Nature Heroes

My latest book New Zealand Nature Heroes is 80 pages of “inspiration and activities for young conservationists”. Stories of scientists and volunteers ….

My first hero Richard Henry, caretaker of New Zealand’s first island sanctuary

… are matched with activities young people can do to be nature heroes themselves.

Taking part in a bird count – the activity paired with activist Perrine Moncrieff

I’m developing a website to carry further information about New Zealand Nature Heroes, this will be the place young people can go to for up-to-date links and projects ideas.

My target audience is 8-14 year olds. I wanted fans of my other nature books to have something to move on to when they’ve grown out of At the Beach or Whose Beak is This?. It’s also the book I’d have loved to have had for my son when he was growing up. (He’s a nature hero too – winner of the 2019 World Rowing Sustainability Award.)

Through New Zealand Nature Heroes, I met some amazing people who generously gave their time and shared their experiences. I also discovered so many other nature heroes, I would have had enough for dozens of books. What a shame I couldn’t include them all.

This book was 3 years in the making and was made possible by a grant from Copyright Licensing New Zealand (CLNZ) for which I am most grateful. My publishers Potton & Burton and designer Floor van Lierop went the extra mile with the production to make this a beautiful book.

I’m delighted to say that New Zealand Nature Heroes has already had two rave reviews. Forest & Bird Magazine say “If you buy one book for your nature-loving child this Christmas, make it this one.” and The Spin-off have named it “The best children’s book of 2019”, you can read more of what they have to say here

Book Related Activities

Running out of kids’ activities for the holidays?

Thanks to illustrator Fraser Williamson, each of the “Whose?” books has a matching activity which helps extend the children’s thinking about the book concepts.

Whose Beak is This? has a kākā mask to colour and make; Whose Feet are These? has a gecko to colour and add some ‘sticky’ feet; now there is a colouring sheet for Whose Home is This? based on the colourful illustration of wheke, the octopus.

Colouring sheet image
Wheke, Octopus, colouring sheet illustrated by Fraser Williamson

DOWNLOAD A4 Colouring Sheet

Octopus mothers look for hiding places where they can look after their eggs until they hatch. Octopus are also experts at camouflage and are able to change colour and texture to match their surroundings. You could colour in the picture to show it camouflaged, or to show the many different colours of the underwater world.

Original image showing wheke or reef octopus from Whose Home is This?
Original image of Wheke, reef octopus from Whose Home is This?

Other crafty book related ideas include creating an animal home/habitat diorama or making kiwi beak book corners.

Pair the activities with reading the books – they’re all available from good bookstores and libraries, or direct from my publisher Potton & Burton.

Whose Home is This? cover
Whose Home is This?

Links to the other activities:

Native Trees and Plants Brought Vividly to Life

The act of identifying and naming plants changes the way we see the bush. No longer is it a tangle of different greens, a confusing mass of different shape leaves. Bark, flowers, berries, leaves, all provide clues about the trees in the canopy above or help us distinguish the different plants in the understorey.  Once we can tell them apart the bush, wetlands, coast all begin to look very different to our eyes.

But learning about native plants even for those regularly in the bush can be a slow process. Among my Forest and Bird tramping group, there are repeated discussions as we remind ourselves about the differences between mataī and miro; mānuka and kānuka; horopito and toropapa. (Perhaps we can be forgiven for struggling to tell the latter two apart, as page 30 of The Meaning of Trees tells me this is likely to be down to plant mimicry.) 

In the end, it is rich descriptions and stories that help us remember the differences and characteristics. Toetoe has drooping flowers, those of pampas are erect and spear-like. Rangiora is the bushman’s friend, its thick leaves were handy for toilet paper or writing notes on. The blood red colour below the flaking bark of mataī was seen in some traditions as representing the blood of Tunaroa, the eel god slain by Māui. 

The Meaning of Trees: the history and uses of New Zealand’s native plants by Robert Vennell is a treasure trove of such rich descriptions and stories of our native trees, shrubs and and other plants such as vines, flax, bracken and even bull kelp. The book rewards repeated reading, and dipping into, as each time something new stands out, a whakataukī, a legend, or maybe where it got its name.

Educators whether in forest kindergartens, secondary schools or U3A will find this book invaluable. with such wonderful stories to pass on to children (and adults), they’ll be sure to be awakening interest in our native plants. I’ll be weaving snippets into my tramping group discussions, starting with the interesting idea of plant mimicry but also sharing colourful stories, two elephants have been known to die from tutu poisoning; and legends, how kauri trees and whales are brothers. 

The Meaning of Trees explores the rich interaction between the people of New Zealand and native plants. The author’s passion for plants and curiosity about them, shines through as he addresses questions such as: What plants were sacred to Māori? Which did they use as medicine? How did early European settlers make use of plants? Which are of interest to scientists today searching for useful compounds? What native plants can you eat? This is information you’d be hard pressed to find gathered together like this from any other source.

The book is divided into sections such as ‘medicinal plants’, ‘climbers, stickers and stingers’. It’s clearly laid out, nicely illustrated, with several pages devoted to each plant. It’s a shame there is no index as this would have made the information more accessible, maybe the publishers will see fit to add this in a reprint.

I highly recommend The Meaning of Trees. If you thought native plants were boring or less interesting than our birds and lizards, this book will show you otherwise.  


Find our more about Robert Vennell on his blog, also called ‘The Meaning of Trees’ or Facebook Page

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book but no payment for a review

Raise Your Child to Read & Write – Book Review

Raise Your Child to Read & Write: a guide for New Zealand parents from birth to seven years by Frances Adlam

I’ve always believed that family members need to be involved in a child’s education, but have often encountered parents anxious about their child’s progress but confused by school reporting language, or lured by expensive ‘teach your child to read’ kits. So I was delighted to receive a review copy of Raise Your Child to Read & Write. I love the idea that this book is for parents, carers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and the wide whanau.

Raise Your Child to Read & Write is just the book they need. The author, Frances Adlam, successfully uses straightforward language to address common myths about learning to read and write and to provide some simple descriptions of children’s developmental stages.

The bulk of the book is taken up with the developmental stages of learning to read and write. For each stage the author describes activities for families under headings such as “talk to your toddler”, “sing to your young child”, “read to your baby” and so on. It’s easy for the reader to find their child’s age and stage and identify simple activities to prepare their child for the hard work of reading and writing.

I particularly liked the sections headed “Good Enough Parenting” – an acknowledgement that parenting can be a tough job at times and that there are ways to promote learning without parents doing all the work themselves. The author also includes sections on raising bilingual children and how to help “out-of-the-box” children, such as those that are dyslexic or have ADHD.

Raise Your Child to Read & Write promotes learning through play. Play is how all young mammals learn (think of lion cubs in a David Attenborough documentary) so this makes sense. But it’s also wonderful for adults to indulge in child’s play too. Playing brings out our creativity, reduces stress, promotes laughter – it’s got to be good for all of us! The suggested activities are almost certain to include ideas which are either new or provide a fresh perspective, and should give parents confidence that by incorporating them into their interactions with their child, they are promoting the skills a reader and writer needs to develop, while having fun at the same time. For parents and grandparents anxious that play might not be enough, the author supports her approach with what the latest science says about children’s development.

The sub-title of the book makes clear that this book covers birth to seven years. I hope someone will take up the challenge of the writing about the over-sevens. We know that parents read to their children less as they get older, but also that the material children read and need to write gets much more complex. I wish, therefore, that the author hadn’t suggested that up-to-seven a child is ‘learning to read’ and over-seven ‘reading to learn’, as that rather seems to imply the business of learning to read is over at seven. Parents need to continue to read with their over-seven year olds, play word games and so on. If they follow the ideas in this book for the under-sevens, I’m sure they’ll be having so much fun that they’ll want to continue, and will enjoying reading more sophisticated books with their children as well as continuing to play games.

A minor oversight is the absence of a New Zealand website in the list of recommended websites for Children’s Books. I hope this will be remedied in a reprint. New Zealand books are an ideal source of familiar activities, landscapes, tales and animals, and are likely to include te reo Māori, all of which make them books that are easy to connect to the world of New Zealand children. There are many good sources of information about New Zealand Children’s books including The Sapling and the New Zealand Book Council’s School Library.


