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BooksDecember 5, 2023

The Aotearoa books of the year for 2023


The best books published in New Zealand this year, according to a bunch of good readers and books editor Claire Mabey.

This year has been a big one for New Zealand publishing – I do not envy the current crop of Ockham NZ Book Awards judges their task of longlisting, shortlisting, and picking winners for next year’s accolades. Fiction was particularly strong, with recognisable names releasing quality new work, and the suite of debut novels unearthing a new generation of talent. Nonfiction – harder to get a grip on due to the enormous scope of the genre – produced a decent shelf’s worth for adults and for children.

Before we get to the best New Zealand books published this year, here are some succinct notes from a year of reading and publishing across 2023:

  • New Zealand women are at the forefront of fiction (see below).
  • New Zealand women are the forefront of nonfiction (see below).
  • BWB still own accessible nonfiction: they published the 100th book (and then kept going) in their massively successful Texts series, a publishing innovation that has introduced tens of thousands of Aotearoa readers to acutely intelligent, short nonfiction.
  • There were two significant cases of double-success: Catherine Chidgey had two novels in the bestseller lists for weeks (The Axeman’s Carnival and Pet); and poet essa may ranapiri won two prestigious awards: the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award for Poetry, and the Keri Hulme Award.
  • There was one significant case of Chloe Gong (author of the phenomenally successful Flesh and False Gods trilogy, and TikTok star) who, at the age of 21, has been named one of the year’s Forbes 30 under 30.
  • The most beautiful diary-esque/stationery-adjacent publication, hands down with no competition, goes to Whakawhetai Gratitude by Hira Nathan (Allen & Unwin NZ), a bilingual gratitude journal that is so fulsome and gorgeous it deserves a category of its own (which we have done here, listing in the notable observations).
  • Two cool online platforms arrived to help us buy books better. BookHub is “the first and only site in the English-speaking world that offers book buyers access to the inventory of independent bookstores nationwide, all in one place”. An absolute game-changer for finding and buying local. And Alphabet Book Club is a book order and delivery service specifically catering for young readers looking for positive LGBTQI+ representation. 

Books of the year: Fiction 

Audition by Pip Adam (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

This year’s favourite for me is Pip Adam’s Audition. It is unlike anything I’ve read before (Giants? Spaceships?) Don’t let this put you off though. Pip weaves an important narrative about punishment and power, about the failure of prisons, and what addressing harm in a transformative way might look like. And it’s a compelling read, journeying through a sensory layering of language and setting. / Jared Davidson, author of Blood & Dirt

Bird Life by Anna Smaill (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

The Chimes was one of my favourite novels in 2015 so it was with huge anticipation that I opened Bird Life. Smaill’s latest novel is another revelation and this time speaks deeply to the ravages of pain, and the surprising, surreal ways that it can manifest inside and between people. The writing is exquisite: it captures the beauty of the otherwordly, the horror of the real, and the precise strangeness of the every day. This is a close, but vast novel that you’ll think about for a long time. / Claire Mabey

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

A rip-roaring crime novel about billionaires looting the planet, and the infuriating, petty global, national and interpersonal politics that make us blind to that destruction. Luscious sentences, fun caricatures, perfectly paced catastrophes. Masterful work from one of our best ever writers. / Claire Mabey

Checkerboard Hill by Jade Kake (Huia) 

A standout Aotearoa read of 2023 for me is Checkerboard Hill (Huia) by Jade Kake (Ngāpuhi, Te Whakatōhea, Te Arawa). This book carries the reader across the proverbial “ditch” between Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, following the main character Ria, as she unravels and then pieces together past tensions as well as unfinished arguments, which nudge her forward, ever closer to the truth. Each page holds highly sensory and stunning visual descriptions, which are especially beautiful to read. / Anne-Marie Te Whiu, co-curator of the Aotearoa NZ Festival of the Arts’ writers programme, and editor of Woven

