Awards shortlist packed with books that offer Kiwi children the escape of stories

If ever there was a time that children needed the escape of stories, 2020 is it. Today’s announcement of the finalists for the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults reveals an abundance of incredible storytelling for Kiwi kids to immerse themselves in.

The finalist books open their pages to make room for lots of much-needed joy, says convenor of judges Jane Arthur.

“They offer children whole worlds to explore and lose themselves in, which is crucial when there is so much uncertainty in their own. There are ponies, spies, communities, myths and, always, a quest for identity – both our country’s and the characters’.”

The range of names on the shortlist speaks to the depth of talent in New Zealand, from debut writers through to superstars like Joy Cowley,Gavin Bishop, Donovan Bixley and Stacy Gregg. The shortlist also features authors better known as writers for adults, including former New Zealand Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh and director of the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University, Damien Wilkins.

Children are also well served by books that shine a light on the world around them and help them make sense of it.

“They might be creating books for children, but our authors and illustrators are unafraid to tackle difficult topics – big things like the unhappy impact of colonisation on tangata whenua and nature, New Zealand's place in the Pacific, puberty, racism and abuse,” says Jane.

Despite the challenging times, innovative approaches will connect children with the finalist books and authors – this year’s winners’ announcements will be streamed online, so anyone, anywhere will be able to enjoy the celebration.

The normal schedule of Books Alive events, which see finalists traverse the country talking to school children, will go mostly virtual, allowing even more children to interact with their favourite author or illustrator. The Award’s organisers will partner with the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) to present a series of virtual Books Alive storytimes and events. Plus, an activity booklet packed with fun resources to extend children’s interaction with the finalist titles will be released online.

There were a record 178 entries submitted for the Awards this year. 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 $7,500 and are then in the running to be named the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year, with a further $7,500 prize money. In addition, the judges will award a Best First Book prize of $2,000 to a previously unpublished author or illustrator.

The first of the categories is the Picture Book Award where the finalist books, though diverse in content, present a special combination of excellent text and evocative illustrations. The judges felt the titles all have a playfulness and sense of fun, which while important to readers of any age, is particularly essential to engage young children.

The judges found the titles vying for the Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Junior Fiction Award were written, edited and produced with exceptional finesse and expertise leading to an eclectic shortlist of books that reflect the past and have an eye on the future.

The top contenders for the Young Adult Fiction Award this year don't shy away from the 'adult' element, with titles that not only grapple with mature themes but do so in a way that doesn't talk down to teenage readers. Ideas of belonging, otherness and survival through adversity (triumphant or not) speak meaningfully to readers.

The Elsie Locke Non-Fiction Award showcases a broad selection of Aotearoa-centred content brought to life with bright and vibrant illustrations. The judges say this was an outstandingly strong category, with the finalists chosen for the bold execution of their concepts, which engage the reader emotionally.

In the Russell Clark Illustration Award a wide range of styles and talents are on show in the finalists, who use either digital or watercolour media to create sometimes humorous, sometimes evocative and always stunning results.

The Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for books written entirely in te reo Māori has books that explore the uncomfortable, encourage the normal and relax into the different. But most of all the judges found they have a special glow, encompassing stories that keep the heart warm.

Finally, this year’s finalists for the Best First Book Award perfectly showcase the strength of New Zealand’s emerging talent.

The formidable task of narrowing the field to a list of finalists was met by this year’s experienced judging panel: Jane Arthur (convenor) is an editor, writer and poet; Alan Dingley, an intermediate school librarian; Briar Lawry, a bookseller, writer and editor; Steph Matuku (Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Toa, Te Ati Awa), who writes stories for young people for the stage, page, radio and screen; and Charlotte McKay, a specialist children’s bookseller.

They were joined by a panel appointed by Te Rōpū Whakahau, the national body that represents Māori engaged in Libraries, Culture, Knowledge, Information, Communication and Systems Technology in Aotearoa, to judge te reo Māori entries. Moana Munro (convenor), kaitiakipukapuka Māori for Hastings District Libraries, leads the panel for the third year; Cellia Joe-Olsen is the Tumuaki Tuakana or Immediate Past President of Te Rōpū Whakahau; and Francis Leaf, a 2019 recipient of the Robyn Hakopa Te Reo Māori award for promoting te reo and tikanga within the library profession.

