Ned Barraud: biography and 10 questions about Mangō: Sharks and Rays of Aotearoa

Ned Barraud discusses Mangō: Sharks and Rays of Aotearoa with Te Papa Press.

Ned Barraud is a Wellington-based author/illustrator of over twenty children’s books exploring the natural world. These include Tohorā: The Southern Right Whale, Rock Pools: A Guide for Kiwi Kids, and New Zealand’s Backyard Beasts. Along with author Gillian Candler, he has also illustrated the popular Explore & Discover series, which includes the prize-winning At the Beach.

Ten questions with Ned Barraud

Q1: How did the idea for this book come about?

My son Alfie first gave me the idea when he was ten years old and really into everything about sharks. One day he pointed to a poster of fish species on his wall and said, ‘Dad, I think your next book should be about sharks!’ At the time I was in the midst of another project, but I quietly shelved the idea for a later date . . .

Q2: The illustrations are stunning. What is your process?

I always start small, with thumbnail pencil sketches, roughing out the composition. Once happy with the balance of all the elements I enlarge the sketch and refine. Sometimes I keep to a pencil, other times I work with black ink pens. When the drawing is looking good, I scan it into my computer to do the colouring. I have a brilliant monitor which allows me to draw onto the computer, very much like a traditional pen or brush. It took a while for this technique to feel natural, but it really does now.

Q3: What was it like working with Te Papa sharks expert Andrew Stewart?

This wasn’t the only time I’ve worked with Andrew. He’s also kindly offered advice with my book about rockpools. It is necessary (and comforting!) to have an expert to rely upon for help when needed. I’m an enthusiast and a researcher, not a scientist, so it’s important to get help from experts in the field. Andrew checked over my work (both text and illustrations) and gave excellent feedback and ideas.

Q4: How has Mangō differed to the many other books you’ve written and illustrated?

Each book is a new journey. That’s one of the things I love best about beginning a new project. It is always an opportunity to learn more deeply about the subject. The unique aspect to working on this book was having access to the museum and seeing all the amazing shark, ray and chimaera specimens kept in jars behind the scenes. I loved having the project backed by the museum and experts – it took a bit of the pressure off my shoulders!

Q5: Which section in the book is your favourite?

I think the timeline is really cool. It folds out to four pages and shows how early mangō evolved from over 300 million years ago through to modern day. Sharks were one of the first complex animals to develop on earth and it’s hard to get your head around the time scale. I couldn’t wait to see the first copy of the book to see the fold-out in action.

Q6: Do you have a favourite species of shark or ray?

I have a few faves, but whale sharks would be high on the list. I actually saw a whale shark when scuba diving in Thailand. It was still just a juvenile, but simply enormous, maybe 5 metres long. It was so sleek and cruised pasted without a care in the world. It had its own little ecosystem of smaller fish going along for the ride.

Q7: Have you had any other encounters with mangō in the wild?

I remember being about eleven years old, cruising in Tasman Bay on my dad’s boat. I was leaning over the railing when I saw a dorsal fin break the surface of the water. There was no mistaking what it was. When I saw that fin, it wasn’t fear that I felt (well . . . maybe a little!) but mostly it was wonder . . . What species are you? Where do you go? How do you hunt?

More recently I’ve swum with reef sharks in the Galapagos Islands. Well, not really ‘with’ – they actually just ignored me!

Q8: Most amazing shark fact?

Sharks have senses we can’t even imagine. They can ‘see’ electric fields which all life forms emit. Even creatures hidden away under sand can be detected. How do they picture these electric fields in their mind? We’ll never know because we can’t even imagine how it looks.

Q9: One’s clearly not enough! Tell us another amazing fact about mangō.

Did you know we have whale sharks and massive manta rays in New Zealand waters? We do. Manta rays have only recently been confirmed as being a permanent population, when it was thought that they just migrated through. Whale sharks just occasionally pass by.

Q10: What do you hope young readers will take away from this book?

Kids are often exposed to the more frightening aspects of sharks, which is partly why they are appealing. So hopefully it might help change their opinion about these fabulous ancient hunters. The book shows that there are many different aspects to appreciate about mangō and it describes their vulnerability. Sharks need protection right now. This book highlights why they are so worth saving.