McMillan, Dawn

McMillan, Dawn


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In Brief

Dawn McMillan likes to write both serious and silly books, non-fiction and fiction. Many of her children’s books have a focus on animals and evoke Aotearoa New Zealand's natural environment. The most recent of these is a bilingual hardback series that added There’s a Weta on my Sweater/He Wētā kei runga i tōku Paraka in 2020. Dawn’s success with humour began with Why do Dogs Sniff Bottoms?, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird, and winner of the Children’s Choice award at the 2003 New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards. The fun stories and success with Ross continued in the Bum series of picture books — I Need a New Bum! has been translated into seven languages and along with its companions are international bestsellers. Dawn has published 37 picture books and over 200 reader and educational scripts.


McMillan, Dawn (1943 –) Former teacher Dawn McMillan is an internationally recognised writer of children’s books who lives north of Thames on the Coromandel Peninsula. Her books have been translated into at least seven languages and her Bum series titles have become bestsellers in the US and United Kingdom, as well as New Zealand.

Sea Secret, illustrated by Julia Crouth, was Dawn’s first picture book, published in 1998. It tells the story of a girl’s relationship with her grandmother which is changed forever when the girl’s family move to Australia. The publication of Sea Secrets inspired Dawn to pursue a dream of writing full-time and since then she has had over 200 educational texts and 37 picture books published.

Latest picture books

Sir Singlet (Oratia, 2020) illustrated by regular collaborator Ross Kinnaird.

There’s a Tui in our Teapot/ He Tūī kei rō Tīpāta (Oratia 2018) the first in the bilingual nature-related picture series, illustrated by Nikki Slade Robinson with Maōri translation by Ngaere Roberts.

There’s a Weta on my Sweater/He Wētā kei runga i tōku Paraka (Oratia, 2020) the next in her billingual nature-related picture book series, illustrated by Stephanie Thatcher with Maōri translation by Ngaere Roberts. A third book in the series to be published in 2021.

I Need a New Bum! (Oratia 2012 reprinted to 2020. Scholastic UK, Dover US)

I’ve Broken my Bum! (Oratia 2019; Scholastic UK, Dover US )

My Bum is SO NOISY! (Oratia 2021, Scholastic UK, Dover US)

Home Child (Oratia 2019), the poignant true story of Pat Brown, whose father made the heart-wrenching decision in 1950 to send his children from London to New Zealand. Pat and her siblings enjoy the ship voyage, not knowing that they were never going home again. A wonderful story to share with older children.

Woolly Wally (Oratia reprinted to 2018) illustrated by Ross Kinnaird. Wally is a ram with attitude.

I need a New Bum! and other stories (Oratia 2017) including a reprint of the popular Doggy Doo on my shoe!.

Seagull Sid and the Naughty Things his Seagulls did! (Dover US 2109) illustrated by Ross Kinnaird, tells of an innovative plan to reclaim the beaches.

Doctor Grundy’s Undies (Oratia 2014 reprinted to 2017, Dover US 2019) illustrated by Ross Kinnaird - a book that is wonderful to read out loud with change of voices for the characters and actions.

Holy Socks, (Oratia 2017) illustrated by Philip Webb, a Christmas surprise that touches many hearts.

Mister Spears and his Hairy Ears (Oratia 2015) illustrated by Ross Kinnaird.

Squeakopotamus (Oratia 2016) illustrated by Ross Kinnaird, a fun story for the little ones.

Older favourites

Colour the Stars/Taea Nga Whetu, illustrated by Keinyo White. Colour the Stars featured in the Storyline Notable Picture Books 2013

The Harmonica, illustrated by Andrew Burden. The subject matter of a soldier who has been killed in service is a serious and important one to tackle for a children’s picture book. The Harmonica is a welcome addition to school resources, linking history to the current day for ANZAC learning

Charlie and his amazing tales: A story to be believed, or not.

Why do dogs sniff bottoms? was published in 2003 and is still in print. Dawn’s first work in verse; her discovery that rhyme is fun to write and fun to read, encouraging reluctant readers. Fun concepts in rhyme are enjoyed by adults too. Why Do Dogs Sniff Bottoms? has had quite a journey. It was shortlisted for the Picture Book Award and won the Children's Choice Award at the 2003 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults (now New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults), and was included in the Storylines Notable Picture Book List the same year. In 2005 it was awarded the Booksellers NZ Gold Medal, and in 2009 it was translated into French.

Stranded is a non-fiction account of a whale stranding, illustrated with photographs by Ingrid Visser.

A Fishing Story/He Korero Hi Ika, illustrated by Julia Crouth, is a story about shared wisdom and a boy’s courage.

Ride a White Horse, illustrated by Julia Crouth, tells the story of a boy’s journey on a wild white horse of the sea, across the water to the shadow of an unknown and mysterious land.

Summer Blaze, illustrated by Dave Gunson, explains how the pohutukawa, New Zealand's Christmas tree, came to have its beautiful red flowers.

Doggy Doo on my Shoe, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird, addresses an old problem that most of us know about!

Wood for the Winter, illustrated by Denise Durkin. Christopher loves helping his granddad and the two of them share a special bond. But when grandad dies Christopher has to look deep within himself to find a way to keep his memories alive.

