Thursday
May172018

A giant Dragon Bros map in Aotea Square!

 

As part of the Auckland Writers Festival, the map that appears on the end papers of the Dragon Brothers Trilogy has been super-sized and stuck to the ground outside the Aotea Centre. Folks can download the AR Reads app, and watch it come to 3D life! The dragons are the size of dinner plates!

Sunday
Apr292018

Come see me at Auckland Writers Festival

I'm getting very excited about appearing at Auckland Writers Festival, which takes place from May 15-20.

I've got five events!

Three of them are part of the Schools Programme on May 15 & 16, where I'm appearing twice in the Aotea Centre and also taking a workshop for budding writers.

Another is a free event on the Family Day (Sunday, May 20 from 11.00am-11.30am in the Concert Chamber at Auckland Town Hall) called the Dragon Brothers Extravaganza. The age suggestion for that is 5+ as I'll be focusing mainly on the novels.

The Writers Festival has also printed out a huge version of the map from the picture books, which will be stuck to the concrete out the front of the Aotea Centre. You'll be able to download the AR Reads app and watch it come to giant, 3D life!

See you there!

Sunday
Apr292018

The Dragon Defenders - Book Three!

It's finished!

I've completed writing The Dragon Defenders – Book Three and I'm delighted with it. I've tested it on half a dozen kids, who all really liked it too (what a relief!).

Pretty soon it will go to the layout designer, the proof-reader and then to the printer! All going to plan, it will on the shelves in New Zealand by the end of June. I know it's a long wait, and I'm writing them as fast as I can - believe me! Hopefully you'll think it's worth the wait.

If you'd like an email when it comes out, click here and fill out the form and I'll add you to the email list.

James

Sunday
Apr082018

Defenders one and two get a special mention at Storylines Awards!

Our poor Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. She gave a wonderful speech at the Storylines NZ Children's Literature Charitable Trust 'Notable Books' event, fielded gripes and photo requests right up the length of the central aisle of the hall (including holding a tray of sandwiches for the waiter while he got his phone ready) and then, just as she thought she had made good her escape by emerging into the foyer, this mug wanders up and asks for a photo. It's not even a good photo. It's a terrible photo. But it had to go on the blog - of course it did.

By the way, The Dragon Defenders and The Dragon Defenders - Book Two: The Pitbull Returns both received a special mention from the judges! A big thank you to Storylines for the nod and for continuing to fly the flag for children's literature in New Zealand!

 

 

Wednesday
Dec132017

Getting your kids reading this summer

For some kids, the thought of a long summer swinging gently in hammocks, lying under trees or baking on a beach reading book after wonderful book is the very definition of bliss.


For other kids, it’s a nightmare. No sooner does a longed-for holiday arrive than parents go and spoil it by insisting that their children read books.


For me, my heart swells when I see my sons select a book (unprompted), find a quiet spot and read for pleasure. It feels like a kind of insurance policy for the future – that no matter what happens, if they’re capable and keen readers then anything is possible. Whatever they don’t know, they can teach themselves.


Contrast that with the dread that rises when your child isn’t remotely interested in reading of any kind. The awful fear that theirs will be a life of struggling through school and university years and beyond. It’s also coupled with a sadness – that they may never appreciate the mind-opening power, elation, heartbreak, and awe of a truly great book.


I was recently asked to join authors Stacy Gregg, Melinda Szymanik and Maria Gill to speak about children’s reading at the Remuera Library in Auckland. The topic was to be great books for kids, but actually much of the conversation revolved around just how to get reluctant readers to read.


Gregg remembered her angst around her daughter not just refusing to read her own books, but also ignoring recommendations of great books from her own childhood. Instead she preferred books that Gregg thought were complete rubbish. After much hand-wringing, Gregg realised that her best strategy was to leave her daughter alone. She might not be reading great literature, but at least she was reading something. She found that as her daughter grew up, she eventually read all of those great books – and more.


This notion was echoed by Ruth Jackson, the children’s librarian at Remuera Library. She urged parents not to worry too much about their own personal ideas of what their children should be reading – for example, books about the great wars, or the human body – but rather let them select whatever they choose.  


Jackson also encouraged people not to panic too much about what they might consider inappropriate content – in her long experience she has discovered that most children (but of course, not all) tend to self regulate – they’ll put down a book which has inappropriate subject matter and choose something else.  


A month or so back I met with Jo Cribb, the chief executive of the NZ Book Council, and Linda Vagana of Duffy Books in Homes. They’re working on a joint campaign to shift the image of reading, particularly among intermediate-age boys. They’d heard about how effective my books had been in enticing reluctant readers to read, and how the use of augmented reality in my books had brought an extra, rather enticing dimension for those children who might be more inclined to pick up a device than a book.  


Their research showed that for those year seven and eight boys, books are boring, reading is hard, and playing sports and video games are more interesting. But when asked about the type of books they might read (if they really had to), many spoke of practical 'how to’ guides on topics they’re interested in, and books that tell stories about real people's lives. The boys wanted their reading experience to be dynamic, social and embedded in the activities they enjoy.  Jo Cribb’s post on Linkedin said: “They thought subtitles could be included in their favourite online games, libraries could be like escape rooms, spaces could transform into 3D images of what they were reading, or basketball hoops would only work if they read a chapter before shooting.


So being able to relate to the content they’re reading ties in nicely with Jackson and Gregg’s recommendation: to let kids choose what they want to read. All you have to do is lead the horse to water and provide a wide range to choose from –- bring them to a library or book store and let them choose what they like. Suggest books, but don’t be offended if they turn up their nose.


For my part, I spoke to the audience at Remuera Library about the enjoyment of books. By intermediate school, if kids truly think books are boring then it’s going to be an uphill battle to change their minds (but, of course, a battle well worth fighting).


The trick, of course, is to win that battle when they’re still young. Read to them every night. Help them read books that are a little tricky. If they’re struggling, then take over completely and read them the whole thing. It doesn’t matter if, at eight years old, they read it themselves or not – the goal is to cement reading and pleasure so firmly together that their notion that reading is a pleasurable activity is unshakeable. It needs to be so firmly planted in their mind that it can withstand any amount of ‘reading-is-dumb’ peer pressure later in their life. And, of course, the holidays are the one time in your busy life that you’ve got time to read to them.


Whenever I visit a school I tell the pupils that when I was a teenager I read The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay. I was lying on my bed, reading a particularly exciting passage when I realised that my heart was pounding in my chest. It was the first time a book had done that to me, and I never forgot it. It’s also the reason that in my own books I’ve tried to create that sense of tension and apprehension (interspersed with a few laughs), and the inevitable build to a crescendo of fast and furious action. They’re often the books that grip children – think Danny The Champion of the World, or Fantastic Mr Fox – and don’t let them go until the end. I want the children who read my books to creep back and read the next chapter on their own because they just can’t stand waiting until the evening when their mum or dad might have time to read to them. And I imagine the parent peeping through the bedroom door, watching their child reading, their heart swelling.