Skate Monkey takes off


After trialling Skate Monkey Fear Mountain with a target literacy group recently I learned a couple of things: firstly, the book has been a big hit. I had kids and parents come up to me outside of school to say how much they enjoyed reading it. Secondly, Fear Mountain gave the young readers the confidence of finishing a chapter book–some of them for the first time, and that’s a real thrill.

“It’s less intense, other books are filled up with lots of tiny words, but there is space for me to see.”

“You can relax and read.”

“It was really exciting for me to see them so engaged and for them to feel like they are reading a novel like everyone else.” –Teacher.



Animalia by Graeme Base.

Still going strong, thirty years since it was first published, over 3 million copies sold, Animalia is a hugely important book. Not because of statistics, but because of the way it inspires children to be curious about language. As a primary teacher, a dad, and a volunteer working with reluctant readers, I have often turned to Animalia for inspiration.

Each page features a letter of the alphabet highlighted with clever and delightfully nonsensical alliteration: “Great green gorillas growing grapes in a gorgeous glass greenhouse.” Playful words are mirrored by lush illustration. The composition and the intricate detail in Base’s drawing make each page a real work of art, and showcases a great sense of humour.

The haughty look of the gorilla holding up a bunch of grapes, goblet of wine in hand, posing for the artist. The giraffe staring quizzically, the gibbon with a guitar and gumboots. Base invites the reader to dig for words, and for knowledge. “Gnome is spelled with a silent G…that lizard is a gecko…the soldier belongs to the Grenadier guards.”  Each piece of the puzzle with the potential to lead a young reader down a different path of inquiry. Plus the fun of finding the boy with the striped jumper hidden in each painting—not always easy.

Apparently it took Mr Base three years to complete this book, and I’m not surprised. I couldn’t recommend it enough.

All I ever had was a pad and a pen…


All I ever had was a pad and a pen, it’s all I ever needed.

Malo Luafutu–Scribe

Young writers need inspiring, and this quote from Aotearoa rapper Scribe often had a place on my classroom wall.

Scribe cuts straight to the point about writing in this simple line from his track ‘Dreaming.’ Ultimately all you need are your thoughts, your ideas and creativity, and some way of getting them out there. A pad and a pen.

Writing gives you a way to express the voice that is entirely your own. A perspective on the world that should be heard.Writing helped Scribe deal with his struggles. Writing can give both freedom and strength, and a way forward.

I like to think some of my students took it on board.





Came across Haka in the school library the other day, written by Patricia Grace and illustrated by Andrew Burdan.  A finalist in the 2016 New Zealand Book Awards.

Like many books, it was the cover art that first grabbed me, and Haka contains some of Andrew Burdan’s strongest work to date. Burdan was nominated for his artwork on four books in three different categories in this year’s awards.

Andrew is a great artist for interpreting mood and adding drama to a story—I feel there’s often a haunting, other-world quality to his work, an integrity that works particularly well when capturing the past, and Haka is no exception. Burdan and Grace are a good match.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few stories brought to life by Andrew, but my pick, is his artwork for Te Manu Taratahi, a story which follows a young Maori woman from the time of legends, making a kite to save her life.  As one of my first published stories, and with Andrew’s art, it holds a special place.



Mirror, mirror


Mirror by Jeannie Baker. A valuable book at a time when it is sorely needed.

Given the saddening events going on in the world today, and the distrust we see between cultures, I was really pleased to come across this book in the school library.

Mirror is two stories in one book, designed to be read together. On the left side of the book we follow a family in Australia as they go about their day, on the right, a family from Morocco, North Africa. There are very few words, so the stories are told through beautiful, intricate collages, each completely stunning.

As the reader turns the pages, it becomes clear that these actually aren’t two disparate stories, they are essentially the same. Just as in our wants and needs, so are humans.

Winner of Australian Picture Book of the Year in 2011, I think it belongs in every school.

Tintin in Tibet



My uncle recently sent me this lovely image of the Dalai Lama, book in hand.  There’s so much to like about seeing one of the most enlightened human beings to have ever graced this planet, settling himself on the sofa and reading Tintin. It speaks volumes both about the humour and humility of the man, and the widespread appeal of Hergé’s most famous character.

It’s not hard to see why the Dalai Lama would like Tintin in Tibet, also reputedly Hergé’s favourite of his books. Tintin in Tibet is above all, a story of friendship.

There is Tintin’s unshakeable bond with Chang that drives him onward through the Himalayan snow.  We see Captain Haddock willing to risk his life for his friend, even though he thinks the cause is futile. And we have the Yeti itself, drawn as Chang’s protector, left heartbroken at the end of the story.

For many people Hergé’s story published in 1960, was their first encounter with the culture of Tibet. So, in 2006, the Dalai Lama bestowed the Light of Truth Award on the Hergé foundation in recognition of the book.

And he reads it on the sofa too.



In fair Verona


The Pop-up Globe is in town, in a run that has seen 50,000 seats sold. Wonderful to see Shakespeare alive and well in a part of the world not even dreamt of in his time.

Today was Romeo and Juliet, and I was enthralled–all of us were.The theatre is a marvel. Down comes the barrier between the players and the audience, between the world of the play and the real world. The rain poured down, the sun shone. Tybalt’s blood spilled on the groundlings. When Juliet dropped the cork from her bottle of potion, a sparrow flew down to peck at it, thinking it a crumb. The actor didn’t miss a beat, dropping to her knees to smile at the kindly bird–a reminder to appreciate the small things.  I’ve seen a lot of Shakespeare over the years, but finally I feel I know what it might have been like to see it in his time. Superb.

Opening Lines


A piece in the Guardian, (which you can find here) made me think of good opening lines from children’s books. Here are a few from favourites off the family shelves:

In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.

–Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

–The Hobbit, Peter Jackson (ooops, sorry, J.R.R Tolkien.)

My father got the dog drunk on cherry brandy at the party last night. If the RSPCA hear about it he could get done.

–Adrian Mole, Sue Townsend

It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.

–Matilda, Roald Dahl

Marley was dead: to begin with.

–A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

All children, except one, grow up.

–Peter Pan, J.M Barrie

Which made me consider some of my own:

On the outskirts of a seaside town, right next to the beach, there is a mighty castle facing the sea.

The Twins, the Ghost and the Castle.

I stumbled downstairs on Monday morning, still wiping the weekend from my eyes.

The Goatmobile

There were thirty of them, crammed into the children’s play area. Exactly the number Principal said was allowed.

The Slushy Drinkers

The copper coin spun in the air, seeming almost to hang there for a moment, before bouncing on the footpath.

The Penny Walk

No classics there (yet) I fear.

What makes a good opening line? Which lines make your list?

Raymond Briggs


Briggs-9My cousin Joe and I are collaborating on a new book–we’ve set up an inspiration board on Pinterest. Some favourite illustrators we’ve pinned: Tove Jansson of Moomins fame, E. H Shepherd who brought the Wind in the Willows to life, Heath Robinson whose pen and ink drips with 1920’s  decadence.

Among my favourite author/illustrators is Raymond Briggs.  Briggs gives us among others, the world of Fungus the Bogeyman–a dreary, filthy, stench-filled realm of puddles and cow pats, that is  both riveting and disturbing. I remember being scared stiff by his Cold War classic When the Wind Blows, as a simple, everyday couple succumbs to deadly nuclear fall out. But probably more than any other of his books, I poured over Father Christmas and Father Christmas on Holiday. His portrayal of Saint Nick as a grumbling, cursing, bah-humbugging, but ultimately warm-hearted old man makes it hard to picture him any other way.