Dawn McMillan is a writer of fiction and non-fiction for children. Many of her books have a focus on animals and evoke New Zealand's natural environment. McMillan’s most successful book, Why Do Dogs Sniff Bottoms?, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird, won the Children's Choice Award at the 2003 New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, now known as the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, and was awarded the Booksellers NZ Gold medal in 2005. She has published 26 picture books and over 200 readers and educational scripts, which are used in schools in New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Canada.
Place of residence: Thames, New Zealand
McMillan, Dawn (1943 –) is a writer of fiction and non-fiction for children. She has worked as a public relations officer, a community arts coordinator, and a teacher. Many of her books have a focus on animals and evoke New Zealand's natural environment.
Sea Secrets (Reed, 1998), her first picture book, tells the story of a girl’s relationship with her grandmother which is changed forever when the girl’s family move to Australia. It was illustrated by Julia Crouth. ‘This is a delightful and moving story about shared lives that can be disrupted when people move away...’ writes Amanda McAucliffe in the Evening Standard. ‘The message that love and understanding are more important than proximity is beautifully told.’ It was translated into Spanish with illustrations by Enrique Narciso Cordero Pérez in 2006.
Stranded (Reed, 1999) is a non-fiction account of a whale stranding, illustrated with photographs by Ingrid Visser. Heather Verstappen writes in the Nelson Mail: ‘With the help of clear, colourful photographs and down-to-earth text, this book explains why whales behave this way and offers advice on how best to assist.’
McMillan’s most successful book is Why Do Dogs Sniff Bottoms?, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird (Reed, 2002). It was her first work written in verse. Why Do Dogs Sniff Bottoms? was shortlisted for the Picture Book Award and won the Children's Choice Award at the 2003 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults (now New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults), and was included in the Storylines Notable Picture Book List the same year. In 2005 it was awarded the Booksellers NZ Gold Medal, and in 2009 it was translated into French.
A Fishing Story, illustrated by Julia Crouth, was pubilshed by Reed in 2002. It is a story about shared wisdom and a boy’s courage. This story has been translated into Maori: He Korero Hi Ika. Ride a White Horse was also illustrated by Julia Crouth (RSVP, 2001). It tells the story of a boy’s journey on a wild white horse of the sea, across the water to the shadow of an unknown and mysterious land.
Summer Blaze, illustrated by Dave Gunson, was published by Reed in 2003. This story explains how the pohutukawa, New Zealand's Christmas tree, came to have its beautiful red flowers.
Doggy Doo on my Shoe was also illustrated by Ross Kinnaird (Reed, 2004). Ah, that old problem that most of us know about!
Wood for the Winter, illustrated by Denise Durkin, was published by Reed in 2004. Christopher loves helping his granddad and the two of them share a special bond. But when grandad dies Christopher has to look deep within himself to find a way to keep his memories alive. Coming Home, illustrated by Dave Gunson, was published by Reed in the same year. This is the story of Dawn’s house. For many years the house and garden had been the home for creatures like Spider, Rat, Silverfish, and Fantail. But when the builders arrived everything changed. Dawn’s need to re-home the creatures is part of the story.
Where do Flies go in Winter?, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird, was published by Penguin in 2005. Believe it or not, flies go on holiday! Seagull Sid and the Naughty Things his Seagulls did!, also illustrated by Ross Kinnaird, was published in the same year by Reed. Sid has decided it’s time for seagulls to reclaim the beaches so, together with his feathered friends, he hatches a cunning plan to scare off the messy human visitors.
Weaving Together, illustrated by Vivienne Lingard, was also published by Reed in 2005. It tells the story of how Jamie and her grandmother make a woven memory of all the wonderful and sad things that have happened in their lives.
Pancake Attack, illustrated by Dave Gunson, was published by Scholastic in 2006. Jacko has made pancakes most of his life but after he enters the Best Pancake Cook competition, his life will never be the same.
