ON AMY LAM'S first day at her New Zealand high school, her teacher introduced her to another Chinese girl. Although Lam, then aged 12, had learnt English at a private school in Kowloon City, her new, Cantonese-speaking friend helped ease the strain of adjusting to life in this different country to which she and her family had migrated. 'We started hanging out, so I didn't really get to know many Kiwis,' she says, referring to New Zealanders by their nickname, taken from the flightless native bird. 'I didn't make any effort to blend into the Kiwi life and I regret that now.' Ten years on, Lam, 22, is a university graduate with a job as a graphic designer at an Auckland signwriting company and a wide group of friends from many backgrounds. Looking back on those early years in New Zealand, she thinks she wasn't the only one who failed to try to accept those of a different culture. 'Once we started hanging out, we all found common ground,' she says of her friends now. 'When I was in college, the Kiwis wouldn't really make an effort to make friends with you, but in university the people are more educated and mature.' The lesson she learnt about the need for tolerance and acceptance of differences was a powerful one. So much so that when, in August 2004, she was given a children's book project in her final-year illustration class at Auckland University of Technology Lam decided to use her drawings as a way to pass that message on. After researching the kiwi, she set about developing a character who would reflect her own background, studying the panda - an animal she's never seen. The young Amy shared a single bedroom with her parents and brother in their two-bedroom Wong Tai Sin apartment, while her late grandmother had the other. Similarly, her panda character lives in a flat in a crowded city. Also reflecting her own experience, her panda is called Panki - pan from panda, ki from kiwi - and when he finds a map of Kiwiland while cleaning his flat, he decides to visit. Panki 'imagines the warm welcome he would get from the kiwis', making a kiwi suit to wear so he'll fit in. But when he arrives, he can't find any kiwis. He tries to eat like them, but can't catch the food. He digs a burrow in the ground, as kiwis do, but still can't see any trace but footprints. He's a little gloomy - Lam's initial inspiration for him was Eeyore, from the Winnie the Pooh books of A.A. Milne. 'I wanted to make a character that was gloomy because that's more interesting,' she says. 'You don't see many characters like that in children's books'. Unlike Eeyore, Panki doesn't remain gloomy. Eventually, all ends well for him. The kiwis find him, welcome him and explain their habits. 'He started to feel like he really belonged in the land of the kiwi,' writes Lam. Panki's story is told in just a few lines of text. Originally, Lam hadn't planned to use any, but her tutor objected. 'I just thought it would be cuter if he explored his emotions with his body, but apparently that won't work in children's books,' she says. But it's the drawings that are the work's greatest strength. The text is accompanied by superb illustrations, done in weak acrylic paint and coloured pencil, with a mixture of techniques, including dry brush work and stamps made from erasers to create Panki's wallpaper. So distinctive are Lam's illustrations that when her tutor displayed her work at a children's book expo, it caught the eye of a girl whose mother was an editor at publishing house Reed. Urged by her daughter to take a look, the editor commissioned Lam to develop Panki's story - at that stage just two pages - into a book. For the next six months, Lam says she spent every spare minute on her drawings. Late last year, just in time for favourable pre-Christmas reviews, Panki in the Land of the Kiwi was published, with a message from its publishers: 'This book was inspired by her experience as an immigrant adapting to the Kiwi life in New Zealand. Through the loving and adorable character Panki, she's hoping to help children realise the importance of understanding and accepting other cultures.' So happy is Reed with its new author that a sequel is on the drawing board. Lam is overwhelmed by her good fortune. 'I didn't think it would turn into a book,' she says. 'I just feel really lucky to have my book published.' Lam is working on ideas for more Panki adventures. New Zealand is home now and in the 10 years since their migration, her family hasn't been back to Hong Kong. But the influence of her childhood remains strong. 'I want to put some messages in the [next] book as well, probably including environmental issues,' she says. 'There will probably be some stories about how Panki and the kiwis get along.' But Panki's young fans can rest assured that all will end happily ever after, just as it has for the young Wong Tai Sin girl who so looked forward to a new country and a new home with her own bedroom - then found that she missed Hong Kong, and wished she hadn't left. Lam refused to let herself dwell on those thoughts, and her positive thinking has paid off. 'It's turned out really good,' she says. 'It just depends on your mind.' Panki in the Land of the Kiwi (Reed, NZ$14.99) is available from www. reed.co.nz A bookish lot New Zealand, a nation of just four million people, has a healthy and vibrant publishing industry that last year produced more than 2,000 new books, supported by a reading public that buys and reads home-grown stories. Fifty-six per cent of publishers' turnover, or NZ$148 million ($736 million) is derived from sales of local titles. According to a recent government survey, 1.2 million New Zealanders (44 per cent of the potential reading public) said they'd bought a book in the previous four weeks, and one million said they would be very or somewhat interested in buying one with some local content.