Interview with Sandra Morris

Sandra Morris is the award-winning author of many wonderful picture books and children’s nonfiction books. In Sandra’s latest book, North and South, we learn about the differences in seasons between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres and how the animals that live there deal with the changing seasons. You can read my rave review here on the blog. It is a fascinating book and it made me wonder about how Sandra chose which animals would be featured in the book. Read my interview with Sandra to find out the answer to this question and more.

  • North and South: A tale of two hemispheres is a unique concept for a children’s nonfiction book about wildlife. You compare wildlife from the Northern Hemisphere with those from the Southern Hemisphere. What inspired you to present the information in this way?

In North and South I presented wildlife in each month looking at the opposite seasons. As a child I was fascinated that two halves of the world experience such different weather systems at the same time. I thought if I showed both halves on each double spread with an animal from each hemisphere then it is pretty immediate and accessible for children to see the contrast.

  • How did you decide what wildlife to include in the book?

It was pretty challenging deciding on the final list of animals to be portrayed. I made an initial list after reading an old Readers Digest book on animals through the seasons. On further research I found out quite a few had become extinct- particularly disappointing! I made a more refined list and sent it to my Candlewick US editors and they made a further selection. We tried to represent as wide a species list as possible – birds, insects, mammals, marine life etc. and to cover as many different countries as possible. I also wanted to include some lesser known species like Portuguese man of war, stag beetles, and honeypot ants.

  • There were so many things that fascinated me reading this book, from the difference that heat makes to the sex of baby crocodiles to the hilarious way that Lyrebirds copy the sounds around them. What was the most fascinating thing you discovered while researching this book?

One of the most fascinating things was to learn how many of her young are carried in the jaws of the female salt water crocodile down to the river shortly after hatching. It was impossible to find images so I had to reconstruct that image myself- I have since seen amazing photos and she does cram them in!! Like an overloaded bus!!

  • A lot of effort has gone in to the design of North and South. It’s so important to get the design right in a children’s nonfiction book, as you want children to be able to find the information they need but also enjoy reading it. Did you have much of a say in the design?

Yes the design was largely mine. It went through various changes due to the publisher wanting it to sell foreign rights, so all my original coloured, hand lettering had to go and they replaced them with the black and white fonts. Also, I had originally had all the extra facts at the back making it a rather lengthy book, so the designer brought all the extra facts into each spread, running them down the side of the images. Therefore, all the images had to be reduced – they originally bled off the page with just a small amount of text within the image. But I am happy with what the designer has done and I understand all the reasons why. Sometimes you have to make compromises if you want the book to have a wider market appeal internationally. You just cant get too precious. I love it that it’s a team effort and I was lucky that Sarah Davies at Walker Australia made such good design decisions.

  • One of the design features that I really love about North and South is the map on the endpapers. Were maps an important feature to include in the book?

Yes. Originally the world map with animals was going on the Introduction page and Sarah suggested it as endpapers. This freed up more internal space. It was also her idea to include a small map on each spread, so that it was immediately clear where each animal lived.

  • What is your process of illustrating the wildlife you feature in your books? Do you watch videos and pore over photos?

I usually try to draw from life as much as possible, but as most of these animals do not live in NZ that was out of the question. So I referred to many books, Google images and videos for visual reference.

  • You have written and illustrated many books about New Zealand wildlife, and both the Bar-tailed Godwit and the Brown Kiwi feature in North and South. Do you have a favourite New Zealand creature that you love to illustrate? What is it that appeals about this creature?

For many years I have observed and sketched from life the amazing Bar-tailed godwits at Pukorokoro Miranda on the firth of Thames. I have grown to love these birds and admire their amazing annual migratory feats!! They fly non-stop from Alaska to NZ – 11,000 kms every southern summer to feed on our mudflats to be in peak breeding condition to fly back via several feeding spots, to breed in the Alaskan tundra as it thaws. It is such a worry that changing climate conditions and human habitation and development is chewing up their feeding grounds. This has a huge impact on their survival. There is clear evidence that their numbers have severely decreased. Statistics show they are declining by 2% a year.