Woolly Wally, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird, was published in the same year by Reed. McMillan ‘met’ Woolly Wally, a Merino Ram with attitude, while she was travelling in the South Island. Why Cats Rule the World, and Dogs are Still Slaves, illustrated by Roger Twinname, was also published by Reed in 2006. The mystery is solved – now we know why cats always have their tails in the air, with no shame in showing ‘what’s under there.’
Turkey’s in the Sleigh Tonight, illustrated by Raymond McGrath (Reed, 2007), is a Christmas story. The peace of Christmas Eve has descended on Old MacDonald’s farm, but as Santa appears in the night sky, disaster strikes. In the chaos that follows there are unexpected gifts for everyone – and a lucky escape for Turkey.
Glasseye Creek, illustrated by Raymond McGrath, was published by Picture Puffin in 2008. Secrets: Three Stories from Dawn McMillan was published by Puffin in 2009. Dawn's beautiful prose is accompanied by stunning illustrations from three different artists.
Big Bouncer (Puffin, 2009) is another of her works illustrated by Ross Kinnaird.
Should I Kiss Tommy Aitkins? (Penguin, 2010) is McMillan’s first ‘choose your own adventure’ type book. Tomorrow’s Schools Today NZ describes it as ‘a fun interactive story that young teenage girls will enjoy. They might also learn something about choices along the way.’
I Need a New Bum!, illustrated by Ross Kinnaird, was published by Oratia Media in 2012. A young boy realises his bum has a crack in it, and looks for a solution. It has been published in the USA and is due to be released in China 2017.
The same year, she released Colour the Stars and Taea Nga Whetu, the Maori translation. Both were illustrated by Keinyo White and published by Scholastic New Zealand. Colour the Stars featured on the Storyline Notable Picture Books 2013 list.
Her story 'Kepping Cloudy a Secret', Illustrated by Lisa Allen, was include in Read Me Another One, Please! (Whitcoulls Publishing., 2012) a collection of New Zealand stories and poems for children.
Holy Socks, illustrated by Philip Webb, was published by Oratia Media in 2013. It is the story of a Christmas surprise that touches many hearts.
McMillan and Ross Kinard paired up again with Doctor Grundy’s Undies (Libro International, 2014). Christine Frayling reviewed the book for Booksellers New Zealand and said, ‘This is a fabulous story and the illustrations are very amusing. Reading a lot of books to small people in the family, it is also lovely to find a book that is wonderful to read out loud. The change of voices with the characters and actions that the reader can input into this story, make this just one great book.’
Mr Spears and his Hair Ears (Oratia, 2015) was also illustrated by Ross Kinnaird. In the review for Kidspot NZ Gill Weaver wrote, ‘Dawn McMillan’s great use of rhythm & rhyme make this a hilarious story that is to be read time and time again.’
The Harmonica (Scholastic NZ, 2016) was illustrated by Andrew Burden. Vanessa Hatley-Owen said of the book, ‘The subject matter of a soldier who has been killed in service is a serious and important one to tackle for a children’s picture book, and The Harmonica has handled it respectfully and sensitively at a level that is appropriate for young children… The Harmonica will be a welcome addition to school resources, linking history to current day for ANZAC learning. Dawn and Andrew have created a moving modern day ANZAC story’ (Booksellers New Zealand, 2016).
Squeakopotamus, published by Oratia in 2016, was also illustrated by Ross Kinnaird. Bob Docherty reviewed the book on Bobs Books Blog and said 'There’s always room for silliness and imagination in picture books and this is as silly and imaginative as you can get.'
McMillan has published 26 picture books and over 200 readers and educational scripts. The readers are used in schools in New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Canada. McMillan lives along the rocky shore of the Thames Coast.
writers in schools information
McMillan is available for school visits as part of the Writers in Schools programme. McMillan is happy to speak to classes of any size, to whole school assemblies. She will also run workshops with prior arrangement with teachers to allow preparation. She is happy to speak to students of any age, and can speak about being a picture book writer, her educational writing experience, and junior fiction writing. McMillan is able to travel outside of her region. Please continue down the page to see answers to a list of questions provided by school students:
Kapai: Kids Authors’ Pictures and Information
Where do you live?
