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Introducing Joy Cowley

January 25, 2015

Joy CowleyI haven’t been working with Joy Cowley recently, but not for lack of love – some of her books were favourites of mine when little (The Silent One, for example, which I must re-read)…

Basic Bio

According to her own site, Cowley was born in Levin, New Zealand on the 7 August 1936 and was “a slow and struggling student [who] could have added to the country’s illiteracy statistics.” She gave up this identity for her love of story and became a writer of grrrreat renown. Indeed, she has been writing for decades and her name can be found throughout the shelves of New Zealand libraries.

DungerMore recently, she has published Dunger and Speed of Light for older readers (both Gecko Press) and I have to say I enjoyed both of them as much as I enjoyed the many other of her books I read when younger (and those I still read to younger readers now). Her work for the youngest of readers does actually merit critical attention, though I’m not aware of any offhand (I’ll have to do a decent library search). They are catchy and memorable and well-written. They tell succinct, but fun stories and most of all, they manage to incorporate all those early literacy demands of rhythm and rhyme and vocabulary and grammar, without getting bogged down by them. Not an easy task! RR-Classic-12 - Orange - Number OneThat black and white Ministry classic Number One is a particular favourite of mine, but any of the better known ones could be used as examples, too. She has published in so many different genres and for so many different readerships; this includes the publication of a memoir (Navigation: A Memoir. Penguin (2010)). Furthermore (and what an accolade): She has an award named after her:


Of Cowley’s work for younger readers, Margaret Mahy once wrote: “When one thinks of children’s books, one tends to think of the books found in bookshops or libraries, but it is worth drawing attention to the fact that in New Zealand, as in other countries, there is a parallel but separate children’s book industry–that of educational publishing largely based (in New Zealand at least) on the Whole Language theory of reading instruction. Some of these stories, though necessarily simple, are highly successful in a traditional literary way. Joy Cowley’s books Greedy Cat and Mrs. Wishy Washy,both in Learning Media’s Ready to Read series and illustrated by New Zealand illustrator Robyn Belton, are internationally popular, partly because the texts are so readily accessible to children learning to read, and partly because they are good stories in themselves. Cowley, who also writes trade books for a variety of age groups, is the outstanding author in this area, not simply because of the more than three hundred books she has written but because of her true ear and her child-centered perception of the world. These books constitute a concealed literature, divorced from bookshops and libraries, and never short-listed for the book awards that focus so much interest in children’s books at least once a year. Nevertheless they are part of the children’s literature of New Zealand.” (np)
Ref: Mahy, Margaret. “Country Survey: Finding Your Reflection in a Small Mirror: A Developing Children’s Literature in New Zealand.” Bookbird 37.1 (1999): 50-56. Rpt. in Children’s Literature Review. Ed. Dana Ferguson. Vol. 155. Detroit: Gale, 2010. Literature Resource Center. Web. 26 Apr. 2011.

Awards and Honours
Commemoration Medal for services to New Zealand 1990
OBE (Order of the British Empire) for services to children’s literature 1992
Margaret Mahy Lecture Award 1993
NZ Women’s Suffrage Centennial Medal 1993
Hon. D.Litt Massey University 1993
Award Best TV Drama Script 1994
Patron NZ Children’s Book Foundation 1994
Roberta Long medal for multicultural writing (USA) 2002
A.W. Reed Award for Contribution to New Zealand Literature 2004
Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (DCMNZ) 2005
Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction 2010
University of Alabama, Birmingham, Maryann Manning Award for Outstanding Literacy Scholar 2011

I have to find out more and do a proper academic search, but you know, meanwhile – off to the usual internet suspects for background info…

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