Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Word-Play to Working Author: An Interview with Alan Trussell-Cullen

What inspires a child to grow up and become a writer? What influences can teachers, literature, and school experiences have on a student's future career path? Alan Trussell-Cullen, teacher educator and author of our new Story World-Real World series, has some insights—both from the perspective of the child and of the teacher. In the first installation of our series of interviews with him, he shared these perspectives.

What inspired you to become an author?  

When I was in what we used to call "standard three" in New Zealand schools in those days, I had a wonderful teacher called Mrs. Watson. Everyone, including my parents, called her "Wattie." Mrs. Watson loved stories and "using your imagination."

"Get those imaginations ticking over!" she used to say. She also taught us to love words. We collected words. We made lists of favorite words that just felt good to say. I can still remember some of mine—words like "splurge" and "filch" and "platypus" and "quadruple." We also played lots of word games. We collected riddles. We made up knock-knock jokes. And we wrote lots of wonderful stories using our imaginations. Sometimes your third-grade teacher can help to decide your adult occupation!

What were some of your favorite books growing up in New Zealand? How did they help shape your wonderful imagination?
I had lots of favorites. Lewis Carroll was a major one! I used to wonder about the rabbit. I thought the rabbit had a story to tell but somehow Lewis Carroll never got round to telling us what it was. But I also liked nonfiction. One of my favorite books was The Story Of Cotton. I don't know why, but I must have read it dozens of times. It all came back to me when I was writing a biography of Mahatma Gandhi for the Hameray Biography Series. Why Gandhi and cotton? Well, that was, in part, another "story of cotton"—a very political story!

You have authored many different kinds of books for a range of age groups. Do you have a favorite genre or age to write for?

I don't really have favorites. I just like playing with words and ideas. As a teacher I tried to get kids to be open to all kinds of books and all kinds of writing and to try out whatever was their flavor of the month. We read and wrote poems—I still do!—plays, spooky stories, funny stories, far-fetched yarns, very short stories, autobiographies—including fictional ones!—and even comic books.

The best part was "publishing" our stories! We made wall displays, class big books, picture books, "a day in the life of me," window displays...one year we even published a class book by displaying it page-by-page along the school front fence! Writing was, is, and should be fun! And it was, is, and has to be!

Story World-Real World, Alan's newest endeavor, features retellings of traditional tales that are coupled with informational texts to provide real-world background knowledge and support the elements of the story. For example, Cinderella, which stands well on its own as an entertaining story, is available in this series bundled with books on dancing, telling time, and wearing shoes. Each "theme" in the series works this way—by pulling elements out of the narrative text of the traditional story and giving children information about how those elements work in the real world. Read more here.

Download the Story World Real World Brochure Now:

See Samples from the series below: