Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Thank you for all the comments on the book review posts, we have two winners!

Congratulations to Miriam who has won a copy of Maori Art for Kids and congratulations to The Thrifty Fox who won a copy of  A New Zealand Nature Journal. Let me know your addresses and I'll pop them in the post for you both.

Have you voted yet? Voting ends on the 31st of July. Help your child vote and have the chance to win some books for your child and your child's school.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A New Zealand Nature Journal - Review and Giveaway!

I was really quite excited to do this review as we had this book out of our local library last year and loved it. I think most children are fascinated about the natural world around them, exploring their back yards. Finding wonder in the smallest bits of moss and insects, so it's great to capture that fascination and wonder in journal form.

This book by Sandra Morris showcases not only a great variety of things that can be captured, think flowers, phases of the moon, a zoo visit and changes in seasons etc, but also a variety of ways that these subjects can be recorded. Each page is beautifully illustrated with ideas to inspire.

There is valuable information about what to look out for when recording the natural world around you, like the anatomy of a flower, things that on first glance you might not notice to record.

After a quick flick through the kids were keen to start their own journals and set out to capture some of the natural things in our backyard.

I'm on the look out now for some smaller sized journals that I can keep in my bag along with some pencils so we can sketch on the go! I think we are all quite inspired to capture the world around us in ways that we hadn't thought of before.

Interview with Sandra Morris about A New Zealand Nature Journal

A New Zealand Nature Journal was voted by children all over New Zealand as a finalist in the Children’s Choice award Non-fiction category. Sandra Morris has been illustrating books for many years, and has a particular passion for nature, so it was wonderful to see this recognised. Our Booksellers NZ reviewer Maia Gasson, who was 12 years old at the time, said ‘Overall it is a lovely book and an excellent one for your young nature-lovers bookshelf.’
We asked her a few questions about how she went  about  narrowing down her ideas for the sketch-worthy natural items within A New Zealand Nature Journal, and what she would suggest as further reads for her young fans.
1.       As an author, you must have a lot of ideas floating around. How did you decide to write and illustrate this book in particular?
I decided to write and illustrate this book because I love sketching plants and animals outdoors. I have kept field sketchbooks for many years and when I discovered the work of two really great American Nature Journalists  (Hannah Hinchman and Clare Walker Leslie) I decided I wanted to work in this way  as well and  encourage children to see the world around them in closer detail and to see that they can do this even in their own backyard!
2.       What was your approach to illustrating this book?
My approach was to go to each of the environments covered and to record in as many different ways possible the elements and plants and wildlife I encountered there and then to create pages that were varied in treatment with different elements and compositions  and with a variety of hand rendered words.
3.        Tell us a bit about the journey from manuscript to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in publishing this book?
The biggest challenge was to  cull - I had to delete some ideas as there just wasn’t enough room –I had so many ideas  we could easily have made it a bigger book.
4.       How did you tailor this book to the age-group it reaches?
It didn’t need much changing from my original sketchbooks as anyone can appreciate this sort of recording at whatever age.
5.       Who have you dedicated this book to, and why?
This book is dedicated to all my friends who come along with me on my sketching journeys. It is always lovely to share the moments with someone else.
6.       Can you recommend any books for children/young adults who love this book?
Books I would recommend are:  
  • How to be an Explorer of the World, by Keri Smith
  • Drawn to Nature, by Clare Walker Leslie
  • Learn to Draw Wildlife, by Peter Partington
  • Learn to Draw Birds, by Peter Partington
  • Keeping a Nature Journal, by Clare Walker Leslie
7. What is your favourite thing to do when you aren’t writing or drawing, and why?
My favourite thing to do if not writing or drawing is to go tramping or travelling- I don’t seem to get enough time for this these days!!
Sandra runs an illustration agency for NZ illustrators:
For another interview with Sandra, check this one out on Christchurch City Library’s website:   
Yesterday’s feature was New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame: 25 Kiwi Champions, by Maria Gill, which was featured on the Booksellers NZ blog:  Tomorrow’s feature will be the final non-fiction title, Waitangi Day: The New Zealand Story, by Philippa Werry. This will be featured at Barbara Murison’s blog site:

If you haven't been following along with the Book Awards blog tour you can catch up now! Click here and you can read all the other reviews.

