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An Interview with Marie Munro - author of Te Wharau o Kui

te wharau o kui 500 r112x from supplier website

An interview with Marie Munro – author of Te wharau o Kui – to support the HDL StoryWalk for Summer Sparks

 We recently interviewed author Marie Munro, resident in Wellington and writer of Nana’s Shed - Te Wharau o Kui, our final Summer Sparks StoryWalk book. Here’s what she has to say about her experience of writing a bilingual picture book for young readers.

 HDL: Nana’s Shed was your first book - what gave you the idea for it?

It’s a sort of true story. I had a flat-pack shed, wrapped in plastic, lying out on the lawn in the weather, for months. I was genuinely waiting for a builder to come to assemble it. At the same time, my 16-month-old grandson was helping his father build a deck around their home. Next door, another equally little fellow was helping the builders who were repairing his leaky home. Almost all day, every day, I would hear the tap, tap, tap of his plastic hammer beneath the racket of drop saws, gas guns and other construction gear.
One day, in absolute exasperation, I was out on the lawn looking at the mess of puddles, weeds and resident bugs and critters, and said, “For heaven’s sake, Jacob and Max, fix this”. At that moment, the story began unfolding in rhyming couplets.

“Nana’s new shed was stacked on the lawn for a year and more.”

I played with it for about a year, tweaking the story and ensuring that there were no tripping points in the rhyme. When I was reasonably happy, I gave the text to Rachel with the instructions to illustrate in the style of Donovan Bixley, black outline, lots of things for kids to find.

 HDL: Nana’s Shed was published in 2017, and Te Wharau o Kui was published in 2019. Can you tell me how a bilingual edition came about?

There are two reasons.
Rachel (Doragh) is fluent in Māori, so we utilised that strength by adding a Māori ‘find it’ activity on each page of the first edition. The inclusion of the objects/critters was cumulative, to aid learning and increase engagement. New learning was also supported with a bilingual glossary and counting to 12 in English and Māori.
The second reason is the 1200 copy first edition of Nana’s Shed sold out very quickly. A decision on whether to do a reprint or a second edition was required. The popularity of the Māori ‘find it’ activities encouraged us to consider a bilingual 2nd edition and provided me with an opportunity to rectify, in a small way, a wrong that had troubled me from childhood when I had shared a class with two Māori boys, twins, who were constantly punished for speaking Māori at school.

 HDL: I appreciate how equal space is given to Te Reo and English on each page and that the languages alternate between being on the top and bottom.

The intended message in giving equal space to Te Reo and English, and the languages alternating between top and bottom, is that these two languages are equal in NZ. 

 HDL:Looking at this, I want to ask what is involved in the design process of your books. What does it take to produce a picture book?

Teamwork, communication and visualisation are the key requirements in the production of a picture book. I think in pictures and draw those pictures in words that my illustrator must interpret and translate into illustrations. This involves conversations, brainstorming and lots of laughter.  Rachel and I are fortunate in that she can interpret my text very much as I originally visualised the settings, characters, activities and so on.
Illustrating is a creative art. Each of my illustrators is different, but I use a similar approach. I endeavor to give them as much of a free hand as possible. For example, when I take a new story to an illustrator, we talk, brainstorm, etc.  I set very few parameters, choosing instead to respect their response to the text. This strategy works because it releases the very special magic that children find in our books.

All illustrations in Nana’s Shed Books are produced in digital format so, where the subject matter proves a challenge for the illustrator, for example the construction industry knowledge required for Nana’s New Porch - Te Mahau Hou o Kui, I can provide sketchy drawings as a guide.
When they’ve sorted their ideas for the book, the Illustrator’s first step is to produce a storyboard, which is a set of quick sketches that breaks the story down into the single and double-page spreads that form a skeleton for the finished book.
They then create backgrounds for the action and, using a system of layers, add characters, activities, flora and fauna, furniture, etc.  We use the layer system so that images from one book can be used in subsequent books to provide continuity and reinforce new learning.
The illustrators usually submit illustrations in blocks of 10 pages so we, as publishers, can ensure that the book is growing in accordance with the agreed plan.

 HDL: And how did your relationship with accredited Māori translator, Piripi Walker, come about?

