Archive for NZ Book Month 2013

Book clubs and bye!

Lee Murray (2)Have you ever belonged to a Book Club? My mum does. In my mum’s book club for grown-ups, members pay some money to belong, and then each month they read a book chosen for them by the library. Afterwards, they get together to answer comprehension questions about the book. Oh dear! That sounds so boring!  But Book Clubs don’t have to be official with lots of prickly rules, and they definitely don’t have to be boring. It can just be you and a group of your friends, say three to six people. You could give your club a quirky name, and agree to read a book each month, or fortnight, or week, depending on how quickly you all read. Then comes the fun bit: choosing some books to read. There are lots of ways to do this. You might decide to read an entire series, like the Hunger Games books or the Harry Potter books. If you like spies and adventure you might compare Zac Power books with the Jane Blonde spy-let series by Jill Marshall. Enjoy fantasy stories whose main characters are rodents? Then why not compare the Tale of Despereaux (Kate de Camillo), Geronimo Stilton and Time Stops for No Mouse (Michael Hoepe)? If you’re finding it difficult to choose a theme, ask your librarian who’ll be happy to help you. When you have chosen your book(s) and everyone has had time to read it, make a plan to meet at school interval or at lunchtime to talk about what you liked, or didn’t like, about the book, or whether the film version was better. If this sounds too nerdy, just open your ears and have a have a listen at lunchtime. You’ll find there are lots of people already talking about books and films. As a Book Club member, you’ll be certain to have an interesting book in mind to discuss. And if you’ve just moved to a new school and you haven’t had time to get to know anyone yet, then opening a conversation with a comment about a book you’ve read lately is a terrific way break the ice and make a new friend.

Well, the month has flown past and suddenly it’s my last day as your Star Author here on the Christchurch Kids’ Blog. I can’t believe it’s already over, especially as I still have a whole list of topics I want to discuss with you. Things like:

  • What makes a good book film trailer?
  • What’s the best position for reading: lying on the floor with your feet on the sofa, with your knees tucked up on a squashy armchair, snuggled in bed?
  • The best place for reading: in a hammock, on a window seat, at the beach?
  • What exactly is an ebook?
  • How does writing for TV and stage differ from writing books?
  • Working with an illustrator: who is the boss?
  • Writers’ block: does it really exist?
  • What is plagiarism?
  • Graphic novels: the new comics
  • My new YA book, Misplaced, coming out later this year…

Sadly, there just wasn’t enough time, but perhaps I’ll be able to come back one day. In the meantime, even though New Zealand Book Month is over for this year, I hope you’ll keep reading and recommending books by our New Zealand authors. Thanks for having me! Lee

LeeWaikikiWebCropped

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Fast Five with Melanie Drewery

  • Why did you want to be a writer?

Because I have always had a vivid imagination, and when I was small I was a real chatterbox with lots of ideas to share. Writing is sort of like talking a lot on paper.

  • What’s the best thing about being a writer?

I can put my ideas into a story and they will reach heaps and heaps of people I may never even meet! My words might make someone laugh or cry, they might even teach them something or change the way they look at the world. That’s pretty amazing.

  • What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

Under the Mountain.

  • What do you love most about New Zealand?

Oh I can’t just love one thing, I need at least two, so I’m going to cheat here. I love our beaches, and being able to swim or walk by the sea every day. I also love our own unique culture, and how much more Te Reo Maori and Maori expressions have become part of everyone’s culture.

  • What do you love most about libraries?

I love being able to read lots and lots and lots of books. Is it weird to say I also love the bookish smell of libraries, yum, all those words wiggling around in their books and making their own special smell.

Melanie Drewery is an author, illustrator and artist who writes primarily for children. Koro’s Medicine was a finalist in the Picture Book Category of the 2005 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children & Young Adults, and the Maori translation of this title, by Kararaina Uatuku, won the 2005 Te Kura Pounamu Award. Melanie won the Picture Book section of the 2008 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults for her book Tahi: One Lucky Kiwi.

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Fast Five with Sarah Johnson

  • Why did you want to be a writer?

Stories are one of my favourite things in the whole world (as are books), so it made sense to me that I would enjoy writing them, and I do. I have carried the stories I read as a child with me into adulthood, and as I got older I read stories that I considered so incredibly beautiful (or moving, or sometimes funny) they were like sunsets or landscapes or other natural wonders. That’s a pretty amazing impact to have, and I wanted to give it a try. Imagine being able to create something that had that effect on another person! I haven’t managed it yet, but I’m still trying.

  • What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Writing stories. Entering, and dwelling in, the fabulous zone they come from. Playing with the words (endlessly) until they make patterns and poems on the page.

