Writing haiku

Haiku is a form of poetry that is appealing to both children and adults. Haiku are most often about moments in nature, or simple nature descriptions. It’s a Japanese form of poetry that has been adapted for English language. Originally the English form was limited to a 3 line poem, with each line respectively 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables. A few years ago I spent time trying to write a haiku a day, but found myself limited by the strict 5-7-5 structure, so was delighted to discover that this is no longer expected. Nowadays haiku are almost always less than 17 syllables and can be as few as 2 lines long.

Here are two of my haiku about the forest which were accepted for publication in the New Zealand Poetry Society magazine a fine line Spring 2021. The magazine will become available to non-subscribers on their website in a few months.

Further information:

Author reading: Whose Feet are These?

During lockdown Kids Restore Kepler asked if I would read one of my books aloud. Here it is – Whose Feet are These? illustrated by Fraser Williamson. This little book is now sadly out of print. If you missed out on buying it and are keen for a copy contact me, as I have a few spares on my bookshelf.

For all of my children’s books I write notes for teachers and parents. You can find these notes which include ideas for activities related to the books, on my publisher’s website www.pottonandburton.co.nz. As Whose Feet are These? is no longer listed on the site, I’ve included an updated version of the notes below. I hope you enjoy following along with the book reading as well as doing some of activities.

Notes for parents and teachers

guide to pronunciation

All the animals in Whose Feet are These? have both Māori and English names, although in some cases, such as tuatara, the Māori name is the only common name. Often, of course, there is more than one Māori name as well as more than one English name, so I had to choose what appeared to be the most common. Some of the names might be less familiar to some readers. A guide to pronunciation of Māori can be found on the Māori Language Commission website: tetaurawhiri.govt.nz/learning-maori/whakahuatanga-pronunciation

more about animals and their feet

Most online education resources feature the feet and footprints of animals not found in New Zealand. Here are several New Zealand websites that provide information in a clear and informative format:

All the animals in Whose Feet are These? are native to New Zealand.

You can find out more about them on the following websites:

Parents and educators may find Science Learn a useful resource as it provides both information and educational activities http://sciencelearn.org.nz, look for topics and concepts such as ‘animal behaviour’ and ’adaptation’.

Many New Zealand animals are also included in my the explore & discover series of books for children.

suggestions for activities

Using the book(s)

  • After reading the book with children, encourage them to explore the pictures in the book to count how many feet each animal has.
  • Only one animal in the book is a mammal – compare mammal feet, your own, a pet or farm animal to the other feet in the book.
  • Use Whose Beak is This? alongside Whose Feet are These? to look closer at other animal functions e.g. which animals in Whose Feet are These? have beaks, how would you describe them? What do you think they eat? Or look at the feet of the animals in Whose Beak is This? – what kind of feet have they got? How do they use them?

Science activities

Craft activities

  • Images and links to examples of these and other activities can be found on Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/gilliancandler/wildlife-feet-and-claws/
  • Make feet as a craft activity e.g. making cardboard ‘feet’ that look like different animals to slip over their own feet and make footprints.
  • Make plaster casts of footprints children find in nature, or their own and those of pets.
  • Use a 3D printer to make an animal foot or leg (see examples on Pinterest links where an animal has had a leg made this way to replace a lost one!)
  • Download Fraser Williamson’s gecko drawing to make a gecko with sticky feet.

Conservation Inspired Poetry

aking action in citizen science projects (where ordinary people volunteer to collect data for science) such as the Litter Intelligence project or the Garden Bird Survey, or other conservation projects, can provide great topics for poetry or other creative writing.

The Volunteer

Empty trap
One weasel
One rat, snap, snap, empty trap
One hedgehog
Nibbled bait
Walking stick, lost and found
Next month
Another round

by Gillian Candler

The Bird Count

warm up
get ready
look out the window
one yellow hammer
in a flock of sparrows too many to count

step out
in the garden
two seagulls high in the sky
shadows of starlings and silver-eyes flying through
two resident blackbirds rustling under trees
one fantail flitting
one chaffinch perching
one tui coughing and chuckling
count me, count me

by Gillian Candler


I wrote the first draft of Beachcombers while taking part in the Lyme Regis Museum at Home project, it was inspired by the image of a fishing net. This final version includes some of the things I find while taking part in Litter Intelligence surveys at home in New Zealand. Read about the Litter Intelligence project in my blog post Counting Litter.

