All the books in this year’s Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Image: Tina Tiller.
All the books in this year’s Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Image: Tina Tiller.

BooksJune 6, 2024

Who’s on the shortlist for the 2024 NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults?

All the books in this year’s Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Image: Tina Tiller.
All the books in this year’s Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Image: Tina Tiller.

All the books still in the running for this year’s children’s book awards, with commentary from books editor Claire Mabey and student readers.

Our annual celebration of the best in children’s books has arrived and this year’s shortlist (which doubles as your curated book shopping list, and reminder that adults should be reading children’s books, too) whittled from 175 submissions by two expert judging panels features mighty names and mighty books: the likes of Joy Cowley, Gavin Bishop, Stacy Gregg, Donovan Bixley are all in the mix. We’ve dissected the categories with help from astute student readers whose comments come from a pool of over 500 reviews from 75 schools who participated in the judging process (with guidelines and review templates provided by the heroes at the Book Awards Trust).

First, a re-cap of categories and cash. There are six categories: Picture Book, Junior Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Non-Fiction, Illustration and te reo Māori. Winners are announced at a ceremony at Pipitea Marae in Wellington on August 14 and will each take home $8,500. Of those winners, one will be named the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and will receive an extra $8,500. The Best First Book prize winner gets $2,500. See all the gorgeous covers and more info over here at the awards website

Picture Book Award finalists 

At the Bach by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Hilary Jean Tapper (Gecko Press)

Dazzlehands by Sacha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan (Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Rongowhakaata, Te Whānau-a-Kai) (Huia Publishers)

Hatch and Match by Ruth Paul (Walker Books Australia)

Lucy and the Dark by Melinda Szymanik, illustrated by Vasanti Unka (Penguin Random House NZ)

Paku Manu Ariki Whakatakapōkai by Michaela Keeble, illustrated by Tokerau Brown (Gecko Press)

The shorter the form, the harder the task. Picture books only look easy because of the powerful skill of the writer and the illustrator combined, as each of these five books show. Ruth Paul’s stunning Hatch and Match is a celebration of colour and pattern and the fun of finding connections between them. Dazzlehands is a raucous, giggle-inducing story of a farmyard rebel who won’t conform (read our glowing review here). Paku Manu Ariki Whakatakapōkai commits to the voice of the young person who is asking questions about their world with expansive and expressive illustrations that burst with life (read an interview with the author, Michaela Keeble, on The Spinoff here). Lucy and the Dark is a classic tale of foe turned friend; and At the Bach is an exquisitely poetic ode to the beach and the pleasures of the salty, seaside.

Student thoughts:

“100 % LOL.” “We loved it. Even the boys.” (Kaurilands School on Dazzlehands)
“This book is so interesting all the way to the end.” (Mellons Bay School on At the Bay)
“I feel braver now. I won’t be scared going to bed tonight.” (St Mary’s School, Hastings, on Lucy and the Dark)

A spread from Paku Manu Ariki Whakatakapōkai. Illustration by Tokerau Brown.

Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Junior Fiction Award finalists

DoubleDippers! by Raymond McGrath (Scholastic New Zealand)

Lopini the Legend by Feana Tu‘akoi (Scholastic New Zealand)

Nine Girls by Stacy Gregg (Ngāti Mahuta, Ngāti Pūkeko, Ngāti Maru Hauraki) (Penguin Random House NZ)

Take Me to Your Leader by Leonie Agnew (Penguin Random House NZ)

The Grimmelings by Rachael King (Allen & Unwin)

We are in a golden age of junior and middle grade fiction with some absolute gems published in the last year. This list shows the exhilarating breadth of storytelling: from historic fiction (Stacy Gregg’s Nine Girls set in Ngāruawāhia); to folkloric mystery (Rachael King’s atmospheric The Grimmelings, reviewed on The Spinoff here); Feana Tu’akoi’s heartwarming classroom caper about the nature of perfectionism (Lopini the Legend); Leonie Agnew’s poignant alien adventure/rescue mission (Take Me to Your Leader); and Raymond McGrath’s graphic novel-esque story about kind little (and big) penguins (DoubleDippers!). These are the books that have the potential to hook a kid into the magical underworld of reading and change their inner worlds forever.