The winners of the 2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults will be announced in a virtual presentation, streamed online on the evening of Wednesday 12 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, LIANZA, Wellington City Council and Nielsen Book. The Awards are administered by the New Zealand Book Awards Trust.

The finalists for the 2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are:

Picture Book Award

Abigail and the Birth of the Sun, Matthew Cunningham, illustrated by Sarah Wilkins (Penguin Random House)

How Māui Slowed the Sun, written and illustrated by Donovan Bixley (advised and translated by Dr Darryn Joseph and Keri Opai) (Upstart Press)

Mini Whinny: Goody Four Shoes, Stacy Gregg, illustrated by Ruth Paul (Scholastic NZ)

Santa's Worst Christmas, Pania Tahau-Hodges and Bryony Walker, illustrated by Isobel Joy Te Aho-White (Huia Publishers)

The Gobbledegook Book, Joy Cowley, illustrated by Giselle Clarkson (Gecko Press)

Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction

#Tumeke!, Michael Petherick (Annual Ink/Massey University Press)

Lizard's Tale, Weng Wai Chan (Text Publishing)

Miniwings Book 6 Moonlight the Unicorn's High Tea Hiccup, Sally Sutton, illustrated by Kirsten Richards (Scholastic NZ)

Prince of Ponies, Stacy Gregg (HarperCollins Publishers)

Time Machine and other stories, Melinda Szymanik (The Cuba Press)

Young Adult Fiction Award

Afakasi woman, Lani Wendt Young (OneTree House)

Aspiring, Damien Wilkins (Annual Ink/Massey University Press)

The History Speech, Mark Sweet (Huia Publishers)

Ursa, Tina Shaw (Walker Books Australia)

Wynter’s Thief, Sherryl Jordan (OneTree House)

Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction

Kuwi & Friends Māori Picture Dictionary, written and illustrated by Kat Quin, translated by Pānia Papa (Illustrated Publishing)

Mophead, Selina Tusitala Marsh (Auckland University Press)

Te Tiriti o Waitangi / The Treaty of Waitangi, Ross Calman and Mark Derby, illustrated by Toby Morris, translated by Piripi Walker (Lift Education)

The Adventures of Tupaia, Courtney Sina Meredith, illustrated by Mat Tait (Allen & Unwin, in partnership with Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum)

Three Kiwi Tales, Janet Hunt (Massey University Press)

Russell Clark Award for Illustration

Dozer the Fire Cat, illustrated by Jenny Cooper, written by Robyn Prokop (Scholastic NZ)

Santa's Worst Christmas, illustrated by Isobel Joy Te Aho-White, written by Pania Tahau-Hodges and Bryony Walker (Huia Publishers)

Song of the River, illustrated by Kimberly Andrews, written by Joy Cowley (Gecko Press)

The Adventures of Tupaia, illustrated by Mat Tait, written by Courtney Sina Meredith (Allen & Unwin, in partnership with Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum)

Wildlife of Aotearoa, illustrated and written by Gavin Bishop (Penguin Random House)

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

Arapū Toi, Moira Wairama, illustrated by Austin Whincup (Baggage Books)

Ko Flit, te Tīrairaka, me ngā Hēki Muna, written and illustrated by Kat Quin, translated by Ngaere Roberts (Scholastic NZ)

Ngā Hoa Hoihoi o Kuwi,written and illustrated by Kat Quin, translated by Pānia Papa (Illustrated Publishing)

Te Kirihimete i Whakakorea, Pania Tahau-Hodges and Bryony Walker, illustrated by Isobel Joy Te Aho-White, translated by Kawata Teepa (Huia Publishers)

Tio Tiamu, Kurahau, illustrated by Laya Mutton-Rogers (Huia Publishers)

Best First Book Award

Michael Petherick for #Tumeke! (Annual Ink/Massey University Press)

Weng Wai Chan for Lizard's Tale (Text Publishing)

Isobel Joy Te Aho-White (illustrator) for Santa's Worst Christmas, written by Pania Tahau-Hodges and Bryony Walker (Huia Publishers)

Belinda O'Keefe for The Day the Plants Fought Back, illustrated by Richard Hoit (Scholastic NZ)

Laya Mutton-Rogers (illustrator) for The Smelly Giant, written by Kurahau (Huia Publishers)