The Volunteer was inspired by a monthly trapping round checking pest traps. My trapping partner lost his walking stick and then found it again. Here’s a blogpost about the trapping project.

The Bird Count was written back in 2014 while taking part in the Garden Bird Survey.

Related Blogposts
Children writing about nature

and more Children’s writing about nature

The Importance of Non-Fiction Books for Children

I wish there was another name for ‘non-fiction’.  It seems a shame to use a negative to define what can be such imaginative and creative works that describe our marvellous world as it is. ‘Non-fiction’ describes what they are not, rather than what they are. It is such a dreary term, that publishers of adult non-fiction have resorted to using phrases such as “creative non-fiction” or “literary non-fiction” to give their publications more weight and make them sound more interesting. 

It seems a shame to use a negative to define what can be such imaginative and creative works that describe our marvellous world as it is.

In children’s publishing, the UK School Library Association and the Children’s Book Council of Australia have both replaced ‘non-fiction’ with ‘Information Book’ in their awards. While ‘information book’ might be an improvement on ‘non-fiction’, to my mind it doesn’t capture the ability of non-fiction to tell a story, suggesting rather that such works will be a list of facts which could be easily found on the internet. (Although, and this is a topic for another reckoning, in reality online information about New Zealand written in a manner that is suitable for young children is scarce.)

Good non-fiction books are more than a list of facts. They present concepts in accessible and creative ways. At least this is what I hope my books do. In “Whose Beak is This?” illustrated by Fraser Williamson, the concept of animal adaptation is conveyed through a guessing game; while my ‘explore and discover’ series introduces the idea of eco-systems through Ned Barraud’s detailed cross-section illustrations. Non-fiction books use story to add richness to information, as in “Nice Day for War: adventures of a kiwi soldier in World War 1” by Chris Slane and Matt Elliott, which follows the real-life war experience of one of the author’s grandfathers and employs graphic novel techniques to develop a sense of story to this factual account. In ‘Motiti Blue and the Oil Spill’ by Debbie McCauley, one penguin’s story is used to exemplify the facts about both the oil spill and little blue penguins.

Page from “Whose Feet are These?” by Gillian Candler, illustrated by Fraser Wiliamson

Factual books open windows and doors as children stumble on ideas through serendipity and linger over them rather than click away.

Factual books open windows and doors as children stumble on ideas through serendipity and linger over them rather than click away. This is neatly summed up in a true story from Nobel Prize winner Alan MacDiarmid’s childhood. In ‘Charged: MacDiarmid’s Electroplastic’ by Pat Quinn, Alan MacDiarmid describes how as a boy he found a book on Chemistry in the attic and, as it was too difficult to understand, “I headed for the public library. I found .. a blue book. It was called “The Boy Chemist”. Over the following year, I borrowed the book as often as the library would let me….that was a real turning point in my life.”  

I like to think of children discovering and emulating Māori artists through “Māori Art for Kids” by Julia Noanoa and Norm Heke, being inspired to keep a nature journal by Sandra Morris’s “A New Zealand Nature Journal”, absorbing New Zealand history through “Digging up the Past” by David Veart and aspiring to become an archaeologist or taking up triathlons after reading “The Beginners’ Guide to Adventure Sport” by Steve Gurney. These books, along with biographies, histories, science books, how-to books, comprise the ‘literature of fact’. 

Pages from “From Moa to Dinosaurs: explore and discover ancient New Zealand” by Gillian Candler, illustrated by Ned Barraud

The literature of fact, has taken on a new importance in a world where fake news has become a global concern. I believe its time to start describing our non-fiction books as ‘factual books’, to start having the conversation with our children about the difference between fact and fiction so that they will learn to distinguish this themselves.

Disappointingly few factual books are written for children in New Zealand. Back in 2012 when I judged the NZ Children’s Book Awards only 13 books were entered in the non-fiction category compared to nearly 10 times that number across the fiction categories. The low number seems to justify the reason there is only one non-fiction category covering all ages in the awards, but the single award does nothing to encourage more non-fiction publishing. And it seems the cost of publishing non-fiction with its, often, more costly design and layout deters many New Zealand publishers. 