Summer Nature Reading – New Zealand wildlife

My summer reading in 2018/19 included these two excellent titles. The first is the field guide of reptiles and amphibians that we’ve all been waiting for! The second is my new ‘go-to’ book about New Zealand birds.

Reptiles and Amphibians of New Zealand: a field guide by Dylan van Winkle, Marleen Baling and Rod Hitchmough published by Auckland University Press

Followers of my nature blog will know that over the last five years I’ve been involved with several volunteer lizard projects. I’ve gone from only being able to tell the difference between a gecko and a skink to being able to identify particular skinks and geckos, such as a copper skink or a ngahere gecko. That hasn’t been an easy journey, but I’ve been lucky enough to work alongside some excellent herpetologists who’ve patiently explained the differences. My fellow volunteers and I have pored over some imperfect online guides and photos trying to spot the subtle differences between brown skinks and northern grass skinks, for example, subtle that is to a beginner’s eye. So it was with huge excitement that I opened the field guide.

The guide is everything I hoped for. It’ll be an essential part of every restoration project’s kit bag, and for those of us working specifically with lizards a must have for the home library.

The authors have thought of everything, from a quick guide on the inside covers to identification, through regional checklists, to keys for experts, making this a flexible and user-friendly guide. 

The photos are superb, each species is clearly described including useful detail about habitat, what the animal eats and whether, for example, it is diurnal or nocturnal. Importantly each species comes with a map showing where it is likely to be found, which will prevent many beginner’s mistaken identification.

Birdstories: a history of birds of New Zealand by Geoff Norman, published by Potton & Burton

Rich in information, Birdstories, takes one group of birds at a time – there’s a chapter on kiwi, one on eagles and falcons, another on cuckoos and so on.  Each chapter discusses the history of the bird(s) in question – both in terms of ancestry but also human interaction. You’ll find answers here on how it got its scientific name, whether it appears in whaktaukī, in some cases what aided its extinction, in others how it’s hanging on to survive.

As such it’s perfect for dipping into and reading about one bird or group of birds a day. Certainly reading from cover to cover builds a picture of the place of our birds in the world’s biodiversity and of the human impact, but those that are daunted by the size of the book or who enjoy short bursts of reading will find it perfect for dipping in and reading one topic of interest at a time.

A delightful aspect of Birdstories is the inclusion of early illustrations of the birds, as well as images of their appearance in modern day art or on everyday objects. Also of interest are the short essays interspersed among the chapters on related topics such as, a biography of Walter Buller, 19th Century illustration, legislation to protect birds, and so on.

Birdstories is the book I’ll be directing all my fellow trampers and bird-appreciating friends to next time an intriguing bird question comes up. Several recent discussions come to mind – about the piopio (now extinct), cuckoos and which nests they choose, how the rifleman is a wren and so on – which would all have been answered by this book.  Sadly few New Zealanders have heard of the piopio (now extinct), know which birds’ nests the different cuckoos lay their eggs in, or are aware that New Zealand’s wrens have an interesting evolutionary history. Birdstories will help unravel these mysteries and brings to light some species which until know have been ‘best kept secrets’.  

Now I’m waiting eagerly for ‘Reptilestories’, ‘Mammalstories’ and ‘Invertebratestories’. I’d enjoy a similar treatment of the tuatara and our lizards, or short-tailed bat and giant snail, for example. For those whose curiosity is similarly picqued, I’d recommend Ghosts of Gondwana by George Gibbs as their follow-on read.

Both books are Highly Recommended.

Meet the Author – Animals of Aotearoa

Out this month, is a 112 page hardback compendium of New Zealand wildlife. Including all the favourites from the ‘explore and discover’ series and over 100 more.

Animals of Aotearoa is available to pre-order now from publisher Potton & Burton, but will be out in bookshops soon.

Come along with your children, meet me and see the new book at these events:

  • 28 October Sunday, North City Paper Plus, Porirua. 1-2pm (along with other local authors celebrating bookshop day) I’ll be helping children create a Kiwi book corner, signing books and answering questions.

  • 21 November Wednesday, Zealandia Ecosanctuary, Karori. 10-10.30 am. I’ll be reading from Whose Beak is This? and Whose Home is This? during Storytime for pre-schoolers and signing books in the shop afterwards.

Writing a Nature Journal – for adults

Creating a Nature Journal is a great way to deepen your nature connection. Whether you want to record what you see on a nature walk, celebrate nature’s beauty, or keep track of what you’ve learned about nature – there’s a nature journal format to suit your purpose. If you look on Pinterest at other people’s Nature Journals you might think Nature Journals are just for artists, but your observations are unique and can be conveyed in words as well as pictures.

Some of my Nature Journals

A Nature Diary is a good way to get started writing a Nature Journal. That’s how I began. I wrote down places I went walking or tramping, and listed things I saw that interested me. After awhile, I began adding in more details, names of plants I was learning from other people or facts I’d found in reference books.

Some of my Nature Journals and notebooks

You can use any kind of notebook or exercise book for this.  I prefer books with lines or squares as I find it hard to keep my writing tidy! But if you like to draw a lot of pictures you might prefer blank pages. Some books alternate lined and blank pages and these are ideal for many people.

It’s important to write down the date and the place that you see something, but other details such as time of day, weather and tides can be important too. Now I can go back through my diaries and find facts, like when I first heard a shining cuckoo each spring (the earliest was 26 September) or where and when a good place to see kohekohe flowering might be.

I also write down things that surprised me: seeing 40 oyster catchers one morning in a field, finding a dead gannet on the beach, seeing a nocturnal gecko on the outside of a window in the early morning.

Spending time drawing plants or animals (although these often move too fast for my pencil) can help me pay attention to details or features. This might help me identify the plant more easily next time or can help me compare it with other plants that I know well. Photography is good too. Often you will see something in the photo that you might not have spotted at the time. For example, the blue on a female copper butterfly wing or the greenish feet of a reef heron.

I like to use diagrams, which can often convey ideas better than words.

Diagram of the 800m climb up to Jumbo Hut, noting some of the changes in vegetation

Sometimes I add in a pressed leaf or flower that I’ve collected from my garden. If you want to do this make sure you have permission to take the leaf or flower and don’t take too many. Read here for tips and ethics of collecting plants.

I usually write in my journal after I return home.  I don’t want to risk getting my Nature Journal wet and usually I’m not too keen on carrying something heavy.  But sometimes I need to record details when I see them, so I take a waterproof notebook with me to record what I see and hear. These notebooks are quite expensive so I think they are best for recording scientific data such as a recording a bird translocation or lizard monitoring.

Waterproof notebook for recording scientific data

My Nature Journal reminds me of where I’ve been and what I’ve seen, as well as a few interesting records. I pick some of them to write about in this blog, click on the Nature Journal tab above to see these.

If you like the idea of an online Nature Journal, consider using iNaturalistNZ (previously called called Nature Watch NZ). This is a great place to post photos and get help with identification, your profile also has a Journal section which can link to your online photo observations. 

There are no right or wrong way to create a Nature Journal. What will you include in your Nature Journal? Have fun!

More Nature Journal ideas

  • Read my blogpost about Nature Journals for children and download a free Nature Journal template for children here
  • Create a family Nature Journal about your garden or places you visit together
  • Find out about Nature Journal workshops or activities at your local Botanical Garden (I’ve linked to the events page of Auckland Botanic Gardens as an example).
  • For beginners and children A New Zealand Nature Journal by Sandra Morris includes illustration and topic ideas
  • Have fun learning to draw with Draw New Zealand Birds by Heather Arnold

Create Your Own Nature Journal – for children

Creating a Nature Journal about a walk or trip is a great way to share your memories about the place you visited. You can use a bought notebook or make your own booklet (see how below).

Observing nature on holiday

Take your Nature Journal with you to make notes or draw sketches and then finish it when you get home. Use drawings or photos to illustrate what you saw.