Dice by Claire Baylis (Allen & Unwin NZ)

There is rarely a day that goes by when I don’t think about Dice. This is a massive compliment to Claire Baylis’ novel, which doesn’t just capture how horrid a sexual assault trial can be, but the complete fallibility of a system which allows you to be judged by a jury of your peers. I worry about wandering into some of these characters on the street, others I would hug if I came across them, others I would give a sad, understanding nod. That’s great writing. / Sam Brooks, The Spinoff

I hated and loved Dice by Claire Baylis. It made me feel so sick and frustrated which is great. Books are meant to make you feel things. It felt so accurate and authentic. From the overt misogyny to the casual sexism to the casual racism… everyone sucked and I couldn’t stop reading even though I wanted to. It’s just so compelling. I can’t believe it’s a debut novel, rude to be that talented. / Emily Writes

Dream Girl by Joy Holley (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

I felt a mild unease when reading through Holley’s debut collection of short stories, Dream Girl. On the surface, most of the stories seem like they could have been pulled from diaries of young women from across Pōneke, but beneath that, there are ripples of the supernatural. With each new page, I waited to see how reality would bend just a little and blur the edges of our world. Heart-shaped beds, rats in the cupboard, strawberry picking and old abandoned schools under moonlight—Dream Girl is a collection of curiosities all displayed beautifully for our consumption. / Damien Levi, co-editor of Spoiled Fruit: an anthology of queer writing from Aotearoa

Everything is Beautiful and Everything Hurts by Josie Shapiro (Allen & Unwin NZ)

I wonder about how Shapiro’s leading character, Mickey Bloom, is getting on almost every day. This novel won the inaugural Allen & Unwin NZ prize for unpublished fiction, and anyone who reads it will discover why. Shapiro’s prose has air in it: her style lets the reader into Mickey Bloom’s story like a ghost between the lines. You’ll fall deeply for this character who shows you about endurance, resilience and surviving the brutal and the beauty of life. / Claire Mabey

Lioness by Emily Perkins (Bloomsbury)

I haven’t looked at Wellington quite the same again since I read this book. Lioness is a novel about reckonings both personal and political. The story of middle-aged Therese Thorn covers questions of agency and choice, wellness and realness, patriarchy and freedom. It asks: if you listen to the inner voice that analyses your life so far, and assesses potential futures available to it, would you be compelled to make a change? Complex, funny, poignant, high-stakes: everything you want from a novel. / Claire Mabey

Pet by Catherine Chidgey (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Chidgey is on fire. Hot on the heels of the Ockham-award winning The Axeman’s Carnival came Pet, a taut psychodrama about a young girl’s crush on a dazzling, manipulative teacher. You won’t be able to put Pet down. You’ll cringe, you’ll hold your breath, as you recognise, with creeping horror, the toxicity of institutions when they enable abuse and take advantage of the precious blindness of youth. / Claire Mabey

Ruin by Emma Hislop (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

A debut collection of stories from a writer who isn’t afraid to draw a reader into discomfort. Ruin uses different points of view, different settings across Aotearoa, and overseas, to explore violence physical, psychological, and unthinking between people. It’s not an easy set of stories to read but it brings forward the ongoing need to protect vulnerable people (particularly women and children) from unsafe power structures, and to reflect on how necessary it is to love, and love actively. / Claire Mabey

Some Things Wrong by Thomas Pors Koed (Volume Editions)

There aren’t enough experimental Édouard Levé-esque books published in Aotearoa. Koed, one of the duo behind Nelson’s fabulous Volume Books, creates a claustrophobic narrative with a rhythm built on staccato sentences, guilt, and repetition. Similar to that other brilliant novel from 2023, Pip Adam’s Audition, there’s a crushing sense of interiority. The focus however abruptly shifts from subject to object, recasting what we’d read beforehand. Koed describes himself as writing “unpopular fiction” but all I say is: More please! / Brannavan Gananalingam, author of Slow Down, You’re Here and other novels