But internationally things are changing, non-fiction has seen a design-driven resurgence with large sumptuous highly illustrated titles hitting the shelves. While the beautiful illustrations and designs will capture imaginations and engage children, their rich content rarely includes New Zealand material. One might hope for example that ‘Animalium’ might include a New Zealand animal or two given the exceptional nature of our wildlife, from tuatara through giant weta to kakapo we have our share of oddities, but sadly it doesn’t. While such interesting books deserve a place on our shelves, our children need to see New Zealand content pictured too.

What children need is not either fiction or non-fiction but both, local and international. Both fiction and factual books inform and stir the imagination. As adult readers we learn from both, are entertained by both, for children it’s no different, although they approach non-fiction with greater sense of wonder than do adults. It’s time for adult buyers of children’s books to recognise that factual writing also stirs imagination and encourages creativity, that children need facts as much as they need fiction. It’s time to rename non-fiction writing as the ‘literature of fact’ and non-fiction books as ‘factual books’.

This article was first published on The Sapling website on 10 May 2017. I am grateful to the editors of The Sapling for commissioning this opinion piece.

Pages from “New Zealand Nature Heroes” by Gillian Candler, a factual book of stories, ideas and inspiration for young conservationists

Join the campaign for Earth – our other mother

My instagram contribution to the Our Other Mother Campaign

Nature fills me with wonder, I’m in awe of its beauty and power, I share this wonder with parents and children in the books that I write. Most recently I’ve written about being Nature Heroes. I believe each of us can be a Nature Hero, no matter how young or old or where we live. But I know that people can act on emotions, they need to care enough to take the first steps. I love the “Our Other Mother” campaign because it gives us a thousand reasons to care. Each contribution to the campaign reminds us of the “mother-child” relationship that exists between us and Planet Earth, the source of our life.

Get Creative and Join in

Here’s what Parents for Climate Aotearoa have to say about how to get involved:

Young or old, professional illustrator or child artist, everyone can contribute.

Visit  https://www.parentsforclimatenz.org/our-other-mother for more details

More Children’s Writing About Nature

Poetry at Porirua Library

I was invited to talk to children about making books – writing and illustrating – at Porirua Library this summer as part to the Imagine This! festival. With an audience of both pre-schoolers and school age children, I made sure that the talking part was not too long. I was keen to finish with an activity that was be something everyone could do. We’d been talking about the writing and illustration of “In the Bush”, so we brainstormed what we could write about ruru (morepork). I had outlines of a tūī, a ruru (morepork) and a pīwakawaka (fantail) for children to use to create: concrete poetry – older children, and artworks – mostly younger children. Here are just a few of the poems.

Lucy’s poem

If you’d like to write a concrete poem about a tūī, ruru, or fantail, the outlines can be downloaded as a PDF (the PDF has all 3): Download bird outlines.

Writers in School at Waterloo

Waterloo School invited me to run writing workshops with groups of year 4-6 students. This session was funded by the fantastic Writers in Schools programme. I worked with the children on creative non-fiction writing. We talked about language features such as similes and metaphors. The children discovered how powerful using the first person “I” can be, as it puts the writer and the reader into the seeing the world from the animals perspective.

For example, instead of writing “Penguins can’t fly.” One girl wrote ” I am Penguin, it’s weird but I can’t fly.” Another child writing about what leopard seals eat and how sharp their teeth are, added ” Are you afraid of me? Well you should be!” These sentences grab attention. They are thought provoking for the reader.

Some of the older students brought their love of story writing to the task, even down to deciding what role their orca had in the pod. One wrote a story about Grandma Orca whose role it was to lead the hunt. Another wrote about two sister orca and the dangers posed by fisheries.

Ella’s Orca writing

Some children chose non-Antarctic animals , one group chose kiwi which resulted in: ‘A day in the life of kiwi’ and a “Who am I?” puzzle to which the answer was kiwi. Another chose lemon sharks.

Writing Tip 1: Some students (and adults!) find it hard to get started with their writing. Experienced writers know that we have to start writing even if we think our first words are rubbish and that we might end up ditching them after our first draft. We just have to get started putting words on paper. And we need to write everyday. It’s like training to run a cross-country. The best way to train is to do lots of running, even if your first steps feel awful because you ate too much lunch or your body is stiff, you’ve just got to start running. It’s the same with writing. You’ve just got to start getting down words, any words. And the more you practice the easier it is.

