Joy H. Davidson’s debut book, Witch’s Cat Wanted Apply Within, published by Scholastic New Zealand, won the coveted 2015 Joy Cowley Award followed by a Storylines Notable Book Award in 2017. The book has now been adapted for the stage by the Christchurch Children’s Theatre, and as an audio story on air by Radio New Zealand. Joy lives in Auckland with her husband, and a little black scruffy dog named Charlie. Joy talk to NZ Booklovers about The Tree Hut.
Tell us a little about The Tree Hut.
Jack must move from his home in the countryside where he has lived all his life and leave behind his beloved tree hut.
His new home in the city is a townhouse with only a small courtyard to play in – certainly no room for a tree hut!
But worse still, the house next-door appears to him to be haunted!
The Tree Hut is a picture book about change, of moving house, moving schools, and leaving behind the things that have been special in your life.
It is also a story about how our imaginations can run away with us to conjure up fears that in reality don’t exist! And of how more often than not, change can be a positive thing, bringing about new experiences, adventures and friends.
What inspired you to write this book?
The Tree Hut started life as one of my assignments when I was completing my diploma in writing stories for children. The assignment was to write a single incident for a chapter book about a common experience for school aged children, so I chose moving house and school, something that was very familiar to me when I was growing up. A few years later I revisited the story, and condensed it into a picture book.
Was there any research involved?
I based it on my own experiences as a child having moved houses many times and attending 8 different schools. As a shy child, having to move into a new neighbourhood, start a new school, and make new friends was always very unsettling. It is often good when you are a children’s writer to write about your own experiences as a child and the feelings and emotions you felt at the time. When you write about your own experiences I think it gives your story more heart!
What was the process working with the illustrator?
Nina Kudinova is always a delightful, positive and talented illustrator to work with. This is our second book together, and we are currently working on a third. I sent her the manuscript with a few rough notes as to how I envisaged some of the illustrations and her creative talent went to work. She was overseas at the time, so our correspondence was via email, and it was always exciting to receive her latest illustration and to see the manuscript coming to life. A picture book is always a close collaboration between the author and the illustrator. A talented illustrator like Nina can add so much to the story as they picture it in their own mind and then bring a new perspective.
What do you hope children will take away from the book?
That change isn’t as scary as it seems. That often the things we fear most in life are only in our imaginations, and that more often than not, change is a positive thing that brings about new and exciting experiences, adventures and friendships.
What did you enjoy the most about writing this delightful picture book?
Developing the story so that it went through the emotional stages of change – resentment, sadness, fear of the unknown, and then to finish it on a positive note with Jack looking forward to the future and all the exciting adventures to come. Also seeing something that I wrote about 4 years ago finally coming to life, especially when Nina added her wonderful and colourful illustrations.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
I haven’t really celebrated the completion of this book yet. It was a busy time, as we were preparing to leave for the Frankfurt Book Fair and had another two books in production at the same time. But it is always an amazing feeling when the book arrives from the printers and you get to hold something you have created (with the help of a lot of other people) in your hands for the first time.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
The Tattooist of Auschwitz, written by Heather Morris, a New Zealander now living in Melbourne. I am not usually a reader of historical novels, especially ones about something as horrific as the Holocaust. However, I was recommended the book and was instantly captivated by the story. It is based on a true story about a Jewish man named Lale Sokolov and what he had to do to survive Auschwitz, and a girl named Gita who he met whilst having to tattoo the identification number onto her arm.
I think it is one of my favourites because it is one of those hauntingly well written books that stays in your thoughts for a long time after you put it down. It is centred on a beautiful love story that lasts a lifetime. It is a story of love and what someone will do to overcome times of unthinkable adversity, while supporting those less fortunate around them, and ultimately about the strength of the human spirit to survive.
What do you like the best about being a children’s author?
Having an occupation that allows me to still see the world through a child’s eyes – I’m a big kid at heart! Also, to create stories that children love and that will encourage them to want to read more. There is nothing more special to me than when I have the opportunity to read my stories in schools and to see the enjoyment on children’s faces and the hugs I receive from them afterwards.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I have just returned from the Frankfurt Book Fair, where we managed to sell the foreign rights to my latest book, Oh No! Look what the cat dragged in, to the UK and Denmark. I also have 3 more picture books on the go at the moment, with one of them being illustrated in the UK early next year. I am also writing the second instalment of my first chapter book entitled Nowhere in Particular. This will be a trilogy when it is finished.