Down a driveway in a modest house in Hamilton's university suburb is where the magic happens.

It's where children's picture book author Sharon Holt brings to life her successful collection of Te Reo Singalong books. There's eight in the self-published series so far and another is due out next month.

The books are all written in Maori, though there's an English translation in the back, plus a CD with the story recorded as a song.

The theory is that children will learn the repetitive Maori sentence structures through music. They've been a hit in preschools and primary schools, where Mrs Holt, her husband Alan, singer Stacy Walker and her cousin Nicole perform shows promoting the books at Christmas and Matariki - the Maori New Year.


The 55-year-old mother of two teenagers wanted to be a children's book author from the age of 7.

Her natural talent led to success at amateur writing competitions, while two years as a primary school teacher, several years as a children's bookshop owner and a decade as a journalist honed her skills even more.

But it was only when Mrs Holt's children were babies and she read to them every night that she recalled her dream.

"I was 40 and I suddenly thought, 'Oh my goodness, I've forgotten to be a children's book author'."

She had already done a course with New Zealand author Dorothy Butler and slowly began to have manuscripts accepted by Learning Media, after which her stories began appearing in schools.

But Mrs Holt wanted a trade book - one that she could see in a book store window.

It was around that time in 2002 that she began exploring her passion for te reo through a night course at Te Wananga O Aotearoa in Te Awamutu.

She combined her newfound language skills with help she was providing to her daughter's kindergarten and the idea was born, to write children's books in te reo to get the Maori language in the classroom.


"There was a lack of confidence in the mainstream non-Maori teachers to easily engage in what was expected of them to have a Maori curriculum, because they didn't know how to pronounce the words."

Mrs Holt firmly believes New Zealand is doing its children a disservice because of the lack of emphasis on being bilingual, a skill she believes has great advantages for a child's developing brain.

"I just feel it's really important. We have the opportunity in New Zealand to have our children growing up bilingual. It's right at our fingertips and we don't do it, and most people will agree it's a huge thing to be bilingual - it changes everything about your brain."

With the help of a friend she published two Te Reo Singalong books in 2012 to test the waters, and they were a sellout, leading to the next seven.

It takes her several months to come up with the sentence structure, including having the words checked, for the books which are about simple scenes and actions such as animals on the farm and how many days until Christmas.

After that the book goes to an illustrator for three months and then a song is written and recorded before finally being printed in Taiwan.

Each day is dedicated to this full-time job and revolves around writing, illustrating, recording, distributing, selling and promoting the books, which won Mrs Holt the 2013 Maori Language Awards print category.

"The big reward for me is not financial. It's the fact that I am doing every day something that I love, and that I'm really passionate about."