Big names feature on national children’s book award shortlist

NZCYA

Books that will delight and inform – from big names such as Joy Cowley, Gavin Bishop, Stacy Gregg, Tessa Duder and Donovan Bixley as well as talented newcomers – have been announced today as finalists in the 2024 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

The shortlist highlights the best books for young readers, with picture books that entertain, junior fiction novels that offer escapism, young adult fiction that doesn’t shy away from the complexity of the teenage experience, non-fiction that expands minds, and beautifully illustrated titles that showcase Aotearoa’s creative talent.

This year’s two expert judging panels – a bilingual English and Māori panel and a separate Te Kura Pounamu panel to judge titles in te reo Māori – were impressed by the calibre of entries. The 175 submissions were reduced to a shortlist of 28 titles only after many hours of debate.

“There were many titles filled with humour to spark joy and provoke giggles, alongside explorations of big topics of identity, climate change, grief, mental health and history that are relevant to curious younger readers,” says 2024 convenor of judges Maia Bennett (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Tūwharetoa), who is a public and secondary school librarian in Wānaka.

“The interest and focus on our past perhaps reflects the impact of the Aotearoa New Zealand history curriculum on our publishing community. And we were impressed by how many books were woven through with te reo and aspects of te ao Māori,” Maia says.

The judges are mindful of the role the shortlist serves as a curated annual guide to the best in local publishing for children and teenagers. Maia says the diverse 2024 shortlist offers something for every type of reader.

To this end, tamariki and rangatahi were involved in the judging process this year in a larger way than ever before. Kura Kaupapa Māori, primary, intermediate and secondary schools across the motu all put their hands up to receive entries in relevant categories, along with judging guidelines and review templates to encourage considered feedback for the judging panel. In total 75 schools participated and over 500 reviews were supplied.

The judges found the student feedback invaluable, and Maia believes this is an important aspect of shaping a shortlist that resonates with young readers.

The winners of each of the six main categories – Picture Book, Junior Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Non-Fiction, Illustration and te reo Māori – take home $8500 and are then in the running to be named the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year, with a further $8500 prize money. In addition, the judges will award a Best First Book prize of $2500 to a previously unpublished author or illustrator.

The ceremony to announce the winners will take place at Pipitea Marae in Wellington on the evening of Wednesday 14 August.

The 2024 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults finalists are:

Picture Book Award Finalists

The judges were impressed by the boldness and brilliance of this year’s Picture Book Award finalists. Each created a unique world to experience, and demonstrated mastery in writing, illustration, and the harmony between the two.

  • At the Bach, Joy Cowley, illustrated by Hilary Jean Tapper (Gecko Press)
  • Dazzlehands, Sacha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan (Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Rongowhakaata, Te Whānau-a-Kai) (Huia Publishers)
  • Hatch and Match, Ruth Paul (Walker Books Australia)
  • Lucy and the Dark, Melinda Szymanik, illustrated by Vasanti Unka (Penguin Random House NZ)
  • Paku Manu Ariki Whakatakapōkai, Michaela Keeble, illustrated by Tokerau Brown (Gecko Press)

Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Junior Fiction Award Finalists
Themes of identity, belonging, community and connection run throughout all the Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Junior Fiction Award finalists. Engaging stories hook the reader from the start and the judges believe these books have some of the best ever first lines.

  • DoubleDippers!, Raymond McGrath (Scholastic New Zealand)
  • Lopini the Legend, Feana Tu‘akoi (Scholastic New Zealand)
  • Nine Girls, Stacy Gregg (Ngāti Mahuta, Ngāti Pūkeko, Ngāti Maru Hauraki) (Penguin Random House NZ)
  • Take Me to Your Leader, Leonie Agnew (Penguin Random House NZ)
  • The Grimmelings, Rachael King (Allen & Unwin)

Young Adult Fiction Award Finalists
The finalists in the Young Adult Fiction Award all find truth in the imagined lives of young people facing challenges and making choices. The diverse settings range from Aotearoa’s colonial past to potential dystopian futures. Realistic characters and excellent story craft combine in these compelling reads.

  • Catch a Falling Star, Eileen Merriman (Penguin Random House NZ)
  • New Dawning, A M Dixon (One Tree House)
  • The Sparrow, Tessa Duder (Penguin Random House NZ)
  • Tonight, I Burn, Katharine J Adams (Hachette Aotearoa New Zealand)
  • Tsunami, Ned Wenlock (Earth’s End Publishing)

Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction Finalists
The finalists in this year’s Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction encourage children to look closely at both our own history and the natural world around them. Superbly written, illustrated and designed, the judges said all shortlisted books in this category have the wow factor.

Russell Clark Award for Illustration Finalists

From our fraught and bloody history to our wild and colourful internal worlds, all the illustrators on this year’s Russell Clark Award for Illustration shortlist show great sympathy with, and understanding of, their subjects.

