I was ten years old when I first fell in love with books, and I remember the excitement of reading a novel I couldn’t put down before discovering other authors and worlds of escape. It created a lifelong love of reading, leading to me being a published author of nineteen books. I’m best known here in New Zealand, but my books are also published in nine countries.
However, until Christmas 2018, I had only published books for adults, a mix of bestselling novels and non-fiction written to inspire and help others. But I have a gorgeous young girl in my life, Milla (then aged 10 years old), and she is also an avid reader, so I started thinking it would be timely to do a children’s book and involve her in the process. This was the genesis for the first Elastic Island Adventures book, Jewel Lagoon. I thought it would just be a fun family project we did together, but after a conversation with a publisher, I ended up with a publishing deal for multiple books. The movie rights have also been optioned. There are now six books in the main series and a picture book for younger readers. More books are in the pipeline, and the latest book, Flip Flop Bay, will also available as an audiobook from 20 May (www.audiobooksnz.com) narrated by the sensational Suzy Cato.
After writing so many books for adults, I’ve employed a completely different approach to writing children’s books. I am embracing my inner ten-year-old self and filtering what goes into the books through a younger version of myself, which is a tremendous amount of fun. It’s a very different approach from my novels and non-fiction, which are often very research-heavy and ‘serious.’
I’d like to mention another ‘ten.’ I was ten years old when I created two of the characters in Elastic Island Adventures: Jewel Lagoon – Big Wig and Wee Wig. They featured in a series I wrote published in the Sunday News when I was a child. I enjoyed reading books so much; it was a natural progression to start making up my own stories. And this is an inspirational story to mention now when I do events with children and encourage their own creativity at a similar age.
I think my personal story shows the importance, the magic, and the potential of other things in life, by developing a love of reading in those ‘middle reader’ years. It can be the springboard to something unexpected and special, in my case, being a published author and now a writer creating children’s books. Or, for other people, it might be securing a dream job, travelling, or doing any of the other myriad of things in life that would be impossible to do if you couldn’t read. Often a love of reading takes root and grows around the age of ten, so I urge everyone to encourage children to read at this stage as it creates an invaluable foundation. Many studies show, children who read have much better outcomes in life than children who don’t enjoy books.
There are many fabulous books for 8- to 12-year-olds to read, and I’ve included a list of great books in Elastic Island Adventures: Alphabet Resort, a handy guide for any parent or grandparent. The Elastic Island Adventures books are deliberately fun with plenty of quirky humour, not too serious or ‘worthy’ – but don’t be fooled. At their heart, they are all about friendship, building resilience and being true to oneself. They are also about literacy and creativity, as the books encourage reading and children to explore the ‘theatre of the mind.’ They are also popular with children who are what we call ‘reluctant’ readers.
If you do read them in order, you will notice some character development, but you don’t have to read them in order – each story is a standalone read. Read Jewel Lagoon if you like lots of danger and action-adventure. Like the idea of becoming invisible? Read Port Mugaloo. If you love art and colour, read Rainbow Cove. Prefer a bit of romance and like the idea of going to a wedding? Alphabet Resort is the book for you. Love cats? Well, there is an entire kingdom of them in Kingdom of Blong. Like the idea of flying or being a pirate? Then you will enjoy Flip Flop Bay. And younger brothers and sisters will enjoy Blong the Cat’s Costume Caper. There are costumes, dancing and a counting element, suitable for children aged 2- to 7- years old.
One of the best gifts a parent or grandparent can give is encouraging a child to read. Having books in the home is even more effective than borrowing books from libraries. Having books in the home is proven to positively benefit children in a myriad of ways. A two-decade-long study by JCFS found the mere presence of a home library increases children’s academic success, vocabulary development, attention and job attainment.
I’m forever grateful to the adults in my life who instilled a love of reading when I was ten years old. Let’s do the same for the other children we know! Who would have thought the humble book would be so powerful?