Writing Tip 2: It’s more productive to focus children on getting their words down, and then working out exactly what they want to say rather than correcting details too soon. If children want to know how to spell a word, I tell them, but otherwise I leave correcting spelling and punctuation for the editing stage. This is something that we can’t fit into a workshop time. The students’ work here was written in a very short space of time!

Many thanks to:

  • the children of Waterloo School and the children (and parents) who came along to Porirua Library, for your creativity and enthusiasm.
  • Read NZ and their sponsors who make the Writers in Schools programme possible
  • Porirua Library for inviting me along to take part in Imagine This! and for the photographs.

Making Papier Mache Animals

The wonderful papier mache tūī that accompanied me to the Imagine This! Festival at Porirua Library, was a huge hit with kids and parents. They were fascinated about how little it weighed and how life-like it looked. This lovely tūī was made by Meredith Thorpe, a Nelson-based artist. Parents and children asked me how to make a papier mache animal.

Papier mache tui
The papier mache tūī
The tūī looking out of my window
The author holding the papier mache tui

You can make all sorts of animals out of papier mache. Last year a friend set me a photo of her grandson Luca making a green gecko. Luca made this during lockdown. He used one of Ned’s illustrations from Animals of Aotearoa to help him.

Luca putting the finishing touches on his green gecko

What is papier mache?

The words are French and mean “mashed paper”. Papier mache is the layering of paper and glue over some kind of frame or structure to create a sculpture. 

How to make a sculpture out of papier mache

  1. Make a frame or structure in the general shape of the animal you want to create. If it has a round body you could use a ball of crushed up newspaper. If it’s long and thin perhaps you could use cardboard rolls from the inside of toilet paper rolls. An odd shape could be made from chicken wire scrunched up. The inner structure is be a good way to make art from junk, perhaps using something that is non-recyclable and would otherwise have been thrown away.
  2. Once you have created a structure, start layering on strips of newspaper or other soft paper with glue. Keep building this up in a way that creates the shape of the animal – thicker in some parts, thinner in others.
  3. Let your sculpture dry between layers. This is a project for several days or even weeks depending on your patience and the level of detail you want to include. It’s an ideal project for school holidays or lockdown, or simply doing a bit each day after school.
  4. Once you’ve finished the shape and it’s dry, paint it in the colours of the animal.


It’s a long time since I’ve made anything out of papier mache myself so I asked my artist friends for tips on creating animals.

  • Make your sculpture strong by overlapping the pieces of newspaper, criss-crossing them to ensure the inner structure is completely covered. 
  • Meredith suggests using wallpaper glue, but you could also make paste out of flour and water.

There are lots of You Tube videos and instructions online with lots of different techniques. Here are two fun projects:

Many thanks to Porirua Library for the photo from Imagine This! and to Luca and Jane for the green gecko photos.

Meredith Thorpe is an inspiration. In 2017, she created a whole window display for Illuminate Nelson City in Whitcoulls based around my book “In the Bush: explore and discover New Zealand’s native forests”. It even had a glow-worm cave! Ever since then, her tūī has been keeping me company in my writing studio. Thank you Meredith.

Making Native Bird Pop-Ups

Making native bird pop-up cards was a huge hit at Whitby Library last week. I’ve been taking part of the Porirua Library “Imagine This!” summer festival for children and this was the second workshop I ran. 

Nature pop-up cards are a great way to re-use greeting cards, scraps of paper, used Christmas or birthday wrapping paper, and images from old calendars and magazines. This activity worked well with age 6 and up.

pop-up card examples

How to make the Kiwi Pop-Up

You will need:

  • brown wrapping paper or origami paper 
  • a circular object to trace around, about 5 or 6 cm in diameter
  • scissors
  • stapler
  • glue stick
  • recycled greeting card or new card
  • colouring pens 
  • magazine or calendar pictures 

HINT If you are using a recycled greeting card, cover any writing or messages inside with a piece of paper or an image from an old calendar or magazine.

1. Use your circular object to trace circles on your paper, you will need 6 circles. Hint: you could consider stacking paper and cutting out three at once.

2. Fold each circle in half, then open out again. Stack the circles on top of each other so that the folds line up. With a stapler, carefully staple the pile of circles together along the fold. 

3. Cut out a kiwi beak and place this between the flaps of the middle circle. Glue the middle circle together with the beak in place. You now have a ‘kiwi body’.
4. Glue the outside circle of the ‘kiwi body’ into the card, making sure that the fold of the circle matches the fold of the card. Draw some legs below the kiwi. 

