Wednesday, 23 August 2017

NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults 2017

Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and Winners of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults Announced

(This is the press release from the NZ Booksellers Association, 15 Aug 2017.)

'Rich imagery, with compelling storytelling. It draws readers into the tale of Lewis Carroll’s poetry like never before,' say the judges of the winner of this year’s Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award in the prestigious New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Snark: Being a true history of the expedition that discovered the Snark and the Jabberwock . . . and its tragic aftermath also wins the Russell Clark Award for Illustration. Written and illustrated by Port Chalmers resident David Elliot, Snark is published by Otago University Press.
Pam Jones, convenor of the judging panel, says, 'Like Russell Clark, David Elliot has a clear wit that pervades his sketches. His draughtmanship is outstanding. However, it’s the cohesive way he has combined all elements of this book that won the judges over. David Elliot’s twist on Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poems is unique, and offers everything the reader could want – mystery, adventure and intrigue.'
The winners of the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults were announced at a ceremony on the evening of Monday, 14 August in Wellington. The awards are a unique celebration of the contribution New Zealand’s children’s authors and illustrators make to build national identity and cultural heritage.
The judging panel for the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults comprises children and young adults librarian, Pam Jones (convenor); education lecturer, Trish Brooking; author Ben Brown; reviewer and promoter of New Zealand children’s literature, Sarah Forster; and WORD Christchurch programme director and author, Rachael King. For the second year, the panel is joined by English academic, Professor Martin Salisbury, who is the advisor for the Russell Clark Award for Illustration.
The te reo Māori entries were judged by University of Auckland Kaitaiki Māori librarian, Riki-Lee Saua (convenor); Anahera Morehu, Library Manager Arts, Māori, and Pasifika Services at the University of Auckland Libraries and Learning Services; Principal Librarian Children’s and Young Adult Services at the HB Williams Memorial Library, Gisborne, Te Rangi Rangi Tangohau; and Rongo Waerea, the Māori Services Librarian at Auckland’s Otara Library.
The Picture Book Award winner is Juliette MacIver and illustrator Sarah Davis with That’s Not a Hippopotamus! “From beginning to end, this rambunctious picture book does not miss a beat. The illustrations are complex and clever. What made this book stand out for us were the diverse cultures depicted in the illustrations,” comment the judges.
Canterbury author Tania Roxborogh wins the Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction with My New Zealand Story: Bastion PointTania Roxborogh applies a deft and sensitive touch to this book, say the judges.  “Race relations in the 1970s are revealed to the reader through the eyes and heart of a young Maori girl wondering what is wrong with the grown-up world around her. Here the true craft of Tania Roxborogh’s writing is revealed. We can wonder with her.”
Maurice Gee wins the Copyright Licensing NZ Award for Young Adult Fiction with The Severed Land. “We knew we were in good hands as Maurice Gee’s elegant writing carried us along on an epic and archetypal adventure of warring families, colonialism, mysterious strangers and making allies out of enemies. Not a word is wasted in this taut, thrilling, often brutal and morally complex tale,” explain the judges.
Father and son Josh James Marcotte and Jack Marcotte win the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction with Jack and Charlie: Boys of the bush. The book provides vivid insights, from a child’s perspective, into the daily rhythms of life on the remote West Coast of the South Island. “The exceptionally vivid photography invites high levels of engagement and scrutiny. This book is a fine example of a non-fiction text that has cohesion, charm, and a capacity to captivate both children and older readers.”
The Te Kura Pounamu Award for the best book in te reo Māori is won by Sacha Cotter for Te Kaihanga Māpere, translated by Kawata Teepa and illustrated by Josh Morgan. The judges felt this book stood out not only for the excellent quality of Māori translation, but also for an inspiring storyline which celebrates a favourite Kiwi pastime and encourages young readers to follow their dreams and persevere in all they do.
The Best First Book Award winner is Julie Lamb for The Discombobulated Life of Summer Rain. The judges hope that this book marks the beginning of a long career in children’s writing for this author. “The limitless boundaries of friendship and family are explored, and the plot is expertly woven.”
The full list of winners of the 2017 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is:
Margaret Mahy Book of the Year (prize: $7,500) and winner of the Russell Clark Award for Illustration (prize: $7,500)
Snark Being a true history of the expedition that discovered the Snark and the Jabberwock . . . and its tragic aftermath illustrated and written (after Lewis Carroll) by David Elliot; Otago University Press
Picture Book Award: Prize $7,500
That’s Not a Hippopotamus! by Juliette MacIver and illustrated by Sarah Davis; Gecko Press
Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction: Prize $7,500
My New Zealand Story: Bastion Point by Tania Roxborogh; Scholastic New Zealand
Copyright Licensing NZ Award for Young Adult Fiction: $7,500
The Severed Land by Maurice Gee; Penguin Random House (Penguin)
Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction: Prize $7,500
Jack and Charlie: Boys of the bush by Jack Marcotte and Josh James Marcotte; Penguin Random House (Puffin)
Te Kura Pounamu Award for the best book in Te Reo Māori: Prize $7,500
Te Kaihanga Māpere by Sacha Cotter, translated by Kawata Teepa and illustrated by Josh Morgan; Huia Publishers
Best First Book Award: Prize $2,000
The Discombobulated Life of Summer Rain by Julie Lamb; Mākaro Press (Submarine)
'This year’s winners have produced rich, evocative and engaging books. In these titles we have a platter of delicious reads that celebrate our unique New Zealand culture and showcase delightful characters who will entertain a wide spectrum of readers and non-readers alike. Much praise must also go to the publishers of some truly beautiful editions that will undoubtedly enhance the readers' experience, in a way the e-book versions never could. New Zealand children and young adult publishing is in good heart,' concludes Pam Jones.
An integral part of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is the HELL Reading Challenge, now in its fourth year. Children are encouraged to read all the finalists’ titles through their schools or local library and are rewarded with free pizza. So far this year, 212,000 pizza wheels have been distributed.
The New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are made possible through the generosity, commitment and vision of funders and sponsors: Creative New Zealand, HELL Pizza, Book Tokens (NZ) Ltd, Copyright Licensing NZ Ltd, LIANZA, Wellington City Council and Nielsen Book. The awards are administered for the New Zealand Book Awards Trust by the New Zealand Book Council.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Nga Atua: Maori Gods Robyn Kahukiwa

