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Sunshine Books – Teaching the World to Read

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Heather Haylock

I love knitting yarn into jumpers and hats. I also love weaving words into stories. I am very excited that three of my stories have been printed by Sunshine Books for their Starters series.

Tom, the School Cat was a female cat who lived at Puhinui School for many years. She came to school assemblies. She observed at athletics and swimming sports days. She got underfoot at school concerts (cats are not great at dancing), shed hair on the staffroom chairs, listened to children reading and used the teachers’ laptops as heated sleeping spots.

She was photographed in a number of class photos, and had a favourite comfy sofa to snooze on in Room 10 when her duties got a bit too much. Peter Stevenson’s illustrations of Tom are just gorgeous. I love the energy and fun he has drawn into every page.

The idea for How Much Rain? came from my interest in floods and droughts. The book shows how to make a simple rain gauge to see how much rain falls.

Nutty Knitting was written after I wrote my first picture book – Granny McFlitter the Champion Knitter. My research for the story showed me all kinds of weird and wonderful things people can knit. Did you know people knit coats for rescued elephants and little nests for orphaned marsupials?

Growing up in Rotorua, I lived with my family at the very edge of the town. There was a farm over the back fence with lots of trees. I liked to take a book and an apple and climb a tree. Once I’d settled on a comfy branch, I read and read and read.

When I was older, I learned to ride horses. Sometimes I took a book and two apples (one for me and one for the horse) and rode to a quiet spot. 

I sat on my horse and read and read and read while he gobbled up grass from the roadside.

The first time I thought about being an author was at intermediate school. My class wrote stories and printed them out in our best hand-writing. We drew colourful pictures to go with our stories and tied the little books up with coloured wool. Mine was called ‘Flip-Flop to the Rescue’. It was about a frog who didn’t like swimming. We walked to the primary school next door and read our stories to the younger children. They loved Flip-Flop! It was such a wonderful feeling, knowing the children enjoyed what I had written. I wondered if I could be an author one day.

A lot of time has passed since then. I went to university. My major research interest was natural hazards and disasters. I worked for a while as a resource management planner. I loved researching problems and writing about them.

Now I live in Auckland with my husband, two teenage children and a small tabby cat named Katie. I work at the local primary school. It’s the best job in the world helping five year olds to learn to read and enjoy stories.

I consider it a huge privilege to be one of the first people to help children learn to see that the black scrawly lines on a page are letters, which become words, sentences and stories.

My advice to anyone who wants to write stories is to become a gardener – a grower of stories. When you’re out and about, look at people, listen to what they say. They may give you little seeds – tiny ideas for characters and situations to write about.

Interesting names and lovely turns of phrase can also be story seeds. Write them down. Water the seeds by reading, reading, reading, and writing, writing, writing. Stories don’t just grow by themselves. They need to be fed. Sometimes it takes time for the stories to be ready to be told. You might start writing one story and find you end up with a different one. This is okay. Gardeners are often surprised by what grows in their gardens and those surprises can sometimes be the most beautiful of all.

I don’t have a horse now, but if you’re looking for me, try looking up. I may be reading or writing a book, way up high in a tree.

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