5. Decorate the card, inside and out. Put in your greeting.

Glue in beak, glue to card.

Some of our kiwi were black, so were called All Blacks! Popular greetings were “From one kiwi to another.” “You are a cool kiwi”

How to make the Pīwakawaka/ Fantail Pop-Up

You will need:

  • origami paper
  • scissors
  • glue stick
  • stapler
  • colouring pens
  • recycled greeting card or other card
  • pictures from magazines or old calendars

HINT: If you are using a recycled greeting card, cover any writing or messages with a piece of paper or an image from an old calendar or magazine.

1. Fold two pieces of origami paper into fans – do this by folding the paper back and forth always keeping the same width. Then glue the two fans together along the long edge. (You could glue the two pieces of paper together first before you start folding if you think that will be easier).
2. Fold the fan in half, put a staple in at the fold.

3. Make a pīwakawaka body out of a scrap piece of paper. Glue the body between the middle two pieces of the fan.

4. Glue the lower edge of the pIwakawaka into the card, making sure that the fold of the bird sits in the fold of the card.

5. Decorate and add in a greeting.
Popular greetings included: “I’m a fan!” “You’re fantastic!”

How to make a Kākā, Kākāpō, Kea Chick Pop-Up

This is an easier one suitable for younger children who will enjoy colouring in the image, they’ll need an adult to help them finish the card. 
You will need:

  • large recycled greeting card or a piece of A4 card
  • a print-out of the parrot chick download (see below)
  • colouring pens
  • scissors
  • glue Stick
  • magazine and old calendar pictures 

1. Decide whether your parrot chick is a Kākā, Kākāpō or Kea and colour in appropriately.

2. Fold the finished picture down the centre. From the folded edge cut across the beak opening.

3. Open out the picture again and score the four sides around the beak.

4. Use a finger from behind to carefully push the beak outwards.

5. Now glue the image into the card.6. Add a greeting and decorate the outside.

FREE DOWNLOAD Pop-up Parrot Chick

Nature Books for Teens

Looking for some book present ideas for young people? Perhaps they’ve been fans of the ‘explore and discover’ books and are now teens. Perhaps they’ve got New Zealand Nature Heroes and love to read about nature and be inspired by nature heroes. Here’s my top tips for young people from my reading this year.

Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty

Dara McAnulty is a young nature hero. His book Diary of a Young Naturalist is a must read for nature lovers, whether teens or adults. 

This book stands out head and shoulders above other books by young people on their nature experiences or activism. Dara is a talented writer and writes with extraordinary perception and intensity about his relationship with the natural world around him.

I am buoyed by the life springing out everywhere, in the garden, in the school grounds, even on the streets around the house. My heart crashes less against my chest. I feel in rhythm with nature, and I start becoming immersed in every moment again, letting each wave hit me and seep in. (May11)

Don’t be misled by the term ‘Diary’, this is much, much more than dates and nature observations. Yes it’s presented as a seasonal diary, one year in Dara’s life, but what a year! It’s the year he turns 16, moves house and changes school. A year in which he gets to do field work with goshawks. A year in which he joins in the first gathering of the Extinction Rebellion movement in Ireland. He doesn’t just record what he sees, he questions what is happening around him.

Imagine seeing curlew or corncrake everyday, bitterns booming from the callows. Just think of cranes on Irish soil – they were a popular pet here on the island of Ireland in the Middle Ages, before they became extinct in the 1500s. Bitterns went later, in the mid-1800s when the wetlands were drained for agriculture, and then the curlew and corncrake followed. Will I ever get to experience abundance? Are we wrong to assume that our ancestors had a stronger connection to nature? (October 13)

And he writes frankly about what it’s like to experience school and other social interactions outside his family as an autistic teen. 

Nature sparks creativity. All we have to do is start with the question, Why? The way my mind whirrs and whirls in nature, or even when ‘daydreaming’, is way more productive than the work I do in school. (December 6)

All readers will get a deeper understanding of what life is like living with autism. And many people, autistic or not, will relate to to his experiences of being bullied or misunderstood. These themes might be unexpected takeaways from a nature book, but I hope they also ensure the book is read and enjoyed by a wide audience. 