  • Many of the animals featured in North and South have a special ability like changing their appearance to camouflage into their environment, copying the sounds of other animals, or storing honey in their swollen bellies for when it’s needed. If you could choose one animal ability to have yourself, what would you choose?

An animal ability I would choose is flight – what an amazing ability. To just make up your mind to lift off and go places with no cost to the environment!!

North and South by Sandra Morris

Sandra Morris is the award-winning author and illustrator of both picture books and children’s nonfiction. Sandra has introduced Kiwi kids to many of our native birds, reptiles, trees and insects through her engaging books. In her latest book, North and South, Sandra compares and contrasts the wildlife that lives in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

In North and South we learn about the differences in seasons between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres and how the animals that live there deal with the changing seasons. Sandra highlights the effect of the rapid heating of our planet on the habitats of these creatures, as well as the effect that it has on migratory habits and the sex of hatching reptiles. Starting in January and going through until December, each double page spread presents an animal from the Northern Hemisphere and one from the Southern Hemisphere. As well as focusing on the month and the season, each spread also focuses on a different aspect about those animals. The spread for March focuses on Mothers and Babies and compares the polar bear (in the Northern spring) with the saltwater crocodile (in the Southern autumn). The warming seas and melting ice mean the polar bears need to swim and walk further for a meal. The hotter temperatures also affect the sex of the crocodile hatchlings, with warmer temperatures meaning the hatchlings will be male. There is a handy mini map with each animal so that you can see where they live, and Sandra also explains the threats to each animal. At the back of the book there is a concise glossary, an index and suggestions of where to find more information and how you can help the wildlife.

North and South is a perfect children’s nonfiction book, that is engaging, cleverly designed and gorgeously illustrated. This is the kind of book that can be read cover-to-cover or easily dipped into. There will animals that children know, but others that they will discover for the first time. They’ll also discover astounding facts about these animals that they’ll want to share with their friends and family. The layout is really kid-friendly because the illustrations are large, there’s just the right amount of text, and there’s a mini-map on every spread. It’s a great book to not only learn about animals and their differences, but also to highlight the differences in the seasons of Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

This book made me go ‘Wow!’ so many times! I found it fascinating how the sex of crocodile hatchlings can change with a difference in temperature. I had heard of the Lyrebird before but had no idea how cool this bird is. It can mimic other birds that it hears, as well as other sounds, including drills and chainsaws. I was so astounded by this that I spent quite a while watching YouTube videos of these birds. I laughed so hard listening to them!

Sandra Morris’ illustrations are stunning and the design of the book is superb. It’s a beautiful book to look through and read. One of my favourite aspects of the book is the maps. The end papers are a world map with animal icons, showing where they live, and the mini-map on each spread shows this too.

I love North and South! It is a book that should be on the shelf of all animal lovers and is an invaluable resource for schools. I know that this book will be pored over in my school library and I’ll be promoting it to all of my classes.

Whiti: Colossal Squid of the Deep by Victoria Cleal and Isobel Joy Te Aho-White

The Colossal Squid has long been one of Te Papa’s main attractions, especially for young children. Now, thanks to Victoria Cleal, Isobel Joy Te Aho-White and Te Papa Press we now have a wonderful children’s nonfiction book all about this creature.

Whiti: Colossal Squid of the Deep takes us on a journey with Whiti, from an ant-sized egg under the ice of Antarctica to the dark depths of the ocean, from the hunted to the hunter, finding a mate and having babies of its own, and finally to a carcass that feeds the wildlife of the Antarctic. Along the way we learn about the colossal squid’s bioluminescent karu (eyes), its hooked tentacles, its beak and its doughnut brain. We also learn about other creatures in the Ross Sea, including the parāoa (sperm whale), the dumbo octopus, the snailfish, and Kākahi (killer whales). New Zealand’s role as kaitiaki (guardians) of Antaractica is also explained.