 Nga Atua: Maori Gods  Robyn Kahukiwa (text & ill)   
Oratia Books (2017)
32 pages, Hardback NZ$25
ISBN 978 0 947506 26 1

This book fills a need so perfectly that it is hard to know why nobody thought of it before. Our
bookshelves are full of books retelling Maori myths and legends but this is the first book to provide a simple guide to the Polynesian pantheon.
Robyn Kahukiwa has brought together her colourful illustrations of the key gods and her equally dramatic pen portraits of their personalities and powers.
She doesn’t retell the classic myths; instead she describes some of the key participants.
Hinemoana is a powerful being. She looks after the sea with Tangaroa.’ The accompanying illustration shows Hinemoana underwater, shimmering in shades of blue and green, arm-in-arm with a taniwha. Both look as if they had just stepped off the wall panel of a meeting house. The result is a lively and attractive introduction to the gods who figure so largely in our shared mythology, our place-names, our traditions and our culture.
In creating this book as a special gift for her then six-year-old grandson, Kahu, Robyn Kahukiwa has also made a special taonga for all young New Zealanders.

Trevor Agnew
22 June 2017

Sunday, 11 June 2017

John McIntyre

John McIntyre - Booklover
Died 10 June 2017, aged 65

John McIntyre wasn’t just an advocate of children’s books; he wasn’t just a person who believed that
Ruth & John McIntyre,
Children's Bookshop, Kilbirnie, Wellington, NZ, Nov 2011. 
reading was important for kids. John was different; he was somebody who got up and did something about that belief.

He and his wife Ruth took a brave and perilous step when they opened their Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie 25 years ago. Just to have succeeded in that business would have been sufficient achievement in itself.

But John (and Ruth) – and please imagine that the words “and Ruth” reappear throughout this note – went far beyond bookselling. They became a focus of children’s literature, both locally and nationally. The Children’s Bookshop was a place where you got good advice from people who had actually read the books.

The shop was much more than a shop. It was also a meeting place, where visits by writers were organised, so that children could meet the authors and artists who created their books. John also drove writers around schools and sometimes he was the one who rang the schools to arrange those visits. Book launches and other literary celebrations were held in the bookshop, and it was a rare one where John’s voice wasn’t heard singing the praises of a book.

When he agreed to review books for Radio New Zealand, John showed another of his talents. John understood people. He refused to take any payment for all those radio talks. He explained his reasoning to me. If he had been paid, sooner or later some bean-counter would have sacked him to save money. Since he was free, he would be allowed to carry on. And he was. For over fifteen years he recorded his book talks. Over 300 of them; perhaps a thousand books in all.