I did wonder how much the unfamiliar landscape, animals and plants would affect my reading enjoyment. But the descriptions of different bird species and plants intrigued me and I put the book down wanting to learn more about this part of the world. Most of all I was inspired by Dara’s determination to take action for nature. I’m sure all readers young and old will feel the same.

Highly recommended for 12 years and over.


How to be a Good Creature: a memoir in thirteen animals by Sy Montgomery, illustrated by Rebecca Green

Sy Montgomery is a nature journalist and adventurer, she’s written books and articles about wild animals, such as snow leopards, tarantula, octopus. This book however is a very personal look at her own life, through the animals that she has had a close connection with. She writes about the life lessons she has learned from each creature. As you might expect a close connection means some are pets, several dogs appear as does a domestic pig, but she also talks about wild animals that have inspired her. 

Some other reviewers described this book as ‘sweet’. I’d agree. At times it was a bit too sentimental for me but young people who are devoted to their pets will relate to Sy’s reflections about her relationship with her pets. They’ll also, I hope, see how wild animals can be an inspiration in people’s lives. 

As a child, my father read aloud to our family, from what I thought of as adult books, but which were of interest to all ages. This is just the sort of book that he’d have chosen.

Age 10 and over, younger children may enjoy having this read to them.

Kids Write About Nature

Last year I ran some writing workshops with local children for Porirua Harbour Trust. I introduced the children to the idea of writing poems that could take on the shape of what they are writing about.

Here are some of their Raindrop poems:

This kind of poetry is called Concrete Poetry.  It doesn’t have to have an line around it, the words can be placed to make the shape, like this:

However it made it easier for the children to keep the topics in mind and to write to fit the shape.

Here are some other poems that the children wrote:

Before we started writing, we brainstormed topics sharing words and ideas.

picture of brainstorm
Using photographs to help generate words about water drops

Choosing to write from the point of view of the object or animal, using “I”, “My” etc, makes the poetry lively and direct.

Writing from the point of view of a gull

At a previous workshop, we used a form called Cinquain Poetry (poems of just 5 lines) to get started with descriptive writing, before turning these into poems from the animals point of view. You can read more about this here: Writing Workshops for Children

From “The Current 1” Porirua Harbour Trust 2017

These poems were published in The Current 1 and The Current 2. The workshops were co-ordinated by Pātaka Art Educator Esme Dawson and run for the Porirua Harbour Trust. Porirua Harbour Trust have provided local schools with copies of The Current.

Some of the children’s writing is also displayed on signs on the shore of Porirua Harbour (behind Pak’nSave supermarket).

Tips for parents encouraging children to write at home

Some children find it hard to get words down on paper. Sometimes it’s the topic, ‘What I did in my school holidays’ can draw an awful blank. It’s always best to write about something you are interested in. A little time spent observing nature and it’s usually not long before children have found a topic of interested.

I want children to experience success with their writing. So I choose a writing form that can be finished within the workshop time. Although some children may go on writing and improving on what they have written, everyone has completed at least one poem.

So that’s 3 ingredients to successful nature writing:

  • an interesting topic
  • observation (and information gained from observation)
  • a form of writing that gives a satisfying result

Usually I count on the class having already had the opportunity to observe and learn about nature, so if you are doing this at home, the first thing you might need to do is take a short nature walk around the garden, perhaps jotting down observations in a nature journal, taking photos or just talking about they see.

Some children have a wide vocabulary and are good at thinking of words they want to use, others struggle to come up with words to describe what they see. To get around this in a class situation, I get the children to brainstorm in a group writing down all the words they can think of, that way children can use and be inspired by others’ choice of words. So if necessary be part of the brainstorm with your child (there are no wrong answers in a brainstorm, children have to be free to write down everything they think of and not be worried about being ‘wrong’, correct spelling only after they have finished, unless they ask for help with spelling). You could also encourage them to look up the animal or plant in a book such as Animals of Aotearoa, perhaps there will be more words there that they can use.

Then if you are writing concrete poetry, get them to draw an outline of their animal or object  and get started with a “I am..”

You can download the “water drop” outline here:


A further blogpost about children writing concrete poetry about birds, along with free bird outlines to download, can be found here. https://gilliancandler.co.nz/more-childrens-writing-about-nature/

I’ve also pulled together some more writing ideas from other sources on Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.nz/gilliancandler/kids-write-about-nature/

Many thanks to Rebecca McCormack inviting me to take part in workshops for Porirua Harbour Trust and for some of the photos in this blog, also many thanks to Esme Dawson of Pātaka.