  • What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

Oh, hard. For children, it’s probably Peter and the Pig by Simon Grant, because every single time I read it, I laugh. I wish I could write something that funny! For adults, anything by Patricia Grace, but then she writes wonderfully for children too.

  • What do you love most about New Zealand?

The colour and clarity of the light, the emptiness of the sky, the smell and the air of the bush. I lived in Scotland for a while and these were the things I missed. They were in my bones and they sung to me while I was away.

  • What do you love most about libraries?

How excited I feel every time I enter one. All that interest, all those stories, all that knowledge, sitting on a shelf waiting for me to find it. And knowing that I’m going to walk out the door with a book in my hand and a new possibility in my life. Libraries are portals. They should house them in a tardis.

Sarah Johnson is the author of Ella and Ob and the winner of the 2011 Joy Cowley Award, Wooden Arms.  Sarah has also written books and stories for grown-ups

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Beta Mean Better!

How are you all doing with your NZ Book Month Reading? I’ve read my third book, so I’m pleased to say that I’m on target to read four books by New Zealand authors before the close of the month. This week, I was lucky enough to read a book that isn’t even available in stores yet! It’s one of the things I love best about being a writer: other writers send you their brand new books to read before they are published. It’s called beta reading and I believe the term comes from the computer industry. When a software company makes a new product, it tests it first in-house for bugs and problems. This is called alpha testing. Then, when they’ve fixed all the problems they can find, the company sends the software out to some test companies who beta test the product to see if there are any further issues to be resolved. So, in the same way, an author writes the best story they can and edits it themselves (alpha reading) and then they send it out to specially chosen beta readers for their perspectives and suggestions on how the story might be improved. Stim

I love beta reading. It’s the coolest thing. Firstly, it means another writer values your opinion enough to share their work with you. That’s pretty exciting. Then, you get to read a brand story that no-one else has read yet. Imagine reading a Percy Jackson book or the latest Anthony Horowitz title before anyone else? That’s pretty exciting. Next, you get to make suggestions that the writer might then incorporate into their story. That makes you an important part of the writing process. More exciting stuff. And finally, when the book is released you get to see whether or not everyone agrees with you about how fantastic the book is.  Kevin Berry

The story I beta read is called Stim, a young adult novel by Christchurch writer Kevin Berry, last year’s Sir Julius Vogel Award Winner for Best New Talent (with Diane Berry). Since Kevin is an award-winning writer, I knew Stim would be good but it was something else. Stim is AMAZING. It’s the story of Robert, a Canterbury university student who makes a bold plan to get himself girlfriend, which would be fine except Robert is an Aspie –  he suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome – which means he finds interactions with other people, and especially girls, rather difficult. Luckily, Robert has a friend, Chloe and a flatmate, Stef, who help him though some of the awkward bits. Hilarious and sad at the same time, Stim is a window on the everyday struggles of people with Asperger’s.  It’s  a great book, due to be released later this year by Bluewood Publishing.

I’ll bet you’re all cross now. Here I am raving about a book that you can’t even get out of the library yet.  Luckily, Kevin and Diane Berry (KD Berry) have written some other great titles, which ARE available in the library, including high fantasy novels Dragons Away and Growing Disenchantments, fun reading for the meantime.

DA and GD

 

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Guest Author: Melinda Szymanik on A Winter’s Day in 1939

Today we’re joined by the wonderful Melinda Szymanik, author of the powerful new book, A Winter’s Day in 1939.  Based on her father’s experiences during World War II, A Winter’s Day in 1939 is a story of family, the harsh realities of war, and the fight for survival against the odds. Melinda has written a really interesting post for us about why and how she wrote A Winter’s Day in 1939.

Why and How I wrote A Winter’s Day in 1939

When the Soviet soldiers come and order them out, Adam and his family have no idea where they are going or if they will ever come back.  The Germans have attacked Poland and the world is at war. Boarding a cattle train Adam and his family embark on a journey that will cover thousands of miles and several years, and change all their lives forever. And mine too. Because Adam’s story, the story told in my new novel A Winter’s Day in 1939, is very much my Dad’s story.

I often heard fragments of this story from my dad when I was growing up.  It was shocking, and sad, and amazing.  My Dad’s family was forced out of their home and taken to a labour camp in Russia. It was freezing cold, and many people died from disease or starvation. Even when the Soviets finally let them go, they spent weeks travelling around the USSR , were made to work on Soviet farms and were still hungry and often sick, with no idea of where they might end up next.  As a child growing up in a peaceful place like New Zealand it was hard to imagine the real dangers and terrible conditions my father experienced.