Four pages recording a West Coast walk in autumn

Tips for what to write and draw

Always write down the date and place you saw things, it’s a good idea to note what the weather was like too. Write down your name and any other observers on your walk.

When you write about something interesting that you see, think of all the words you could use to describe it. You could describe the colour, texture, size, where it was growing, what it was doing, what noise it was making. You might want to compare two different animals or plants.

Comparing two different vines

Often spending time drawing a picture of the animal or plant, helps us see more of the detail. But thinking carefully about a taking a good photograph can do this too, for example, where to focus, how to get enough light to show details.  Other ways you can illustrate what you saw include: doing a leaf rubbing, drawing a diagram with labels, drawing a map, finding a picture of the animal or plant from a magazine.

Observing Tūī in the garden, photos illustrate this journal, the chicks didn’t stay still long enough for me to draw them!

To make your Nature Journal

Download and print out the template. It folds up into a zine-style booklet.

The foldable Nature Journal format

Download the PDF by clicking on this link:  Downloadable Nature Journal

Here’s how to fold an A4 page into a booklet. If you are using the downloadable template you will see the fold lines already marked, so start folding along these. There is only one cut to make, see step 5 below, 6, 7&8 show you how to fold the template after it’s been cut.

Other ideas

Botanical Gardens (such as Auckland Botanic Gardens) and museums sometimes run nature journal activities for children (and adults), check out events at your local botanical garden.

Related Blogposts

Making Zines

Nature Study Ideas

New Book Out Now – Whose Home is This?

Launching this month is my new book for kiwi nature kids. “Whose Home is This?” Illustrated by Fraser Williamson and published by Potton & Burton. “Whose Home is This?” follows on from the award winning “Whose Feet are These?” and “Whose Beak is This?”

In “Whose Home is This?” we encounter birds’ nests and animal burrows, as well as camouflage and shells. Children will have fun while learning more about how native animals such as hoiho/yellow-eyed penguins, giant snails and octopus, make homes for themselves or their young.

To celebrate the launch, I’m running a giveaway.

Head over to my Facebook page Gillian Candler, Author; Instagram @discovernaturenz; or my nature blog Explore Discover Nature to enter the giveaway.



What I’m reading: summer 2018

“Where Song Began: Australia’s birds and how they changed the world” by Tim Low

Who’d have thought a non-fiction book on birds would be a page-turner! Turns out this one is. Tim Low has a pacy style of writing, and he’s not shy about putting forward his opinions. It’s great to find serious non-fiction with a popular pull. The last book I read like this was The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohleben, a best-seller around the world but with a definite Northern Hemisphere focus. Putting Australian birds at the centre of the bird world might not be popular in the Northern Hemisphere, but for a fellow antipodean this was refreshing. I loved the scope of this book, starting with the intriguing business of sugar feeding birds, the book spanned bird evolution, ecology, and conservation issues. I was left gasping for breath at the end.  There are plenty of mentions of New Zealand birds and those interested in finding out more would find a good companion read in be recently revised Ghosts of Gondwana by George Gibbs.  There are a few photos in the book but those not familiar with Australian birds might be disappointed there aren’t more. Still it’s easy to look up birds in a field guide or App as you read along. I’ll definitely be packing this book on my next trip to Australia, it’ll be a perfect re-read while I’m listening to raucous cockatoos and honeyeaters.

The Fly Trap by Frederick Sjoberg

Lent to me by a friend, this pleasant read is proof even hover flies can be interesting. It seems insect collectors are contemplative people noticers and what better place than a Swedish island. His contemplations about local encounters of people and hover flies are interspersed with some literary reflections and a biography of sorts of Malaise, a Swedish entomologist. Malaise invented an insect trap, hence the title of the book. A delightful read for those who enjoy nature writing.



Writing Workshops for Children – creating powerful writing

Children are such creative thinkers. And so honest and perceptive too. That’s why I enjoy visiting primary schools and public library school holiday programmes. Best of all is spending time with them in a writing workshop. In 2017, I visited some amazing schools and libraries where children have lots of opportunities for thinking creativity.

In a particularly special project, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with some children from across the Te Awarua-o-Porirua catchment. Esme Dawson from Pātaka Education Team for the Porirua Harbour Trust guided an after-school group to create a journal “The Current”, which collects together some of the best art and writing from local schools about the harbour. In the couple of workshops I ran, one with the group and one with a school class, we explored ways to write about the animals of the harbour. The students’ powerful writing was exciting to read and I was delighted to see the final, beautifully illustrated journal. Copies of “The Current” are in all the participating schools as well as Porirua Library.

The Current: a journal about Te Awarua-o-Porirua

The children I worked with had already has some experience observing the harbour and finding out about what lives there. In groups, they shared their knowledge about an animal that lived in the harbour,  brainstorming words and phrases that described their animal. Brainstorming is a good way to get inspiration flowing and it also helps broaden children’s vocabulary, as they pick up on words that other children are using. It’s also a good opportunity for me to go around and quietly help with spelling, because children’s spoken and heard vocabulary is usually way ahead of their written vocabulary. I take the opportunity to talk about metaphors and similies and check they know which words are verbs and which adjectives.

I wanted them all to be able to finish a piece of writing in the workshop, so I chose to get them writing some structured poetry first. As an author I know that sometimes the hardest part is starting to write the first few words. A structure takes away some of the pressure and before long the young writer will find their rhythm and can leave the structure behind them.

Cinquain poetry provides a simple structure.

It wasn’t long before we’d transformed these simple poems into longer, powerful pieces of writing. Poetry lends itself to creative non-fiction as you can see from the examples below.

Here are two poems from students at Porirua School.


I am Ihumoana
the dangerous and frightening jelly fish.
I roam the shallows and attach the nosy humans.
I hide beneath a blanket of velvet blue
and creep towards the golden shore.

The sights I see are always in front of me.
I see joyful humans running towards the sea
I experience the bronze sand
as I explore the ocean floor.
I see radiant grey rocks as I slither
through the ocean like a snake.

I am Ihumoana, I am a bluebottle.

by Serenity Martin, Porirua School

Mako Rig

I am Mako Rig.
The slimy, scaly and drifting shark you feast upon when
you have fish and chips.
I swim through the ocean like a serpent slicing through
the water that you have polluted.
As I swim around I see rubbish darting here and
there in different directions.

Life went from easy living to survival of the fittest,
all because of humans.
How I’d love to be in a clean harbour!
Wait a minute I’ve got an idea brewing in my head,
why don’t you humans clean the harbour that
you have polluted?

by Matariki Katene

Porirua Harbour Trust have a strong education strand to their work. You can read more about their work here.

For more about workshops I can offer, see here.










Nature Writing – Making Zines

Crazy about kākāpō? Curious about kauri? Amazed by animal poo? Wild about weka? If you are a nature fan, you can make a zine to share your passion. 

Zine is short for ‘fanzine’ – these self-published creations started out as homemade books by fans about their favourite bands. But they can be on any topic that you are crazy about. I got inspired to try making zines when I met Murtle Chickpea and her Zine Museum at the Wairarapa Book Bash. Here is one of the zines…

Zine – I love Nature Lots

… you can see from the title why I was inspired to make my own zines! I joined a Zine-Along workshop in Porirua Library’s Long Hot Summer Story Festival to start making my zines and share ideas with the children who came along.

My first 3 zines

My first zine, was made using paper that already had a photograph on it, which created an interesting background. The photograph reminded me of Rakiura Stewart Island, one of my favourite places to see nature, so I used collage to highlight some of the animals you can see there.

Pages from my Rakiura zine

The beauty of this zine construction (see below for instructions) is that the booklet folds out flat, which makes it easy to photocopy and share. (see below for a note on sharing)

The Rakiura Zine folded out flat

For my second zine, I was inspired by finding tūī chicks in the garden. I made a zine about Tūī using my own photos.

Some pages from my Tūī zine

I wanted to try a different zine construction, so I decided to use a concertina style. I decided that the way this zine opens out suited a walk or journey.  I used both sides to show the landmarks on my local coastal walkway along with information about what animals live there.

