When I'm in a classroom and sharing stories with eager and bright-eyed youngsters, it's my happy place. There's a sense of magic when a story engages with young imaginations. When that happens, I feel as if I'm part of a process as old as time, and that I'm joined in spirit by all those tellers of tales long ago who recounted myth and legend to listeners sitting in the shadows beside the glowing campfire.
As an author of children's books, I've talked about writing in well over 200 schools, from Ahipara in the far north to Bluff in the deep south. And I've been in a number of schools lately in connection with the Barfoot & Thompson Young Authors Challenge, helping students and classes polish their winning entries.
When I'm talking to the littlies, I love their expressions - the open mouths, the wide eyes - as they recognise themselves in the story. And I smile to myself in anticipation when I know there's a big surprise coming round the next page that will have them laughing or squealing or gasping. They don't know it yet - but they soon will!
I can quickly tell when I'm in a productive classroom, where the students and the teacher seem at ease with each other. There's a collegial spirit, a sense of shared progress and discovery. There's respect but also lots of buzz and fun. Everyone's having a good time. When I'm sharing ideas about writing in such a classroom it's always a happy place for me.
One moment I will always remember was about 15 years ago at Harrisville School, just outside Tuakau. I was with a group of around 50 children, aged seven and eight. One boy at the back had looked unhappy throughout the session, sitting with head slumped and eyes downcast a little away from the main group. Perhaps he'd had yet another rough start to his day.
I'd asked the class a hard question. No one had answered it satisfactorily until the young guy's hand came up slowly and he had a go. His answer was perfect. He'd nailed it. I was thrilled.
"Bulls-eye!" I shouted. "Good lad!"
His eyes shone. His self-esteem zoomed into the stratosphere. And it stayed that way for the rest of the session. He grinned at the boy next to him. He sat up straight. He listened with attention.
How long did that achieving moment stay with him? Perhaps there's a man in his early 20s walking round Tuakau who still remembers when he correctly answered as an 8-year-old a question that had baffled 50 other children - and who still feels good about it.
That Harrisville School classroom was a happy place for me.
John Parker has edited the children's book The Miracle at Gulls' Bay and Six More Super Stories, a Starship Hospital fundraiser featuring seven stories written by New Zealand children. Buy it for $15 at barfoot.co.nz storybook or a Barfoot & Thompson branch in Auckland or Northland.