I have put together over 100 weekly Nielsen Book Bestsellers’ lists during my time so far at Booksellers NZ, and of those, very few were missing at least one Little Kiwi book, by Bob Darroch. The love New Zealanders have for his work is evident, as he was honoured by Storylines just last Sunday as the winner of the Gaelyn Gordon Prize for a Much-loved Book, for Little Kiwi is Afraid of the Dark. This prize honours books that haven’t previously received any awards.
Darroch had a new book out, called Little Kiwi Counts the Chicks this January, and while this is certainly tried and true ground for any author, it is certain to stay on our lists for a good long period yet. The book by Darroch that continues to appear on the top of the NZ Kids and YA Bestsellers list is Time for Bed Little Kiwi. The first edition of this book appeared in 2010 – the most recent was the 13th reprint.
Three of the books are lift-the-flap books, which are essentially catnip to toddlers (including mine). All of the books are illustrated in an appealing cartoon style, with clear and relevant stories that toddlers and preschoolers enjoy. While with Little Kiwi Counts the Chicks, the sounds that birds make are disappointingly missing from the pages with the birds counted on them, others in the series certainly make up for this. Little Kiwi himself and his sister are always animated, with little sister sporting the Disney-style eyelashes to differentiate her from her brother.
I wanted to know what Darroch’s magic formula is, so I asked him a few questions in the hope he would reveal the secret of his success:
Where did the idea of Little Kiwi come from?
The Kiwi as a character was requested by the publishers, Reed. I had submitted a story about a sheep, thinking that of the two logical NZ type ‘icons’, kiwis must have been used many times over. After accepting the sheep story, they requested one on a kiwi.
The idea for the theme of the first book came about in a conversation with my wife and daughter. I had in mind looking for a ‘story’ and the conversation included thoughts about children being scared of the dark. The two thoughts then clicked together.
Which of the Little Kiwi titles are the most popular and why do you think this is the case?
That first book, Little Kiwi is Scared of the Dark (originally The Kiwi that was Scared of the Dark), is the most popular, going by sales. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because children, or the parents buying for the children, can relate to the problem – although the story doesn’t offer any solution, other that sticking to mum. A later book with lift-up flaps hiding other characters, is gaining in sales on the Dark one, probably because of the novelty of lifting flaps.
When was the ladybird introduced? I love this type of carry-through for kids to seek out on each page!
The ladybird arrived in about book five, Little Kiwi and the Dinosaur. I liked the idea of having an extra bit of action tucked away in the corner of the picture – something for the reader to look for. Also, it helped out when the kiwi, without wings (hands) needed to point to things.
How long does it take you to write and illustrate each book?
The timeframe in doing a book, is hard to determine. I usually have the basic resume [plan?] of the story in my head before writing, so the initial writing may sometimes take only an hour or two.
Then, in planning the layout of each page or double page, I may have to cut or enlarge parts of the story to fit the proposed illustrations. Then the roughs may take a week of so, and the drawings, for a twenty-four page book, a couple of weeks. The colouring then could take two or three weeks. All in all, from idea to end-point, it would be six to eight weeks.
What inspired you to illustrate the Little Kiwi books with NZ flora and fauna?
I had in mind a ‘New Zealand’ book with NZ characters of the found-in-the-bush kind. So the flora was in keeping, although I may have brought in a ‘foreigner’ or two.
What sort of feedback have you had from children about your books?
Feedback has been pleasing. When reading to groups, I have found that quite a few of the audience, have already got some of the series. I have had the occasional letter – one in particular included the young writer’s own illustrations – including a ladybird in the background. A memorable comment from a young lad was ‘it was quite good’!
Thank you to Penguin Books for arranging this interview, and to Bob Darroch for taking the time to answer my questions!
By Sarah Forster