The Bone Tree by Airana Ngarewa (Moa Press)

The Bone Tree is the sort of Māori novel that will get described by critics as “hard-hitting” and “gritty” – and to be fair, it is. But such descriptors don’t fully reflect the novel’s odd, dream-like quality. The world of The Bone Tree has the sleek simplicity of a fable, and despite the novel diving into deep recesses of trauma and injustice, Ngarewa writes in a way that connects earnestly with readers of all ages. Māori literature has often complicated labels like “young adult fiction”; The Bone Tree honours this tradition. It can – and should – be read by everyone. / Jordan Tricklebank, editor of Pūhia journal

The Words For Her by Thomasin Sleigh (Lawrence & Gibson)

They are there, but they are not. They are “gone”. They are gaps. Gaps in the photographs. Unseen by your phone. They have changed. Think this sounds surreal? It’s compelling. If you are going to read one novel this year, make it this one. The Words For Her is a master class in blending intriguing and intelligent ideas about images and words with the realistic grit of surviving as a solo parent in a small provincial town; complete with a twist of dystopia and societal collapse. / Stella Crystomou, bookseller at Volume, and author of I, Object

Turncoat by Tīhema Baker (Lawrence & Gibson)

One of the most talked-about novels of the year and a smash hit for publishing collective Lawrence & Gibson (who also published The Words for Her, above). Daniel is a human in a world colonised by now-governing aliens and who works for ChamCov, the department of Covenant Relations. What arises is a sci-fi/satire that illuminates the pains and mockumentary-style absurdities of Māori having to work for a government that continuously breaches te Tiriti o Waitangi. Required reading for Pākehā. / Claire Mabey

Books of the year: Poetry 

Āria by Jessica Hinerangi (Auckland University Press)

I’ve read a lot of great NZ books this year. Poetry always has a special place in my heart, and also, I will remember 2023 as the year of the mermaid. My favourite Aotearoa book of the year is Āria by Jessica Hinerangi. It has mermaids, it has Barbies, it has fun with friends, it has Captain Cook, it has incredibly poignant letters to tūpuna. I was blown away by the strong and powerful voice especially given it’s a debut collection. / Airini Beautrais, author of forthcoming essay collection The Beautiful Afternoon

Big Fat Brown Bitch by Tusiata Avia (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

The latest collection from one of Aotearoa’s greatest writers is furious, funny, urgent and beautiful. In part a response to the right-wing bullying she copped earlier this year, and in part a continuation of the project of showing it like it is, only with such art that the truth blooms and bleeds. Everybody should read Tusiata Avia. Her poetry should be prescribed reading in our schools, in our work places, in our homes. / Claire Mabey

Birdspeak by Arihia Latham (Anahera Press)

I’ve been listening to Arihia Latham’s poetry for years so it was a joy to receive her first collection of poetry this year. Birdspeak is a gorgeous reading experience. Latham writes into whakapapa and the physicality of a te ao Māori flow between body and whenua lifts from the page. As a Pākehā reader it is a privilege to hold this work. This interview between Ruby Solly (listed below) and Latham is a brilliant insight into both collections. / Claire Mabey

Root Leaf Flower Fruit by Bill Nelson (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Nelson’s book-length poem is an extraordinary act of art-making. The writing is visceral: Nelson writes the weather, the mud, the rain, the roots, the beats of bodies. There is a beautiful rendering of human cycles (interrupted as they are by death, injury, and emotional upheaval) against the entropy and flourishing of the land around and underneath. I was so impressed by the ambition and the beauty of this book. / Claire Mabey

Saga by Hannah Mettner (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

I thought I knew what I was getting into when I started Saga, but I wasn’t prepared for how it crawled inside me like an animal and made a nest. Every poem felt like a spell from a past life, a prayer women have whispered or screamed to each other over generations until it reached me. Reading Hannah’s poems is like having a conversation with the most intelligent, witty, attractive person at the party, except you can’t even hate them because they’re also really nice. I felt taken under their wing. / Ash Davida Jane, author of How to live with mammals, and publisher at Tender Press