After you've read the reviews take the time to vote, your child could win some fabulous books for themselves and some for their school too!

I have a copy of A New Zealand Nature Journal to giveaway to a reader. Just leave a comment in this post and you are in the draw. Open to NZ addresses only. I'll draw a winner next week, good luck!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Maori art for Kids - Review and Giveaway!

It's that time of year again, New Zealand Book Awards for children and young adults awards. This year they have a Children's choice voting section which is a great addition to these fabulous awards, I love the idea of children getting a chance to vote for books that they love.

My children and I have had the wonderful opportunity to review two books in the Children's choice section. The first up is Maori Art for Kids by Julie Noanoa and Norm Heke.

Inside this book are 15 art activities for kids (I'd argue that they could be for any ages really!) and 15 featured artists showcasing stunning contemporary Maori art. As a family we really enjoyed gaining some background knowledge of the Maori art before trying our hands at making some. The artist sections give valuable knowledge and insight into the crafts in their traditional forms, perfect for people wanting to know a little bit more about Maori craft and culture - like us!

We started off making the cover craft activity - a hei tiki or a neck pendant as we had some polymer clay at hand. What fun! We found the instructions really clear as each step is photographed (with children that are crafting), making it perfect for any crafting level and showing kids that they can do it too.

The kids were so proud of their creations and wear them now with pride. I think the next project will be the Poi dancing balls made from old t-shirts!

Julie Noanoa and Norm Heke answer our questions about Maori Art for Kids

Maori Art for Kids has been voted for by kids all over New Zealand to become a finalist in the Children’s Non-fiction category.

Julie Noanoa goes first, telling us what the inspiration for the book was, and what the trickiest bit of publication proved to be.
1. .       As an author, you must have a lot of ideas floating around. How did you decide to write this book in particular?
I researched numerous possibilities for children's books about New Zealand culture, before settling on Maori Art for Kids. Many of the initial ideas would have been relatively quick and easy to produce. Eventually Norm and I both decided to go with the most challenging book to make. The aim was for create something for families to connect with and appreciate Maori art.
We wanted to produce a book of high quality that would appeal to a wide audience. This book combined both my and Norm's interests and skill set, also Norms connections with New Zealand artists, and my background in museum / gallery education.
Without the generosity and support of family, friends and respected colleagues who believed in Norm and I, this book wouldn't have been possible.
2.       Tell us a bit about the journey from manuscript to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in publishing this book?
Our publisher Potton and Burton made the publishing journey straight forward. We met with Robbie Burton early on, he placed a huge amount in trust in us to produce the manuscript on time. Robbie and his team allowed us to 'go for it' and were always ready to support us when needed.
Good communication was the key to ensuring the project remained on track. The biggest challenge was letting go of some of the strong ideas I had envisaged. By actively reflecting and listening to insights from editors and other graphic designers, we were able to negotiate and achieve a great result as a team.
3.       How did you tailor this book to the age-group it reaches?
Having worked with hundreds of school groups over the years in Wellington museums and art galleries, I became skilled in breaking down art activity tasks in fine detail, to teach art classes. I would refine activities to create the best results in the shortest time. Part of my job working in art galleries was to help people make meaning of art through observation and shared discussions. I became quick at accessing group needs and tailoring workshops to suit different age groups, from early childhood to adult learner.
It was also my job as an educator to decode art curator language, into everyday language, to communicate meaning with young audiences, curators language about artist's works is often rich in layers, with multiple meaning and metaphor.
4.       Who have you dedicated this book to, and why?
Both Norm and I wanted to dedicate this book to our mothers. They were both important figures in our lives when growing up, encouraging experimentation in creative pursuits.  
My mum became very ill while I was writing this book, but encouraged me to keep writing because I had a set date to work towards. Although she didn't get to see the finished printed work, she saw the digital version and loved it and said she was very proud of my work.
5.       Can you recommend any books for children/young adults who love this book?
I recommend reading non-fiction books from all over the world about art and artist and different cultures, especially those that include activities to extend practical art skills.
6.       What is your favourite thing to do when you aren’t reading or writing, and why?
Daydreaming is a pastime I find relaxing, it used to really annoy my teacher in my school days. I prefer to refer to it as visualization exercises, and it's how I create.
I love family time and the natural environment. I intend to spend more time in my garden this season preparing my vegetable garden and planting things that will attract native birds.

