Dunedin mums Kitty Brown and Kirsten Parkinson have combined their talents to create a business inspired by their children.
The two Ngāi Tahu cousins worked together to create a series of beautiful children’s books featuring Kirsten’s hand-drawn images, and using English and Te Reo Māori. Called Reo Pēpi baby Language, the series titles are Kākahu (Geting Dressed) Kanohi (My Face) and Kararehe (Animals).
The pair first had the idea while at home with their own babies.
“We wanted something bilingual to share with our pēpi, with good illustrations and durable – read ‘chewable’ for babies!” says Kitty (pictured left).
“We also wanted to feature language we’d use every day - practical repetitive phrases rather than stories.”
Kirsten’s drawings are inspired by friends and whanau, so cousins and local kids feature throughout the books.
Kirsten, a graduate of the Dunedin School of Art and a dance teacher at Otago Girls’ High School, has three children: three-year old Mihiata, and two boys Jake who is 8, and Joe who is 10. Kitty, whose background is in project management, takes care of the marketing and administration, and is mum to four-year old Tama.
The pair, who were practically neighbours, worked when they could during the day, but usually had to burn the midnight oil.
They road-tested their books with several Dunedin Early Childhood Education Centre educators and kids, and got a positive response all round, says Kitty.
The two beginners created a simple text that was translated and then carefully edited by Fern Whitau. They’ve also created activities that include paper dolls, a play and a song, to reinforce the learning.
The pair believed in their idea, but weren’t sure a publisher would take them on, so set about doing it themselves.
They applied for and received start up funding from Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu and the Whanau Ora commissioning agency for the South Island, and had a couple of crash courses in budgeting and accounting, and a lot of help from supporters.
The business side of things was challenging, Kitty admits.
“We wanted to make our books, not necessarily be businesswomen. And we were aware that passion projects don’t always pay for the groceries.”
A second series of Reo Pepi board books on colours, counting and kai is due out at the end of the year. Despite her success and future publishing plans, Kitty says her family’s needs must come first.
"I need to check that it’s best for Tama that his mama is creating books and publishing…[and whether] that’s balanced by achieving the original goal of learning Te Reo Maori with him.”
Meanwhile, Kitty and her husband Dan recently finished doing up a 1975 Ford house bus, and are taking Reo Pēpi around the South Island. The couple want to take the opportunity to visit whanau and learn about other communities before Tama starts school.
- Christine Nikiel
IMAGE/ Kitty Brown & Kirsten Parkinson