Spoiled Fruit, edited by Damien Levi and Amber Esau (Āporo Press)

Takatāpui and queer writing in Aotearoa is blossoming with established and emerging writers who are absolutely smashing it. Spoiled Fruit, a book-form spinoff of the zesty journal bad apple gay, is a dynamic anthology featuring the work of some of Aotearoa’s emerging queer poets. It’s full of bold, irreverent and emotionally potent poetry, the kind that feels alive with power of possibility. This book feels like looking into the future. / Chris Tse, poet laureate of Aotearoa and The Spinoff’s poetry editor

Talia by Isla Huia (Dead Bird Books)

Isla Huia’s debut collection is a divine exploration into whakapapa, te taiao and connections through the past and into the present. This collection is dripping in hometown familiarity that will have you recalling your favourite lines for days. Huia skilfully navigates, taking us on a journey so rich in nostalgia but surprisingly fresh. Read this book, devour it in one sitting and feel the warm damp earth beneath your feet, sea salt spray against your skin. To read this collection is to look for beams of light bursting through the trees from deep within the ngahere. / Nicole Titihuia Hawkins, author of Whai

The Artist by Ruby Solly (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

Ruby Solly is a polymath and this collection of linked poems, interspersed with her own paintings, reveals her deep engagement with multiple art forms and with pūrākau of Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe, and Kāi Tahu. The book is mesmerising and hums with a musician’s ear for rhythm and cadence, which reminds me of brilliance of Keri Hulme. / Claire Mabey

Books of the year: Nonfiction

A Forager’s Life: Finding my Heart and Home in Nature by Helen Lehndorf (Harper Collins)

The narrative follows her overseas and home again, as she forms her political stance and her foraging expertise. Helen shows how nature weaves into all aspects of life, relationships, parenting, community, and how it heals, literally and emotionally, and gives purpose to everyday life. A gorgeous, thoughtful, funny and inspiring book that will give you a new appreciation of the humble dandelion. / Catherine Robertson, author of Pearl in a Whirl, Gabriel’s Bay and other books

Articulations by Henrietta Bollinger (Tender Press)

I loved this book. It’s slim but packs a punch. Bollinger is incredibly nimble with language: their essays dance between lists, long-form inquiries, and pithy, political flicks of the middle finger. The more I read this book the more I came to appreciate what a voice it has revealed. Essential reading. / Claire Mabey

Blood & Dirt by Jared Davidson (BWB)

Before this book I had never considered, or heard of, prison labour contributing to the built environment of Aotearoa New Zealand. This book is an essential history that will make you look with fresh eyes at the colonial project and the inequities of the justice system. / Claire Mabey

This book hits all the sweet spots for me – Aotearoa social history with a strong narrative drive. This is an important book about labour, capitalism, colonisation, and the crucial role that prisoners played in public infrastructure, with the idea that history should be challenging while leading to radical social change. Blood and Dirt is an exemplary example of what beautiful and intelligent publishing can look like in Aotearoa. / Kiran Dass, WORD Christchurch

End Times by Rebecca Priestley (Te Herenga Waka University Press)

I’d been looking forward to this book since Fifteen Million Years in Antarctica, which delivered to my imagination clear images of what it’s like to exist as a person on that great, white, vulnerable continent. End Times carries the same sensitivity to the big but fragile natural world. It’s also characteristically funny with wry observations of Priestley’s younger self and her earnest rebellions. An ode to friendship as much as it is an ode to timely, and sensible anxieties. / Claire Mabey

From Here to There by Joe Bennett (HarperCollins); The Queen’s Wife by Joanne Drayton (Penguin NZ); Untouchable Girls by Lynda and Jools Topp (Allen & Unwin)

