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Gavin Bishop’s taonga of a title crowned Book of the Year at Children’s Awards

A book described as a taonga for this generation and the next, written and illustrated by one of the country’s most lauded authors, was tonight crowned the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year at the 2022 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults ceremony, held at the Alan Gibbs Centre at Wellington College.

Atua: Māori Gods and Heroesby multi-award-winning author Gavin Bishop was praised by the judges for its sense of magic and the way it validates matauranga and te ao Māori truths.

Atua is an instant classic, a ‘must have’ for every Kiwi household and library, that is packaged in stunning production values,” said convenor of judges Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith.

The book is much more than a list of Gods and legendary heroes – it’s a family tree, presented with power and simplicity. The text is never overstated, with the glory of the illustrations as the primary mode of storytelling, rewarding the reader who closely examines them.”

As well as taking out the highest accolade in children’s publishing, Atua also won the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction and the Russell Clark Award for Illustration.

It’s the fifth time Ōtautahi-based Bishop's work has been acknowledged with the coveted Book of the Year prize. He has now won it three times for titles he authored and illustrated and twice for books where he was the illustrator. This is more than any other children’s author or illustrator in New Zealand, even the award’s namesake Margaret Mahy, who won the supreme award twice.

While Atua took out the lion’s share of the prizes on the night, it was a cheeky lion who impressed the judges when it came to the Picture Book Award, which went to Lion Guards the Cake by Wellington’s Ruth Paul. The judges loved the masterfully blended words and images, calling it confident storytelling of the highest calibre.

An imaginative, thought-provoking novel with “a bit of creepy stirred in” was how The Memory Thief by Leonie Agnew ofTāmaki Makaurau Auckland was described. It won the Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction, with the judges praising the skill and writing craft of the author, as well as the depth and quality of language.

Learning to Love Blue by Melbourne-based New Zealander Saradha Koirala was awarded the Young Adult Fiction Award. The judging panel was enamoured by this novel that deals with striking out alone, navigating relationships and finding one’s feet in a new city, calling it an emotional and always relatable read.

The standard and beautiful flow of reo in I Waho, i te Moana, translated from Yvonne Morrison’s text by Pānia Papa (Pōneke Wellington) and illustrated by Jenny Cooper, saw it awarded the Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for te reo Māori. The judges praised the expertise of the translator, and also said the illustrations bring to life the authenticity of this story about the many taniwha that act as guardians in the moana.

Among the 199 entries into this year’s awards, some of the most exciting for the judges to read were those from new voices. With the calibre encouragingly high, it was a tough category to call but the NZSA Best First Book Award went to Spark Hunter by Sonya Wilson from Auckland. The judges felt the book was perfectly pitched for middle fiction readers, with its debut author deftly weaving history, culture, conservation, humour, tension and adventure into the story.


The full list of winners for the 2022 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults:

Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award $7500

Atua: Māori Gods and Heroes, written and illustrated by Gavin Bishop (Puffin, Penguin Random House)

Picture Book Award $7500

Lion Guards the Cake, written and illustrated by Ruth Paul (Scholastic New Zealand)

Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction $7500

The Memory Thief, written by Leonie Agnew (Puffin, Penguin Random House)

Young Adult Fiction Award $7500

Learning to Love Blue, written by Saradha Koirala (Record Press)

Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction $7500

Atua: Māori Gods and Heroes, written and illustrated by Gavin Bishop (Puffin, Penguin Random House)

Russell Clark Award for Illustration $7500

Atua: Māori Gods and Heroes, written and illustrated by Gavin Bishop (Puffin, Penguin Random House)

Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for te reo Māori $7500

I Waho, i te Moana, written by Yvonne Morrison, translated by Pānia Papa and illustrated by Jenny Cooper (Scholastic New Zealand)

NZSA Best First Book Award $2500

Spark Hunter, written by Sonya Wilson (The Cuba Press)

An important aspect of the Awards is fostering a love of reading in New Zealand’s tamariki and rangitahi by building connections between books and young people. Many of this year’s finalists had the opportunity to present their work to thousands of children around the country in a programme of Books Alive online events and virtual story times, co-ordinated through public and school libraries by LIANZA, the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa, and hosted on their YouTube channel.

The finalists also entertained hundreds of Wellington school children at the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa on the day of the ceremony. The hard-working team at Wellington City Libraries organised a varied programme that included story times, behind-the-book talks, workshops on writing and illustration, lively panel discussions, and live drawing sessions.

The New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are made possible through the generosity and vision of a group of committed funders and sponsors: Creative New Zealand, HELL Pizza, the Wright Family Foundation, LIANZA, Wellington City Council, The New Zealand Society of Authors Te Puni Kaituhi o Aotearoa (NZSA), Nielsen BookData, and 2022 Books Alive venue partner, The National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa. The Awards are administered by the New Zealand Book Awards Trust Te Ohu Tiaki i Te Rau Hiringa.