• NZ Booklovers

Interview: Thalia Kehoe Rowden talks about Rugby 123

Updated: Sep 4, 2019


Thalia Kehoe Rowden is a Wellington-based writer, mother and human rights advocate. She grew up surrounded by books and rugby; her late Uncle Ross was President of Wairarapa Bush Rugby Union.


Thalia is co-editor of The Sapling, New Zealand's main home for conversation on children's books, and also works for the Human Rights Measurement Initiative. She talks to NZ Booklovers about Rugby 123.


Tell us a little about Rugby 123.

Rugby 123/Whutupōro Tahi Rua Toru is a bilingual rhyming counting book, taking us through a day at a kids' rugby game. We count balls, boots, grandparents, reserves, and so on, and, best of all for parents, we end up back in bed after a big day.


What inspired you to write this book?

John McIntyre from The Children's Bookshop in Kilbirnie often used to say there needed to be more books on rugby for keen young kids. And the other important group of readers who are under-served are of course Māori and Pasifika kids - in fact, any children of colour. I wanted to be part of filling the gaps on the bookshelves for all kinds of kids who should be able to see themselves, their families, and their interest in the books they read.


What research was involved?

I grew up surrounded by rugby, so I didn't need to do much, but I did double-check the rules of mauls at one point! And Penny, the editor, was eagle-eyed on the rugby accuracy, both for my words and Myles' illustrations.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I wrote most of the book in my head one night when I was awake feeding my daughter. Getting the rhyme and rhythm right is something I tend to by mulling over in the shower or on the bus or whatever - just going round and round until it's right. For this book, there aren't many words, so it wasn't something I needed to work on daily.


What was the process like working with the illustrator, Myles Lawford.

Myles has been great, and I'm delighted with his illustrations, but - as some readers may be surprised to learn - I've never met him! Scholastic appointed him and sent me his illustrations for comment, and I wrote back to the publishing team. That's pretty normal - and also a bit weird, of course! I'm really grateful for his work.


What did you enjoy the most about writing this book?

I enjoy the puzzle-solving aspect of rhyming counting books (I've written several, though this is the first to be published).


For example, numbers five and six go like this:

Five mighty forwards

Joining in a maul

Six backs, stretched out wide,

Running with the ball


There are a lot of things that have to line up to make the lines work:

  • the number (here five and six)

  • a rugby-related item to count that makes sense at that number (forwards and backs)

  • something about it (the maul and the running)

  • and a rhyme with the other number in the pair (maul/ball)

  • and it has to scan!


I did a lot of swapping around, and it's a bit like dominoes: you change one thing and it affects the next and you have to change that, too.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I didn't celebrate until I made progress on getting it published - a year and half after writing it! Then I told my writing group at every step of the contract and production progress, and they celebrated with me along the way. We'll be having a party for the book at The Children's Bookshop on Wednesday 11 September, though, at 4pm, and everyone's welcome to come and eat rugby-ball-shaped cookies together!


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

I had a wee holiday by myself in June and read Testament, a stunning debut novel by Kim Sherwood, following a young woman as she grieves for her artist grandfather, and discovers what really happened to him in the Holocaust. Part historical mystery, part examination of identity, and entirely absorbing.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

Learning to perform my book in New Zealand Sign Language, to go along with the English and te reo Māori it's already published in. Then working on getting the next twelve manuscripts onto bookshelves...



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