Bumper crop of finalists in 2018 children’s book awards will transport, inform & delight young Kiwi readers

A bumper crop of excellent books for young New Zealand readers have today been announced as the 33 finalists in the 2018 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

From sharks and dawn raids to earthquakes, kidnap plots, Jean Batten and the familiar chaos that is kids at breakfast time, their range is diverse. But they all share the magical ability to transport, inform and delight, says convenor of judges, Jeannie Skinner. “These books, fiction and non-fiction, help us try on different lives, see the world through another’s eyes, and be inspired by stories of our past, present, and possible futures.”

There were 152 entries submitted for the 2018 awards, and finalist titles will compete in seven categories: Picture Book, Junior Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Non-Fiction, Illustration, te reo Māori and Best First Book. The winners of those categories will all compete to be named the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year.

The judges say the real strength of the shortlist is the range of vividly drawn and memorable characters who encounter challenges, both physical and mental.

They were also delighted by the richly authentic voices, which reflect the unique New Zealand landscape, vernacular and humour, with convincingly drawn family and peer dynamics. Powerful settings of imagined futures, whether dystopian, inter-planetary or steampunk, add variety and wild imagination to the vibrant mix.

All experts in the field of children’s literature, the judges also sought the opinion of those who matter most: the children themselves. They worked with panels of young people to gauge how they reacted to and interacted with the titles.

Children are also involved in the awards through the HELL Reading Challenge. Now in its fifth year, this partnership has been hugely successful in getting kids reading and enjoying the pleasure of stories – with the added bonus of free pizza rewards. Since the 2018 programme began in early March, more than 200,000 pizza reading wheels have been ordered by over 730 schools and libraries around the country.

An exciting new sponsor further strengthens the Awards this year. The Wright Family Foundation, a charitable trust, which already supports the Kids’ Lit Quiz and the New Zealand Spelling Bee, is funding two categories – the Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award and the Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction.

“The New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is a perfect fit with the foundation’s goal of ‘growing the good’ in New Zealand,” says Wright Family Foundation CEO Chloe Wright. “Education is at the heart of everything we do, and supporting literacy is one of our key goals.”

“We encourage others to unleash their potential through education in various forms. The New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is a wonderful vehicle to support New Zealand authors to create fantastic books that ignite the passion of our young people.”

Turning to the categories, the judges were delighted by the variety of this year’s entries for the Picture Book Award with their engaging wordplay and range of illustration styles. “New Zealanders can be very proud of their splendid picture book writers and illustrators – they are experts in their craft.”

The authentic voices of young New Zealanders are heard loud and clear in the Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Junior Fiction shortlist. Whether in the past or present, drama or comedy, the judges found the characters to be warm and vividly real, as they face challenges and negotiate relationships.

The Copyright Licensing NZ Award for Young Adult Fiction was another exceptionally strong field this year, with themes of survival against the odds, challenges and mental health issues. Most importantly, the judges say, the authors in this category all nailed the voice of their young adult characters “in these well-written and deftly plotted books”.

The judges were excited to see such a bountiful number of high calibre nominations for the Elsie Locke Non-Fiction Award and they say the finalists shine with the authors’ expertise and passion for their subjects. “These non-fiction books take sometimes complex subjects and distil the essence, clearly and honestly, for their young audience to show what makes our world so interesting, wonderful, and various.”

“This splendid array of books demonstrates skilfulness in pacing, rewarding the turn of the page,” say the judges of the Russell Clark Illustration Award finalists. They are wide-ranging in style and media, running the gamut from classic watercolours to graphic illustrations. “In every book the characters are fully realised, their personalities captured in the briefest line or painterly detail.”

Fresh story telling from newly minted authors delighted the judges when it came to the Best First Book category. They discovered excellent world building across genres from contemporary to historical with a bit of steampunk thrown in for variety. “Every story is so masterfully written one completely forgets that these books are the first offerings from these New Zealand authors.”

The entries in the Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for books written entirely in te reo Māori were described as ‘Ahakoa he iti he pounamu’. Although there were a smaller number of entries this year, they were “precious like greenstone”, and the judges praised both the content and the quality of the language used.

The formidable task of narrowing the field to a list of finalists was met by this year’s experienced judging panel: Jeannie Skinner (convenor) a facilitator at the National Library of New Zealand; Crissi Blair, a long-time promoter and champion of children’s books; Maureen Crisp, writer and blogger; Darryn Joseph, an academic and author; and Bridget Schaumann, a school librarian.

