New Zealand's most prolific author and champion of children's literacy

At 82, Joy Cowley continues to write, study, facilitate spiritual retreats and enjoy the company of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Since 1953 when, aged 16, she edited the children's page of The Manawatu Daily Times, Cowley has written more than 600 books.

While she is best known as a children's author, her first book was the novel Nest in a Falling Tree which was adapted for the screen by Roald Dahl and became the 1971 film The Night Digger. Cowley continued writing novels and short stories but, simultaneously, was helping thousands of New Zealand children learn to read.

In the late 1960s, the Levin-born author wrote stories for one of her sons who was having difficulty learning to read. Some were published in the New Zealand School Journal; others were used to home-made big books in classrooms. A decade later, Cowley worked on the Story Box educational reading programme published by Wendy Pye. That led to picture and chapter books featuring much-loved characters like Mrs Wishy Washy and Snake and Lizard.

Cowley has travelled the world, attended conferences, visited schools and held workshops for peoples whose cultures have been well represented in their own children's books. She advocates the importance of children seeing their own cultures in literature and, now limiting her travel, spends countless hours answering letters from young fans around the world. She is a patron and trustee of Storylines, the Children's Literature Foundation of New Zealand while the annual Joy Cowley Award for an original picture book text is open to all NZ writers.


Cowley has won numerous awards and in this year's New Year Honours was made a Member of the Order of New Zealand. Weeks later, she was nominated for the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award, awarded every second year by the International Board of Books for Young People in recognition of lifelong achievement in children's literature.