EDUCATION: The importance of the 'middle reader' years for creating lifelong readers

09 August 2018

By Karen McMillan, author of Elastic Island Adventures

I was ten years old when I first fell in love with books, and I remember the excitement of reading a novel that I couldn’t put down, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, and then the entire Narnia series. I read, and reread these books, before going on to discover other authors and worlds of escape. It created a lifelong love of reading which has led to me being a published author of fourteen books. I’m best known where I live in New Zealand, but my books are now coming out in Australia, and they are also published further afield in the UK, USA, Germany, Poland, Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia!

However, up until Christmas last year, I had only published books for adults, a mix of bestselling novels, and non-fiction that was written with the intention of inspiring and helping others. But I have a beautiful ten-year-old in my life, Milla, and she is also an avid reader, so I started thinking it would be timely to do a children’s book and involve her in the process. This thought got me to dust off a draft sitting on my computer – a children’s book started ten years ago – Elastic Island Adventures: Jewel Lagoon. I thought it would just be a fun family project we did together, but after a conversation with a publisher I ended up with a publishing deal, and the movie rights have also been optioned. So it’s been a busy year of deadlines with book one publishing in May, and book two, Elastic Island Adventures: Port Mugaloo publishing now, and I’m busy writing book three in the series currently, which will be out next year.

The best part of this writing project has been having Milla involved! She has named some of the characters and helped me with research, and we’ve had a lot of fun discussing lots of mad ideas, some of which have made the books, and some of which haven’t. But Milla has been able to experience what it is like to have a book come to publication and each step of the project from writing and editing, to the illustrations and design, to receiving the first copy of the book, and going on to do the publicity and promotion. There is a lot more to having a book published than just writing it, so it’s been an amazing experience to be able to share this with Milla.

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The second book, Port Mugaloo, had a special challenge after I decided to write our real-life cat, Blong, into the story as a recurring character. At first, I resisted the notion of yet another ginger cat in fiction – there are Garfield and Puss in Boots to consider. But Blong is hard to resist, and a younger version of the real cat is becoming a firm favourite with readers. He is sweet and naïve, he likes to boogie and does an impressive moonwalk, and he also sometimes communicates via a special Blong-a-Gram. You’ll need to read the books to understand what these are! And it feels appropriate that Blong is now in Elastic Island Adventures, as more than ten years ago we adopted him from tropical Vanuatu, after holidaying there and discovering him as a starving abandoned kitten, living in the garden. How his life has changed since we brought him to New Zealand. I just hope it doesn’t go to his head he now stars in a series of books!

After writing so many books for adults, I’ve employed a completely different approach to writing children’s books. I am very much embracing my inner ten-year-old self and filtering what goes into the books through a younger version of myself, which is a huge amount of fun. It’s a very different approach from my novels and non-fiction, which are often very research-heavy and ‘serious’.

I’d like to finish with another ‘ten’. I was ten years old when I created two of the characters in Elastic Island Adventures: Jewel Lagoon – Big Wig and Wee Wig Knockulous. They featured in a series I wrote that was published in the Sunday News when I was a child. I enjoyed reading books so much; it was a natural progression to start making up my own stories. So, I think my personal story shows the importance, the magic, the potential of other things in life, by developing a love of reading in those ‘middle reader’ years. It can be the springboard to something unexpected and amazing, in my case being a published author, and now a published author working with children’s books. Or for other people, it might be securing a dream job, or travelling, or doing any of the other myriad of things in life that would be impossible to do if you couldn’t read. Often a love of reading takes root and grows around the age of ten, so I urge everyone to encourage children to read at this stage in their lives as it creates an invaluable foundation.

Karen McMillan, author of Elastic Island Adventures.

Karen is touring Queensland schools in August to talk about her book series Elastic Island. You can find her at:

Monday 20th August:
9.00am St Anthony's Catholic Primary School
11.00am Brisbane Grammar School
1.30pm Clayfield College

Tuesday 21st August:
7.00am St Peter Chanel
9.00am Hilder Road State School
11.30 Kelvin Grove State College
2.00pm Junction Park State School

Wednesday 22nd August
9.00am Macgregor State School
11.30am Calamvale Community College
2.00pm Greenslopes State School

Thursday 23rd August
9.00am Bethany Lutheran Primary School
1.00pm Coopers Plains State School

Friday 24th August
8.45 am Kenmore South State School
11.15 am Chapel Hill State School
1.30 Ironside State School



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Kids on the Coast/Kids in the City
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