Friday, April 13, 2007


During the time I was bookselling in Napier (1968-78) I was frequently asked to speak to groups of parents about children’s books, the importance of reading aloud to kids from the time they were born until the time came when they no longer wanted you to, the acquisition of language, the importance of controlling TV viewing, and so on.

I used to load up my Hillman Avenger with fabulous books and travel all over Hawkes Bay from as far south as Woodville to Wairoa in the north and all parts in between. Often these gatherings were annual general meetings of Kindergartens and Playcentres. It was often wearying after a full day at the shop, we used to open at 7.30am, but all that was forgotten with the wonderful responses I used to get from the parents (mainly Mums!) to whom I spoke. Looking back I guess I was something of a missionary in the cause of books and reading.

Another missionary in Hawkes Bay was the indomitable Diane Hebley who regularly held book meetings (this was long before the current phenomena of book clubs of course) for mothers at her home and she used to occasionally get me along to talk to these groups - 30 or 40 Mums and loads of very young children. It was a challenge!
Diane was a human dynamo and did so much for the cause of literature and literacy.
I was therefore delighted while reading the Storylines newsletter recently to find that she is still active on the scene down there. Here is an excerpt from the article she wrote for Storylines. If you would like to read the whole story make contact with Storylines via this link.
You can also read more about Diane on the wonderul site provided by Christchurch City Libraries.

Glancing Back with Diane Hebley from Hawke’s Bay

"Books! They were certainly all around me when I was little. But there wasn’t a New Zealand publication among them, apart from tales of the Maori. If the School Journals ever reached our village church school, I have no clear memory of their relationship to New Zealand stories. Nor did novels by writers like Isabel Maud Peacocke or Esther Glen come my way, although Edith Howes’s The Cradle Ship (1916) with no New Zealand reference impressed me. So it was over to my imagination to relocate my otherworld heroes - Anne of Green Gables or the Famous Five or Black Beauty - into my Kiwi world through cajoling friends to help act out scenes in the backyard or, more satisfyingly, through the naming process when my pony produced a black foal. There was one exception to this drought of New Zealand literature, however: Clare Mallory’s The Pen and Pencil Girls (1950). But by the time it appeared on our family bookshelf, I had left primary school.

Meanwhile, spurred on by graduate teachers from England, I revelled in the richness of great English literature, followed later by French, Latin, and Greek writing. And then, one of those same English graduate teachers introduced Katherine Mansfield. At the Bay (1922) was a revelation. This was our world portrayed, here, not somewhere else.

Yet Mansfield, like most writers I knew about, was dead. So it was all the more exciting to encounter among the lecturers at Auckland University real, publishing writers, such as Fairburn, Curnow, Pearson, Joseph, and Musgrove. Moreover, at the memorial service for Fairburn in the University Hall, additional luminaries like Glover and Smithyman came to pay tribute. Finally, at MA level I could include a research paper on New Zealand literature.

As for children’s literature, after living overseas and having been blessed with three children, I was acutely aware that picture books didn’t match the world outside the windows. That set me on a path to find out what New Zealand writing did exist, to run courses for parents and teachers who bemoaned the scarcity of local content, and, ultimately, to publish my findings in Off the Shelf (1980) and to create with my husband Gary books that captured our own experiences."

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