New Zealand children's books author Craig Smith on what inspires his stories, and how they in turn inspire young readers

Forget Harry Potter’s J. K. Rowling or The Hunger Games’ Suzanne Collins – here’s why this author and musician is so popular around the world

Joshua Lee |

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Craig Smith is a musician at heart.

New Zealander Craig Smith knows that a children’s story has to be more than just words on a page. That’s why the award-winning author fills his books with colourful pictures and music from a CD, not just a great storyline. When he’s not busy writing, Smith goes around the world performing at schools.

Young Post talked to the author when he was in Hong Kong last month to find out what it’s like being a full-time musician and writer.

How did you get into writing and performing?

I’m a musician by heart. I started to write funny children’s songs one rainy day, and I ended up writing stories in song. It wasn’t a big leap to go from stories and song, to actual children’s books.

Why do you do it?

I love working with children – they’re lots of fun. I get some really good emails back from parents saying I’ve helped their child read, learn English, or things like that, so that’s a nice response to get.

Smith's books can be read or sung out loud.
Photo: Alejo Lo/SCMP

Where do the ideas for your books come from?

All over the place! The most recent one, The Scariest Thing in the Garden, was inspired by my [trying to get] my daughter to eat her vegetables. Once you’re a writer, the ideas come thick and fast.

What is the best part about writing stories?

Playing them and reading them to young people is definitely the most enjoyable. A very close second is the emails that I get from parents and students saying how much they love my books, or how I’ve helped them learn to read.

Why is performing for young people so good?

Because you get a response right away. When you’re reading to them, you can see the wonder in their eyes, you can see the laughter, and it’s immediate.

Are there any challenges when it comes to writing and performing your work?

Absolutely! If I write something and I test it in front of the kids and they don’t like it, which happens often, I then have to go back and rewrite. There are [lots] of different challenges that you’ll run into, but writing and rewriting is one of them for sure.

Many of the books you write are quite funny or silly. Do you think that shows your own personality?

Yes, absolutely! When I was growing up I read [and heard] stuff from a guy called Spike Milligan. In the 40s, 50s and 60s, he was huge. He was part of a team called The Goons, who wrote radio shows, and they were just completely silly. I used to have a good laugh at that stuff. All the books and music that I wanted to listen to was of that silly nature, and that’s in my writing now.

What advice would you give to students who want to write?

Get away from your parents, and your annoying brothers and sisters, and the TV, and the iPad. Find some space for yourself, sit down, and start writing whatever it is that you like doing. Really work hard on giving yourself a good 10, 20, 30 minutes at a time to enjoy that creativity.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

There is a new book and a CD called The Drizzly Bear, which is about a bear that’s trying to sleep, but can’t because he’s in a cave and there’s a hole in the roof, and the water starts dripping on him. It’s more of a lullaby. Most of my songs are upbeat and moving – this one is a bit more lie-down-and-sleep … I’m really looking forward to it.

Edited by Ginny Wong