Selfie with self-portrait (Photo: Selina Tusitala Marsh)

This children’s book awards speech is the happy cry you need right now

Announcing the winners of the 2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. 

The supreme prize of the night, the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award, goes to Selina Tusitala Marsh for her super-personal picture book, Mophead.

Mophead is memoir and clapback and wild doodle; it’s the story of what it felt like to be a little girl with big hair, and how she grew into it, and became our Poet Laureate. It’s orange and black and white and it’s printed on lovely thick cartridge. Dedication: “For those who stick out.” (We have just published this piece about it, by another girl with big hair.)

Here’s a snippet from the press release, covering what the judges said:

Mophead is “clever, joyful and inspiring, with not a smidgen of pretension or condescension”. They went as far as calling the book “perfect” – describing it as a taonga that should be placed in the hands of every child in Aotearoa, especially young Pasifika children who might not yet know their own creative power.

“We love this book’s design and production. We love that it’s part picture book, part graphic novel, part memoir, part poem – its form is exactly what it wants and needs to be, which is the message of the book too,” says convenor of judges Jane Arthur.

Enough waffle. Watch Selina Tusitala Marsh and be glad you did.

Mophead also won the Elsie Locke Award for Non-fiction, against a strong field – including bestselling comic book Te Tiriti o Waitangi / The Treaty of Waitangi, by Ross Calman and Mark Derby, illustrated by little-known graphic artist Toby Morris.

Abigail and the Birth of the Sun was named best picture book, most notably above the ginormous scarlet anthology The Gobbledegook Book, by Joy Cowley and Giselle Clarkson. Matthew Cunningham wrote Abigail and Sarah Wilkins illustrated; it’s a simple, sweet story about an old star and a girl who can’t sleep and it has lovely relatable lines like: “Then, all of a sudden, she felt a rumbling from deep within her chest … at first it was a little rumble, like a kitten purring. But soon her chest was roaring like a thunderstorm.” Every word scans. The narrative takes a pleasing, easy orbit and the illustrations are magic-garden gorgeous.

Part of a spread from Abigail and the Sun (Image: Sarah Wilkins)

The Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction rightly went to Lizard’s Tale by Weng Wai Chan – we’ll have a review up shortly. Sample quote: “For me, the most remarkable, and special thing about this book, is the touching melancholy of it, and how it sneaks up on you. To be real for a moment: A story that is set in 1940 in Singapore, that wraps up before 1941 in Singapore, has a hypothetical fourth act that isn’t going to get any better.”

Damien Wilkins loped off with the Young Adult Fiction Award for his slim, golden novel Aspiring, which started life as a short story. We love Aspiring but we also had a huge soft spot for Afakasi Woman, by Lani Wendt Young – this category was so strong it’s a wonder the judges didn’t pull a Booker and split the prize.

A languid spread from The Adventures of Tupaia (Image: Mat Tait)

Mat Tait won the Russell Clark Award for Illustration for his work on The Adventures of Tupaia. The judges said the illustrations had “an urgent fire in their belly”. We interviewed the book’s author Courtney Sina Meredith a lifetime ago, in October; she told us she cried every time she read it.

Tio Tiamu, an interestingly stretched-up-tall book about a kind giant with stinky toe jam, won the Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for te reo Māori. From the press release: “The panel of judges convened by Te Rōpū Whakahau said this ageless and weighty story dealt with universal themes, but at the same time was steeped in whakaaro Māori.”

And the prize for the best first book went to Michael Petherick for the bright and breezy graphic novel slash grab-box of goodness, #Tumeke!

Tumeke! Each category award, including the Margaret Mahy prize, comes with a sweet $7500, except for the best first book winner who gets $2000. But the money’s not the point, eh? These are books that lift our kids up, that calm them down, that show them they can grow up to kick ass  – and that they can certainly get through whatever we all wake up to tomorrow.

All of these books can be ordered from Unity Books Wellington and Auckland. The awards ceremony for the 2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults was held online; you can watch it via YouTube or Facebook




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