- Mr Mac writes directly to children in a way that he knows they're going to relate to because they have contributed to the creation of his stories by way of ideas and feedback. "Kids love aliens and secrets. They love a good fart joke and there are probably more fart jokes in there than I would put in, but they wanted that. And they wanted a silly adventure."
Just for a moment, pretend to view the world through a child's eyes.
Your name's Norm, you're 10, you have a friend called Ruby, and your next-door neighbour is an alien called Mac, with "super-weirdo" friends with superpowers.
Forest, for example, has an extendable mole hair on his face, which he can control to do things.
Gross, right? But also cool.
The friends battle to save the world from evil alien villains and they hold secrets, which once you learn, help you in everyday life to never give up.
This is the basis of the comical chapter book The Super Weirdos and the Battle of Bash, self-published by Tauranga teacher and author-illustrator Andrew Macdonald (aka "Mr Mac"), who's just released a sequel The Super Weirdos and the Royal Roodle Rumble, where Norm gets superpowers himself while remaining a human child.
Mr Mac, 34, teaches senior students at Oropi School and is also working on another book in the series, which he hopes to release next year - his third since 2020.
Despite being busy (he's also a dad of two), he's never struggled with writer's block because most of his characters are based, and named, after real people he knows.
"The evilest characters are based on the people I love the most," he says humorously.
"In the second book, the evil person is my wife (Laura). She takes it as a compliment because the first (evil person) was my best man at my wedding. I only choose the people I love the most to be the baddies."
Illustrating, however, is more love-hate.
He paid an illustrator for his first book, but halfway through she broke her drawing hand and needed surgery.
"So I had to teach myself."
His books are written for 7 to 12-year-olds. Think fart jokes and a spaghetti and meatball monster army of "Noodlers".
Chapter titles like "Dun Dun Dunn'', and "Burps Away", with a glossary at the end for words like snarted (sneeze/fart combo), flugworm (highly poisonous worm alien), and Spindock (ancient planet).
There are also "essential tools" to help kids develop a positive growth mindset and learn mindfulness. He included this due to Covid.
"Everyone is struggling through the pandemic in their own way and I wanted The Super Weirdos to help."
If downloads and book sales are any indications, his approach is working.
His books are in schools across New Zealand, Australia, the UK, Canada, the US, Fiji and an orphanage in Cambodia. They've also been purchased in Brazil. He also offers free worksheets for teachers on his website and he's had more than 1000 downloads.
"It's crazy. It's exciting to see where it's going to go. It makes me so proud.
"The other day I got an email from a kid saying he's dressing as one of my characters for book week. That was like winning the lottery."
He's been a teacher for 13 years and a writer for four.
He started writing to make kids laugh - it's his favourite thing to do in class - and to encourage all kids to find joy in books, particularly those who are reluctant, which is what he used to be.
Despite having bookworm parents, books made him bored and uncomfortable.
He preferred to kick a rugby ball or play at the river in rural central Otago, where he grew up.
"I found reading really hard. I didn't read funny books until I picked up an Andy Griffiths book in high school. I remember thinking 'these books are actually great'. I felt like I'd missed out. So from then on I was catching up.
"In my 20s I read as much as I could, and in my 30s I read every day. I feel like every kid needs to know that books can be fun. I hope if they hear my story that they might pick up a book and think 'this is great'."
He's already enjoying success.
When writing his first book, he had boys in his class who only wanted to play sport.
"Normally after reading the class book we would play sport. One day, I'd read my book, and said 'right, we're going outside to play Bullrush' and they said 'no, can we keep reading?' I thought: 'Yes, we're on to something here'."
He purposely made his book chapters short, with pictures, because when you ask a child "how much have you read?" and their reply is "two chapters" (actually two or three pages), they get a sense of accomplishment, and you can tell them how good they are at reading.
"Their self-belief grows and they want to read more. It's a fact that kids who read do better across the curriculum," Mr Mac says.
"By constantly pushing books upon our kids who don't already want to read, we achieve the opposite effect to what we want. So, find books which are designed for reluctant readers - fun, engaging, ridiculous books."
Teaching kids aged 9 to 11 means they give honest, sometimes brutal feedback when he tests drafts on them, which in the early days saw him rewrite stories many times, but he was okay with that.
"I'm showing them that I'm able to fail at something new and keep going and succeed."
Not many children's authors get to work with their target market every day or take an idea from children's own writing, thoughts and everyday actions, which he says is a privilege.
His students feel seen in real life as well as on the page.
He can write directly to them in a way that he knows they're going to relate to because they've helped in the making of it.
"Kids love aliens and secrets. They love a good fart joke and there are probably more fart jokes in there than I would put in, but they wanted that. And they wanted a silly adventure.
Parents are also loving the ethos of his books, and one day Mr Mac hopes his own children Frank, 2, and Angus, eight months, will love them too. In a written dedication in his first book, he wrote: "Dear Frank, as you grow up, be as weird as you want, and I will always love you for who you are. - Dad."
"My books are all about kids," Mr Mac says.
He wants children to let "loose" with their imagination, just as he has. His school has a learn-through-play approach and they encourage creativity and innovation.
"Whatever comes to mind; and give them some little tricks along the way to help.
"In my second book, I ran a competition for a new Super Weirdos character and it got kids dreaming."
He introduced the winning character Silver Stream, by St Clair School pupil Anja Radford, into the storyline.
He's also proud to say he's encouraging young writers.
Two boys in his class are writing a draft of their own book.
"One of my favourite things is 'happy kids learn', so if they're laughing they will learn.
"I went through school watching my favourite teachers and they were always the funny ones.
"I love it when people make others laugh. How can you not like that?"
What others have to say
• Status quo in our house since the courier arrived yesterday. I had to put a stop to reading while eating dinner, at the risk of the pages getting stuck together. - Megan Clarkin, mum of two boys
• Ticks many boxes as far as a class read is concerned. It has great themes with an unrelenting focus on growth mindset. The ridiculous but likeable characters will put smiles on faces and create a few laughs for the children (and adults). A must-read for a class that enjoys a bit of humour. - Marcus Hughes, deputy principal, Otumoetai Primary School
• They were laughing so hard in their room that I had to check to see what they were doing. Turns out they were just reading your book. - Anonymous, mum of three boys.
• Was read by my nine-year-old super quick. He thought it was very funny - I couldn't get him to put it down. Now he's read it twice. He snuck it to school and was letting his friend read it at lunchtime. - Nick M