Kiwiflora's Reviews > Navigation: A Memoir

Navigation by Joy Cowley
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's review
Apr 16, 2011

really liked it
Read in April, 2011

'Greedy Cat', 'Mrs Wishy-Washy', 'The Silent One': how many people in New Zealand and around the world too, have grown up with the wonderful stories of Joy Cowley? In fact, after reading this memoir, you would almost suspect that she is more famous outside of New Zealand than inside. What a remarkable woman, with really quite a remarkable life, and yet also such a very ordinary life.

Rather than be confined by the structure of an autobiography, Joy Cowley has chosen to write a memoir: a collection of anecdotes encompassing the special events, people: 'the gifts of life that make a person'.
One of the most remarkable things about Joy Cowley is that as a child she struggled with learning to read and just did not get it. It was not until she was nine that one day, while looking through a pile of picture books at school, she did get it, and from that moment on she was hooked. Anyone who is s passionate reader well and truly will understand that moment when a book hooks.

Her love of reading, the sense of magic and escape that comes from a great story and then wanting to impart that magic to everyone else are the main drivers in her career as a writer of children's books and later young adult/adult books. I am sure her struggles with reading as a child enabled her to empathise with a similarly struggling child and so know exactly hot to go about writing to that child. What I enjoyed reading about the most was where the ideas for her stories have come from. 'Greedy Cat', the cat, for example was real, but didn't come to fruition until some time later. At all times she praises the talents of her illustrators who so beautifully bring her characters to life and into the imaginations of the child reader. And let's not forget the adult reading the book to the child.

Her life is not simply about books and reading. She shares her family life, her relationships, her children, her travels: not all of it plain sailing and she would appear to have had more than her fair share of pain and suffering. Yet by the time I had finished reading all I felt was her joy in life, her gratitude for what she has accomplished and the people who have helped her achieve and be enriched.

Joy Cowley is a true national treasure. In the mid-1980s I found I was one of the flatmates in the house she owned in Khandallah in Wellington. The house had not long been empty, it was old, run down, quite empty as we were the first tenants, but it did have a lovely comfortable feel about, it set in a rambling sort of garden and lots of sun. Quite regularly, the mail for our flat would consist of business envelopes addressed to Joy Cowley that, in hindsight, probably contained royalty cheques (before the days of internet banking), which we would dutifully re-address to her new home in the Marlborough Sounds. It did feel rather strange reading about this part of Joy's life, and somehow contributing to it in a very teeny tiny way!

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