  • Dazzlehands, illustrated by Josh Morgan (Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Rongowhakaata, Te Whānau-a-Kai) (Huia Publishers)
  • Paku Manu Ariki Whakatakapōkai, illustrated by Tokerau Brown (Gecko Press)
  • Patu: The New Zealand Wars, illustrated by Gavin Bishop (Tainui, Ngāti Awa) (Penguin Random House NZ)
  • Samples from the Lab, illustrated by Rob Foote (Creativity Unleashed)
  • The Dream Factory, illustrated by Zak Ātea (Te Āti Awa Taranaki) (Huia Publishers)

Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award Finalists

The finalists for this year’s Te Kura Pounamu Award have retold stories of te ao Māori with care, and in a way that is meaningful to young readers. The books all showed different forms of auahatanga creativity, and hiranga inspiration. They also demonstrated exceptional knowledge and understanding of te reo Māori. 

  • He Tārū Kahika, Melinda Szymanik, illustrated by Isobel Joy Te Aho-White (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu), translated by Pānia Papa (Ngāti Korokī Kahukura, Ngāti Mahuta) (Scholastic New Zealand)
  • Nani Jo me ngā Mokopuna Porohīanga, Moira Wairama, illustrated by Margaret Tolland (Baggage Books)
  • Te Pīkari Pipi, Angie Belcher, illustrated by Lily Uivel, translated by Pānia Papa (Ngāti Korokī Kahukura, Ngāti Mahuta) (Scholastic New Zealand)
  • Te Pukapuka ka kore e Pānuihia, Tim Tipene (Ngāti Kurī, Te Uri-o-Hau, Ngāti Whātua), illustrated by Nicoletta Benella, translated by Kanapu Rangitauira (Te Arawa, Ngati Porou, Te Whakatohea) (Oratia Books)
  • Te Rā Kura Ki Aotearoa, Donovan Bixley, translated by Darryn Joseph (Ngāti Maniapoto, Rereahu) (Upstart Press)

NZSA Best First Book Award Finalists

The books shortlisted for the NZSA Best First Book Award range across categories and showcase the work of very talented first-time authors and illustrators. The judges said the calibre of the finalists bodes well for the future of New Zealand’s literary landscape.

 As well as acknowledging the best and brightest in books for children and teens, a core aspect of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults’ mission is to foster literacy and a love of reading among New Zealand’s tamariki and rangatahi.

This includes a programme of Books Alive large-scale events, which see finalist authors and illustrators bring the magic of books to life at sessions for school children. This year, thanks to the generous support of the Mātātuhi Foundation, a day of joyous Books Alive fun will be held for Invercargill school children on Wednesday 7 August, alongside the regular events held in Christchurch (on Friday 9 August) and Wellington (on Wednesday 14 August) in the immediate lead up to the Awards ceremony. 

The New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults also administers the ever-popular HELL Reading Challenge, which has been running for over a decade. Last year almost 850 schools and libraries around the motu took part in the programme and 325,000 pizza wheels were distributed, leading to an estimated 2,275,000 books read.

The formidable task of narrowing the field to a shortlist of finalists was met by this year’s experienced English and bilingual judging panel: Convenor of judges Maia Bennett (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Tūwharetoa), a public and secondary school librarian in Wānaka; Belinda Whyte, the Resource Teacher of Literacy for the Horowhenua region; Helen Wadsworth, co-owner of The Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop in Tāmaki Makaurau; Kitty Brown (Kāi Tahu, Waitaha, Kāti Mamoe, Ngāti Kahungunu), an award-winning author and an avid reader of children’s literature from Ōtepoti; and Mat Tait (Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō, Rangitāne o Wairau, Ngāti Kuia), a freelance artist, illustrator, writer and te reo Māori tutor based in the Motueka area.

They were joined by a separate panel specially appointed to judge te reo Māori entries: Convenor Lawren Matrix (Tūhoe), the Whānau Learning Specialist for Auckland Council Libraries; Mihi Te Rina Henare (Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui), an Assistant Support Archivist at Archives New Zealand; Quintin Te Maari (Ngāti Porou, Tūhoe, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa), who is currently undertaking teacher training; and Mat Tait, who also brings his knowledge and experience to the Te Kura Pounamu panel.

The New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults and their associated programmes are made possible through the generosity, commitment and vision of funders and partners: Creative New Zealand, HELL Pizza, the Wright Family Foundation, LIANZA Te Rau Herenga o Aotearoa, Wellington City Council, New Zealand Society of Authors Te Puni Kaituhi o Aotearoa, the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, the Mātātuhi Foundation, and Nielsen BookData. The Awards are administered by the New Zealand Book Awards Trust Te Ohu Tiaki i Te Rau Hiringa.

NZCYA 2024 finalists