Whiti: Colossal Squid of the Deep is a fantastic exploration of this incredible creature that has fascinated so many people. The format of the book, with small chunks of information, a conversational text and stunning illustrations make this a nonfiction book for readers of all ages. Readers can follow the story of Whiti’s life, learning about the squid’s life cycle and the environment in which it lives, while also discovering more about how the squid came to be on display in Te Papa. The double page spreads that fold out in several places in the book make this book feel extra special. I know that children are going to love discovering these and taking in the scenes. Isobel’s illustrations bring Whiti to life, with detailed diagrams showing us the various parts of the squid. I especially love the image of Whiti’s waru shining out in the depths of the ocean.

One of my favourite aspects of this book is the way that te reo Māori and te ao Māori have been woven into both the text and illustrations. Victoria explains that ika means fish at the start of the book and continues to just use ‘ika’ throughout the book. She does the same with ngū (squid), wheke (octopus) and other te reo Māori words. I love this because it helps those words to become part of your vocabulary. The importance of us being kaitiaki of the moana shines through in this book too. A koru motif follows Whiti as it travels through the book, having a similar appearance to Whiti’s arms and tentacles.

Whiti: Colossal Squid of the Deep is a must-have for all school libraries and would make a wonderful gift for any children who are fascinated with wildlife. It is one of the best New Zealand nonfiction books for children this year.

NZ wildlife on show in three gorgeous new books for children

Potton and Burton are the New Zealand publishers who really showcase the beautiful country that we live in.  Not only do they produce wonderful coffee table books full of stunning photographs of our country, they also produce some of the best children’s books in the country.  Their children’s nonfiction and picture books are top quality and introduce kiwi kids to our native wildlife.

Three wonderful new children’s books have just been released from Potton and Burton – Up the River: Explore and discover New Zealand’s rivers, lakes and wetlands, Watch Out for the Weka, and It’s my egg (and you can’t have it!).

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Up the River is the latest book by Gillian Candler and Ned Barraud in their popular Explore and Discover series.  I love this series because it gives children a perfect introduction to different parts of our land and sea and the wildlife that make these environments their home.  Like the other books in the series, Up the River uses simple language, small chunks of text and realistic illustrations to engage young readers.  In this book children are introduced to creeks, rivers, lakes and wetlands and the wildlife that they will find living there.  For most children these environments will be familiar but they may not have thought about what lies beneath the water or who nests in the reeds. Up the River is a fantastic addition to the series and is a book that children will come back to again and again, whether just out of curiosity or for school work.

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As well as illustrating nonfiction books, Ned Barraud also writes and illustrates his own picture books.  Watch Out for the Weka is Ned’s latest picture book and it tells the story of a mischievous weka who steals a DOC hut warden’s watch as he is taking a swim.  Ned takes us to Awaroa Inlet in Abel Tasman National Park, a gorgeous part of the country that lots of birds call home, including herons, oystercatchers and weka.  Weka are always on the lookout for food and something shiny, and one hot, sunny day, while Alf, the hut warden is cooling off in the stream, a weka steals his watch.  Alf gives chase in the nude but quickly loses the weka in the thick bush.  That night Alf comes up with a plan to tempt the weka and get his watch back.  Ned’s style of illustration is quite different from the Explore and Discover books, but the cartoony style matches the humour of the story.  Ned has made the weka look very cheeky indeed and he is sure to make kids laugh.  It is a fun picture book that is based on a true story.  Ned even includes weka facts in the back of the book.

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Heather Hunt’s stunning illustrations of kiwi have featured in several books, including the award-winning Kiwi: the real story.  Her illustrations jump right off the page in her latest book, written by Kennedy Warne, It’s my egg (and you can’t have it!).  This gorgeous picture book highlights the reality of life for a kiwi trying to hatch an egg in the wild.  After laying the egg the female leaves the nest to go and build up her strength, leaving the male to look after the egg until it hatches.  It is not just a lot of sitting around for the kiwi dad though as he has to fend off attacks from predators, including cats, dogs and stoats.  The cat and the stoat look especially menacing as they creep up to the nest in the hope of a meal.  The kiwi fends off each attack though, repeating the line ‘It’s my egg, and you can’t have it!’  I love Heather’s illustrations, especially the way that she creates texture, making the kiwi look fluffy.  This is another picture book that is ideal to share with preschoolers through to the upper end of primary school.

Each of these wonderful books from Potton and Burton are available now in all good bookshops.