The first four pages of my coast zine

And because I’m concerned about the safety of the penguins that live there, I put in things people can do to protect penguins.

I used a piece of handmade paper that I found and did this one by hand.

The reverse side

The paper was so thick and springy, I needed a paper clip to keep the zine shut!

How to Make a Zine

To make a zine you need:

  • A4 or A3 paper
  • scissors
  • pens or coloured pencils
  • glue stick
  • magazines, calendars, pamphlets, photos to cut up
  • and lots of creativity and passion.

Decide how you want to fold your paper. You’ll find lots of different folding ideas online.  I practised mine on scrap paper until I got it right. There’s a good You Tube video on how to construct an 8-page zine like my Rakiura or Tūī zines. But I’ve also written some instructions here.

Sharing Zines: Zines are not sold, but given away. They are often copied in small numbers and swapped between zine makers. When you make a collage the images are often no longer recognisable and so the collage becomes your creation. But the bird photos I used for my Nature Coast collage are another adult’s copyright, I knew it wouldn’t be fair for me to make copies of this one without their permission, so I made it just for myself.

More on Zines:

Libraries sometimes hold zine workshops or events, ask at your local library.

For more ideas about zines:

This blog was also published on which is where you can read about my nature inspiration.

3 (Updated) Top Tips on Writing Children’s Books

As a published children’s author I often get approached by writers or illustrators who have written or created a story, wanting to know about how to get it published. Sometimes it is their friends who approach me – writers and illustrators can be a diffident lot.

It’s hard to give advice without this being seen as a criticism of the work itself, which is often penned with flair and illustrated lovingly. Maybe it’s a family story, a fun Dr Seuss-like rhyme, or  wonderful pictures of New Zealand birds.  The illustrations are cute, the rhyme is fun, your kids or grandkids love it. Unfortunately that won’t automatically translate into a book that publishers want to publish and other adults want to buy.

I recently attended the Storylines Children’s Writers Conference in Auckland, which prompted me to add more information to the  advice that I wrote last year on writing for children. The conference reminded me that there are many expert writers and editors out there willing to help people refine their work, so read on and be prepared to ask for help.

  1. Take a realistic approach: First the bad news – it’ll be near to impossible to have your first work accepted by a publisher. To give you a sense of scale, David Ling, of Duck Creek Press told me last year  “I receive 300 submissions a year and only publish 6“.  Given the scale of difference between submissions and actual publications, some publishers will only accept work from already published authors which must feel like a Catch-22 situation to the unpublished author. Others will only take submissions at certain times of the year. Most publishers’ websites include a section of ‘information for contributors’ or ‘submission guidelines’, read these thoroughly. (For a list of New Zealand publishers see: PANZ.) Look at the kind of books they publish, does your book idea or manuscript fit with the kind of books they publish? Don’t waste your time sending your book where it won’t be read and isn’t wanted.  BUT before you send anything anywhere read point 2.
  2. Invite critique and develop your writing skills: You may feel you’ve done all you can to your manuscript BUT you’d be surprised how much time published authors spend polishing and refining their work.  Author Janice Marriott, puts it like this “All writers work at improving their skills in order to tell the best stories they can that really engage the reader. Learning how to recognise when a story idea has enough action, character, drama and uniqueness can be taught.  Learning how to polish your writing till it shines can also be taught, by a combination of information, practice, and tutoring.  Writers who know about the importance of structure, characterisation and style will always be able to make their story ideas come to life.”  You can take a course such as Janice’s Go Write Now, join an informal writing group where writers assess each other’s work or your could approach an assessor for advice. NZSA has a list of assessors as well as a scheme for members to get their work assessed. If you are a first time writer, getting your manuscript assessed is a great first step.
  3. Do your homework if you want your writing to be published:  Learn about children’s books. Barbara Murison, a respected children’s literature expert and manuscript assessor, said “If you want to write for children and young people you need to be very aware of what this group is reading, and is interested in, by reading as many current books yourself as possible and by talking to and listening to what this group is saying.” Your local children’s librarian will know what books are popular with what age group. Remember too, that booksellers are a key part of the publishing chain for illustrated children’s books. Visit your local bookshop and ask, what kind of books sell well? What topics would they like to see covered in books? At the conference, I was reminded that something as simple as the amount of bookshop shelf space given over to a particular genre or age group has an impact on what booksellers stock. This in turn has an impact on what publishers will publish.

Publishing Consultancy

Footnote: If you don’t plan to become a children’s author or illustrator and would just like to see one manuscript you’ve developed in print, then choose self-publishing. The technology is there to make a great production for friends and family, even to sell though the local store. See the NZSA website for information on publishing including self-publishing.



Writers in Schools – book now for 2018!

Attention teachers, librarians and schools, you have until 15 December to book me through Writers in Schools for Term 1 2018! Are you:

  • Planning a Book Week
  • Wanting to give your year 4-8 students a non-fiction writing boost
  • Keen to tie the children’s environmental studies or science to your writing programme
  • Looking for a fun and inspiring author visit for all ages

I’m an award-winning author of factual books about New Zealand nature. Before I became an author, I was a teacher, an editor and a publisher. I’m passionate about helping kids understand New Zealand’s unique biodiversity. My presentations combine enthusiasm and knowledge – about books and the writing process.

Writing workshop at Porirua Library

Here’s what Northland School in Wellington said about my “Top Tips for Writing Non-Fiction” presentation:

“Thank you so much for a fantastic visit. The children really enjoyed your time with them and I’ve had really positive feedback from all of the teachers. I was pleased that I also got to sit in on one of the sessions. Thanks again Gillian – we were very lucky to have you!” Lizzie Ryan

Northland School library display

PS: if you aren’t booking through ‘Writers in Schools’ you can contact me anytime, to book me directly for your school, library or festival. Email me at

Making kaka masks at the Dunedin Storylines festival in 2016.


Nature Heroine – writer Sheila Natusch

I’ve just seen “No Ordinary Sheila“, the documentary about the wonderful and not at all ordinary Sheila Natusch. This documentary was a clever blend of recent interviews and family photos, integrated with archival films from the relevant times in her life of, for example, of childhood on Rakiura / Stewart Island, high school at Invercargill, tertiary studies in Dunedin and work and marriage in Wellington. The documentary makers also used occasional current footage where it conveyed atmosphere, for example, of pupils at Invercargill Girl’s High School.

Some interviews show her on a couch in a friend’s living room or at the kitchen table talking to another writer or tramper, and it felt that we were present in the room listening to an elderly relative talk about their extraordinary life.

As a fan of Rakiura / Stewart Island I particularly enjoyed the current and past footage of the island, along with the description of what it was like to grow up there.

Oban, Rakiura in the 2010s

I won’t spoil the experience of watching the documentary by repeating here the friendships, history and events that are covered. But watch the trailer here if you want to know more.

The overwhelming impression was of a life well lived, of a resilient and determined individual, who got on with life and had no regrets.

I would love to have heard her talk more about her interest in plants and about writing, illustrating and her experiences in the publishing industry, but that reflects my own bias, and I think for the general viewer this aspect would have been covered adequately.

Inspired, I’ve pulled out a couple of booklets that I have of hers: New Zealand Mosses, 1969 and A Bunch of Wild Orchids, 1968.

Two of Sheila’s books published by Pegasus Press in the 1960s

Reading these again, I’m impressed by her fresh chatty style, which would have been unusual for the time, but is similar to the tone taken in social media today. A Sheila of today would be blogging about what she’d seen or posting her sketches on Instagram perhaps.

In A Bunch of Wild Orchids she talks about having her own orchid garden as a child on Rakiura / Stewart Island, taking a patch where some orchids already grew she added in other orchids that she found elsewhere. While others were growing up admiring imported garden flowers, New Zealand natives were all she knew, what a rich experience that provided her with. “Most of my orchids were there already, living on a dark peaty bank under the muttonbird trees. There was one with a creamy gold-and-pink flower, set on a dainty stem above flat spotted leaves, the whole plant fuzzy with tiny hairs.”

