Point Wells writer Maria Gill has won the top literary prize for children’s writers – the Margaret Mahy Medal.
The medal is awarded annually by the Storylines Children’s Literature Charitable Trust, whose patrons include writer Joy Cowley.
The award honours an outstanding contribution to publishing for children and young adults.
Storylines chair Christine Young says Storylines is delighted to honour Ms Gill’s place as a leading non-fiction specialist and for the years she spent coordinating the national children’s writer’s group, KiwiWrite4Kidz.
Since 2005, Ms Gill has published more than 60 non-fiction titles, many of them educational books written to align with the school curriculum. Subjects covered include natural history, exploration, geography, general science and the environment.
Ms Gill says the secret of writing a good children’s book is to know your audience.
“I review a lot of books and you do see that a lot of them don’t really know children and end up talking down to them,” she says.
She adds that in children’s writing you must get straight into the action. A writer cannot begin by setting the scene or developing a backstory.
She says it’s also important to do a lot of editing and tweaking of the book until it is just right.
Her latest book, Ice Breaker!, took one month to write but about six months of revision to “get the voice right”.
Ice Breaker! tells the story of New Zealander Frank Worsley, who captained the ship Endurance during Sir Earnest Shackleton’s disastrous Antarctic expedition in 1914.
When Endurance got trapped in ice and had to be abandoned, Worsley’s determination and navigation skills succeeded in guiding lifeboats to Elephant Island during a major storm. Survivors then trekked 1300 km over mountainous ice terrain to reach a whaling station in South Georgia.
Ice Breaker! is a picture book aimed at children aged 8 to 12 years. Illustrations are by Alistair Hughes.
Ms Gill says in recent years educators have recognised the importance of non-fiction books for children, realising that they do more to develop children’s vocabulary and information-seeking skills than fiction does.
She says for some time it was thought that the internet might take the place of non-fiction books, but it’s now thought that this is not so.
“We are realising the internet is too complex, too vast for young people. They need books that are at their reading level,” she says.
Mahurangi Matters has one copy of Ice Breaker! to give away. To go in the draw, email your contact details to email@example.com. Competition closes on March 2.