NZ Post Book of the Year and Best Picture Award

Kate De Goldi and Jacqui Colley's first children's picture book is a bona fide future icon, as memorable as Hairy MacLairy and Margaret Mahy's The Lion in the Meadow, but pitched for older children and therefore operating at a significantly higher level of sophistication.

Here's what Mahy herself says about it: "Both in terms of its text and illustration this book is a breakthrough in New Zealand publishing. Original, funny, demanding to a degree, and achieving a true marriage of text and image ... There are lots of wonderful stories with pictures, but this is a picture book in the truest sense of the word."

It is also a book which goes right to the heart of one of the most powerful and potentially hurtful childhood experiences: forming groups of friends, and being shut out.

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"That whole business of belonging and not belonging," says De Goldi, "it's a perennial, obviously. It's something I remember very clearly from my own primary school years."

The story is about a primary school class which suffers an outbreak of clubs, "like a giant nit plague". Soon all the kids are in one club or another — the Barbie club, the Lego club, the Harry Potter club — except for Lolly Leopold, who gets left on the outside looking in ... until she discovers her own natural group of friends.

De Goldi was surprised when she read Clubs in various New Zealand schools, and found that kids of all ages see themselves in it. "I realised clubs are alive and well throughout New Zealand primary schools. ... As long as you investigate your own experiences, it's almost entirely guaranteed it will be a universal experience on some level."

The book is the first of a whole series of related stories about Lolly and her world, which De Goldi and Colley have been developing for over three years. They live next door to each other in Wellington, and the project grew naturally out of watching each other at work.

"I often think 'how could anyone possibly do a picture book unless they live next door to the artist?' We've worked really differently from the way most picture book authors work. Obviously, we communicate quite closely, we have a similar sense of humour I think. Jacqui says I look at the world like a child, and I think in some ways she does, too."

The next of the stories is due out in November.