Mandy Hager’s Singing Home the Whale wins 2015 Margaret Mahy Book of the Year

A beautifully told story of hope and promise set in the tranquillity of the Marlborough Sounds, spanning issues of environment, conservation and relationships is the winner of this year’s Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award, in the prestigious New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Singing Home the Whale is also the winner in the Awards’ Young Adult Fiction category.

Mandy Hager’s book Singing Home the Whale (published by Penguin Random House NZ) tells the story of Will, a teenage boy, and Min, a young orca. Singing Gilbert & Sullivan from the back of a boat in the Sounds, Will is heard by Min, who has been separated from his pod after seeing his mother killed by whalers. It’s the union of two souls that will last a lifetime.

Judging Panel Convenor Bob Docherty says that Singing Home the Whale stood out as relevant, timeless and extraordinarily powerful. “We think this novel would have won in any year it was entered, and the decision was unanimous for the panel. Mandy Hager is writing out of her skin at present and her understanding of the human condition and human attitudes towards each other and other inhabitants of Planet Earth are beautifully presented. This novel should be compulsory reading in any country that still hunts whales. The alternating narrative by Will and Min is captivating and believable, as well as easy to read.”

The 2015 Judging Panel was convened by Bob Docherty, children’s book reviewer and literary consultant; author and children’s bookshop owner, Annemarie Florian; and teacher-librarian Fiona Mackie; with the assistance of Te Reo Māori language adviser, freelance Māori writer and editor Stephanie Pohe-Tibble.

The winners of the 2015 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults were announced at a ceremony at Wellington’s Government House on Thursday, 13 August. The Awards promote excellence and provide recognition for the best written and illustrated books for children and young adults published by New Zealand authors each year.

Best Picture Book was awarded to Jim’s Letters, by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper. Based on the relationship between two brothers and their correspondence during World War 1, this book is a heart-wrenching story, testament to the pre-internet written word as a means of recording and retelling history. The judges say Jim’s Letters has exceptional balance, pacing and design.

Rotorua author Donovan Bixley wins the Junior Fiction award with Monkey Boy. A ‘rollicking read’ say the judges, Monkey Boy mixes history with the supernatural and scatological, as well as Donovan Bixley’s trademark humorous illustrations.

The Non-Fiction category winner is Mōtītī Blue and the Oil Spill, by Debbie McCauley and Tamati Waaka (Translation). Using narrative devices and compelling design, this book tells the story in both English and Māori of little blue penguin Mōtītī Blue’s struggle after being trapped in the Rena oil spill. The judges praise the story for its power, and for its photography, layout and pertinent factual background.

Ngā Kī, by Sacha Cotter, translated by Kawata Teepa (Ngai Tuhoe, Te Arawa) and illustrated by Josh Morgan wins the Māori Language award. Beautifully capturing a child’s voice, Ngā Kī conveys the special relationship between a father and his daughter. Te Reo Māori language adviser Stephanie Pohe-Tibble says that Kawata Teepa demonstrates his ability to draw from te ao Māori (traditional Māori world) and te auo hou (modern world) in his use of metaphor and descriptive language.

The Best First Book Award winner is Julie Noanoa, for Māori Art for Kids. The judges commend this book for its combination of excellent production values and outstanding content.

“With a uniquely New Zealand perspective, Māori Art for Kids gives the reader information that no other book currently provides. We look forward to more from Julie, as this book is of a very high quality.”

The full list of winners of the 2015 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is:

  • Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and winner of Best Young Adult Fiction category Prizes: $7,500 for the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and $7,500 for Best Young Adult Fiction Singing Home the Whale, by Mandy Hager (Penguin Random House NZ)
  • Best Picture Book: Prize $7,500 Jim’s Letters, by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper (Penguin Random House NZ (Puffin))
  • Best Non-Fiction: Prize $7,500 Mōtītī Blue and the Oil Spill, by Debbie McCauley and Tamati Waaka (translation) (Mauāo Press)
  • Best Junior Fiction: Prize $7,500 Monkey Boy, by Donovan Bixley (Scholastic NZ)
  • Māori Language Award: Prize $1,000 Ngā Kī, translation by Kawata Teepa (Ngai Tuhoe, Te Arawa) of Keys by Sacha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan (Huia Publishers)
  • Best First Book: Prize $2,000 Māori Art for Kids, by Julie Noanoa (Potton & Burton)

In this year’s newly revamped Hell Children’s Choice Award, nearly 16,000 votes were cast by children to select the winners from their own specially selected finalists’ list. The 2015 Hell Children’s Choice winners are:

  • Picture Book: The Anzac Puppyby Peter Millett, illustrated by Trish Bowles (Scholastic NZ)
  • Non-Fiction: The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems by Paula Green, illustrated by Myles Lawford (Scholastic NZ)
  • Junior Fiction Winner: Island of Lost Horses by Stacy Gregg (HarperCollins).
  • Young Adult Fiction: Night Vision by Ella West (Allen & Unwin)
    Each book wins $1,000.

Bob Docherty says that such impressive books meet our natural hunger to immerse ourselves in a story or a subject and really connect — an opportunity that is often neglected in our haste to simply uplift information from the internet or an online book. “The quality of all the entries was outstanding and this is an encouraging sign for the longevity of the book in its printed form. All the submitted books were highly appealing, tangible and tactile, and a real delight to read and digest. As judges we were privileged to have had the opportunity to read and judge all these books. The demand for stunning books is clearly there, and the future of publishing in New Zealand looks healthy.”