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21 Jan 2018 6:00
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  •   Home > News > Entertainment

    Highest honour for children's writer

    Teaching children to love reading is a life-long passion for prolific children's writer Joy Cowley, who has become a Member of the Order of New Zealand.

    Joy Cowley has been told so often by people that they grew up on her books she's starting to feel like the "grandmother of New Zealand".

    The newest Member of the Order of New Zealand, the country's highest honour, has written 41 children's picture books since she first begun writing in the 60's and her stories are a staple in libraries here and abroad.

    A self-confessed "bad reader", Cowley's relationship with reading was transformed around age eight when she read her first book all the way through.

    "It seems at that stage I instantly became a good reader. I know that didn't happen, what did happen was my whole attitude changed and I became hungry for reading," she said.

    This has turned into a life-long passion for teaching children not only to read but to love reading which Cowley says is "the thing that I can look back on and smile".

    With such an extensive publication list to her name, people may be surprised that Cowley isn't immune to writer's block. After quitting smoking in 1976, she had her worst case, spending several months thinking she would never write again.

    "It still happens - I finish a children's novel and I think, 'I'll never write again."

    Cowley says the trick is to always write what you know. She draws upon a lot of her own childhood experiences but says she is often tempted to rewrite herself as an altruistic eldest sister - when in fact she used her powers of story-telling to blackmail her four siblings.

    "I have to admit sometimes I would leave the hero or the heroine dangling over the crocodile's mouth so someone could take my turn at the dishes," she laughs.

    She was often late to school because she was reading on the way and even tried to ride her bike with a book propped up on the basket.

    "The inevitable happened - I biked into the back of a parked van and damaged both the bike and myself... I was stood up in front of the whole school between the principal and a traffic cop and the whole school got a lecture on what would happen if you did such a silly thing."

    And her toughest critics - the kids themselves!

    Cowley tests all her books on children before they go to publication. If a book falls flat - in one case a little boy told her a whole book was boring - it gets trashed.

    Cowley says it is her love of New Zealand that makes the award so special for her.

    ''I thought 'Order of New Zealand' - that reminded me of a religious order - and I thought that was appropriate because I do feel religious about my country - it's sacred land... I appreciate this country and all the people in it are my whanau.

    "When you fly back into this see the seas, you see the green, the mist over the land and you know you're home, you come home not only to your land but to yourself.

    ''And there's that feeling about this award."


    © 2018 NZN, NZCity

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