Writers' Trail ~ Nelson/Tasman
& illustrator Robyn Belton
THE CRINKUM CRANKUM TREE AT NELSON CENTRAL SCHOOL
In the grounds of Nelson Central School there is a tree that has been immortalised in children’s literature as the Crinkum Crankum tree.
The tree, a bougainvillea vine, is in front of historic Renwick House. The house dates from the 1870s and has been part of Nelson Central School since 1939. The tree is thought to be nearly as old as the house. It was the inspiration for Robyn Belton’s illustrations for Margaret Mahy’s book Crinkum-Crankum. Published in 1983, Crinkum-Crankum is about a witch who curses a tree so that it grows ‘crooked and lazy-crazy.’
Robyn Belton didn’t have far to look when Margaret Mahy asked her to illustrate the story. The Beltons lived in Nelson from 1967 to 1992, and their three children attended Central School. Robyn said: ‘I heard the part about the twisting branches and the tree being covered in flowers, and I knew the perfect tree.’ She took her coloured pencils and sketched the tree while children climbed in its branches.
The tree’s importance was recognised in a ceremony in October 2006, when a plaque was placed next to it on the side of Renwick House. Robyn Belton attended the occasion, for which pupils decorated the tree with ribbons, toys and letters of thanks, and they sang a specially-written song.
In 2009, Room 14 at Nelson Central School wrote about the Crinkum Crankum tree in their blog. One of the photos shows a child holding a copy of the book.
Margaret Mahy (1936 – 2012) is the most acclaimed of New Zealand’s writers for children. She was the author of more than 120 titles and received numerous awards, both nationally and internationally. Read about her here
Robyn Belton (1947 – ) has illustrated many New Zealand children’s books, including Joy Cowley’s stories about Greedy Cat. Read about her here
Written by: Chrissie Ward
Nelson Central School is at 70 Nile Street, Nelson. Enter the grounds from Alton Street, next to the large redwood tree. Go straight ahead, past the red-painted library building (Te Ipu Matauranga). Take the path curving slightly uphill on the left, which leads to Renwick House. The Crinkum Crankum tree is at the western corner of the verandah.