Coming Home, illustrated by Dave Gunson, the story of Dawn’s house and the creatures that lived there before the builders came to renovate.

Where do Flies go in Winter? illustrated by Ross Kinnaird.

Weaving Together, illustrated by Vivienne Lingard. Jamie and her grandmother make a woven memory of all the wonderful and sad things that have happened in their lives.

Pancake Attack isillustrated by Dave Gunson. Jacko enters the Best Pancake Cook competition and his life will never be the same.

Why Cats Rule the World, and Dogs are Still Slaves, illustrated by Roger Twiname.

Turkey’s in the Sleigh Tonight, illustrated by Raymond McGrath.

Glasseye Creek, illustrated by Raymond McGrath, is a west coast fable with more than gold to be found.

Secrets: Three Stories from Dawn McMillan. Prose stories accompanied by stunning illustrations from three different artists.

Big Bouncer is illustrated by Ross Kinnaird.

Should I Kiss Tommy Aitkins? is McMillan’s first ‘choose your own adventure’ type book, a fun interactive story that young teenage girls will enjoy.


Dawn is available for school visits as part of the Writers in Schools programme. She is happy to speak to classes of any size and to whole school assemblies. She enjoys speaking to students of any age, to share her experiences with picture book writing, educational books and wider writing challenges

Dawn will travel outside of her region. Please continue down the page to see answers to a list of questions provided by school students.

Kapai: Kids Authors’ Pictures and Information

Where do you live?
I live along the rocky coast, 19 km north of Thames, in a small village called Waiomu Bay. My house is right next to a big park and just over the grass from the sea. Outside our fence there are four huge pohutukawa trees. They are like giants watching over us. Sometimes, on very hot days, we have our dinner at a picnic table under the trees.

What books do you read? I read all sorts of books. I like novels about people and the many different lives they lead. I enjoy books that explore life skills, and I like poetry books. I read children's books too. Two of my favourite picture books are The Rabbits by Shaun Tan and Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett. And I love Wombat Stew by Marcia K Vaughan and Pamela Lofts.

My favourite adult book is The Salt Path by Raynor Winn.

Who is your favourite author? I don’t really have a favourite author. I have favourite books by many different authors. I pick up a new book and I think this is my favourite book and my favourite author of the time. But I do have some lovely author friends so they have to be my favourites.

How do you think up your ideas? Sometimes it is something that someone says that gives me an idea. Sometimes the idea comes from what I see or remember, or from what I feel — happy, scared or even sad. The stories are like a jigsaw with lots of little bits from my life and the lives of others coming together to make a picture in my mind. Sometimes I think of a title first. The title words go around and around in my head and then the story happens. Most exciting of all is when a story 'comes in' as a surprise. When this happens it is just like a film running around and around in my head. The most amazing thing about writing stories is that often I feel a story 'coming on' before I get the idea. It is like a funny feeling in my stomach.

What are the best things about being an author? Spending time in a wonderful imaginary world, sharing my work, meeting great people and making new friends, and being really pleased with a new book and with the way the illustrator has brought my story and characters to life.

What sort of pets do you have? We have one really special cat called Lola. Lola’s first Mummy had to go overseas to live so luckily we got Lola. She is adorable, a good friend, and likes to come to work with me in my studio.

What is your favourite colour/food/movie/game? My favourite colours are purple and blue, although it depends on my mood. Sometimes I feel that another colour is my favourite, like yellow. My favourite foods are strawberries and bananas, and Vegemite. My favourite movie is an old one called Flash Dance. My favourite game to watch is netball. The best game I ever played was squash.

What is the most fun thing about being an author? Working in my studio. I can see the sea from the window by the computer. It feels great to have my own special place where magical things happen. And then, of course, the sharing of stories with so many people. I go to shops and read, to schools and kindies, and I read and talk to adult groups. Reading and talking to older adults is great fun.

How do you make books? I don't make the books. I just write the words and then a publishing company gets an illustrator to do the artwork. The company gets the books printed and out into the shops or the schools. While the book is being made, I work with the editor to get the text just right.

Where do you go for your holidays? I like to go and see my family and my special grandchildren, and to visit friends. Because we live at the beach I like to have most of the summer holidays at home.

What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school? I threw some dirt in the window of the classroom. I don't know why I did that. And when I was at high school, my friends and I played all sorts of tricks on the boys. That was fun!

I would love to hear from any of my readers. My address is:
601 Thames Coast Road, Waiomu Bay, R D 5, Thames
My email address is

My website is Explore my website and you’ll find a WIN A BOOK competition which is very easy to enter.

I am always happy to write a special message in any of my books and sign them. You can post them to me and then I'll post them back. Just remember to give me your return address.


Dawn McMillan's website

Dawn writes a Reckoning piece for The Sapling on fighting reluctance with humour

NZ Booklovers’ interview with Dawn McMillan

Review of Sir Singlet on The Sapling

The Sapling interview Dawn McMillan about Home Child

Christchurch Libraries’ interview with Dawn McMillan

Dawn McMillan's profile on Storylines

An interview with Dawn McMillan on Radio New Zealand

Review of I Need a New Butt! on Starry-Eyed Revue blog

Review of Colour the Stars on the National Library of New Zealand website

Review of The Harmonica on Booksellers New Zealand blog

Updated January 2017.