His motto was “I don’t see myself as a reviewer; I’m a cheerleader.” John always refused to comment on books he disliked. This was because - as John put it, “Life is too short to drink bad wine or read bad books.” (Because of his kidney transplant, John didn't drink wine, but he knew a good saying when he met one.)

Look at any aspect of books for young people and John was there. He was a judge of the Children’s Book Awards. He campaigned to get Margaret Mahy’s early books back into print. He spoke up against bigotry and censorship. 

Life was too short for John. He had to fight serious health issues but he never allowed them to limit his enthusiastic support for the causes he loved.  And in turn, he was loved by radio listeners, by parents, by teachers, by book-buying parents and grandparents, by writers, by illustrators, by librarians, by publishers. Above all he was appreciated by the young people into whose hands he guided the right book.

His enthusiasm, his family values, his generosity of spirit, his belief that we should trust young people, his love of a good well-told story – all of these were important aspects of that lovely man we knew as John McIntyre. 

He was a great role-model. It has been an honour and a pleasure to know him.
- Trevor Agnew       

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Reo Pepi Rua (2): Colours, Counting, Shapes

Reo Pepi Rua (2) (2017):
Nga Tae - Colours   
Te Kaute – Counting
Nga Ahua - Shapes   
Kitty Brown & Kirsten Parkinson
Board books, each 22 pages
NZ$18 each

Contact Details:

One of the pleasures of the reviewing life is seeing self-publishers achieve success. Back in 2015 two cousins from the Otago Peninsula, artist Kitty Brown and writer Kirsten Parkinson, saw a need for Maori language resources for the very young. What made them special was that they had the determination, skills and drive to get three delightful board books published.

The three - Kanohi - My Face, Kararehe – Animals, and Kakahu – Getting Dressed – are bilingual books offering a set of familiar images, each with appropriate sentences (‘Put on your socks.’ ‘Where are your ears?’) in both Maori and English. [More information at the publishers’ website]

The cousins’ publishing operation is called Reo Pepi, which can be translated formally as Baby Language, but can also be rendered as baby talk, which is what their books encourage.

Those first three books have sold well and two reprints and 5000 copies later, three new volumes have also been published.  Given the series title of Reo Pepi-Rua [2], these new books are in the same easy-to-handle, round-cornered, board-book format. Their titles are:
Nga Tae - Colours   
Te Kaute - Counting
Nga Ahua - Shapes   

 Parents themselves, Kitty and Kirsten have created books which encourage interaction between adult and child.  Nga Tae – Colours uses a series of familiar insects to pose questions about their colour.   
He aha te tae o te huhu?  He ma.
What colour is the huhu grub?  White.

Ten colours later – from whero to parauri – the book offers a very clear phonetic pronunciation guide, as well as a glossary and translations. On the facing page there is an easy-to-point-at set of labelled colours. These books are well-designed and easy to hold in tiny hands. The board book format is sturdy and resists chewing.
The same well-thought-out design is followed in the other two books

Te Kaute – Counting presents familiar toys to be counted
E hia nga karetao?  E ono.
How many robots?  Six.
The pictures show toys that real kids have obviously owned and inflicted loving wear-and tear on.
There is a comfortable sense of recognition at each turn of the page.

 Nga Ahua - Shapes has the trickiest set of concepts to illustrate but it rises to the challenge by offering familiar shapes concealed in familiar settings or objects. I particularly appreciated this entry:
Rapua nga tapaono.
Find the hexagons.
The illustration shows a toolbox with plenty of six-sided items. Needless to say, the usual services are offered at the back of these two books.

Of all the illustrations the one I liked best was the picture of two Toroa (royal albatrosses) on Taiaroa Head. They depict the manawa (heart) shape but you’ll have to read the book to see why.

Or get a three-year-old to read it to you.

Trevor Agnew
15 April 2017


Friday, 14 April 2017

The Changeover

The Changeover
Margaret Mahy 1984 (re-issue 2017)
218 pages
Paperback NZ$20
[Ebook NZ$10]
ISBN 978 1 86971 355 3

It was an amazingly enriching experience to be typing up my thoughts on The Changeover while listening to Bridget Mahy and Miranda Harcourt being interviewed by Charlotte Graham on RNZ National’s Saturday morning about both the novel and the forthcoming film. Bridget recalled her mother reading drafts to her as part of the creative process, while Miranda’s first experience of The Changeover was narrating a 20-part radio version when she was a young actor. Now she and her husband, Stuart McKenzie, are in the process of editing their finished film.   

