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Interview: Melanie Drewery talks about Nanny Mihi’s Medicine | Ngā Rongoā a Nanny Mihi

Melanie Drewery (Ngāti Māhanga) works as a potter and writer from her home in Māpua, Nelson. She is an established children’s writer with over 20 titles to her name, including Nanny Mihi and the Rainbow, Nanny Mihi and the Bellbird, and now Nanny Mihi’s Medicine | Ngā Rongoā a Nanny Mihi, all published by Oratia Books.

Suzanne Simpson is an artist who has illustrated numerous picture books and educational texts for children. She lives with her family in Titirangi, Auckland.

Kanapu Rangitauira (Te Arawa, Ngāti Porou, Te Whakatōhea) is a registered translator and teacher of te reo. He lives with his whānau in Rotoiti, Rotorua.

Melanie talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about your latest children’s picture book, Nanny Mihi’s Medicine | Ngā Rongoā a Nanny Mihi.

I try to keep Nanny Mihi’s stories based around the principles of tikanga Māori and te Taiao. I usually include activities that whānau can engage in, easily, in their own places. In this story, Nanny Mihi introduces her mokopuna to the basics of rongoā rākau (Māori plant medicine) with a few plants that are easily found in our ngāhere or even some home gardens.

The theme of this latest book in your very popular series is rongoā Māori. What inspired you to write about this, and what research was involved?

I am interested in rongoā Māori (at a very basic level) and use some of the remedies in my own life, especially regular cups of Kawakawa tea. When I wrote this, I was living on a large bush block and spending a lot of time enjoying all that it had to offer, both physically and spritually. I have previously written another children’s book on rongoā Māori in 2004 and continued to research and learn what I can ever since. That said, I am certainly no expert and I’m really appreciative of all of the great work people are doing to share their knowledge freely. Hopefully this sows the seed of interest in the next generation.

The very familiar face of Nanny Mihi has had a bit of a ‘facelift’, courtesy of a new illustrator for the latest book, Suzanne Simpson. Have you found that a new generation of readers are discovering Nanny Mihi and her whānau.

I have! It is amazing that Nanny Mihi has stood the test of time and is out meeting a new generation of tamariki. I often have people contacting me, saying that they grew up with Nanny Mihi’s stories and asking where they can get copies for their own young families. I must be getting old.

Nanny Mihi’s Medicine | Ngā Rongoā a Nanny Mihi is the first book in the series to be fully bilingual, thanks to a sparking reo Māori translation by Kanapu Rangitauira. What does it mean to you to see your books now being bilingual?

It’s wonderful and I really appreciate Kanapu’s mahi. We have come a long way.

You’ve written more than 20 children’s books, which must require a lot of dedication. What is your routine or process when writing a book?

Procrastination, percolation, and finally forcing myself to get down to business. Life is so very busy and it takes time and clear headspace to write so I have to really make room in all of the other noise and responsibilities. I only write about things I care about and love now though, which is very rewarding.

What did you enjoy the most about writing this latest picture book?

It’s weird but Nanny Mihi feels like a real person, an old friend, so I love going out for an explore with her around what she might do next.

What did you do to celebrate finishing the project?

I’ll celebrate once the book is released, the project doesn’t feel finished until then. I have a few school visits booked for the weeks after the launch date, so I’ll get out and share the new story with some local tamariki- their enjoyment (hopefully) will be a celebration for me.

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

I really enjoyed ‘Auē’ by Becky Manawatu, it grabbed me because I felt so at home in the landscape and some of the characters. I also went back and reread ‘A Dangerous Vine’ by Barbara Ewing, it gives a really good perspective on what New Zealand was like not very long ago.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Who knows? In the words of my old friend, “We’ll have to wait and see.”

Oratia Books


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