About Illustrating – Link to Interview with Ned Barraud

Children often ask about the illustration process for the ‘explore and discover books’. Ned Barraud the illustrator is interviewed on The Sapling about how he fits illustrating children’s books in with his day job, about the process and about some of his favourite illustrators and children’s books.

Here’s the link: https://www.thesapling.co.nz/single-post/2017/10/12/Ned-Barraud-A-day-in-the-life-of-an-illustrator

Reviewing ‘Keeping Your Children Safe Online’

Keeping Your Children Safe Online: a guide for New Zealand parents by John Parsons, published by Potton & Burton 2017

The moment I picked up Keeping Your Children Safe Online, I knew this book was going to be flying off the bookshop shelves. I immediately thought of who’d needed it 6 months ago and who I’d be recommending it to straightaway.

John Parsons takes a very practical approach to his topic, using short real-life examples to illustrate situations such as cyber-bullying or of young people tricked into sending inappropriate images. He shows how these situations can be resolved and discusses who to turn to for help.

Keeping Your Children Safe Online isn’t heavy on technical jargon and doesn’t demand technical know-how, instead the author steers the reader gently in the right direction with some useful tips about where to find out what you need to know. The author also introduces some useful analogies, for example, talking about the internet as if its a physical place, which may be helpful for parents when they talk to their children. For a taster, check out the short videos on the publishers’ website http://www.pottonandburton.co.nz/store/keeping-your-children-safe-online

What I particularly like is that Keeping Your Children Safe Online takes “good parenting” principles and applies these to the issues of cyber safety. Reading this book is a reminder of what’s really important in parent-child relationships, with parenting tips that could be applied in any situation. The book does a pretty good job as a parenting refresher course!

I’d recommend this book to parents of children from 0-18 years old. If your child is at the younger end, then there are great tips about how to talk about values that will stand you and your child in good stead as they traverse the technology landscape. For parents of teens, there are lots of practical ideas here of how to talk to your teens about the way they use social media, as well as reminders of your children’s rights and what the law says about cyber-bullying. If your teen has already got caught up in a difficult situation, you’ll find the case studies useful as well as the agencies listed in the back.

After reading this book, I think some parents will be wondering about their own degree of cyber safety. That might be just the conversation starter you need to discuss cyber safety with your teen!

Up the River – new book about New Zealand’s freshwater

Up the River: explore and discover New Zealand’s rivers, lakes and wetlands is the latest addition  to the ‘explore and discover’ books, following on from books about the seashore, ocean, garden, and forest habitats.

Up the River is the sixth book in the series

Six years ago I would have wondered how many people might be interested enough in our freshwater habitats to buy a book about them for their children or grandchildren, but now as we release this book, there is broad public interest. There’s been much publicity about whether our rivers are swimmable, about polluted drinking water and about the loss of rivers to irrigation schemes.

As a nation we’ve woken up to the facts – that clean freshwater matters and that our freshwater is not as clean as we would like it to be. 

All of these events and debates were going on while I was researching and writing Up the River. The more I researched, the more I realised that the state of our freshwater was worse than I had imagined. I had to work hard to resist the temptation to make the dire findings and debates centre stage in the book. Why?

Partly because I want the book to endure for ten years or more, and I hope as a society we’ll act quickly now to make a difference to water quality. But mainly, because a focus on negative facts can make children feel powerless. After all this is a mess not of their making.

Pages 20-21 what lives in the wetland?

Instead I wanted to show children (and the adults who read the book with them) the diverse and intriguing wildlife that healthy freshwater systems support. In Up the River the reader discovers animals that are little known because they are hidden or out of sight, or rare because of habitat loss. Children learn about the amazing journeys that fish make, and the extraordinary life-cycles of aquatic insects. In this way, they get to understand how special these habitats are.

The rivers needed to be recognisable to children who may not get to experience mountain streams or braided rivers, so Ned’s illustrations show a modified habitat on pages 10-13.

Part of the image showing a modified habitat

I hope that this leads to discussion about what impact the farms and towns along the river will have on the animals and plants that live there.

The text about lakes on pages 16-17 also raises the issue of the particular problems that affect lakes. For older children, there is discussion at the end of the book about algal blooms and freshwater problems. Here, the “What can you do?” text empowers children (and adults) to take action for freshwater.

You might be wondering just how bad is the state of our freshwater really. Click on this image for a simple summary of facts from the Ministry of the Environment and down load ‘New Zealand’s fresh water at a glance 2017’.

Infographic from the Ministry of the Environment

Bought the book and want tips and ideas to follow up?