They were joined by a panel appointed by Te Rōpū Whakahau to judge the te reo Māori entries, which was led by Moana Munro (convenor), kaitiakipukapuka Māori for the Hastings District Libraries, Anahera Morehu, library manager for the Faculty of Arts, Māori and Pasifika Team of Te Tumu Herenga at the University of Auckland, and Jacqueline Joyce Snee, senior librarian Māori Research at Auckland Central Library.

School children will have a chance to meet the 2018 finalist authors and illustrators at four large-scale regional events in the week leading up to the awards ceremony. The first is in Hamilton (Wednesday 1 August in association with Waikato University, Hamilton Library and Hamilton Book Month); then Dunedin (Friday 4 and Saturday 5 August in association with Dunedin Public Libraries and UBS Otago); Christchurch (Monday 6 August in association with WORD Christchurch); and finally in Wellington (Wednesday 8 August in association with Te Papa and Wellington City Library).

The winners of the 2018 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults will be announced at a ceremony in the atmospheric Te Marae at Te Papa in Wellington on the evening of Wednesday 8 August.

The New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults are made possible through the generosity, commitment and vision of funders and sponsors: Creative New Zealand, HELL Pizza, the Wright Family Foundation, Book Tokens (NZ) Ltd, Copyright Licensing NZ, LIANZA, Wellington City Council, Nielsen Book and Te Papa. The Awards are administered by the New Zealand Book Awards Trust.

The finalists for the 2018 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are:

Picture Book Award

Granny McFlitter the Champion Knitter, Heather Haylock, illustrated by Lael Chisholm (Penguin Random House)

I am Jellyfish, Ruth Paul (Penguin Random House)

That's Not the Monster We Ordered, Richard Fairgray & Terry Jones (Penguin Random House)

The Gift Horse, Sophie Siers, illustrated by Katharine White (Millwood Press)

The Longest Breakfast, Jenny Bornholdt, illustrated by Sarah Wilkins (Gecko Press)

Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction

How Not to Stop a Kidnap Plot, Suzanne Main (Scholastic NZ)

How to Bee, Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin)

Lyla: Through My Eyes - Natural Disaster Zones, Fleur Beale, edited by Lyn White (Allen & Unwin)

My New Zealand Story: Dawn Raid, Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith (Scholastic NZ)

The Thunderbolt Pony, Stacy Gregg (HarperCollins Publishers)

Copyright Licensing NZ Award for Young Adult Fiction

Because Everything Is Right but Everything Is Wrong, Erin Donohue (Escalator Press)

Catch Me When You Fall, Eileen Merriman (Penguin Random House)

In the Dark Spaces, Cally Black (Hardie Grant Egmont)

Sticking with Pigs, Mary-anne Scott (OneTree House)

The Traitor and the Thief, Gareth Ward (Walker Books Australia)

Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction

Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story, Gavin Bishop (Penguin Random House)

Explore! Aotearoa, Bronwen Wall, illustrated by Kimberly Andrews (Kennett Brothers)

New Zealand's Great White Sharks, Alison Ballance (Potton & Burton)

Sky High: Jean Batten's Incredible Flying Adventures, David Hill, illustrated by Phoebe Morris (Penguin Random House)

The New Zealand Wars, Philippa Werry (New Holland)

Russell Clark Award for Illustration

Abel Tasman: Mapping the Southern Lands, illustrated by Marco Ivančić, written by Maria Gill (Scholastic NZ)

Bobby, the Littlest War Hero, illustrated by Jenny Cooper, written by Glyn Harper (Penguin Random House)

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts, written and illustrated by Craig Phillips (Allen & Unwin)

I am Jellyfish, written and illustrated by Ruth Paul (Penguin Random House)

Sky High: Jean Batten's Incredible Flying Adventures, illustrated by Phoebe Morris, written by David Hill (Penguin Random House)

Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for books written completely in te reo Māori

Hineahuone, Xoë Hall, translated by Sian Montgomery-Neutze (TeacherTalk)

Te Tamaiti me te Aihe, Robyn Kahukiwa, translated by Kiwa Hammond (Little Island Press Ltd)

Tu Meke Tūī! Malcolm Clarke, illustrated by Hayley King (AKA Flox), translated by Evelyn Tobin (Mary Egan Publishing)

Best First Book Award

Because Everything Is Right but Everything Is Wrong, Erin Donohue (Escalator Press)

Into the White, Joanna Grochowicz (Allen & Unwin)

My New Zealand Story: Dawn Raid, Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith (Scholastic NZ)

Pieces of You, Eileen Merriman (Penguin Random House)

The Traitor and the Thief, Gareth Ward (Walker Books Australia)