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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Interview: June Pitman-Hayes and Minky Stapleton talk about Kia Kaha

From singer-songwriter June Pitman-Hayes comes this rousing and fortifying new waiata for Kiwi children from all backgrounds, celebrating the strength in community, with the focus from a child’s everyday viewpoint.

It features an accompanying CD of the heart-warming song, with its catchy, easy-to-learn melody, sung in English and Māori by June Pitman-Hayes, with harmonies by popular NZ entertainer, Pio Terei.

From the creators of the popular Kia Ora You can be a Kiwi too and Tāwhirimātea A Song for Matariki, Kia Kaha features the charming illustrations of Minky Stapleton, exhibiting diversity in race, culture and ability. Kia Kaha is perfect for all the children and whānau of Aotearoa, and universal in its message. June and Minky talk to NZ Booklovers.

June Pitman-Hayes:

What inspired you to write this book?

On 15th March a gunman walked into the Christchurch mosques and killed a large number of people. Aotearoa was brought to its knees with shock and disbelief that such a thing could happen in our country. People of all ages reached out across the nation with messages and expressions of hope, kindness, caring, and mindfulness. As a multi-cultural nation our country stood strong together, united in grief and hope. Soon after, Scholastic approached me to see if I would be interested in writing a book around these key messages and themes, to ensure that through literacy, music, and learning, these values would become an intrinsic part of the development of our Tamariki from an early age.

What research was involved?

At the time I began writing this book, which was early April 2019, I was travelling the Far North as a Role Model Ambassador for Duffy Books in Homes. The mosque attacks were still headlining media news stories daily, and of course the schools I was visiting at that time, were integrating messages of support into their daily learning activities. There was no need to carry out any prolonged research other than to soak up what had, and was unfolding, and then to reach back in time to my own childhood memories, to write from a child’s experience.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

When I begin to form ideas for a book, I usually revert to mind-mapping. I write the theme on my whiteboard, then extrapolate words, expanding each as I go. Its a kind of creative free-fall where my thoughts are solely focused on that exercise. It’s amazing what does ‘fall’ out.

Can you tell us a little bit about writing and recording the catchy song that accompanies the book?

The exciting thing about how I write, is that I never know when or what will come first - the song, or the story. Sometimes they arrive at the same time. In this case from the outset, two words - Kia Kaha - planted themselves firmly into my creative brain. I began to write around these two words. My first attempt was way too serious. I had to go back to the drawing board to find something more playful. So oneday I sat and let myself go back in time to my first day at school. What happened that day? What happened the next, and so on? Very soon I had written a rhyming story set in a playground, that was so light and fun. I imagined children saying to each other ‘Kia Kaha’, 'Kia Kaha’, the way their voices would modulate in a melodic way, and so a new tune was created.

What did you do to celebrate finishing the book and song?

We held a book launch at Dorothy Butler Childrens Bookstore in Ponsonby. Everyone who had a part to play in its creation were present except for Pio Terei who was filming down country, together with family and friends. It was a joyous day of reading and singing Kia Haha. After the book launch some of us went to a local cafe for some celebratory drinks.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

Unlocking The Universe - Everything You Need To Travel Through Space And time - by Stephen & Lucy Hawking. I’ve always had a fascination about space and light. When I was young for many years I had a recurring dream of being in a space ship heading to the moon. I wanted to meet the ‘man’ of course, and so I’d ponder about how I would get there. Perhaps there’s a children’s book in there somewhere.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I can’t divulge too much yet, but I am working up ideas for another children’s book release in 2021. I’ve just written and submitted some pieces of poetry for a Collection of Work, and hope to release a Limited Edition EPS of original recordings.

Minky Stapleton:

Can you please tell us about what was involved with doing the illustrations?

As this book was quite concepualt as opposed to a linear story, it took me quite a while to decide on an approach that would get across the idea of working or standing together. I wrestled with how to get the message across without showing anything ‘bad’ happening. After trying a few different routes I decided on using a “Breaking the Barriers” device by making the families cross over their visual boxes and “meet up” with the families on the other side. This was interspersed with the little vignettes of children experiencing their specific difficulties. A lot of the different characters from the rest of the series meet up again in this book and there are also a few new friends.

How closely did you work with June?

After three books together June and I have a streamlined collaboration process going. As this one was quite a complex set up, I got her input quite early on to make sure that it all works for her.

What did you do to celebrate finishing the illustrations?

Usually the last three weeks leading up to the final book deadline can be pretty intense. No matter how much preparation you put in, it always comes down to actually finishing each page. So I usually set myself daily deadlines in this period, which have to be met before I can go to bed. This usually means that my family eats loads of take ways and that I have no social life. So when a book is done I will take a short break before I start on another project and reconnect with everyone, read a boo, and sleep, sleep, sleep!

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

This is not Propaganda by Peter Pomerantsev - white-jamming, bot-herders, sock puppets, blew my brain!

What’s next on the agenda for you?

At the moment I am puzzling my way through a massive puzzle book I am designing and illustrating for Scholastic. I am having to spend most of my days researching Maori culture, history and symbolism. It is basically a crash course in all things Aotearoa!

Kia Kaha is published by Scholastic NZ


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