On recent visits to Rakiura, I’ve sought out the orchids along the village lane ways and beside the tramping tracks, often hiding bashfully, but, I like to think, waiting to be found and admired.

A green bird orchid, discovered after a fellow tramper sat on it at lunchtime

Sheila had a knack of explaining things clearly to the amateur, although she was no amateur herself.   “Plants, like people, occur in families; or at least botanists find it convenient to suppose that they do, putting the orchids in one family, the lilies in another, and so on.” And she had a sense of what would confuse her audience – of what to put in and what to leave out. “.. in sketching some of the strange little plants, I have not bothered about species. One cannot even be cocksure about the genera: these things can alter!”

From “A Bunch of Wild Orchids” by Sheila Natusch
Moss and odd-leaved orchid on Rakiura

For my other blogposts about Rakiura / Stewart Island  see my nature blog and search on Stewart Island.


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:

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

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.

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:

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.’s-a-Fact-There-just-aren’t-enough-non-fiction-books-for-Kiwi-kids

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!

School Holiday Event – Read Around the World and about New Zealand too

I’m looking forward to being the special guest at the Porirua Library’s school holiday event. On April 19 I’ll be visiting 3 of the branches to read from my books and have some fun making crafts. I’ll be sharing “Whose Beak is This?” and “Whose Feet are These?” and making sticky-footed geckos and kiwi book corners.

The first session is at Porirua Library 10.30am, then Cannons Creek Library at 1.30pm and Whitby Library at 3.30PM.

These free events are open to all children, looking forward to seeing readers’ children and grandchildren there.

For more information about Read Around the World contact Bee Trudgeon at Porirua Library

Keeping up to date: From Moa to Dinosaurs

Keeping up to date with scientific discoveries about New Zealand’s origins can be a bit hit and miss. Think about what you remember from school or nature documentaries you’ve seen. Like me, you might have had the idea that our weird and wonderful wildlife was all on board New Zealand when it split from Gondwana. The term “Moa’s Ark” made popular by David Bellamy reinforces that idea, suggesting that the land was a boat on which animals sailed away.

Scientific advances however have enabled scientists to have a much more nuanced understanding of New Zealand’s origins – and of the fauna and flora that we identify with New Zealand.

Here are some facts that I learned about while researching and writing From Moa to Dinosaurs: explore and discover ancient New Zealand:

Animal origins

  • There is some truth to the Moa’s Ark idea – the animals that would have been on Zealandia when it began to split from Gondwana (starting around 80 million years ago) could well have included ancestors of tuatara, moa, weta, native frogs and fresh water animals. They would also have included dinosaurs and other animals that have since become extinct. Animals that were already ‘on board’ are said to have ‘vicariate’ origins.
  • But many of the animals we think of as ‘New Zealanders’ arrived long after the split with Gondwana. Some would have flown (aided by winds) e.g. birds, bats, insects, others may have been carried here on rafts of vegetation after storms. Most would have come from Australia due to the prevailing winds, but some would have come from New Caledonia. Animals that arrived in this way have ‘divergent’ origins.
  • Once in New Zealand if the animal was able to establish successfully they adapted to the environment, for example, the takahe becoming flightless, geckos giving birth to live young instead of eggs.
  • Modern day examples of birds that have arrived in recent history, and successfully bred are: welcome swallows, spur-winged plovers, white herons, white-faced herons.
  • Fossils have been found in what was a large lake in Otago around 19 million years ago, among the fossils are some that would be ancestors of today’s tuatara and geckos, but also of animals that are now extinct such as crocodilians, turtles and moa.
  • Scientists can use the extent of evolutionary changes to estimate when a species evolved, for example, around 60-80 million years ago kakapo and kaka evolved from the same parrot ancestor, then around 3 million years ago when mountain habitats emerged the kea evolved from kaka. The time frame of 60-80 million years suggests that either scenario of vicariance or divergence is possible for these birds.

About Zealandia/New Zealand

  • Zealandia is a continent, geological changes mean that most to this is now underwater.
  • This means that much of the fossil evidence that would tell us more about animal (and plant) origins will never be found.
  • Scientists have disproved the drowning theory and while they agree much of what is now New Zealand was underwater around 25 million years ago, it is accepted that many islands existed that would have been habitat for animals.
  • The southern alps and therefore alpine regions, are relatively recent creations, being uplifted around 5 million years ago.
  • During ice ages, around 2 million years ago, the North and South Islands would have been joined.

Keeping up with Science: Ghosts of Gondwana

How do we, the general public, keep up with advances in science? Popular media ignores the slow and steady progression of ideas that is characteristic of science. Instead a controversial theory, such as the whole country being underwater around 25 million years ago, grabs headlines but the slow and steady work of disproving this is unlikely to get the same coverage. The need for ‘new’ was highlighted by the recent flurry of news items about the ‘discovery of a new continent‘. Although the headline says ‘new’, read further down and you will find the scientists quoted as saying “this is not a sudden discovery but a gradual realisation”. I guess the headline ‘gradual realisation of continent’s existence’ just doesn’t work in the news media!

Ultimately we can’t rely on news or popular media for keeping up with advances in knowledge, although it may be that a report or item can act as a springboard to us searching out and acquiring knowledge. Where we need to turn is to authors who are working hard to convey scientific ideas to the general public.

One such book that has recently had a complete revision is:

Ghosts of Gondwana: the history of life in New Zealand by George Gibbs. The revision includes more material so the book has got a whole lot bigger but don’t be put off by its size. There is so much here that is worth reading. I have to admit to a bias and say that reading the earlier edition of this book was what inspired me to consider writing a book about ancient New Zealand for children. So I was already aware that George Gibbs’s style is very readable, never patronising and always clear and to the point. I have enjoyed dipping into the revised edition to see what’s new.

 Section one gives a readable quick overview of the what is unique about our flora and fauna. Section two is more complex and gets into modern scientific methods. A rough understanding of these is essential to later explanations, and the author does a good job making this material accessible. Section three shows that there are many explanations for the history of different plants and animals, and includes a must read chapter for those who are puzzled by the drowning theory. Section four has fascinating case studies of selected fauna and flora from moa to alpine flowers to cicadas, each case study illustrating different points. A particular feature of the book is the extensive captions of each image which, while repeating material already in the chapter, help give meaning to the image and reinforce the points made. Also helpful is a Geological Timescale at the front and back of the book.

For parents and educators

I’m recommending Ghosts of Gondwana as a ‘must read’ for educators of today’s children and as a ‘good read’ for adults who have got intrigued by what they’ve learned from reading From Moa to Dinosaurs with children.

For more on this topic for parents and educators including activities and links related to From Moa to Dinosaurs, see

This blog was first posted on

Speaking for Science: clearing confusion around controversial topics

Shaun Hendy in his compelling Silencing Science (BWB texts) argues that “New Zealanders can’t be complacent. I believe that there are rifts between our scientists, our politicians and the public that put members of our society at risk.” His readable short text (128pp) takes examples from across New Zealand public life – from earthquakes, through folic acid in bread, to food safety scares – and looks at issues such as commercial interests that can silence scientists and the media’s role in communicating science whether it’s during a disaster or in public debate. Having read Silencing Science earlier this year, I was pleased to see two new science books for the general public on potentially controversial topics had hit the bookshops. And I was interested to see whether they might be bridging some of the rifts Shaun Hendy referred to in communicating science to the public.

Protecting Paradise: 1080 and the fight to save New Zealand’s wildlife by Dave Hansford

Protecting Paradise is a warts and all look at the use of the poison 1080 to kill introduced predators of New Zealand’s wildlife. The author, Dave Hansford, tackles this controversial topic, describing the history of 1080 use, problems with its use, the results of science studies, why people oppose it and why people are for it. Yet the book also ends up pleading the case for 1080, because that is where the studying the science has led the author (as it also led the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, in her 2011 report).