As I write, I note down interesting websites or activities and compile these to share with parents and teachers. See “ideas for children, parents and educators to explore and discover New Zealand’s rivers, lakes and wetlands” on the Potton & Burton website.  I also continue to update my Pinterest board with links to websites, documents, and tips for craft and science activities.

Did you know?

My books are available in hardback as well as paperback. Often bookstores just stock the paperback version, but many people prefer hardbacks, either because they are more robust or because they make nice gifts. Ask your bookstore to order the hardback for you or order it online direct from my publisher, Potton & Burton. http://www.pottonandburton.co.nz/store/up-the-river

FAQs About Writing ‘From Moa to Dinosaurs’

Recently I was interviewed by The Sapling about From Moa to Dinosaurs, a finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults

To read the full interview with me and with the other non-fiction finalists click here.

I’ve decided to put a couple of my answers up on the blog, as these respond to frequently asked questions from both school children and adults.

3. How long did it take you to write the book? 

It took a year to create From Moa to Dinosaurs, once the concept had been agreed on. Ned Barraud (the illustrator) and I had discussed the idea of depicting extinct or relict species a few years earlier, but we were busy on another book and it took awhile to figure out how this idea fitted with our ‘explore and discover’ series. I had to do a lot of research before I wrote up the concept and even more before I started writing. I ran the first draft past a scientist, and he also looked at the rough illustrations and the ‘final’ text and illustrations. The hardest part about writing a book like this is that much of the science is still developing, for example, at the time I started researching, articles described a small mammal (not a bat) among the fossils at Lake Manuherikia. This was exciting as New Zealand had no history of native land mammals other than bats. Ned got as far as trying to illustrate this mammal when our expert told me there was now doubt around the mammal fossil! So I had to make the decision not to depict it.

4. How involved were you with the images/illustrations/photos? 

I’m very involved in the illustration process. I gave Ned a brief which described what animals needed to be illustrated. I also told him what I knew about these animals and some clues scientists have uncovered about the environment the animals lived in. Ned is a real master of composition and rises to the challenge of, for example, depicting a tiny gecko in the same illustration as a large crocodilian. We have a bit of back and forth as he refines the pictures and comes back with suggestions. Sometimes I alter bits of the text to better fit the final illustrations. This was a great project to work on together, as Ned could use his imagination to conjure up what Ancient New Zealand might have looked like. Knowing about the likely interaction between animals enabled him to put some drama into the illustrations too.

Please read the full interview on The Sapling.

Free Downloadable Forest Birds ID Card

Free to download – Forest Birds ID card from “In the Bush” by Gillian Candler, illustrations by Ned Barraud

With the first print-run of “In the Bush: explore and discover New Zealand’s native forests” came a detachable forest bird ID card in the inside back cover. This card won’t be included in subsequent print-runs. Instead it’s available to download from my publisher’s website or through this blog post.


Reverse of Forest Bird ID card from “In the Bush’ by Gillian Candler, illustrations by Ned Barraud

For tips on bird-watching see my Nature Blog: https://explorediscovernature.blogspot.co.nz/2017/06/what-bird-is-that-identifying-native.html

Finalist in Book Awards 2017

I’m delighted to announce that “From Moa to Dinosaurs: explore and discover ancient New Zealand” is a finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults 2017.

Here’s the link to the complete list of finalist books and a great resource for parents and grandparents wanting to find suitable New Zealand books for children and young adults.

The awards are announced on 14 August 2017. Meanwhile schools can get involved in the Reading Challenge and look forward to some author and illustrator events.

The State of Children’s Non-Fiction in New Zealand

Follow this link to read an article I’ve written on the state of children’s non-fiction. I argue that there must be a better name for these splendid books than ‘non-fiction’ and that we need more good quality non-fiction titles for children with New Zealand content.


Gillian Candler writes about children’s non-fiction in New Zealand.

Make a Gecko with Sticky Feet

Did you know that geckos have ‘sticky’ feet? They can even walk upside down on ceilings or up a pane of glass! Children at Porirua, Cannons Creek and Whitby Libraries had a go at making their own geckos with sticky feet yesterday as part of my author tour.

Our model was the gold-striped gecko in “Whose Feet are These?” illustrated by Fraser Williamson.

Fraser also created a colour-in gecko to fit on A4 paper.

It didn’t take long for the children to discover that the geckos could climb the library shelves.

Gecko sticking to the library shelf

You can make your own gecko, using this free A4 download. All you need are colouring pens, scissors and stick-on magnets, googly eyes are optional.


To learn a bit more about geckos and other lizards in New Zealand, see “Geckos and Skinks – what’s the difference”.

Some children also made origami Beaky Book Corners.  You can find the instructions for these here.

A Kiwi Book Corner peeps around the corner of this book

An unusual bird!