When we decided to investigate the feasibility of going bilingual, I called a bookshop that carries stocks of books in Te Reo seeking the names of potential translators.  They were very obliging, but the first person I called said she didn’t feel up to the task. She suggested I call Piripi, which I did. We talked, he checked our books online, said he liked the look of them and agreed to translate Nana’s Shed.  He has subsequently translated Lucas's Car - Te Waka o Lucas, This Dog – Ko Tēnei Kurī, Nana’s Veggie Garden - Te Māra Kai a Kui, Nana’s New Porch - Te Mahau Hou o Kui, and has a further three texts awaiting his attention.
Piripi has his own sub-editor, who checks the accuracy of his literal translation but, as our books are intended for younger readers and Piripi is a tertiary-level educator, we send them on to a Playcentre co-ordinator, who is fluent in Māori, to ensure that the words are simple, clear and each sentence flows when delivered aloud.

 HDL: You’ve since gone on to write and publish five more books – I’m excited about Ko Tēnei Kurī, written by Ian Munro. Did your husband, Ian, really want to write this one?

Ian is a published author and columnist. He wrote This Dog - Ko Tēnei Kurī because I was too busy. He came in from the garden one day and said, “You need to write a story about that stroppy, bossy blackbird out there.”
I suggested he write it himself, which he did, using repetition, instead of my rhyming couplet style.

 HDL: Do you have dogs and a blackbird in your backyard?

Over the last two years, we have had the most obnoxious of any of the blackbirds that have ever inhabited our back garden. It drove its parents and siblings away, it tyrannises all the other birds, including the tūī, and it follows us around the garden pulling out everything we plant. We have to protect everything with wire cloches until the roots establish. 
We don’t currently have a dog, our last one died several years ago but his was the personality that Ian drew on for Ko Tēnei Kurī. He was a kind and gentle soul, the sort of dog that would reassure a terrified kitten on its first trip in the car, curl himself around her, as a cat, keeping her warm and comforted when she came back from the vet. The sort of dog who recognised his friend’s shortcomings as a mother, so took over cleaning, toileting and playing with her kittens.

 HDL: Your books really are odes to your grandchildren. I can tell that you have a great relationship with your mokopuna. How do Bella, Lucas, Jacob (and Max) feel about being characters in your books?

Having grandparents who write books for kids, and being characters in those books, is just normal for Bella, Lucas and Jacob.  The part they like best is that they get to come over to Wellington, from Sydney, with their Mum, to be special guests at their book launches. Sadly, Lucas will have to wait a very long time before he can come to celebrate the book written especially for him.
They also enjoy dressing up as their characters for school Book-Week and have happily donated copies of each book to their respective day-cares and schools. Jacob, in particular is always calling for supplies to give as gifts to his friends. 
Having been the hero in ‘Nana’s Shed’, Jacob also chose to entertain himself during Sydney’s prolonged first lockdown, writing and illustrating a collection of stories, which his Mum sent to us. I felt they were excellent quality from a 7-year-old, so published a limited edition. Bella (10) has sent me a superb story, which I hope she and I can work up this summer. 
I’m among Max’s favourite people because he loves books and enjoys being celebrated in books in his school’s library.

 HDL: What stories are you working on currently?

I have just completed the first draft of a 45,000+ word novel for young adults.
The team is currently working on the following bilingual picture books:

  • Nana’s Electric Car
  • Nana’s Simple Science: The Water Cycle
  • Where is This Dog?

 HDL: And last question: who is your go-to author for young readers?

I have an eclectic taste in books. It depends on the time, mood, and age and interests of the child or children I’m sharing with. In saying that, I especially love New Zealand authors - Margaret Mahy, Joy Cowley, Maurice Gee, Elsie Locke, Lynley Dodd, et al.

This author interview is published to support the Hastings District Libraries StoryWalk installation, as part of Summer Sparks 2021/22.
More information about the installation can be found here: https://www.eventfinda.co.nz/2021/hastings-district-libraries-storywalkr/havelock-north

A StoryWalk® is a creative way for children and their whānau to enjoy the outdoors on a family-friendly path while reading an adventure at the same time. Pages of a children's book are displayed along the path for people to follow along and read. The initiative aims to get people out and about enjoying the benefits of both physical exercise and reading at the same time.

The StoryWalk® Project was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, VT and developed in collaboration with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. StoryWalk® is a registered service mark owned by Ms. Ferguson.

19 January 2022

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