Joy Cowley is a prolific, widely-published, and much celebrated New Zealand writer of fiction for adults and children. Cowley began her career writing short stories and novels before moving into the realm of children’s literature. She has published numerous novels and short stories. She has written a remarkable range of children’s books – including over 1,000 educational books for children learning to read. Cowley has won many awards for her writing. In 2005 she was made a Distinguished Companion of New Zealand Order of Merit for services to children’s literature, and she was awarded a Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement for Fiction in 2010. In 2018, Cowley was given New Zealand's top honour, becoming a Member of the Order of New Zealand. Also in 2018, Cowley was short-listed for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the top international award in children's literature.
Cowley began writing for children to help her son Edward who, like her, was slow to learn reading skills. Her first picture book, which uses humour to carry a serious anti-war statement, was The Duck and the Gun, published in New York in 1969. It was republished in 1985 with new illustrations by award-winning illustrator Robyn Belton. Cowley has dedicated much time to working with teachers on early reading. She has also run many writing workshops, largely in the U.S.A.
In 2007, Clean Slate Press became Cowley’s exclusive international educational publisher. Initially, Clean Slate Press republished some of the author’s older work that was out of print, including Mrs Wishy-Washy, Cowley’s most famous title that has sold more than 40 million copies. In 2008, Cowley began writing new titles for Clean Slate Press. There are now 200 Cowley titles available from Clean Slate Press in New Zealand, Lioncrest in Australia, Hameray in the U.S.A., and various other publishers worldwide.
Cowley’s work is characterized by being child-centred, high-quality literature for young readers. She says: “Children need to find affirmation in a story. The story should empower children in several ways: helping them to feel good about their ability to make cognitive connections and to solve problems; helping them to see their own worthiness in the characters.”
Cowley lives in Featherston, New Zealand. She continues to write for children.