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Picture book magic — New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults

June 22nd, 2020 By Crissi Blair

Picture-book magic happens when we have that perfect combination of story and picture, each contributing to the overall experience, with strong characters, varied and impactful illustrations, and convincing, absorbing, and entertaining storylines.

Every one of the picture books shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults (NZCYA) has much to be admired and would make a terrific read-aloud. Check out our guide to reading aloud for hints on making this a regular part of your school routine, and start by exploring the exciting NZCYA selection.

This blog post is the first in a series reviewing books on the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults (NZCYA) shortlist in the run-up to the announcement of the award winners on 12 August.

New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults Picture Book Award 2020 Finalists — book covers and #NZCYA
Pictue Book Award 2020 finalists. Image via New Zealand Book Awards Trust.

The shortlisted picture books

Abigail and the Birth of the Sun

Children love to ask big questions and in Abigail and the Birth of the Sun by Matthew Cunningham and illustrator, Sarah Wilkins, Abigail asks a very big question: 'Where do the sun and the planets come from?'. It’s a major achievement to address such an enormous topic in the 32 pages of a picture book. Here, it's done with skill and a delight in language and illustration, which brings science and the magic of stardust together with the joy of discovery for a young audience.

This book might prompt some other big questions from young readers, and we encourage you to explore the shelves of your local or school library to find the answers. You could also access tools like AnyQuestions for live school work help from a librarian, and its associated Many Answers where you can find information about popular topics (like space). Topic Explorer also has lots of useful resources. Penguin has provided a teacher resource kit (pdf, 827KB) if you would like more ideas.

Mini Whinny: Goody Four-Shoes

Friendship issues are a common problem children face, and readers are sure to identify with Mini Whinny: Goody Four-Shoes. This is book two in the series about the feisty little pony, written by horse-mad Stacy Gregg, whose book 'Prince of Ponies' is a finalist in the junior fiction category. The hilarious illustrations are by Ruth Paul.

The antics of Mini Whinny and her friends will provide many opportunities to talk about big emotions like jealousy and ways to deal with those feelings. Ruth and Stacy have made a terrific video (YouTube video, 11:04) where they read the story, and talk about the illustrations and how the book was made. Ruth reads many of her other picture books on her YouTube channel too, including her 2018 NZCYA Picture Book Award winner I Am Jellyfish (YouTube video, 5:42).

How Māui Slowed the Sun

Rediscover the mythological story of How Māui Slowed the Sun, the second in Donovan Bixley's series about this famous Māori hero. Advice and translation by Dr Darryn Joseph (Ngāti Maniapoto) and Keri Opai (Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāti Te Ata, Waiohua, Ngāti Porou) ensures the accuracy of this traditional tale, whilst Donovan’s original style gives it a fresh, vibrant look and feel, bringing it right up to date.

You might find it interesting to compare different books about Māui. There are a number in the National Library’s Schools Lending Collection. Children might like to write and illustrate their own versions of a story. There are videos, images, articles, and websites about Māori myths and legends in Topic Explorer, and Donovan has a colouring page (jpg, 771KB) from the book to download from his website.

Santa's Worst Christmas

Santa's Worst Christmas by Pania Tahau-Hodges and Bryony Walker — part of the publishing team at Huia — gives us an excuse to enjoy Christmas all year round! Santa has cancelled Christmas and it takes an innovative crew of Kiwi kids to come up with a survival kit for Santa. Isobel Joy Te Aho-White's illustrations create identifiably Kiwi scenes, packed with detail and humour. Whānau is the key, with diverse family groups depicted in their houses, including Santa and his elves.

Perhaps readers will be inspired to draw their own homes and whānau on a special day. Who's there and what are they doing? The story includes not just the usual text, but also newspaper articles and letters, bringing multiple voices into the narrative. These are great ideas to incorporate in writing fun for kids — there are lots of different ways to tell a story. This story is part of TVNZ’s Goodnight Kiwi series.

'Santa's Worst Christmas is also a NZCYA finalist for the Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award, the Russell Clark Award for Illustration, and the Best First Book Award.

The Gobbledegook Book

The Gobbledegook Book is a sparkling anthology of Joy Cowley's poems and stories. Some, like 'Greedy Cat', are very well-known for their original illustrations, and it must have been a challenge for illustrator Giselle Clarkson to take on their recreation (read a great article about Giselle's task on the Gecko Press blog).

This exuberant collection is rich with delicious vocabulary, perfect for reading aloud, and the lively textured illustrations look like they have been loosely scribbled on the page, but are the result of ace digital skills. Joy is one of New Zealand’s most treasured writers and has great suggestions for story starters on her website for children who might be inspired to write themselves.

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