My children and I have had the wonderful opportunity to review two books in the Children's choice section. The first up is Maori Art for Kids by Julie Noanoa and Norm Heke.
Inside this book are 15 art activities for kids (I'd argue that they could be for any ages really!) and 15 featured artists showcasing stunning contemporary Maori art. As a family we really enjoyed gaining some background knowledge of the Maori art before trying our hands at making some. The artist sections give valuable knowledge and insight into the crafts in their traditional forms, perfect for people wanting to know a little bit more about Maori craft and culture - like us!
We started off making the cover craft activity - a hei tiki or a neck pendant as we had some polymer clay at hand. What fun! We found the instructions really clear as each step is photographed (with children that are crafting), making it perfect for any crafting level and showing kids that they can do it too.
Julie Noanoa and Norm Heke answer our questions about Maori Art for Kids
Maori Art for Kids has been voted for by kids all over New Zealand to become a finalist in the Children’s Non-fiction category.
Julie Noanoa goes first, telling us what the inspiration for the book was, and what the trickiest bit of publication proved to be.
1. . As an author, you must have a lot of ideas floating around. How did you decide to write this book in particular?
I researched numerous possibilities for children's books about New Zealand culture, before settling on Maori Art for Kids. Many of the initial ideas would have been relatively quick and easy to produce. Eventually Norm and I both decided to go with the most challenging book to make. The aim was for create something for families to connect with and appreciate Maori art.
We wanted to produce a book of high quality that would appeal to a wide audience. This book combined both my and Norm's interests and skill set, also Norms connections with New Zealand artists, and my background in museum / gallery education.
Without the generosity and support of family, friends and respected colleagues who believed in Norm and I, this book wouldn't have been possible.
2. Tell us a bit about the journey from manuscript to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in publishing this book?
Our publisher Potton and Burton made the publishing journey straight forward. We met with Robbie Burton early on, he placed a huge amount in trust in us to produce the manuscript on time. Robbie and his team allowed us to 'go for it' and were always ready to support us when needed.
Good communication was the key to ensuring the project remained on track. The biggest challenge was letting go of some of the strong ideas I had envisaged. By actively reflecting and listening to insights from editors and other graphic designers, we were able to negotiate and achieve a great result as a team.
3. How did you tailor this book to the age-group it reaches?
Having worked with hundreds of school groups over the years in Wellington museums and art galleries, I became skilled in breaking down art activity tasks in fine detail, to teach art classes. I would refine activities to create the best results in the shortest time. Part of my job working in art galleries was to help people make meaning of art through observation and shared discussions. I became quick at accessing group needs and tailoring workshops to suit different age groups, from early childhood to adult learner.
It was also my job as an educator to decode art curator language, into everyday language, to communicate meaning with young audiences, curators language about artist's works is often rich in layers, with multiple meaning and metaphor.
4. Who have you dedicated this book to, and why?
Both Norm and I wanted to dedicate this book to our mothers. They were both important figures in our lives when growing up, encouraging experimentation in creative pursuits.
My mum became very ill while I was writing this book, but encouraged me to keep writing because I had a set date to work towards. Although she didn't get to see the finished printed work, she saw the digital version and loved it and said she was very proud of my work.
5. Can you recommend any books for children/young adults who love this book?
I recommend reading non-fiction books from all over the world about art and artist and different cultures, especially those that include activities to extend practical art skills.
6. What is your favourite thing to do when you aren’t reading or writing, and why?
Daydreaming is a pastime I find relaxing, it used to really annoy my teacher in my school days. I prefer to refer to it as visualization exercises, and it's how I create.
I love family time and the natural environment. I intend to spend more time in my garden this season preparing my vegetable garden and planting things that will attract native birds.
Norm Heke tells us more about the photography and illustration of this book:
1. Maori Art for Kids is very thoughtfully photographed and illustrated. What was your approach to illustrating/photographing this book?
I was in charge of the photography and photoshop work throughout the entire project. Working with the graphic design layout that Julie set up before photography began, helped me to know the exact technical requirement for photographing each segment. This approach sped up the imaging process, it's a different approach to how I've worked on other books in the past. Any changes needed were remedied quickly, because I worked closely with Julie.
2. Tell us a bit about the journey from storyboards (physical or digital) to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in illustrating/photographing this book?
Coordinating the artists’ photography of their work was a challenge. In some cases the art works had been sold and were no longer in the country, and the artists were only able to supply existing digital images of their work. I spent several hours digitally re-building those images to publication quality and to fit the book layout.
One of the artist works was a huge public sculpture, located in Wellington. I re-visited the artwork over two days to get the right lighting and weather, then had to re-build the street scene in photoshop to make it fit within the page layout.
The children who modelled were excited to be part of the project, I spent a lot of time directing and they got used to the cameras. I had to ensure that each of the images for the activities represented the instructions clearly and that each model looked their best.
3. How closely were you able to collaborate with the writer? Do you prefer to work this way?
I worked very closely on the book in partnership with Julie, who is also my wife. We communicated about the book every day over the few months we worked on it. We were quickly able add new ideas or access any issues as they arose to come up with the best possible solutions, and implement them straight away. We have complimentary skills and we enjoy working together.
4. What techniques do you think you used to make your book appeal to children as much as their parents?
Imagery features prominently in the book. Photography is used as a visual tool to communicate a meaning that is complimentary to the text. The design brief was to make a book of fine art quality, to appeal to adults interested in art and culture. We felt strongly that having everyday kiwi kids modelling how to make the activities would appeal to children. We did this also in the hope that kids would pick up the book, and know quickly how do the activities.
I wanted all of the imagery to be placed on 'clean' backgrounds, of white, black or grey as appropriate. I wanted the artist's work to be to be a central focus of the book. As much as possible I tried to make the imagery appear to float on the page, to create depth, to show the work as if in an art gallery.
5. Can you recommend any other books for children/young adults who love this book?
I recommend the book Taiawhio 1 and Taiawhio 2, they are books I worked which were produced by Te Papa Press, to see more examples of great contemporary Maori Artists, to read their stories and view their work.
6. What is your favourite thing to do when you aren’t creating beautiful images, and why?
I enjoy time with my family and getting out and about in the natural environment. We don't watch much TV in our house, but we love to watch movies together. I especially like science fiction. Reading is one of my passions, I am especially drawn to New Zealand history.
Hand-carving Maori taonga puoro instruments is one of my hobbies. I like to learn about, play and perform with friends and colleagues who also play the instruments. I often have multiple projects 'on the go' at any one time. I'm also hoping to get on to my next digital art exhibition soon.You can click here to vote for your favourite in the Children's choice section, all votes go towards a chance to win some books for your child and books for your child's school too!
I have a copy of Maori Art for kids to giveaway here! So just leave a comment below and you are in the draw to win. Open to NZ residents only. I'll draw a winner next week.