It seems there is a lot to say about 1080 – this book runs to 318 pages – but it’s not a dry academic tome. Hansford’s journalism background ensures the book is very readable and it’s worth reading the book in its entirety. The book leaves no stone unturned when it comes to examining claims for and against 1080 and as a reader I was grateful for the author’s persistence in covering so many aspects. Readers who want to pursue some of the topics raised by Shaun Hendy in Silencing Science, will find chapter 12 “The Truth is Out There” which tackles anti-science sentiment and chapter 15 “Tipping the Balance” on journalism and science of particular interest. The author also explores some interesting territory about rural New Zealand, hunting and hunters, TB, the nature of science and conspiracy theorists.

If there was one thing that surprised me and that was the belief that Hansford uncovered amongst some 1080 opponents that native and introduced species in New Zealand have somehow reached a balance, and that intervention was not required. As there are climate-change deniers, so it seems there are also deniers of the true state of our native wildlife populations. These deniers ignore recent and impending extinctions, whether complete or localised. In tackling this myth, Hansford addresses the alarming picture of what is happening to our wildlife population biology. This book is indeed about the “the fight to save New Zealand’s wildlife” and I found myself wanting to read more on this topic.

As you would expect from a scientific title there are extensive endnotes that describe the sources, but these are so extensive I would have liked a “Further Reading” list which perhaps could narrow it down to publications that a general reader might like to pursue. 

This book does an excellent job of communicating the science of this controversial topic, there is also a supporting website and free summary videos which cover the salient points . 

No Place to Hide: Climate Change a short introduction for New Zealanders by Jim Flynn

According to the back blurb, No Place to Hide was born from the author’s realisation that he had no educated opinion on global warming and from the research he did to remedy that. This is an appealing premise for the reader, we expect and look forward to, being taken along on Jim Flynn’s own journey of discovery. It relies of course on our trust in Professor Flynn. He’s a well known academic and author but not a climate scientist, the ideal background for the task of explanation.

 And it doesn’t disappoint, Part A  does an excellent job of sharing what the author has learned about the history of our climate. Maps and graphs illuminate statistics and I appreciated all the bold subheadings that helped guide me through the climate history. Publishers should never underestimate the role of book layout in guiding the reader through the topic and making things clear. Clear headings make it easier to find your place, glance back to get an overview of what you’ve read, and see what’s coming next. At times the author makes use of his learning journey to draw our attention to something that must have puzzled or confused him until he sorted it out. For example, in chapter 3 the emphasis on the difference between ‘sea ice’ and ‘land ice’ was a helpful clarification. And the direct approach using ‘I’ statements helps us differentiate between when he’s reporting on the research and when he’s uttering an opinion. Professor Flynn also tackles various arguments put forward by climate change deniers but sensibly doesn’t waste too much time on this, he let’s the facts speak for themselves.

I like the way the author has tackled Climate Change as his personal problem and tried to shed light on it, though perhaps I found it a step too far that he was pushing a solution by chapter 8. And this is of course the rub, we trust him well enough to research and write ‘a short introduction’ but do we trust the solution he proposes given he isn’t a climate scientist? Still I’m grateful that he’s gone as far as describing solutions that have been put forward, and I look forward to climate scientists debating these in public.

 The author is clearly at home with statistics and mathematics, but unfortunately some readers won’t be. As the book progresses there is a danger that a ‘maths-avoiding’ reader will find their eyes glazing over as they encounter sentence after sentence full of figures, particularly when they get to Part B. In many places there are useful tables and graphs to explain the data. But there is no easy fix to this, the reader will have to take their time, as the author did, to come to grips with the information, or skip judiciously.
All of these titles would be useful additions to senior school libraries and will be of interest to  teachers of senior science and geography to use in their teaching programmes. 
 For the general public who like to keep informed, put these books on your must read list for 2017. If you have time to only read one make it Silencing Science, once you’ve read that you’ll be compelled to read on!

Silencing Science is published by Bridget Williams Books.

Protecting Paradise and No Place to Hide are both published by Potton and Burton.

Storylines Family Days – book fun for families

I recently took part in the Storylines Family Days in Dunedin and Christchurch.  A special feature of the days is the number of pre-schoolers who come along and it was great to see them having a go at the activities, sometimes along with their older siblings. Parents and grandparents were there too, some in the background but others getting their hands on the colouring pens or scissors too.

Kaka masks
These siblings decorated their masks with feathers

A real (but dead) kaka from Otago Museum made an appearance
A real (but dead) kaka from Otago Museum made an appearance at the Dunedin Library

Some of the Kiwi Book Corners made in Christchurch
Some of the Kiwi Book Corners made in Christchurch, at the festival held in Riccarton Library

For instructions on how to make the Kiwi Book Corners go to my nature blog: ExploreDiscoverNature

And for other craft ideas, check out my Pinterest boards

Please get in touch, if you’d like me to visit your school or library to run a craft workshop. Schools can contract me through the Writers in Schools programme and libraries can contact me independently.

Book Launch Invitation

Blog readers and their friends and families are welcome to the launch of my latest book – From Moa to Dinosaurs: explore and discover ancient New Zealand. This new book is part of the award-winning explore and discover series,  illustrated by Ned Barraud.

Launch details: 6.30pm, Tuesday 20th September 2016

at War Memorial Library, 2 Queens Drive, Lower Hutt

For more information about the book, see Potton & Burton

From Moa to Dinosaur invite


Publishing books for children – 3 tips for would-be authors

As a published children’s author I often get approached by authors or illustrators who have written or created a story, wanting to know about how to get it published. Sometimes it is their friends who approach me – authors and illustrators can be a diffident lot.


It’s hard to give advice without this being seen as a criticism of the work itself, which is often penned with flair and illustrated lovingly. Maybe it’s a family story, a fun Dr Seuss-like rhyme, or  wonderful pictures of New Zealand birds.  The illustrations are cute, the rhyme is fun, your kids or grandkids love it. Unfortunately that won’t automatically translate into a book that publishers want to publish and other adults want to buy. Read on for the 3 most important things to take on board if you want to get published.

  1. Take a realistic approach: It’ll be near to impossible to have your first work accepted by a publisher. To give you a sense of scale, David Ling, of Duck Creek Press says “I receive 300 submissions a year and only publish 6“.  Given the scale of difference between submissions and actual publications, some publishers will only accept work from already published authors, others will only take submissions at certain times of the year. Most publishers’ websites include a section of ‘information for contributors’ or ‘submission guidelines’, read these thoroughly. Look at the kind of books they publish, does your book idea or manuscript fit with the kind of books they publish? Don’t waste your (or their) time sending your book where it isn’t wanted. For a list of New Zealand publishers see: PANZ.
  2. Do your homework:  Barbara Murison, a well known children’s literature expert and manuscript assessor, says “If you want to write for children and young people you need to be very aware of what this group is reading, and is interested in, by reading as many current books yourself as possible and by talking to and listening to what this group is saying.” Remember too, that booksellers are a key part of the publishing chain for illustrated children’s books. Visit your local bookshop and ask, what kind of books sell well? what topics would they like to see covered in books? Become familiar with books that are already published, is there a gap that your book would fill? Join the New Zealand Society of Authors (NZSA) and learn what you can about writing and publishing.
  3. Invite critique: there are knowledgeable people around the country, such as Barbara, who offer manuscript assessment services, take the opportunity to get some guidance, which could also help you on the way to being published. NZSA has a list of assessors as well as a scheme for members to get their work assessed. Barbara also recommends joining an informal writer’s group “These groups are usually small where a new writer can read their stories aloud and get supportive (and helpful) feedback (most public libraries will be able to help with details and it none exists, help with ideas of how to set one up). ” Ask yourself, how wedded are you to this one book you’ve developed? If you want to be a writer or illustrator you may have to let that first idea go and keep working until you have a book that hits the spot with publishers and booksellers.

Publishing Consultancy

Footnote: If you don’t plan to become a children’s author or illustrator and would just like to see one manuscript you’ve developed in print, then choose self-publishing or the so-called ‘vanity’ publishing route. The technology is there to make a great production for friends and family, even to sell though the local store. See the NZSA website for information on publishing including self-publishing.


