trick!
3. My second child (a daughter) was born at home 10 days early after a non-existent labour consisting of a strange feeling followed by the urge to push. My husband caught her, saw her umbilical cord and said ‘It’s a boy!’
4. I have been to South America and visited isolated villages as a photo journalist for World Vision. Once I was the first blonde woman the people had ever seen. I was treated like a princess, even though I had a very bad tummy bug and just wanted to throw up the whole time. Toilets hadn’t been invented there yet!
5. My books about Skipper the Border Collie dog were originally written about our cat called Moose. The editors at Learning Media liked the stories for the Ready to Read series but said they already had several cat stories about 'Greedy Cat'. They asked if they could change Moose to a dog. I said that was fine and I only had to change about six words in the story. Moose’s name was then changed to Skipper as some children thought Moose was an odd name for a dog.
6. Sometimes a person says something and I get a whole children’s story in my mind straight away. I have to write it down before I forget it. Those are usually my best stories. One example was when my husband mentioned buying some superglue and my son, who was about five at the time, asked if superglue wore a cape. Straight away I knew I had a story about a superhero who could repair broken things. I wrote it as a play almost immediately and it’s now a School Journal play performed by children all over New Zealand.
7. Once I was with other trainee teachers on a trip to Melbourne. We went to a pancake parlour for lunch. After lunch we searched the place high and low and couldn’t find a single person in the whole building, so we eventually left without paying!
8. I’ve been on several TV game shows and never won anything!
9. When I was a child I went on heaps of car rallies with my dad. He was the driver and I was his navigator. The New Zealand Woman’s Weekly did a big story about me being the youngest car rally navigator they’d ever heard of. It hasn’t really made me any better at map reading though!
10. I wrote my joke book when my son was five because he kept trying to make up terrible jokes and I had to find a way to teach him to make the jokes funny. There weren’t any books around about that so I decided to write one myself!
MEDIA LINKS AND CLIPS
- New children's book celebrates Waitangi Day
- I started learning te reo at 43
Updated January 2017.