New Kuwi story helping wild kiwi
Kat Merewether has captured the heart of thousands of children, along with their parents and grandparents, with Kuwi the Kiwi.
Her latest book Kuwi’s Rowdy Crowd continues the bright and colourful series with illustrations that make you want to smile.
Kat is the ambassador of Kiwis for Kiwi, a charity protecting our native birds.
A portion of the sales from her books goes to the charity. Kat will be launching Kuwi’s Rowdy Crowd at Wardini Books in Napier on Saturday. October 20 from 11am and Wardini Books Havelock North on Sunday, October 21 from 11am
I asked Kat some questions.
■ What is it about the kiwi that made you fall in love with it?
Kiwi have always fascinated me and I would spend hours as a child in the bush imagining I saw kiwi in the shrubbery. There were none to be seen. So now I’m helping the only way I know how.
When the idea for the first book popped into my head, there was no question which native bird she was going to be.
I needed a cute and comical character, and the awkward, long-beaked, wingless bird fit the bill, also an endangered native bird, so I could donate a portion of the sale of each book. I wanted to inspire children to be passionate about conservation.
■ Did you think when you published your first Kuwi book that it would be so successful?
When I first embarked on publishing Kuwi’s First Egg ,my aim was to sell 5000 copies. At the time I was advised that was overly ambitious in New Zealand publishing. The initial print run sold out in the first few weeks, and to date, we have printed over 160,000 copies in the series!
■ You are a busy mother of three girls. When do you find the time to write and do illustrations?
I have three gorgeous girls aged five to 16. My very supportive husband Kyle has the primary role of caregiver, dropping and picking them up from school and cooking most dinners. When I have a deadline, I wake up and work before the kids gets up. I have a studio in town where I and work a full day with my two staff. Later, after the children have gone to bed, I work another three or four hours. I still struggle to find the right balance of work and play, which I think can be an issue for many whose hobbies and jobs blur. I am passionate about what I do so I don’t mind the extreme hours, but I am hopeful I am doing it in a way that fosters my daughters’ creativity and independence and also inspires them in their future careers.
■ When did you realise that you were a talented illustrator?
Like many other illustrators, I grew up with a pencil in hand, drawing everything in sight. When I was 18, while deciding on what I wanted to study, I got a job at Te Wa¯ nanga o Aotearoa. Staff were required to attend te reo Ma¯ ori courses and while drawing info-graphic notes to help me retain the new words, my kaiako (tutor) noticed what I was drawing. He asked me to illustrate the resources for Te Ara Reo Ma¯ ori, Mahi Ora and Mauri Ora programmes. I have been illustrating professionally ever since — 18 years now.
■ What do you think the average person can do to help protect our native birds?
Things that can make a huge difference to areas with a wild kiwi population (and also, help other native birds at the same time): Keeping dogs on a leash, especially near the bush — one roaming dog can do a huge amount of damage to a kiwi population! Setting possum/ ferret/rat traps in your own backyard. Another way is through donations. Every $100 can help protect one kiwi for one whole year. There are more ways to help on kiwisforkiwi.org
■ Tell us something surprising about yourself.
I can paint with both my left and right hands and I have a phobia of high-fives.
■ What do you like to do in your spare time (if you have any)?
We love walking in our own backyard sanctuary — Maungatautari Mountain. Bustling with native creatures, it does tend to double as research. I also love fishing off the beach in Aotea Harbour.
■ When you were young what did you like to read?
Richard Scarry, Maurice Sendak and May Gibbs were my favourites. Maybe it had something to do with their incredible, detailed illustration styles, and the fact that they both illustrated and wrote their work.
■ What’s next for you.
One of my stories — Kiwicorn — has been published and released in the UK, among other places. I am hoping to go to London for a small book tour in the New Year. I also have three stories I’m working on simultaneously, but they’re all top secret. All will be revealed in 2019!
Author and illustrator Kat Merewether with her latest book
Paul O’Shea, Kat Merewether and Michelle Impey (Kiwis for Kiwi) at Sanctuary Maungatautari.