Student thoughts:

“I especially loved the talking eel because of his chill, easy to talk to attitude, and his overall knowledge vibes.” (Sumner School on Nine Girls)
“I love little blue and big blue! They seem very kind and sweet!” (Baverstock Oaks School on DoubleDippers!)
“I would recommend this book to other people. It is really good with good characters.” (Plimmerton School on Take me to Your Leader)

Young Adult Fiction Award finalists

Catch a Falling Star by Eileen Merriman (Penguin Random House NZ)

New Dawning by A M Dixon (One Tree House)

The Sparrow by Tessa Duder (Penguin Random House NZ)

Tonight, I Burn by Katharine J Adams (Hachette Aotearoa New Zealand)

Tsunami by Ned Wenlock (Earth’s End Publishing)

Wonderful line-up here with a mix of familiar names and new writers and a magnificent breadth of genre bearing all the hallmarks of YA: gripping, enriching, emotional, explorative, transformative. Particularly excellent to see Tsunami by Ned Wenlock on this list: a gorgeous, moving graphic novel by the country’s leading publisher of the form (read our in-depth interview about this extraordinary book, here). This list sees legendary Tessa Duder back with her historic novel, and prolific writer Eileen Merriman with the prequel to Catch Me When You Fall. Tonight, I Burn by Katharine J Adams is a gripping witchy wonder; and New Dawning: The Edge of Light by A M Dixon is the first book in a ripping new trilogy set in a future ravaged by climate disaster.

Student thoughts:

“I couldn’t put it down. I really, really enjoyed this book.” (Cashmere High School on New Dawning: The Edge of Light)
“If you’re searching for an engaging novel that will surely keep you up at night, then I strongly recommend this novel.” (McAuley College on The Sparrow)
“The book ended quickly, too quickly! I had it finished in two days!” (Rosehill College on Tsunami)

Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction Finalists

Patu: The New Zealand Wars by Gavin Bishop (Tainui, Ngāti Awa) (Penguin Random House NZ)

The Observologist: A Handbook for Mounting Very Small Scientific Expeditions by Giselle Clarkson (Gecko Press)

Tuatara: A Living Treasure by Katie Furze, illustrated by Ned Barraud (Scholastic New Zealand)

Ultrawild: An Audacious Plan to Rewild Every City on Earth by Steve Mushin (Allen & Unwin)

Wot Knot You Got? Mophead’s Guide to Life by Selina Tusitala Marsh (Auckland University Press)

Ultrawild by Steve Mushin is a must-have for every home, office and Parliamentary Library: the intricacy is mind-blowing and the optimism is an antidote in disastrous times. Mushin’s work (a collision of science, invention, environmentalism and art) shows how books labelled “for children” really means “for anyone hungry for inspiration”. Gavin Bishop is the one to beat in this category after cleaning up the awards in 2022, and Patu is another sweeping, majestic marvel with a remarkable origin story (read all about it on The Spinoff here). Giselle Clarkson‘s Observologist was one of our favourite books of 2023: a call to everyone to treat every environment with respect and curiosity and to see the magic in our tiny fellow Earthlings. It’s a funny, sweet and deeply learned adventure bible for the micro-outside and in. The latest in Selina Tusitala Marsh’s vital series of self-portraits in the form of children’s literature is just as vibrant, just as nurturing and fun (another for the “actually all ages and everyone needs this” category). Ned Barraud must have appeared on this shortlist so many times you’d need to use all four digits to count: Tuatara is as delightful and reverent of our precious world as they come.

Student thoughts:

“Every aspect of this book is an incredible work of art.” (Parawai School on Patu)
“The incorrect spelling was enjoyed: we found that to be fun.” (St Mary’s School Avondale on Wot Knot You Got)

Page spread from Wot Knot You Got? by Selina Tusitala Marsh.

Russell Clark Award for Illustration

Dazzlehands illustrated by Josh Morgan (Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Rongowhakaata, Te Whānau-a-Kai) (Huia Publishers)

Paku Manu Ariki Whakatakapōkai illustrated by Tokerau Brown (Gecko Press)

Patu: The New Zealand Wars illustrated by Gavin Bishop (Tainui, Ngāti Awa) (Penguin Random House NZ)

Samples from the Lab illustrated by Rob Foote (Creativity Unleashed)

The Dream Factory illustrated by Zak Ātea (Te Āti Awa Taranaki) (Huia Publishers)

An almost all-male line-up (4/5)! We’ll forgive it because the work in these books is exquisite: imagine if you could walk into those images? Tuck me up and put me to sleep among those colours: the joy, the feeling! Tokerau Brown’s illustrations, for example, are a revelation: the colours, the expanse, the flair, the sensitivity of the imagination revealed page by page. Zak Ātea’s illustrations on The Dream Factory (written by Steph Matuku) are so stunning they’re being whispered about in reverent tones. Josh Morgan’s work is pure joy: this is a farm like no other with cheeky 80s twists that I love so much. Gavin Bishop is Gavin Bishop, amen. And Rob Foote’s work in Samples from the Lab is old school specimen sketches turned hallucinogenic with a touch of Joanna Braithwaite. The judges will need to come down to how the artist has worked with the text; how the images tell their own story as well as enhancing what is written.

Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award Finalists

He Tārū Kahika by Melinda Szymanik, illustrated by Isobel Joy Te Aho-White (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu), translated by Pānia Papa (Ngāti Korokī Kahukura, Ngāti Mahuta) (Scholastic New Zealand)

Nani Jo me ngā Mokopuna Porohianga by Moira Wairama, illustrated by Margaret Tolland (Baggage Books)

Te Pīkari Pipi by Angie Belcher, illustrated by Lily Uivel, translated by Pānia Papa (Ngāti Korokī Kahukura, Ngāti Mahuta) (Scholastic New Zealand)

Te Pukapuka ka kore e Pānuihia by Tim Tipene (Ngāti Kurī, Te Uri-o-Hau, Ngāti Whātua), illustrated by Nicoletta Benella, translated by Kanapu Rangitauira (Te Arawa, Ngati Porou, Te Whakatohea) (Oratia Books)

Te Rā Kura Ki Aotearoa by Donovan Bixley, translated by Darryn Joseph (Ngāti Maniapoto, Rereahu) (Upstart Press)

With the revitalisation of te reo Māori in a pattern of exponential growth, we need a constant supply of beautiful books in te reo Māori to support tamariki and adult readers alike. This year we have intergenerational stories (Nani Jo me ngā Mokopuna Porohianga), books about trickster books and reading (Te Pukapuka ka kore e Pānuihia), books about starting school (Te Rā Kura Ki Aotearoa), gathering kaimoana (Te Pīkari Pipi), and books about the mysterious weather (He Tārū Kahika).

Student thoughts:
“He maha ngā tamariki o ahurea rerekē. Tēra pea koinā te kaupapa kōrero o te pukapuka.” (Te Kura Māori o Ngā Tapuwae on Te Rā Kura Ki Aotearoa)

NZSA Best First Book Award Finalists

A M Dixon New Dawning (One Tree House)

Tokerau Brown (illustrator)Paku Manu Ariki Whakatakapōkai (Gecko Press)

Tangaroa Paul (Muriwhenua) (author)Rere Atu Taku Poi! Let My Poi Fly! (Oratia Books)

Ned WenlockTsunami (Earth’s End Publishing)

Steve Mushin Ultrawild: An Audacious Plan to Rewild Every City on Earth (Allen & Unwin)

Congratulations to all authors, illustrators, translators and publishers. And thank you to the hard-working judges:

English and bilingual judging panel: Convenor of judges Maia Bennett (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Tūwharetoa), a public and secondary school librarian in Wānaka; Belinda Whyte, the Resource Teacher of Literacy for the Horowhenua region; Helen Wadsworth, co-owner of The Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop in Tāmaki Makaurau; Kitty Brown (Kāi Tahu, Waitaha, Kāti Mamoe, Ngāti Kahungunu), an award-winning author and an avid reader of children’s literature from Ōtepoti; and Mat Tait (Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō, Rangitāne o Wairau, Ngāti Kuia), a freelance artist, illustrator, writer and te reo Māori tutor based in the Motueka area.

Te reo Māori entries: Convenor Lawren Matrix (Tūhoe), the Whānau Learning Specialist for Auckland Council Libraries; Mihi Te Rina Henare (Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui), an Assistant Support Archivist at Archives New Zealand; Quintin Te Maari (Ngāti Porou, Tūhoe, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa), who is currently undertaking teacher training; and Mat Tait, who also brings his knowledge and experience to the Te Kura Pounamu panel.

And three cheers for those who make the awards possible: Creative New Zealand, Hell Pizza, the Wright Family Foundation, LIANZA Te Rau Herenga o Aotearoa, Wellington City Council, New Zealand Society of Authors Te Puni Kaituhi o Aotearoa, the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, the Mātātuhi Foundation, and Nielsen BookData. The Awards are administered by the New Zealand Book Awards Trust Te Ohu Tiaki i Te Rau Hiringa.

You can buy all of the books listed above at Unity Books Wellington and Auckland (including Little Unity, which is dedicated to children’s books).

Keep going!