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.