Joining Bloglovin

Bloggers like to read other people’s blogs and I’ve been looking for a good way to bring all the blogs I like to read together into one place. I’ve tried various Apps and been frustrated by them, and also used Google Reader while it was still around. Finally I’ve come across Bloglovin which has both a good App interface as well as a web interface for when I want to read blogs on my computer. It’s just what I needed, I especially like being able to group my blogs into categories and save interesting posts to come back to.

Here’s how you can follow my blogs on Bloglovin: go to and create an account, then search for Gillian Candler and also Explore Discover Nature to find my two blogs and add them to your feed.

Gillian Candler

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“Whose Beak is This? finalist for Elsie Locke Award

I’ve always been a huge fan of Elsie Locke, so it’s such an honour to be named a finalist for the Elsie Locke Award for non-fiction in the NZ Children’s Book Awards for 2016. (The NZ Children’s Book Awards and the Lianza Book Awards were combined this year, the non-fiction section is now the Elsie Locke Award.)

“Whose Beaks is This?” is a guessing game in a book and a fun way to learn about bird adaptations. Fraser Williamson’s funky and colourful illustrations hit the spot with kids.

Whose Beak is This?

Fraser has also designed a Kaka mask for children to colour and make up which we gave away at the launch of the book. So in honour of the awards finalists being named here’s a copy of the mask for everyone to enjoy.  Print the picture below out A3 and the mask will fit a child’s face.

Kaka beak mask

My first book for children “At the Beach: explore and discover the New Zealand seashore” won the Elsie Locke Award in 2013, and both “At the Beach” and “Under the Ocean: explore and discover New Zealand’s sea life” were both finalists in the NZ Children’s Book Awards.

See more about My Books here.

To find out what other books were named as finalists go to:

This blog first appeared on my nature blog

Sea Week Resources

It’s Sea Week, a time for schools, parents and public to turn their attention to the treasures of the sea.

Unlike a trip to the beach or the bush, it’s hard to show children what lives under the sea, although there are more and more great programmes to get kids snorkelling and out and about on the ocean. Sometimes books, the internet and Apps are what is needed to give a good picture of what is beneath the surface. Our book “Under the Ocean” aims to do just that for younger readers and we’ve worked on showing different habitats, reefs, sea floor, deep ocean etc as well as some of the creatures that live there. But there was a limit to how many animals we could show so I’ve been looking at websites and apps to help parents, teachers and kids find out more about what is beneath the surface of our oceans. Some of the best are listed in our notes for children, parents and educators. You’ll find tips and ideas here for activities and reading the book too.

Notes for parents and educators

Now for my top two Apps – what’s more they are free!

The Whale Watch App covers the marine mammals and birds that visitors to Kaikoura might see. As well as a picture of each species and information about them, the App allows people to post sightings of that particular species to Facebook. The little picture that pops up with the post, gets around the difficulty that most visitors will have of getting a good photograph of the animals.  I also like the two Conservation Challenges – which pose questions and propose action. While this App is designed for tourists, locals (not just those in Kaikoura) will enjoy it too, and it is pitched at a level that will suit families,  parents reading to their children, and primary school children using it themselves.Whale_Watch_Kaikoura_App

And it’s good to see that Auckland Museum’s New Zealand Marine Life App has fixed a couple of issues since I reviewed it in 2015.  While the map still focusses on the Auckland region, a note below let’s the user know which of our islands or regions the animal or plant can be found in.  The text is now clear and easy to read. This app covers birds, fishes, invertebrates, mammals, plants and reptiles that might be found on or near the ocean. The information is detailed enough for older children and younger children will enjoy using the photos for ID.   It’s a fabulous resource to have handy when you are off to the beach or the ocean.

AM Marine Life


Top Outdoor books from my Bookshelf

Being an active outdoor’s person and enjoying books might seem an odd mix to some. But for many people some of the pleasure of getting outdoors is in planning trips and learning more about the places they’re going to or have been, or reading about others outdoor adventures. For kids and teens who love the outdoors, these books will encourage reading and for the young ones that love reading they’ll be encouraged outside!

Top Outdoor books from my Bookshelf (or selected to go under the Christmas tree):  


NZ Backcountry Cooking
NZ Backcountry Cooking by Paul and Rebecca Garland

New Zealand Backcountry Cooking: recipes for trampers, campers and other outdoor adventurers by Paul and Rebecca Garland was a welcome new title this summer. Full of ideas for quick meals and lightweight foods, this will be fun for families planning camping trips or picnics as well as trampers looking for a change from readymade de-hy packaged meals. I’m getting good ideas for my next tramp and the Date and Walnut Loaf has already been tried and met with approval. The only drawback is there is no index, just a list of recipes at the beginning of each section.

Safety in the Mountains
Safety in the Mountains by Robin McNeill

My tramping group has recently joined the Federated Mountain Clubs and through this I’ve discovered a little gem which became the ‘must-give’ present for my son, nieces and nephew. Safety in the Mountains: useful reminders for trampers, mountaineers, hunters, and others in the New Zealand Backcountry by Robin McNeill and available from FMC is in its 11th edition. It’s full of important safety tips from river crossing skills to what to do in an avalanche, as well as useful facts about a whole range of topics from weather to bush medicine. Useful for anyone who is involved in outdoor adventure sports. Available from


The Beginner's Guide to Adventure Sport in NZ
The Beginner’s Guide to Adventure Sport in NZ by Steve Gurney

A more commercial publication aimed at a younger audience than the one above, The Beginner’s Guide to Adventure Sport in New Zealand by Steve Gurney also covers safety along with lots of useful ‘how-to’ information from nutrition to training. It is an excellent introduction to a wide range of adventure sport from kayaking to mountain biking. Those already out there doing these sports will be able to refine their skills, and other teens reading this should be inspired to give outdoor activities a go. Links to some ‘how-to’ videos on Steve Gurney’s website.

Essay and Pictorial

Molesworth by Harry Broad, photography by Rob Suisted

I recently picked up and re-read Molesworth: stories from New Zealand’s Largest High Country Station by Harry Broad with photos by Rob Suisted, published two years ago. My interest was rekindled by recent trips driving through Molesworth and rafting the Clarence River. This book had influenced my decision to pay a visit, so it was interesting to pick it up again on my return. Much of the enjoyment in reading about ‘place’ comes from this interaction – either I’m reading about somewhere I haven’t been and I’m encouraged to go, or my reading is revisiting somewhere I’ve been, seeing the place again from different perspectives. Books like these deserve to stay available in bookshops for many years as people discover and rediscover the book and its setting.


James Hector
James Hector by Simon Nathan

James Hector: explore, scientist, leader by Simon Nathan does an excellent job of setting the record straight about James Hector’s contribution to New Zealand exploration and science. A well illustrated and readable biography that doesn’t dwell on minutiae at the expense of the bigger picture.  I marvelled at the kind of expeditions that Hector undertook, discovering mountain passes in Canada, as well as exploring New Zealand’s rugged terrain.

Notes: These books were ones I chose to buy – not review copies.  Apart from Safety in the Mountains which is available from FMC, you should be able to find these books in all good bookstores in New Zealand.  

And my recommendations for Children:

Gifts for children this Christmas were easy, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give my own books. The youngest got a copy of my book Whose Beak is This? illustrated by Fraser Williamson and older children (and some adults who I knew would enjoy a copy) were given my latest ‘explore and discover’ book In the Bush: explore and discover New Zealand’s native forests illustrated by Ned Barraud.

In the Bush, includes a pull-out bird identification card
In the Bush, includes a pull-out bird identification card

Just in time for the Great Kereru Count – New Book Launched

My favourite place  – the New Zealand bush –  is the topic of my latest book. It’s a book for children, informed by many walks in the bush with botanists, bird lovers, and those steeped in bush lore.

Many of the plants and animals featured are those I’ve discovered as I walk by myself, with other trampers or with children. From the delightful hen and chicken ferns to the mysterious, membrane-covered puriri caterpillar holes found in certain tree trunks. I hope the book will encourage children to get up close and touch tree trunks and ferns, as well as to know what to avoid – bush lawyer and onga onga!

