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Books: Who’s The Most Popular Kid in School? Power Ranking NZ Children’s Literature

Now that the dust has settled on the weekend’s Tinderbox Children’s Writers and Illustrators conference in Wellington, time to ask: who are the most powerful people in children’s literature?

Tricky thing, power. Are the most powerful people in the New Zealand children’s book world those that are recognised internationally as experts? Do they need to have started something big? Do they need to be rich – rich in money, or experience, or intelligence? Do they just have to have a pretty fricken awesome job?

The main thing is that people will listen to them and do things because they say so. NZ is well served with a thriving kids’ lit industry, and these people are influencing the stories that mould the hearts and minds of our youth. Underestimate their influence at your peril!

(For brevity’s sake, I haven’t included the library sector. There are so many amazing librarians out there that they need a list for themselves: over to you, SLANZA and LIANZA.)

The invisible person at the top of this list is, of course, Margaret Mahy: mother of NZ children’s literature, first and naming recipient of the Margaret Mahy Medal, who has also given her name to the top award in the NZCYA Book Awards. Responsible for beginning the golden days of NZ children’s literature.

1) Dame Joy Cowley

We don’t think that there is a literate child in New Zealand or indeed the US, UK, or Germany, who hasn’t read at least one book by Joy Cowley. In fact, the reason that many New Zealand children were turned on to reading was thanks to her – she began writing for children when her son was having difficulties learning to read. She’s won every award going for kids’ lit, plus a few for her novels for adults. Her first book for adults, Nest in a Fallen Tree was adapted by Roald Dahl into The Night Digger. She was appointed a Dame in 2005, and she is a patron of the Storylines Children’s Trust.

2) Kate De Goldi

Author, reviewer, Arts Foundation Laureate and all-round literary expert Kate De Goldi is somebody that everybody should listen to on the topic of children’s books. Author of three sophisticated picture books, plus 6 YA books (under both her mother’s maiden name, Kate Flannery, and her own name), her knowledge of children’s books both Kiwi and otherwise is redoubtable. She was the only person representing the NZ arts community on the NZ Flag Consideration Panel, for better or worse. She is also a regular on the Kim Hill Saturday show, reviewing children’s books. She’s won pretty much every award going, including the Corine Best International Book Prize Young Readers Award for The 10pm Question.

3) Ted Dawe

Who’s the NZ YA author everybody kinda wants to be right now? Ted Dawe has gone from relative obscurity to media megastar thanks to the ban of his book Into the River. The novel is now in demand all over the world.

4) Dame Wendy Pye Educational publisher Dame Wendy Pye began her company Sunshine Books in 1985, after being laid off at New Zealand News. She is the only living woman to have been inducted into the Business Hall of Fame. Sunshine Books has offices in eight countries, and sells into 20 countries. She is a multi-millionaire, and she mentors women who want to make a mark through New Zealand Global Women. She is certainly a powerful woman, but doesn’t shout about it here in NZ.

5) John McIntyre

Owner and manager of Wellington’s Children’s Bookshop, John McIntyre is a superpower in the world of bookselling, especially from a bookseller hailing from a 90s-style arcade in Kilbirnie. The success of the McIntyres’ shop is a testament to the power of community. They have created the ultimate children’s bookshop thanks to their outreach – John frequently talks to schools about the importance of reading. Almost every kid’s book author in NZ has been to John for advice at one stage or another – plenty of publishers do as well.

6) Lynette Evans

As publisher at Scholastic NZ, Lynette is in an extremely powerful position: it is her ultimate decision whether to publish or not, dozens of NZ authors each year. Scholastic has an output of around 40-50 New Zealand-produced books a year, which is well above the number of children’s books published by fellow global superpower Penguin Random House in NZ.

7) Kyle Mewburn

As only the second children’s writer to become President of the New Zealand Society of Authors, Kyle is surely one of the most high-profile faces of children’s literature right now. His day job is as a picture book and junior fiction writer who has more than 40 titles to his name. He lives in Miller’s Flat, Central Otago, which makes him a little tricky to move around the country; but he nonetheless represents the NZ Society of Authors on the Book Awards Trust, playing a key role in the changes being made to the NZ Children’s Book Awards.

8) Julia Marshall

Julia Marshall is not only a high-power kids’ lit person, she would also win the award for the fastest rise in the ranks of New Zealand publishing. She has gone from buying English rights to and translating a few international picture books in 2005 as Gecko Press was founded, to 10 years on, employing 3 staff and publishing 12-15 titles a year, 3-4 of them by mainly well-known New Zealand authors, like Joy Cowley and Gavin Bishop. Julia sits on the boards of the NZ Book Council and the Book Awards Trust, as well as the Publishers’ Association of New Zealand.

9) Christine Fernyhough

Christine is an author, businesswomen and philanthropist, responsible along with Alan Duff, for founding the Duffy Books in Homes programme; and also for founding the Gifted Kids programme. She is also a sponsor of the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Duffy Books in Schools is a Very Good Thing, and one that may not have existed had it not been for her backing. It now pulls in dozens of high-powered sponsors and role models, and sees over 510 low-decile schools and 220 early childhood centres each year being visited and given books to take home.

10) Libby Limbrick

Chairperson of the Storylines Children’s Literature Trust, and chair of the organising committee bringing the IBBY Congress to NZ in 2016. As teacher of post-graduate teaching courses, Libby has a huge reach in the world of children’s literature, but the real reason she is in our power chart is because she led the effort to raise an whole lot of money to allow NZ to host the IBBY Congress, which brings top international literacy experts, authors and more from 70+ countries to New Zealand. Here’s hoping this means mo’ money and more international rights sales for our authors.

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