Word Cafe helped inspire children’s books sister act

Four Purple Dragonfly first-place awards for four children’s books – it’s the kind of success local illustrator Margery Fern and her author sister, Jennifer Somervell, never dreamt of when starting out on their Tales from the Farm series four years ago.

And they say how inspiring literary events like Raglan’s biennial readers and writers festival can be to a fledgling team like themselves.

The pair had just published their first book “with much trepidation” back in 2013 when the inaugural Word Cafe was staged at the Old School in Stewart Street.

“It was significant for us – we lapped up all the ideas and enthusiasm,” Jennifer recalls.

“Now here we are four years later with four books.”

When they attended this month’s Word Cafe in the town hall they’d just had news of another Purple Dragonfly win for their latest title, ‘A Very Greedy Tale’.

Published last year, the story is about two errant pet pigs from the sisters’ childhood in the 70s on the family farm in Hawke’s Bay.

It won in the animals/pets category of the US-based awards recognising excellence in children’s literature, also picking up a second place in interior design and honourable mentions in best cover design and picture books (6 and older).

“We were delighted,” says Margery, whose graphic designer daughter, Ezra Andre, pulls text and drawings together.

Margery trials the tales on her pupils at Waitetuna School, where she is principal, while Canterbury-based Jennifer travels around schools trying out the books and enticing children into some dramatic role-play.

She wasn’t sure if city children would be interested in their childhood farm stories but was proved wrong. “They loved the drama of the Greedy Tale and were hooked into learning about pigs and electric fences. And ‘The Day Dad Blew Up the Cowshed’ amazed them – they couldn’t believe it happened!”

The cowshed story and ‘The New Old Truck’ have been reprinted three times, and ‘The Eel Hunt’ is getting low in stock.

Buoyed by their success, the pair are now working on a fifth book which has something to do with “a very stinky leg”.

Edith Symes

*‘The Day Dad Blew Up the Cowshed’, ‘The New Old Truck’, ‘The Eel Hunt’ and ‘A Very Greedy Tale’ are available from Zinnia and Atamira in Raglan. Or buy online at  www.talesfromthefarm.co.nz.