This was first published on my nature blog ExploreDiscoverNature.blogspot.co.nz

Stay at Home Nature Travel – reading recommendations

Right now people all around the world are hunkering down, travel plans cancelled, trips and events off. Those of us lucky enough to live among nature or close to wild places can still get out and about on solitary bird counts, or hikes where we distance ourselves from our companions. But some journeys or places we might have hoped to visit can now only be enjoyed from afar and preferably through a good book. Yes, you can watch nature documentaries or real-life adventure films but the are over in an evening and won’t keep you engaged for as long as a good book can.

From my recent Nature reading list, here are some recommendations for nature journeys, each told from a unique personal perspective.  Experience the fungi in the woods of Norway, the migratory route of snow geese through North America, the wild Orkney Islands, a camel trek through central Australia and the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand.

The Way Through the Woods: of mushrooms and mourning by Long Litt Woon (translated into English by Barbara J. Haveland 2019)

The Way Through The Woods

The author describes The Way Through The Woods as telling “two parallel journeys: an outer one, into the realm of mushrooms, and an inner one, through the landscape of mourning.” Malaysian born Long Litt Woon has lived her adult life in Norway. While mourning the early death of her Norwegian husband, she found herself drawn into the European pastime of collecting edible fungi. ‘Mushrooms and mourning’ may sound like a strange combination, but this is no contrived book of an author seeking a vehicle for her story. It’s an authentic journey; interweaving strands of discovery both personal and about the natural world.

The epiphany Long Litt Woon describes of seeing with new eyes, will ring true for anyone who has started to learn the ways of nature.  “A walk through the woods is a very different experience when undertaken armed with new knowledge, however limited it may be. Suddenly I was seeing mushrooms everywhere, fungi that I would have walked past before, blending as they did into the landscape. Now they were popping out at me in 3D, as if I’d been given special glasses to see them.” The Way Through the Woods is full of such insights and new ways of experiencing the natural world – a whole chapter is given over to the odour of fungi, for example.

While it’s possible to read The Way Through the Woods as an e-book, I’d recommend the printed book if you can get hold of it. It is beautifully produced with different coloured fonts alerting the reader to a shift of focus from her inner journey to the outer one, and also includes some attractive line drawings.

Long Litt Woon was in Wellington in March at the International Festival of the Arts.

The Snow Geese by William Fiennes (2001)

The author makes an extraordinary journey following the snow geese migration across North America, from Texas to Baffin Island. As with Long Litt Woon, William Fiennes was also in need of healing, he reveals that he suffered a long period of repeated hospitalisation and recuperation in his early 20s. A chance re-read of Paul Gallico’s The Snow Goose, was the beginning of his fascination with these beautiful migratory birds. Once he recovered from his illness, he set out on this trek. As the geese rest on their stages of the journey north, so must he, waiting in small towns of the USA or Canada for the geese to move on. These small towns and the people he meets are lovingly brought to life in extraordinary detail. In amongst his travel descriptions, the author weaves in information about the snow geese and bird migration.

I picked up The Snow Geese at Archway Books my local second hand bookstore, where there was more than one copy for sale. 

The Outrun by Amy Liptrot (2015)

The Outrun

In this award-winning memoir, the author tells her story of growing up in the Orkney Islands, of her life as a troubled young adult in London and of her eventual return to the Orkneys. At times it’s a raw account of alcoholism and addiction.

Amy Liptrot’s return to the Orkneys and her immersion in its natural world marks the start of her recovery. Her descriptions of life in the Orkneys, the people and the wildlife are compelling. A beautiful and inspiring cover too.

This book was recommended (and lent to me) by a friend with a Scottish Isles connection.

Tracks: a woman’s solo trek across 1700 miles of Australia Outback by Robyn Davidson (1980)

This is a story you could watch as a movie. Released in 2013 the film is a pretty good retelling of the epic journey. I’m sure you will want to read the book afterwards, as the movie will leave you with so many questions – you’ll be asking yourself what got left out or glossed over to compact a journey of many months into less than 2 hours.

