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Duncan, Tracy
Writer's File

Tracy Duncan

Nelson - Whakatū
Duncan, Tracy
In brief
Tracy Duncan is a writer and illustrator of children’s books. Many of her books are published in both Māori and English. Books such as Kei te Pehea Koe? How do you feel? and those in her My Māori. . . series use strong shapes and colours to encourage a love of Māori language in younger readers. Her work also includes Grandad's Medals (illustrated by Bruce Potter), Mere McKaskill's Boil Up, and illustrations for The Apple (written by Ben Brown) and Melanie Drewery's Nanny Mihi series.
  • Primary publisher
  • Publicity enquiries
    Penguin New Zealand


Duncan, Tracy (1971 –) is a Nelson-based writer and illustrator of children’s books. Many of the books she writes and illustrates are written in Māori and English.

Books such as My Māori Shapes, My Māori Alphabet, My Māori Numbers, and, more recently, Kei te Pehea Koe? How do you feel? use bright, strong shapes and colours to encourage a love and knowledge of Māori language in younger readers. My Māori Colours was listed as a 2003 Storylines Notable Non-Fiction Book.

Duncan is the illustrator of the very successful Nanny Mihi series (written by Melanie Drewery), about two little children and their visits to their grandmother’s house. A review in Magpies Vol 19, November 2004 noted that in Nanny Mihi’s Treasure Hunt ‘Tracy Duncan’s illustrations reinforce the focus on character … her wonderful pastel textures are impressive and the drawings are full of life’.

In Glow Worm Night, with writer Don Long, Duncan captures children enjoying the night time New Zealand bush and nocturnal animals for the first time. Reviewer Anne McAuley writes that ‘a special feature of Duncan’s pictures is the night time darkness and wonderment in the faces of the children and their parents as they experience the bush and the ngā whetu – the stars’ (Marlborough Express, 21 June 2004).

Other books written by Tracy Duncan include The Man who Loved the Sea (2004; illustrated by Jonathan Huntley), a story about the pollution and overfishing of the ocean, and an old man who wants to help save the sea for future generations; the picture book Mere McKaskill's Boil-Up (2007; written and illustrated by Duncan), and Grandad’s Medals (2008; illustrated by Bruce Potter), which tells the story of a child and his war veteran grandfather attending an Anzac Day parade.

Nanny Mihi's Christmas
, illustrated by Duncan, was listed as a 2006 Storylines Notable Picture Book. In 2007, she was a Department of Conservation Wild Creations Artist in Residence. The programme aims to encourage artists to create works inspired by New Zealand's natural and historic resources.

Mere McKaskill's Boil-Up was listed as a 2008 Storylines Notable Picture Book.

Recent illustration work also includes The Apple, written by Ben Brown, and published in 2008. The work was listed as a 2009 Storylines Notable Picture Book.

Duncan illustrated Ophelia Wild, Secret Spy (2012), and Ophelia Wild, Deadly Detective (2014), both written by Elena de Roo. Ophelia Wild, Deadly Detective has been listed as one of the Storylines Notable Books for 2015.


Duncan is able to visit schools outside her region and is talk to students 5 years and over. She is happy to discuss anything to do with writing and illustrating children's books, such as illustration techniques and life as an artist/illustrator in New Zealand. She is also available for workshops, by prior arrangement. Duncan prefers 12-15 students per session.

KAPAI: Kids' Authors Pictures and Information

Where do you live?
In Mahana, just out of Nelson, on a small orchard/lifestyle block.

What books do you read?
LOTS! I love lots of different genres - classical and contemporary novels, good science fiction, poetry, non-fiction (especially art and travel stories), children's books and graphic novels/comics.

Who is your favourite writer?
Too hard! I love Peter Carey and Margaret Atwood. Junior fiction: Maurice Gee and Emily Rodda, Picture books: Maurice Sendak, Anthony Brown and Shaun Tan.

How do you think up your ideas?

I use what I know. Things are always happening in day-to-day life to spark ideas. I always carry my sketchbook around to jot down words and pictures so I don't forget!

What is the best thing about being a writer/illustrator?
Working from home; I get to spend lots of time with my family, and I can walk the dog on my lunch break. I like being alone sometimes, and art and writing are great solitary pursuits.

Questions for Primary School Students

What sort of pets do you have?
A dog, four cats, two black sheep, six turkeys, three ducks, five peacocks, thirty chooks and a one-eyed rooster, two rabbits and ponds full of fish!

What is your favourite colour?

What is your favourite movie?

Kids movie: The Princess and The Cobbler.

What is your favourite game?
Cranium, and playing tennis.

What is the most fun thing about being an author/illustrator?
Seeing your work in shops around the country! It is always a buzz.

How do you make books?

You make lots of draft copies until you get it just right! Then you send it to your publisher, and they get the books printed up.

Where do you go for your holidays?
Camping in the summer, baches in the winter. We love getting away from people and going bush.

What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?
I was a bit of a goody two shoes. I hated being told off! I remember getting a strap across the hand for drawing on my school desk once - ouch!

Questions for Secondary School Students

Who inspired you when you were getting started?
Robyn Kahukiwa, because she wrote and illustrated books, but had a career as a painter/fine artist as well. Shaun Tan, becuase his work is so amazing. I am still inspired by other writers and artists all the time!

What advice would you give an aspiring young writer/illustator?
Dont take criticism too personally — learn to take advice and learn from your mistakes. Be determined, work hard, and believe in yourself — you can do ANYTHING!

Is it difficult to make a living writing in New Zealand?

What were you like as a teenager?
A bit of a drama queen! English was always my favourite subject, and I was into music and drama as well. I moved from a small rural school to a big city one when I was about 14, and I remember feeling very alien and isolated. Back then I was in a big hurry to grow up, and left to travel overseas when I was 18. I had lots of adventures, and found out I was a lot braver and more capable than I had realised.