I live along the rocky coast, 19km north of Thames, in a small village called Waiomu Bay. My house is an old cottage that we have renovated. It is right next to a big park and just over the grass from the sea. Just outside our fence there are four huge pohutukawa trees. They are like giants watching over us. Sometimes, on very hot days, we have our dinner at a picnic table under the trees.
What books do you read?
I read all sorts of books. I like novels about people and the many different lives they lead. I enjoy books that explore life skills, and I like poetry books. I read children's books too. One of my favourite picture books is This is the Star by Joyce Dundbar and Gary Blythe, and I love Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French.
Who is your favourite author?
This is a hard question as there are so many wonderful authors. I really admire Joy Cowley as she is so versatile - readers, picture books, junior novels and adult fiction. My favourite book of hers is a novel called Classical Music. I like Maurice Gee as an author, and Patricia Grace. I think that we have lots of very good authors in New Zealand.
How do you think up your ideas?
Sometimes it is something that someone says that gives me an idea. Sometimes the idea comes from what I see or remember, or from what I feel - happy, scared or even sad. The stories are like a jigsaw with lots of little bits from my life and the lives of others coming together to make a picture in my mind. Sometimes I think of a title first. The title words go around and around in my head and then the story happens. Most exciting of all is when a story 'comes in' as a surprise. When this happens it is just like a film running around and around in my head. Ride a White Horse happened like that. If I need to write a reader and I haven't any ideas I use the thesaurus and look up all the words that tell of a problem. Most stories have some sort of a problem to be solved. The most amazing thing about writing stories is that often I feel a story 'coming on' before I get the idea. It is like a funny feeling in my stomach.
What are the best things about being an author?
Spending time in a wonderful imaginary world; sharing my work; meeting great people and making new friends; being really pleased with a new book.
What sort of pets do you have?
We have one really special cat called Josie. Josie used to belong to our neighbours but they had to shift and couldn’t take her with them, so we adopted
What is your favourite colour/food/movie/game?
My favourite colours are purple and blue, although it depends on my mood. Sometimes I feel that other colours are my favourite. My favourite foods are strawberries and bananas, and Marmite. My favourite movie is Flash Dance. My favourite game is netball.
What is the most fun thing about being an author?
Right now it is being able to work out in my new studio. I can see the sea from the window by the computer and it feels so good to have my own special place.
How do you make books?
I don't make the books. I just write the words and then a publishing company gets an illustrator to do the artwork. The company gets the books printed and out into the shops or the schools. While the book is being made, I work with the editor to get the text just right.
Where do you go for your holidays?
I like to go and see my family and my special grandchildren, and to visit friends. Because we live at the beach I like to have most of the summer holidays at home. Sometimes we save our money and go to another country for a holiday.
What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?
I threw some dirt in the window of the classroom. I don't know why I did that. And when I was at high school, my friends and I played all sorts of tricks on the boys. That was fun!
This year I have decided to write full-time. I miss my teaching work but I have lots of new ideas for stories so I need the time to write them.
I would love to hear from any of my readers. My address is:
601 Thames Coast Road, Waiomu Bay, R D 5, Thames
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
I am always happy to write a special message in any of my books and sign them. You can post them to me and then I'll post them back. Just remember to give me your return address.
- Dawn McMillan's website
- Christchurch Libraries’ interview with Dawn McMillan
- Dawn McMillan’s blog
- NZ Booklovers’ interview with Dawn McMillan
- List of Dawn McMillan's publications on Goodreads
- Dawn McMillan's profile on Storylines
- An interview with Dawn McMillan on Radio New Zealand
- An interview with Dawn McMillan by Word Café Raglan
- Review of I Need a New Butt! on Stary-Eyed Revue blog
- Review of Colour the Stars on the National Library of New Zealand website
- Review of The Harmonica on Booksellers New Zealand blog