I didn’t get to know the full story until I was grown up with children of my own and was regularly writing stories for children.  I wrote a short story, also called A Winter’s Day in 1939, based on a single event I knew fairly well  from my Dad‘s childhood – when Soviet Soldiers first come to order them off their farm, the only home my father had known up till that point in his life. The story was published in The Australian School Magazine.  I showed the short story to the publishers Scholastic who liked it too. They wondered if I could turn it in to a novel.  This was a chance to tell my father’s story. By now I knew it was an important story that should be shared

Luckily my Dad had made notes about his life during World War Two; about twenty pages all typed up.  However I know people’s real lives don’t always fit into the framework of a novel and I knew I would have to emphasize some things and maybe leave other things out.

I read and researched to add the right details to the story. And asked my parents lots of questions. How cold was it in Poland in January 1940? Who or what were the NKVD? What were the trains like? What are the symptoms of typhoid? How do you make your own skis? Some information was hard to find. Some of the places that existed in the 1940s aren’t there anymore. And people didn’t keep records about how many people were taken to the USSR from Poland or what happened to particular individuals. But what I wanted to give readers most of all was a sense of how it felt to live that life.  So this then is the story of a twelve year old Polish boy in the USSR during World War 2 that all started on A Winter’s Day in 1939.

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A Winter’s Day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik

Taken from their home, forced to leave their country, put to work in labour camps, frozen and starved, Adam and his family doubt that they will ever make it out alive. Even if they were to get away, they might freeze to death, or starve, or the bears might get them. For the Polish refugees, the whole of the USSR becomes a prison from which there is seemingly no escape.

 

A Winter’s Day in 1939 is a story of family, the harsh realities of war, and the fight for survival against the odds.  Adam and his family are ripped from their safe, comfortable life in Poland and transported to prison camps in Russia, in freezing conditions and with little to eat and drink.  They get transported in dirty, stinking train carriages with a stove and a pipe as a toilet, live in cramped barracks with many other families, and are forced to work for the good of Russia.  People die of exposure to the freezing conditions and disease is rife.  In these conditions you need to have to will to survive, and for Adam and his family, this is what is keeping them going.

The story is narrated by Adam, so you see everything through his eyes.  You feel how much he wants to survive and how important his family is to him. You get a real sense of how desperate their situation gets as time goes by, especially when it comes to food.  When a clerk at one of the evacuation centers apologizes to Adam for the lack of food, Adam says ‘He sounded sorry about it but that was no help to us.  You couldn’t eat ‘sorry.” You want so much for Adam and his family to survive the war and be able to return home, but you don’t know if their story will have a happy ending.

One of the things that stands out in Melinda’s story is the sense that Adam, his family, and the other refugees around them, hadn’t done anything wrong, yet they’re treated the way they are.  Adam says this himself, ‘We were being punished but I hadn’t done anything wrong.  None of us had.’ These people have been thrown out of their homes and sent to prison camps for no reason what so ever.

A Winter’s Day in 1939 is a war story that hasn’t been told before and it will have an affect on readers of all ages.  Stories like Melinda’s help us to remember all those people who died during this horrific period of history and I’ll certainly remember Adam’s story for a long time.

4 out of 5 stars

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Fast Five with Kath Beattie

  • Why did you want to be a writer?

I’ve been writing since I was a small girl. Telling stories is just something I do and want to do and as a small child had to do. We didn’t have many books…we were poor (as many were way back then) so we wrote our own stories (and illustrated them!). We loved writing to the children’s page of the NZ Herald…and later as I grew I wrote stories for the local newspapers and various magazines.

  • What’s the best thing about being a writer?

I think the greatest fun is finding a way to tell a story in a new way or to find a new and different character. I still love the story I wrote where one of the characters in the story talks to me the writer! She gets mad because she doesn’t want to say what I want her to say! So I threaten to write her out of the story…sadly the story has never been published!

  • What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

I always dislike this sort of question. I love many many books for many many different reasons. And there are SO many marvellous books written by New Zealanders.

  • What do you love most about New Zealand?

Again I have many reasons for loving NZ. I particularly love the outdoors…our beautiful wild coastline, the lush and glorious bush, rugged mountains and hills country and the growing interest in our ‘wildlife’. I also love that we have so so many opportunities for education, sport, the arts etc. and rejoice that we can have very full and interesting lives as well as helping the less advantaged.

  • What do you love most about libraries?

When I was much much younger I used to find libraries a little daunting…no longer.  Libraries these days are so welcoming. The staff are wonderfully helpful and almost any book we would like to read a librarian can find it or order it for us. Libraries don’t just have books…there are CDs and now electronic readers. I have written a couple of historical fiction books and the archivists at the libraries I have visited have been wizards at finding me information. Libraries are busy friendly places. Make sure you get to know yours. The books are free as well!!

Kath Beattie is the author of two books in the My New Zealand Story series, Gumdigger and Cyclone Bola (released this month).  Kath has also had her stories published in anthologies, including Dare and Double Dare and Mischief and Mayhem.

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