'Nostalgic' tale charms judges

By Christine McKay

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Dannevirke South School student Paige Simmons (left) with Azelea Byford, Hawke's Bay author Sophie Siers and student Woppi Walker Hape, reading together at the Dannevirke Library last week. Photo / Christine McKay
Dannevirke South School student Paige Simmons (left) with Azelea Byford, Hawke's Bay author Sophie Siers and student Woppi Walker Hape, reading together at the Dannevirke Library last week. Photo / Christine McKay

Despite sparrows nesting in its engine and rust, bird poo and moss covering the Allis Chalmers tractor, a Hawke's Bay author has put the go back into an ancient farm workhorse.

Sophie Siers, from Waimarama, was a finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in the picture book category with Allis the Little Tractor, winning the Best First Book Award, which the judges described as a perfect blend of text and illustration, with a nostalgic feel without being old-fashioned.

"The book is understated, gentle and warm," they said.

An organic farmer living on the Waimarama coast with her partner and their three children, sharing their farm with sheep, cattle, pigs, ponies, chooks and border collies - and, of course, the Allis Chalmers - it was a natural progression for Sophie to turn Allis into a story book.

"What do farmers do with those old tractors that sit under the macrocarpa trees on their farms?" she asked school children in Dannevirke.

"It was time to bring Allis back with water, oil and air in her tyres.

"The Allis Chalmers tractors were the 16-horsepower machines which followed the horses on to our farms and were imported into New Zealand in the 1930s and 1940s.

"This is a story for everyone, from the very young to the very old. We all love a story about friendship and making dreams come true and this little tractor just wanted to be loved and useful again."

The book is illustrated with delightful paintings by Hawke's Bay artist Helen Kerridge, who captures the classic New Zealand farm life, with its animals, people and machinery.

The story captivated more than 100 primary school children at the Dannevirke Library, with many having tales of their own to relate, albeit of much larger, 250 horsepower tractors of today.

"I've never had such a big group of people who sat so quietly for such a long time," Sophie said.

To celebrate the book's release and award success, Sophie and her Allis Chalmers tractor will be out and about over the next couple of months, giving children a chance to meet Allis.

Children will be able to play on Allis and pretend to drive her.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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