Three outstanding memoirs coincidentally from the pink triangle and lavender menace corner. Singularly singular. Collectively enlightening. Plenty of protein and complex carbs. Each was galvanising. When I say galvanising I mean that I couldn’t be separated from them even at the Riverside Pool (our bathroom during some house repairs; in off-peak hours an aged bookseller can turn off the spa jets and open the windows and read in there). All three – in very different ways – hit those perfect notes of tragedy and comedy and all the quieter builds between. / Tilly Lloyd, legendary bookseller

Fungi of Aotearoa: A curious foragers field guide by Liv Sisson (Penguin NZ)

Now I have to admit, I don’t really buy a lot of books published in New Zealand, and generally I mostly collect cookbooks, but this book is something special, a perfect balance that feeds my food curiosity, a thoughtful documentation of Aotearoa’s diverse world of fungi and its importance in our world. The book is simple and engaging to read with bright colourful photography and helpful tips on how to best forage and cook edible mushrooms. This book genuinely makes you feel like going out to forage for mushrooms and gets you practising your senses out in the wild, using touch, sight, smell and eventually taste (the edible ones!). Even if you’re not a forager, the book looks great on the coffee table and house guests tend to always pick it up to have a gander. / Sam Low, author of Modern Chinese

Knowledge is a Blessing on Your Mind: Selected Writings, 1980-2020 by Dame Anne Salmond (Auckland University Press)

How refreshing to read something by someone who actually understands te Tiriti o Waitangi and isn’t hell-bent on re-writing it. This book reminded me that there are still Pākehā who seek to understand te ao Māori, and stand with us against ongoing attempts to colonise it – and, in Dame Anne Salmond’s case, have been doing so since well before I was born. An academic but timely read by one of our foremost Pākehā thinkers and writers. / Tīhema Baker, author of Turncoat

Laughing in the Dark by Barbara Else (Penguin NZ)

Fabulous cover that leads into an unputdownable memoir. I loved Else’s effortless writing style: her precision makes for a smooth read and allows for the heft of her experience of trying to exist under the thumb of the patriarchy (and then escaping it) sink right in. Michele A’Court wrote an excellent review for The Spinoff right here. / Claire Mabey

Modern Chinese by Sam Low (Allen & Unwin NZ)

I adore a well thought out, useable cookbook, but level that up again and you get Modern Chinese by Sam Low. Not only is it clever in terms of actual cooking stuff, it’s a book I hope sets a new bar for food publishing in Aotearoa. The recipes are clear, attainable, delicious. The Lowdown (hehehe) is such a simple, helpful addition to each recipe, it blows my mind I’ve never seen this done before. AND THEN… include beautiful prose (what I suspect will be a sneaky gateway for otherwise non-poetry readers), replace the stock “Asian” cookbook photographs of noodles with Actual Humans, and wrap it all up in a package of luscious visibility and celebration – perfection. / HJ Kilkelly, co-director of Ōtepoti Theatre and Writers Labs

Ora: Healing Ourselves: Indigenous Knowledge Healing and Wellbeing edited by Linda Tuhiwai Smith and Leonie Pihama (Huia)

In a world where anyone can start a podcast, call themselves a holistic healer and hashtag it #indigenouswisdom – we’ve never needed this book more! Based on research, this collection weaves together tikanga Māori and ancestral knowledge to assist in healing journeys. These wāhine Māori powerhouses have brought together indigenous leaders and practitioners from Aotearoa and across the world, to present this exceptional guide to wellbeing. If you’re a health worker or someone who has experienced trauma, get this pukapuka to get authentic, intelligent, indigenous Aunty wisdom. / Nicole Titihuia Hawkins, author of Whai

Rewi by Jade Kake and Jeremy Hansen (Massey University Press)

As someone who didn’t know who Rewi Thompson was, this book blew my mind. His visionary imagination made me think of Hilma af Klint and I now walk across Wellington’s City to Sea Bridge carrying a whole new appreciation for its meaning and purpose. Matariki Williams’ review, here, is an in-depth evaluation of the value of this book (with one of the best covers of the year). / Claire Mabey