Opening scene of In the Bush

The book wouldn’t be complete without some of the rare and endangered species that can only be seen in bush sanctuaries. Like the other scenes in the book, our sanctuary is one we’ve made up to suit the animals we wanted to show. I’m not sure there is any mainland sanctuary that has all of tieke, hihi, kokako, tuatara, robins and kaka.

It was a pleasure to work with illustrator Ned Barraud again and see the images unfold. He’s captured the look and feel of the bush, from the magic night-time scene to the mossy filtered sunlight peculiar to beech forests.

Publishers Potton and Burton have added a pull out laminated card in the back of the book, dedicated to native birds, this will be handy when you are off to the bush with children to take part in the Great Kereru Count (19-27 September). Perhaps they’ll spot other birds too.

In the Bush has a laminated card in the back

Need other ideas of things to do with kids in the outdoors or a rainy day at home? There are ideas to accompany the book for parents and educators that will be soon be available at www.pottonandburton/store/in-the-bush

This year we’ve not planned a book launch, more a virtual launch. In the Bush will be in all good bookshops from 21st September. If you want to buy a hardcover version of the book order it online at www.pottonandburton/store/in-the-bush

Watch this blog or Facebook for book events closer to Christmas.

Book launch last year at the Children’s Bookshop.

Reading Non-fiction with Children

Tips for Reading Non-Fiction With Children – using Under the Ocean as an example

  1. It’s okay to read a book just the way it’s written cover to cover!
  2. On the second (third or fourth!) read, or the first if the child needs a bit of encouragement to stick with a book, get them to look a bit closer at the pictures and talk about what you’re reading.
  3. It’s great to get them showing you things, “where is the octopus?” Also ask open questions, ones that don’t have right or wrong answers “What would it be like to be swimming through this reef?”.
  4. Think aloud as you read, “I wonder what will be hiding in the rocky reefs?”
  5. Show them how to use features like the glossary or index. “I wonder what ‘echolocation’ means? Let’s look it up in the glossary.” “Shall we see what other pages have information about penguins? Let’s look in the index.”
  6. Follow up reading the book to find out more about something that interested them, see ideas blog below for how you might do this.

Can they read it? – quality online content for young children

It had to happen! While I was busily writing away about the School Library service changes, a press release was doing the rounds, showing that the National Library had responded to schools concerns, and rather than suddenly stopping the service, were prepared to provide a transition over several years. This will be a big help for concerns around budgets and helping people better understand the purpose behind the proposed changes.

The transition plan digram shows the growth of ‘online resources’ described as “quality, curated content and guides for content use”.  So the issue I had planned to address continues to be key. What are online resources are available for children? and can they take the place of books? 

First let’s look at what digital resources are suitable for younger students, say 5 to 8 year olds?

When I’m researching in preparation to write one of my books (designed to be of interest to 4-8 year olds), about half of my sources are books and half digital. I look for multiple sources of information so I can cross check information, and of course I look for sources I believe to be credible. I’m also looking for up-to-date information and online sources are particularly useful for new research on a topic and for scientific papers that might not be available in print. But here’s the thing, I’m not limited by a ‘reading age’. And because I also prepare bibliographies and lists of suggested websites on my topics, I know how little is out there for young readers particularly on New Zealand topics.

Access a School Library Service list of recommended sites for one of my favourite topics – the Rocky Shore and you’ll see how few resources there are suitable for primary age students. The best of these are the excellent Otago University Marine Studies site;  Te Ara: the encyclopaedia of New Zealand which has tried hard with its short and long stories, to meet different reading levels; and Science Learn which is a great source for teachers of curriculum material, students will need guidance to use this site; and they are all most suitable for eight year olds and up. The best are of course all publicly funded, because how else can free websites be both comprehensive and research-based? Note: not on this list are a couple of other goodies – see my blogs  Top 2 Sea Life Apps, Sea week resources – an update  and 3 Top Nature Websites for Kiwikids.

The biggest challenge is reading levels – writing easy to read text and yet still providing ideas and information that fits with a young child’s developing knowledge of the world around them. This is specialised stuff and few websites are prepare to limit their audience by aiming their information at the very young, in the way an author, illustrator and publisher of a picture book is prepared to do. Let’s hope that the transitional plan allows for the development of high quality New Zealand resources that are designed specifically for the very young.


School Library Services changes – high-interest reading?

This year the School Library Curriculum Service is controversially coming to an end, replaced by loans to schools of general high-interest reading collections. Teachers and students are to go online to access all they might need to support the curriculum. At first glance that might seem reasonable, after all we are turning to online sources for information more and more – ‘googling’ has become a verb – it’s what we do when we want to answer a query quickly. Searching multiple sites can help us build up considerable knowledge on a particular topic, getting contrasting views and up-to-date research.


And yet despite this trend I persist in writing non-fiction books for children (those very books that are to be no longer delivered as part of a curriculum service, although hopefully still included in the ‘high-interest’ collection and considered a ‘must’ for school collections). I write books for two reasons. First, this is still the only viable commercial model open to most authors. But more importantly, because the form of a book allows for the development of an idea, to take the children on a journey through the beach habitat, the garden environment or under the ocean. NZ Children’s book judge Annemarie Florian describes books as Mindfood “something substantial to chew on and digest” – I wonder how many digital resources meet this criteria?

In my next blogs I’ll be addressing the assumption that there are enough digital resources that can meet children’s curriculum needs, and looking at what it takes for a digital resource to be truly substantial enough to chew on.

If, for a moment, we assume that digital resources exist in the same quantity and quality as children’s non-fiction books, there is the issue of equality to consider. The School Library Association SLANZA have raised the problem of access to digital resources for different schools – rural schools, low decile schools. Add to this the problem of what access students have in the home. A library book can be sent home for parents and children to read together – sending home a list of websites or links relies on equality of technology in the home.

Schools can be forgiven for feeling they’ve had the rug pulled out from beneath them. Knowing what services School Library Services provided, schools could budget (and most did) to build collections aimed at high-interest, reading engagement, because special curriculum requirements could be met through the curriculum service. Now they must reconsider their collections and budgets.

Bernard Beckett blogging on the School Library Service transformation sums up the situation well – “This is one of those areas where we are asked to judge a current service we know well against a proposed service which may or may not work in practice.”


In Praise of Picture Books

An extraordinary newspaper headline this week, caused me to choke on my muesli, and no doubt a few coffee cups were spilled in cafes around the capital as readers took in the implications of the story. Picture Books Hurt Reading – has created a commotion in children’s bookshops, schools, libraries and families. After all, we all have our favourite picture books. As I write this, dozens of people are casting votes for Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Diary by Lynley Dodd to be named a Great Kiwi Classic.

According to the article the linguist who has done the research found ‘picture books stunted imagination’. That’ll be news to children’s book fans, whose imagination has been stretched and kindled by beautiful and intriguing illustrations in fiction and non-fiction. In fact we’d be hard put to put together a non-fiction book for early readers that didn’t have pictures. Can you conceive of a book for young children about the ocean without illustrations of dolphins, whales, octopus etc?

I can only hope that the headline and the quotes are out of context.

Picture books bring children to reading by engaging and delighting them with images that complement and elaborate on stories, and informing them and arousing their curiosity about the world.

Summer Non-Fiction

Before the summer holiday, I’d stocked up on a pile of non-fiction books from Craig Potton Publishing. My pick of these for an informative and entertaining read is: Tramping – a New Zealand history by Shaun Barnett and Chris Maclean.

There is the pleasure of course of dipping in to a bookshop or two while on holiday. I first visited Alice and Gertrude bookstore and cafe in Sydney and only wished it hadn’t been quite so crowded and that I’d had more time. I’ll be back next time I’m there to enjoy the combination of good food and browsing a wide range of second hand books. Later in Bowral, NSW I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of the beautifully presented Latin for Birdwatchers in a shop window. It lured me into the shop, and to make a purchase. I think this is just a perfect gift book. I was really pleased to find Mapping our World here, which sits on the coffee table of my hosts in Sydney. I couldn’t leave Australia without my own copy and only wish I’d been in Canberra for the exhibition that it’s based on.