top of page
  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Interview: Kat Quin talks about Kuwi & Friends Māori Picture Dictionary

We want to introduce you to some of the finalists in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults. Kuwi & Friends Māori Picture Dictionary (written and illustrated by Kat Quin and translated by Pānia Papa) is nominated for the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction.

Kat also has two books nominated for the Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for Te Reo Māori - Ko Flit, te Tīrairaka, me ngā Hēki Muna and Ngā Hoa Hoihoi o Kuwi.

Kat's passion for all things children's books and illustration is apparent throughout all her works to date. Author and illustrator of the award-winning Kuwi the Kiwi series, Kat has expanded her range to include Flit the Fantail, Kiwicorn, and most recently, the #1 best-selling He Papakupu Whakaahua - Kuwi & Friends Māori Picture Dictionary.

Gaining inspiration and critique from her sparkling offspring, her honest accounts from a birds eye view are endearing to readers of all ages. She is quintessentially Kiwi, which erupts through her quirky illustrations.

Kat extends herself to play an ambassador role for the very appropriately chosen, Kiwis for kiwis, which supports human Kiwis to support native kiwi conservation projects, New Zealand wide. To date, she has raised over $40,000 for the charity, through book sales.

Tell us a little about your book.

The ‘Kuwi & Friends Māori Picture Dictionary - He Papakupu Whakaahua’ is a bright, accessible resource for those wanting to discover, learn and use everyday words in te reo Māori. The illustrations are designed to help with comprehension, particularly for younger learners. Visual cues can assist with retention of language, to recall spoken and written words. Consisting of 64 large scale vibrant pages, full of fun for the whole whānau!

What inspired you to write this book?

I first worked with Pānia Papa at the age of eighteen, when I was entrusted with the illustration of Māori language resources for Te Ara Reo Māori, developed by Takatū Associates Ltd. Almost 20 years later, we still work closely together on various educational projects.

One of our first projects together was a papakupu for adult learners (Puna Kupu, published by Te Wānanga o Aotearoa). Since then, I had dreamed of putting together a papakupu for tamariki, that was visually beautiful, as well as comprehensive, inclusive, and honouring Māori World view. Many of the illustrated dictionaries I had seen were originally from the UK or America, and were then translated to te reo Māori. I felt they just lacked an authentic ‘Aotearoa’ feel. Pānia was curious (and excited) by the concept. She has been an integral part of the overall content creation, advising and editing, as well as the beautiful te reo translation.

What research was involved?

There were many hours of research, and conversation between Pānia and I. The Tikanga Māori detail and knowledge came from Pānia and her team. For visual inspiration, I visited Marae, Galleries and Museums, especially focussing on the whakairo, and traditional, and contemporary Māori art. I also discovered archives of stunning old photography.

It was important to understand who we were creating the pukapuka for, so I researched the Primary School Curriculum Level 1 and 2, te reo Māori. My partner, Jono, is a Primary School teacher, so he became one of the first people to test the content of the spreads on.

For the illustration style and layout, I referred to old children’s books that had brought me so much joy as a curious child. Especially influential was the Richard Scarry books. I admire the complexities of Oliver Jeffers books - I love his non-fiction meets fiction, eclectic style. And, my dad was a huge conservation lover, and book collector, so I scoured his bookshelf, with a wealth of information about native birds and plants, and New Zealand History.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

Because designing and compiling a dictionary is so different to the process of creating the children’s picture books I am used to writing, I approached this project in a more team driven way.

I am a visual thinker, so I still did a storyboard of the entire book first, working out the different topics/sections - before I even had the words. Next, I checked and finalised words with Pānia, and discussed any adjustments or amendments to the illustrations, before moving on to the final artwork. Pānia and I went through more than fifty versions of checks and changes to the book, before finalising the reo Māori text, and sending the English text through to my (English language) editor, Sue Copsey.

The graphic design of the publication was a huge job too, with my head designer Chelsea McKirdy and myself spending more than one hundred hours on the layout design alone. The entire project took just under a year, from first putting pencil to paper, until I finally laid my pencil down.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

Jono serenaded and encouraged me, with his acoustic guitar, through late nights finishing the mahi. So, the theme song would have to be one of my favourites over those months: Marlon Williams, ‘Arahura’

If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

It could be a TV series I think (maybe not a movie) - and the lead character would have to be Kuwi the Kiwi, with her mates, Tash the tuft-less tūī and Whētu the flimsy-footed whio - narrated by Pānia Papa, Anika Moa and Leon Blake!

What did you enjoy the most about writing (or illustrating) this book?

As I finished each page, I presented them to our whānau. Watching our five youngest tamariki (we have six in total) absolutely engaged in the artwork, and so keen to learn the kupu. I think it was the best test ever, and the most rewarding!

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

We launched at Te Papa in Wellington, so I took 4 of the kids on the aeroplane down. For our two eldest boys, it was their first plane ride, so really exciting! We also got to visit their 91 year old Grandad (pre lock-down) which was incredibly special.

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

Lockdown was pretty hectic for us, with five children under ten at home, a teacher hubby, and myself working. I did sneak in Oliver Jeffers: The Working Mind and Drawing Hand. A very appropriate read for the middle of a worldwide pandemic - thought-providing, inspirational and beautiful.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

We are working on the follow-up to this Papakupu - Watch this space!

The Kuwi and Friends Māori Picture Dictionary (He Papakupu Whakaahua) - Illustrated Publishing. RRP: $34.95

The winners of the New Zealand Books Awards for Children and Young Adults will be revealed via a virtual presentation on Wednesday 12 August. For a full list of the brilliant 2020 finalists click here:


bottom of page