The Financial Colonisation of Aotearoa by Catherine Comyn (Economic and Social Research Aotearoa)

This was a hard choice. I mostly read non-fiction and there’s been some stellar history books: Ryan Bodman’s Rugby League in New Zealand: A People’s History, Peter Meihana’s Privilege in Perpetuity, the latest edition of Te Pouhere Kōrero. While The Financial Colonisation of Aotearoa came out in November 2022, it made a splash this year thanks to its accessible price and its analysis of finance, colonisation and the dodgy dealings of the NZ Company. It’s both revealing and timely. / Jared Davidson, author of Blood & Dirt

There’s a cure for this by Emma Wehipeihana (Penguin NZ)

Continuing the curious global trend of doctors who are also exceptional writers, Wehipeihana’s exploration of motherhood and daughterhood; weaving through an experience-based dissection of the inequities of Aotearoa’s medical system, is both timely (politically) and timeless (personally). / Claire Mabey

Under the Weather by James Renwick (Harper Collins)

Our leading climate researcher gives a sober survey of what Aotearoa’s weather is heading towards and why. No punches withheld: fossil fuel companies still put profit ahead of people; right-wing politicos shuffle and sidestep. Rivetingly specific scenarios: we may see climate refugees from Hawkes Bay, Wairarapa, Canterbury. Emphatically contemporary: Cyclone Gabrielle and Auckland’s January floods feature. Also empowering: practical, immediate steps that individuals, firms, local and national government could / should take. Very lucid, very accessible, very necessary. / David Hill, author of Below, and other books

Books of the year: Children’s

Below by David Hill (middle grade novel, Penguin NZ)

Imagine – two kids who don’t get on, trapped in a caved-in tunnel. It’s flooding, nobody knows where they are, and the torch batteries are running out… Oh. My. God. I sobbed the whole way through it. I could feel the suffocating press of damp rock all around me. I imagined my own kids lost in the cold and dark, and sobbed even harder. I made them promise not to get trapped in a caved-in tunnel. They rolled their eyes, no doubt thinking of the time I’d made them promise never to volunteer as tribute. Read it and weep. / Steph Matuku, author of The Eight Gifts of te Wheke, Whetū Toa and the Hunt for Ramses and other books

Between the Flags by Rachel Fenton (young adult novel, The Cuba Press)

A girl, a drowning, a rescue, a comic. Fenton cleverly leads you into a story about striving, peer pressure, competitive sport, and being a teenager in today’s world with its “big issues”. And it is all these things, but at its core it is a gripping observation of grief and the many faces this can wear, told with tenderness and humour. Mako may be the comic book hero but Mandy Malham is unforgettable as she navigates difficult situations and overcomes trauma to move forward. Between the Flags is a powerful, affecting novel with a comic strip at its centre. / Stella Chrysostomou, bookseller at VOLUME and author of I, Object

How my Koro Became a Star by Brianne Te Paa with illustrations by Story Hemi-Morehouse (picture book, Huia)

This is a gorgeous story about family, tradition and how we can grieve, and celebrate, in our own way. I loved that is was the youngest in the family who took responsible for honouring her Koro, gently reminding her family of the important things in life: tradition, honour, and time. The illustrations by Story Hemi-Morehouse remind us why they are becoming one of NZ’s most sought-after illustrators! / Alan Dingley, Te Awhi Rito New Zealand Reading Ambassador

Iris & Me by Philippa Werry (young adult verse novel, The Cuba Press)

I wish I’d had this book when I was a teenager. Werry uses the verse novel form to explore the life of Aotearoa writer Robin Hyde (Iris Wilkinson) whose life was often incredibly sad but always interesting, and bold. Werry’s imaginative take leads the reader into Hyde’s life and holds you there from start to finish. A very deserving winner of this year’s Young Adult Fiction Award at the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. / Claire Mabey

