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New Zealand’s children’s publishing is in fine health. That’s the verdict of the judges for the 2019 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults after they faced the daunting challenge of whittling down a shortlist for this year’s awards.

“The quality of submissions was impressive this year,” says convenor of judges Crissi Blair. “We had serious problems selecting the finalists for each category and it was heartening to see a healthy number of submissions from mainstream, indie and self-publishers, all of which are represented in the shortlist.” Blair also praises the depth of the subject matter amongst the finalist titles with a strong focus on books about our world and what’s happening to it. From climate change to representations of diversity, this year’s books take readers on journeys into the past, the present and the future, providing a new look at the familiar or an insightful sojourn into another time.

“The finalist books don’t underestimate what children are capable of understanding – both intellectually and emotionally,” she says. A total of 164 entries were received for the awards this year, with 29 books making the shortlist. The winners of each of the main six 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 In addition, the judges will award a Best First Book prize of $2,000 to a previously unpublished author or illustrator.

Building on work started last year, children were included in the judging process. Judges took a category of books into schools, where the criteria for identifying a good quality book were discussed, before students selected titles to read.

Students responded in a variety of ways including voting for their favourites (and least favourite!), writing brief reviews, allocating star ratings and discussing what they liked and disliked about the books. These results were then shared with the whole judging panel and considered when making finalist decisions.

“Including the young readers in the judging process had the dual benefit of informing the judges about children’s and teens’ opinions, but also developing the knowledge of the readers, rendering them more capable of interacting with their books in a meaningful way in the future,” says Blair, adding that the students were very honest in their appraisals.

A core aspect of the NZCYA Awards’ mission is to foster literacy and a love of reading amongst New Zealand’s children and teenagers. This is achieved through programmes like the HELL Reading Challenge, where kids receive pizza rewards for reading, and the newly revamped Books Alive programme of events, which will see finalist authors and illustrators bring the magic of books to life at sessions for school children in Hamilton, Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington.

Turning to those finalists, the judges were impressed with the way the entries for the Picture Book Award were simultaneously universal while being very reflective of a New Zealand childhood. The books deal with rainbows, birthdays, the comforts of home and themes of kindness, bravery and sharing. Fun, magic, mystery and history were the order of the day in the Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Junior Fiction category, with the rich abundance of stories submitted making for close calls when narrowing down to a final five.

Whether looking to the past, the present, or an imagined near future, each novel up for the Young Adult Fiction Award has superb writing, realistic interactions, insightful social commentary and satisfying dénouements in common. There are no dull and dusty facts amongst the Elsie Locke Non-Fiction Award finalists. The judges found this category alive and kicking with books that connect youngsters with the richness of nature and the universality of the human spirit.

The Russell Clark Illustration Award finalists dazzle with their difference. From relaxed watercolours and quirky Kiwi settings to warm full-colour spreads, mixed-media mastery and emotive, pared-back graphics, the lack of homogeneity in this category proves just how diverse and creative our illustrators are.

The best storytellers know that words carve memories, and the titles nominated for the Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for books written entirely in te reo Māori all have tales that engage and captivate audiences. The judges were particularly impressed with books that exemplified Mātauranga Māori in their view of the world, including retellings of traditional Māori stories.

Competition was fierce to make the shortlist for the Best First Book with the judges finding nothing amateur about these debuts, which they say are indistinguishable in quality from books by more experienced writers. All of the finalists for this award have used their writing to cut deep to the heart of what being a young person is all about.

The formidable task of narrowing the field to a list of finalists was met by this year’s experienced judging panel: Crissi Blair (convenor) a long-time promoter and champion of children’s books; Jane Arthur, an editor and poet who co-founded children’s book site The Sapling; Raymond Huber, a widely published children’s author and editor; Tania Roxborogh (Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri), a veteran educator and an award-winning writer; and Simie Simpson (Te Ati Awa), a librarian in the Kaipara District north of Auckland. They were joined by a panel appointed by Te Rōpū Whakahau to judge te reo Māori entries, which was led by Moana Munro (convenor), kaitiakipukapuka Māori for Hastings District Libraries, Anahera Morehu, who is part of the team which supports the Mātauranga Māori and Tukua workshops for those working in the information industry and is the incoming president-elect of LIANZA , and Jacqueline Joyce Snee, senior librarian Māori Research at Auckland Central Library.

The winners of the 2019 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 7 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, Nielsen Book and Te Papa. The Awards are administered by the New Zealand Book Awards Trust.

The finalists for the 2019 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are: Picture Book Award

Mini Whinny: Happy Birthday to Me, Stacy Gregg, illustrated by Ruth Paul (Scholastic NZ)

Puffin the Architect, Kimberly Andrews (Penguin Random House)

The Bomb, Sacha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan (Huia Publishers)

Things in the Sea are Touching Me, Linda Jane Keegan, illustrated by Minky Stapleton (Scholastic NZ)

Who Stole the Rainbow? Vasanti Unka (Penguin Random House)

Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction

Search for a Kiwi Killer, Des Hunt (Tōrea Press)

The Dog Runner, Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin)

The Mapmakers' Race, Eirlys Hunter, illustrated by Kirsten Slade (Gecko Press)

The Telegram, Philippa Werry (Pipi Press)

Whetū Toa and the Magician, Steph Matuku, illustrated by Katharine Hall (Huia Publishers)

Young Adult Fiction Award

Ash Arising, Mandy Hager (Penguin Random House)

Children of the Furnace, Brin Murray (The CopyPress)

Invisibly Breathing, Eileen Merriman (Penguin Random House)

Legacy, Whiti Hereaka (Huia Publishers)

The Rift, Rachael Craw (Walker Books Australia)

Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction

Art-tastic, Sarah Pepperle (Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū)

Go Girl: A Storybook of Epic NZ Women, Barbara Else (Penguin Random House)

Ko Mauao te Maunga: Legend of Mauao, Debbie McCauley, illustrated by Debbie Tipuna and translated by Tamati Waaka (Mauao Publishing)

New Zealand's Backyard Beasts, Ned Barraud (Potton & Burton)

Whose Home is This?, Gillian Candler, illustrated by Fraser Williamson (Potton & Burton)

Russell Clark Award for Illustration

Cook's Cook: The Cook who Cooked for Captain Cook, written and illustrated by Gavin Bishop (Gecko Press)

Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas, illustrated by Ant Sang, written by Michael Bennett (Penguin Random House)

Oink, written and illustrated by David Elliot (Gecko Press)

Puffin the Architect, written and illustrated by Kimberly Andrews (Penguin Random House)

The Bomb, illustrated by Josh Morgan, written by Sacha Cotter (Huia Publishers)

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

Ngā Whetū Matariki i Whānakotia, Miriama Kamo, illustrated by Zak Waipara, translated by Ngaere Roberts (Scholastic NZ)

Te Haka a Tānerore, Reina Kahukiwa, illustrated by Robyn Kahukiwa, translated by Kiwa Hammond (Mauri Tū)

Te Hīnga Ake a Māui i Te Ika Whenua, written and illustrated by Donovan Bixley, translated by Darryn Joseph (cultural adviser) and Keri Opai (Upstart Press)

Best First Book Award

Art-tastic, Sarah Pepperle (Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū)

Bullseye Bella, James T Guthrie (Scholastic NZ)

Children of the Furnace, Brin Murray (The CopyPress)

Slice of Heaven, Des O'Leary (Mākaro Press)

The Stolen Stars of Matariki, Miriama Kamo, illustrated by Zak Waipara (Scholastic NZ)


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