In their discussion (which can still be heard via the RNZ website at ) they mentioned the excitement for New Zealanders of encountering local places and faces in fiction. Charlotte quoted from Elizabeth Knox’s superb introduction to this edition, “I was thrilled by the appearance of the local in a book of fantasy.” Bridget responded that we all love to read some aspect of our own world or to have it come back to us through writers’ interpretations. Just so.

Much has changed since The Changeover was first published in 1984. On re-reading the first page, I was struck by Laura’s examination of her shampoo bottle, specifically the contrast between the exotic “Paris” label and its mundane footnote “Made in New Zealand, Wisdom Laboratories, Paraparaumu.”  Today’s young New Zealand readers will never experience the exciting jolt that the metaphorical “Made in New Zealand” once brought to us back then. Much of our reading material came to us from overseas and we all developed the Kiwi trick of being able to instantly spot the capitals N and Z in any page of text.

For New Zealand writers, overseas publication was proof of success. In the 1980s Margaret Mahy was one of the few who had seized that elusive golden ring. True, some of her poems and picture books had an English feel to them – a reflection of the way our schools, our culture, our world, functioned then. Yet here was The Changeover with its brazen declaration of difference. Not just made in New Zealand but in Paraparaumu; the unlikely pairing with Paris a reminder that Margaret Mahy was always a skilled practitioner of word magic.

Margaret Mahy also knew how to create plots with all the power of ancient mythology. And she knew how to create characters so real that they seemed to live in the next street.  We have all met a Laura somewhere.  In The Changeover, Laura Chant is the teenage daughter who is feeling overlooked, while her harassed solo mother, Kate, struggles to cope with all the pressures of a limited budget, thankless job, and recalcitrant car. Left to mind her young brother, Jacko, put-upon Laura becomes aware of a strange otherness – a sense of being warned of danger by her older self. The messages seem to come through her reflections in mirrors – the first of many echoes of old folk tales.

Laura is worried. Do her strange insights make her a witch? Perhaps her school prefect, the enigmatic Sorry Carlisle is a witch? Her sense of dread seems to involve her beloved brother Jacko and, sure enough, in Carmody Braque’s tiny toyshop, she senses “something very wrong and unable to conceal its wrongness.

In a parody of the librarian stamping an animal onto Jacko’s right hand, the sinister Braque stamps his own image onto Jacko’s left hand. (Sinister indeed.) “Mr Braque pounced with great agility, like an elderly mantis on an innocent fly.” This is only one of many superb similes and marvellous metaphors that lie in wait for the reader.

In the days that follow, as all Jacko’s vigour is sucked from him, we see Laura blaming herself for failing to protect her brother and desperately seeking a way to save him.  It is marvellous – Mahyian, in fact - the way that the story uses commonplace things to suggest supernatural menace and danger: the feel of wool and the smell of peppermint. Even Laura’s homework reflects her feelings: “time divided by fear multiplied by imagination and so on.”  

 The skilful use of references to folk tales and fairy stories is another powerful aspect of The Changeover. Laura thinks of Red Riding Hood and the wolf when she sees Sorry Carlisle, while poor Jacko, his vitality being drained away, says, “I don’t like it. Fox eat up gingerbread boy.” Sleeping Beauty, Bluebeard, the looking glass, Oz, the wicked wolf, the spider’s parlour, and the three bears are conjured up throughout the story. All this timeless evocation is happening in a raw new subdivision in a city which is recognisably Christchurch; the ability to meld the mythical and mundane so seamlessly is all part of the Mahy word magic.

Ancient symbols are committed to modern wires,” is how Laura puts it when Sorry’s grandmother swears an oath over the telephone. (In 1984 phones needed copper wires.) And so the battle between Braque and Laura, which began so simply with a stamp, becomes an all-consuming crusade which changes Laura forever.

It is also an extremely enjoyable story, still fresh after 33 years. And it will make an extremely enjoyable film.