My Aunt Honor, by Gillian Torkler and illustrated by Adele Jackson (picture book, Bateman)

My Aunt Honour is a welcome change for parents bored of princesses, fairies and unicorns. Beautifully illustrated with victory rolls, flounces and frills, this is a story full of female stereotypes without the handsome prince. While her friends stay home to knit scarves for the brave boys on the front line, Honor is off changing spark plugs for Royal Airforce planes. And although she gets blown up on the last page, that gory end can be carefully omitted by any mousey mothers. But we all know kids like the gory stuff. / Emily Broadmore, Folly Journal

Paku Manu Ariki Whakatakapōkai by Michaela Keeble, with her son Kerehi Grace, and illustrated by Tokerau Brown (picture book, Gecko Press)

It’s so so fun to read and it’s just so alive. My kids scream with laughter when I read it to them, even though we are now on the 500th or 80 millionth read. / Emily Writes

I’m cheating and choosing two children’s books as my favourites of the year because they both prove that books for kids can be fun and important. They’re both published by Gecko Press! The envelope-pushing picture book for older children, Paku Manu Ariki Whakatakapōkai, by Michaela Keeble and illustrated by Tokerau Brown, is utterly joyous and charming yet also manages to also invite discussions about our history, colonisation, decolonisation, mythology, and death – what the heck! / Jane Arthur, author of Calamities!

Patu: The New Zealand Wars by Gavin Bishop (picture book, Penguin NZ)

The kids and I have only just started reading Patu, so I can’t speak to its content. Based on its look and feel (fold out flaps!) and the excitement it caused in the house, this is our children’s book of the year. It’s always hard to convey a complex history in short form so the use of illustration and personal narrative in Patu is a great accomplishment. Plus we need more graphic novels about Aotearoa New Zealand history. / Jared Davidson, author of Blood & Dirt

Ringakōreko – Dazzlehands, by Sacha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan (picture book, Huia)

Meet one rainbowriffic swine, in a riotous picture book with infectious text that begs loud chanting. Everyone knows someone like this exuberant pig… someone with “train hands, rain, hands, fly it like a plane hands…” When its titular trotters are lain in the hands of one frustrated farmer, things get crazier than a 1970s disco. My only complaint is, you need more than two hands to turn the pages and do the actions, because – “Oi, te katoa!” – you’d have to be bacon not to join in. / Bee Trudgeon, Porirua Children’s Librarian Kaitiaki Pukapuka Tamariki

The Observologist: A handbook for mounting very small scientific expeditions by Giselle Clarkson (illustrated field guide, Gecko Press)

And the other book is Giselle Clarkson’s nonfiction stunner The Observologist, which introduces readers of all ages to the idea of closely observing our environment, no matter where that may be, and will spark compassion in every reader, unless you suck. And it is so, so funny, I almost died. / Jane Arthur, author of Calamities!

The Observologist floored me when I first opened it. Clarkson channels the child reader on each and every page which is designed to pique and feed curiosity. In a world that looks away and looks big so often, this book reminds you to look close, and small, and see universes. / Claire Mabey

Ultrawild: an audacious plan for rewilding every city on Earth by Steve Mushin (picture book/comic, Allen & Unwin)

This visionary, intricate, outrageous road map for integrated thinking could go above in the adult list too (hell, all of these books could. But the need for adults to read children’s books is another essay for another day). Mushin offers over 100 whacky yet plausible inventions that would allow plantlife and nature back into our human-led environments. It’s mind blowing. It’s funny, it’s a melding of engineering, hi-tech, botany, zoology and pure creative thinking. Required reading for everyone, most especially political leaders and those feeling like we’ve run out of ideas: this book proves we really haven’t. / Claire Mabey

All of these books, and many more, can be purchased at Unity Books Wellington and Auckland.

Keep going!