My copy of Tracks is old and battered. I’ve read this book at least once per decade since it was released. Each read I’ve been drawn to different aspects of her account. When I first read it, I was about the same age the author was when she undertook the trip. Her daring and courage took my breath away, opening up possibilities of what I too might achieve. A subsequent reading drew my attention to her reflections on how the community treats indigenous Australians. Later as I was beginning to spend more time in nature myself, I read with interest her experience of not just noticing different plants and animals more keenly but the way she came to ‘know’ the desert in all its connections, associations and patterns.

On my most recent re-read, I was drawn to her reflections on the impact the National Geographic coverage and sponsorship had on her journey. We now take it for granted that travellers will blog, tweet and instagram their trip. We don’t question how travelling with the purpose of finding Instagrammable views or the cliched “Ten Things to Do in…” alters the traveller’s experience. So it was refreshing to read of her misgivings about how the magazine coverage threatened to alter her experience.  She reflects on an event when the photographer was present “I did not perceive at the time that I was allowing myself to get more involved with the article about the trip than the trip itself. It did not dawn on me that already I was beginning to see it as a story for other people, with a beginning and an ending.” Luckily she manages to avoid this problem for most of her trip – she travelled without any communication devices, something we find hard to imagine today. Writing the book was for her, I think, a reaction to the neat packaging of her trip by National Geographic. This honest account includes her fears as well as her success, and describes the dirt and the dust as well as the beauty of the desert.

I first read Tracks in the mid-80s, gave away my copy, bought another. I re-read it last month.

Bewildered by Laura Waters (2019)


The Te Araroa Trail goes almost right by my front door, and I’ve walked small parts of it over the years, so I was interested to read Bewildered Laura Waters’ account of hiking the whole trail.

Her wonderful (and so true) description of the nearby Tararua Range is trail writing at its best “The trees and rocks are furry, like green flock. Beds of damp peat moss grow thick and deep, punctuated with leaves that bend in on themselves like curled tongues drinking moisture from the mist. Every square inch is covered with life. I feel as though I am walking through a living breathing thing.”

As she progresses from North to South she shares parts of the trail that she found difficult, times when the weather changed for the worst and halted her progress, and the joy of good companionship. While there were a few occasions when she lost the trail, “Bewildered” refers, I think, to issues she has to sort out in her personal life. It can be hard for an author to get the balance of the inner journey and outer journey right, and different readers may have different perceptions of what strikes a good balance. I would have preferred more trail experiences and descriptions, but perhaps that is because I was looking for fresh perspectives on a landscape that is familiar to me. Still it’s inspiring to read the courage and confidence that she got from hiking the trail, and the choices she went on to make in her life.

I first saw Bewildered reviewed on Lotsafreshair.com. 

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 www.discovernature.nz/nature-heroes/ 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 https://thespinoff.co.nz/books/10-12-2019/the-best-childrens-book-of-2019-plus-the-rest-of-our-top-10/

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’ https://meaningoftrees.com or Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/meaningoftrees

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 https://explorediscovernature.blogspot.co.nz/2018/01/nature-kids-making-zines-to-spread-word.html

Nature Study Ideas https://explorediscovernature.blogspot.co.nz/2017/05/autumn-april-and-may-nature-study-ideas.html

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: https://my.christchurchcitylibraries.com/about-zines/

This blog was also published on https://explorediscovernature.blogspot.co.nz 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 author@gilliancandler.co.nz

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

Reviewing ‘Keeping Your Children Safe Online’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up the River is the sixth book in the series

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

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

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

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

Pages 20-21 what lives in the wetland?

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

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

Part of the image showing a modified habitat

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

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

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

Infographic from the Ministry of the Environment

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

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

Did you know?

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

FAQs About Writing ‘From Moa to Dinosaurs’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please read the full interview on The Sapling.

Free Downloadable Forest Birds ID Card

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

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


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

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

Finalist in Book Awards 2017

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

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

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

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

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


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

Make a Gecko with Sticky Feet

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

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

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

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

Gecko sticking to the library shelf

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


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

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

A Kiwi Book Corner peeps around the corner of this book

An unusual bird!

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 https://www.pottonandburton.co.nz/from-moa-to-dinosaurs/

This blog was first posted on explorediscovernature.blogspot.co.nz

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 http://www.protectingparadise.co.nz . 

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 www.bloglovin.com 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: http://www.nzbookawards.nz/new-zealand-book-awards-for-children-and-young-adults/2016-awards/Finalists/

This blog first appeared on my nature blog explorediscovernature.blogspot.co.nz

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 http://www.fmc.org.nz/sales/


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