Joy Cowley displays The Gobbledegook Book – A Joy Cowley Anthology ahead of Saturday’s big launch party in Featherston. PHOTO/MARCUS ANSELM

The country’s grandmother is holding a celebration for children of all ages in her home town next week.

Joy Cowley’s new The Gobbledegook Book was released last Monday.

The theme of the anthology is ‘small always wins’ and it features vibrant illustration by Giselle Clarkson.

And Cowley is holding a celebration of the event at the Featherston’s Anzac Hall this Saturday “for children of all ages and shapes”.

Holder of the Order of New Zealand – the country’s highest honour – the 83-year-old is patron of the Featherston Booktown event, so she was insistent that a book launch event would involve children and be close to home.

A book tour was out of the question, as Cowley’s husband Terry Coles needs 24-hour care.

She said the concept had worked for a previous book, Hero of the Hill.

“We had about 300 people come to that. And we’ll get a big crowd. It will be fun. I’ll tell stories, and I’d like Giselle to talk about the illustrations, and tell children they are illustrators and authors.”

She said it could be part of Booktown as the group wanted “to have different things happening in the year rather than just that big weekend”.

“What about a book launch in Booktown? Then again, because adults are usually in charge of book launches, of book signings and so on, why don’t we make it about a children’s party.

“And instead of having afternoon tea for adults, we’re having party food for children. We’re having sandwiches and cheerios.

“Children can bring old children if they like. A four-year-old boy heard me say that and he said, ‘Oh, adults are old children, aren’t they?’ I thought that was lovely.”

Cowley praised Clarkson and her other illustrators for their contribution to her books.

“This illustrator is wonderful,” she said.

“I always think of the illustrator as the co-author as they contribute so much. And really, the illustrator doesn’t get enough credit for a book, usually.

“Very often an illustrator will inspire me to write something else for that illustrator. Because a particular style has a particular energy, and I think, ‘Oh, yes’!“

Talk of illustrators leads to the late Cliff Whiting, her close friend who was made an Order of New Zealand member before her.

Cowley’s medal, which she received in 2017, was previously held by Whiting and education innovator CE Beeby.

She said the honour was “a beautiful thing and I was very moved by being given that, but at the same time, I went into cringe”.

Look I don’t do titles because they get in the way. Anything that separates me from other people. I don’t do. I appreciate the kindness of my country, it’s a lovely gift, but I can’t let it … I don’t ever wear a title.

“When I walk down there, the kids lean over the fence and say, ‘Good day, Joy!’ I’m not going to give that away for anything. I love that.”

Cowley said that the theme ‘small always wins” was central to this book and the recurring theme in most of her work. She said the seed of this idea was biographical.

“It’s so important for me to be able to empower children. For me in my writing, small is always the winner. Small wins because small is more clever than big, small wins by virtue of being small.

“Well, we had a lot of helplessness in our family. I was the eldest of five and both of my parents had bad health. We lived on a pension and we were beaten a lot as children. That was just the way the children were treated in those days.

“I can remember being whipped by father’s belt, and thinking ‘I will never do this to my children, I will never do this to my children’. I was only about seven or eight when I was thinking that.

“I made other mistakes, of course. But if you don’t break a chain of bullying you will repeat it. It’s so important that children learn at an early age that you don’t solve problems with aggression and anger.

“A lot of children experience that, and they pass it on as adults.”

The popularity of her work was measured by her honour.

But Cowley said the readers’ love for her work was a bigger compliment.

“Certainly, a whole generation has gone by and it’s lovely to have that. To see the children who are writing me letters are now writers, and teachers, and journalists.

“They’ve grown up with it, they remember it. They remember the characters.

“I’ve had an interesting series of interviews recently, and Jack Tame asked a lot of questions.

“When he finally finished, he said, ‘I really must tell you, I grew up on your books’.

“So, I’ve been getting that a lot from people who interview me, and it makes me feel like the country’s grandmother.”

  • The Gobbledegook Book – A Joy Cowley Anthology is out now. The launch party is at Featherston’s Anzac Hall on Saturday from 2pm to 4pm. The book will be available to buy at the event through Featherston store, Mr Feathers’ Den and Featherston Booktown.