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Sparking curiosity with non-fiction — NZCYA finalists

June 29th, 2020 By Anne Dickson

Children and teenagers today don't know how lucky they are. Today's non-fiction is vibrant and engaging compared to the dry, text-heavy tomes that I toiled through. Non-fiction books in my day (a long while ago) weren't appealing to read, we definitely didn’t read them for pleasure, and there was little in the way of New Zealand content to relate to.

Things are so different today. The finalists for the Elsie Locke Non-fiction Award in this year's New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are proof that we produce titles to a high standard, on a diverse range of subjects.

This blog post is the third 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.

Promotional poster for New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults Elsie Locke Award for Non-fiction 2020 finalists, with book cover images
Elsie Locke Award for Non-fiction 2020 finalists. Image via New Zealand Book Awards Trust.

The shortlist

Kuwi & Friends Māori Picture Dictionary

It was love at first sight. As soon as I held Kuwi & Friends Māori Picture Dictionary in my hands, I knew it had to come home with me. I open a different page every day above my working desk to help increase my Māori vocabulary.

This book is exactly what it says it is — a Māori picture dictionary. But the cheeky illustrations of Kuwi and his friends, comprehensive lists, and high production standards make it stand out. Much aroha went into the creation of this superb book by creator Kat Quin and translator Pānia Papa.


Selina Tusitala Marsh oozes mana, charm, wit, and intelligence in equal measure. You get all of that in Mophead. Subtitled 'How Your Difference Makes a Difference', this is the story of how Selina went from trying to fit in to embracing her identity as a Fast Talking PI.

Listening to Selina talk about her journey from Mophead to Poet Laureate (YouTube video, 44:37) is also inspiring. As with 'Mophead' and similar books, being different can be a good thing.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi / The Treaty of Waitangi

Te Tiriti o Waitangi / The Treaty of Waitangi is by Toby Morris, with Ross Calman and Mark Derby. As a Pākehā New Zealander on my own journey to appreciate and acknowledge te ao Māori, this book really resonated with me. I easily put myself in the place of the narrator learning about Te Tiriti and the impact of colonisation on the Māori and our history.

The graphic novel format will appeal to the whole family. My goal now is to improve my te reo Māori to the extent where I can read both sides of this reorua (bilingual) book.

The Adventures of Tupaia

Tupaia was not someone whose name I had heard of before. He was a Tahitian high priest, navigator, and artist who accompanied Captain Cook aboard the Endeavour in 1769. His story is vividly brought to life in The Adventures of Tupaia by Courtney Sina Meredith and illustrated by Mat Tait. The large-format book (which is also a finalist in the Russell Clark Award for Illustration category) is told in a mix of picture book and graphic novel. Its size brings a sense of importance to the history as it takes you on a voyage of discovery.

You can download the Book and Beyond guide for 'The Adventures of Tupaia' and use it as a tool for exploring the book with your students. And the publishers provide comprehensive teacher notes and resources.

This book is also a finalist for the Russell Clark Award for Illustration.

Three Kiwi Tales

The popularity of Storylines Notable Book How to Mend a Kea highlights our fondness for animal stories. Janet Hunt has returned to the Wildbase Hospital in her follow-up Three Kiwi Tales: More Fabulous Fix-It Tales From Wildbase Hospital.

This time we meet Latitude, Piwi, and Raratoka, three kiwis who need the vets' skills to hatch, heal, grow, and have the best chance of surviving back in the bush. As well as learning about one of our favourite native birds, we become invested in their lives.

Non-fiction with wide appeal

The 2020 finalists in this category demonstrate that the best of New Zealand’s children's non-fiction would not be out of place anywhere and on anyone’s bookshelf, regardless of their age.

Non-fiction texts … spark curiosity, help students develop a greater knowledge of the world, find out more about what interests them, and what's important to them.
Selecting and purchasing school resources

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