Trevor Agnew
15 April 2017

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Flight Path David Hill

Flight Path
David Hill
Puffin NZ$20
Reviewed by Trevor Agnew
Some of David Hill’s best writing has been seen in his recent military history series of YA novels.  Brave Company (2013) showed young readers what navy life in a war zone was like and taught a lesson about real courage. Enemy Camp (2016) cast light on a little-known tragedy in New Zealand’s history, where misunderstandings and conflicting cultural attitudes in a prisoner-of-war camp had fatal results. The strongest of these novels, My Brother’s War (2012) vividly reflected the split in New Zealand society created by the controversy over conscientious objectors in the Great War.
With the Navy, the Home Front and the Army taken care of, that only leaves the Air Force.
In Flight Path, Hill has taken one of the war’s most long-running controversies – the role of Bomber Command.
Like many New Zealanders joining the RAF, Jack Sinclair has done his flight training in Canada and he arrives in Britain as preparations begin for D-Day. He and his fellow Lancaster crewmen are amazingly young – Jack is only 18 and the oldest is 21. They are also a cosmopolitan bunch, with an English pilot, a Free Polish co-pilot, an Australian radio operator and three New Zealanders (including twins from Christchurch) manning the guns and doing the navigation. Jack is the bomb-aimer, which means he has a bird’s eye view of the destruction 489 Squadron sows nightly over occupied Europe. Here, their plane takes part in a raid on the battleship Tirpitz: Flak curved upwards out of the whiteness. Ahead of them, the left wing of a Wellington disintegrated.  The bomber staggered, then cartwheeled down, smashing into the fjord’s rocky sides. Flames from ruptured fuel tanks hurtled towards the water in a fiery sheet. No parachutes; no survivors.”
His experiences and the scenes he witnesses force Jack to think hard about the conflict and the deaths that constantly surround them. The novel provides a good range of attitudes to the war and its effect on people. There is a gentle romantic thread as jack learns about girls. Jack also learns a lot about how people behave (and misbehave) under stress. Booze and the black market become facts of life.
Then there is the mental strain of mission after mission.  A temporary replacement gunner cracks under the stress. “Colin stood, head down, still shaking.” Colin is dishonourably discharged. Nightmares of being trapped in a burning plane begin to haunt Jack.
Hill has researched well and raises his narrative far above the old war-comic level. There are moments of bravery – Jack booting at a stuck bomb-load to clear the bomb bay – but he merely reflects, “We have jobs and we have to do what we’re told in those jobs…”
Another strong feature of this story is the trust the flight crew have in each other; they rely on the combination of all their specialist skills to survive. (Hill has always excelled at stories about team-work.)
The concluding chapters, where death seems likely are particularly exciting and contain an unexpected insight into wartime attitudes. Flight Path is a well-written and exciting story with a strong message.
- Trevor Agnew

March 2017

Monday, 13 February 2017

Snark David Elliot

Snark  David Elliot

Snark: Being a true history of the expedition that discovered the Snark and the Jabberwock…and its tragic aftermath
University of Otago Press (2016)
Hardback, 220 pages
ISBN 978 1 877578 94 6

David Elliot is a skilled artist and well-read , witty writer. Had he wished, he could have simply illustrated Lewis Carroll’s poem, The Hunting of the Snark. Equally, he could have simply written a scholarly essay analysing that curious poem’s meanings, origins and interpretations. Fortunately for us, he has done something quite different and instead created a modern masterpiece.

Using all the skills of a master forger, Elliot has constructed a plausible and compelling document, an illustrated journal of a strange voyage, a Victorian quest for a legendary creature. The journal – allegedly in its 42nd edition – was written by “The Boots,” the youngest member of a band of explorers known only by their occupation titles. The leader is the sinister obsessed Bellman and his other followers are a Barrister, a Broker, a Bonnet-maker, a Banker, a Billiard-marker and a lace-making beaver.

The Boots not only kept a journal of the expedition’s quirky and ill-fated voyage but also drew a range of sketches which combine sharp observation with great beauty. All of these illustrations are reproduced along with a remarkable range of charts, maps, diagrams. There are also scholarly footnotes assembled over the previous 41 editions casting light on everything from Boojums to bugles. The full text of Jabberwocky and The Hunting of the Snark are included, proving clearly that Charles Dodson knew about the horrifying outcome of the ill-fated expedition and used his Lewis Carroll persona to pen a pair of puzzle poems that use nonsense, word-play and riddles to conceal a genuine quest.

The result is enormously enjoyable in several ways.  Snark is an enjoyable adventure in itself, a cheerful concordance to Carroll’s writing and a thoroughly enjoyable exercise in fantasy-world-building. The footnotes are mad excursions into the wilder realms of Victorian exploration, which add to the feeling that everything Carroll described really happened. Or at least, Elliot carries us along on his powerful locomotive of imagination to a full enjoyment of the whimsical but heroic quest. David Elliot has done it again.

 P.S. With its authentic-seeming preface, tide-charts, and engravings of thimbles, skeletons, steamships, sundials, and sea-creatures, not to mention Tasmanian tigers and Moa, Snark seems likely to be taken seriously by some naïve reader. Watch out for the first to fall for this glorious literary spoof.

Trevor Agnew

14 Feb 2017