Norm Heke tells us more about the photography and illustration of this book:
1.       Maori Art for Kids is very thoughtfully photographed and illustrated. What was your approach to illustrating/photographing this book?
I was in charge of the photography and photoshop work throughout the entire project. Working with the graphic design layout that Julie set up before photography began, helped me to know the exact technical requirement for photographing each segment. This approach sped up the imaging process, it's a different approach to how I've worked on other books in the past. Any changes needed were remedied quickly, because I worked closely with Julie.
2.       Tell us a bit about the journey from storyboards (physical or digital) to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in illustrating/photographing this book?
Coordinating the artists’ photography of their work was a challenge. In some cases the art works had been sold and were no longer in the country, and the artists were only able to supply existing digital images of their work.  I spent  several hours digitally re-building those images to publication quality and to fit the book layout.
One of the artist works was a huge public sculpture, located in Wellington. I re-visited the artwork over two days to get the right lighting and weather, then had to re-build the street scene in photoshop to make it fit within the page layout.
The children who modelled were excited to be part of the  project, I spent a lot of time directing and they got used to the cameras. I had to ensure that each of the images for the activities represented the instructions clearly and that each model looked their best.  
3.       How closely were you able to collaborate with the writer? Do you prefer to work this way?
I worked very closely on the book in partnership with Julie, who is also my wife. We communicated about  the book every day over the few months we worked on it. We were quickly able add new ideas or access any issues as they arose to come up with the best possible solutions, and implement them straight away. We have complimentary skills and we enjoy working together.
4.       What techniques do you think you used to make your book appeal to children as much as their parents?
Imagery features prominently in the book. Photography is used as a visual tool to communicate a meaning that is complimentary to the text. The design brief was to make a book of fine art quality, to appeal to adults interested in art and culture. We felt strongly that having everyday kiwi kids modelling how to make the activities would appeal to children. We did this also in the hope that kids would pick up the book, and know quickly how do the activities.
I wanted all of the imagery to be placed on 'clean' backgrounds, of white, black or grey as appropriate. I wanted the artist's work to be to be a central focus of the book. As much as possible I tried to make the imagery appear to float on the page, to create depth, to show the work as if in an art gallery.
5.       Can you recommend any other books for children/young adults who love this book?
I recommend the book Taiawhio 1 and Taiawhio 2, they are books I worked which were produced by Te Papa Press, to see more examples of great contemporary Maori Artists, to read their stories and view their work.
6.       What is your favourite thing to do when you aren’t creating beautiful images, and why?
I enjoy time with my family and getting out and about in the natural environment. We don't watch much TV in our house, but we love to watch movies together. I especially like science fiction. Reading is one of my passions, I am especially drawn to New Zealand history.
Hand-carving Maori taonga puoro instruments is one of my hobbies. I like to learn about, play and perform with friends and colleagues who also play the instruments. I often have multiple projects 'on the go' at any one time. I'm also hoping to get on to my next digital art exhibition soon.  

You can click here to vote for your favourite in the Children's choice section, all votes go towards a chance to win some books for your child and books for your child's school too!

I have a copy of Maori Art for kids to giveaway here! So just leave a comment below and you are in the draw to win. Open to NZ residents only. I'll draw a winner next week.