2022 NZCYA Book Awards: Winners Announced!

August is always an extremely exciting time of year for us, as it heralds the announcement of the winners of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults! This year, the Supreme Winner was accomplished author and illustrator Gavin Bishop, for his book Atua: Māori Gods and HeroesAtua, which not only won the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award, but also the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction as well as the Russell Clark Award for Illustration, is a special taonga that deserves a place on the shelf of every whānau in the land.

Find Atua, and the books that won the other categories on the night, on our catalogue below:


Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award; Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction; Russell Clark Award for Illustration

Atua : Māori gods and heroes / Bishop, Gavin

Judges’ comments: Atua is an instant classic, a ‘must have’ for every Kiwi household and library, that is packaged in stunning production values. Every element of this generously-sized masterpiece is carefully considered. With impeccable illustrations in Gavin Bishop’s unmistakeable style, it captures the personalities of the many gods and heroes. Each section has a fresh look, from the dense matte blackness of the first pages reflecting Te Kore, nothingness, to the startling blue backgrounds of the migration, with the glorious Te Rā — the sun, between… [Read more on the New Zealand Book Awards Trust website]

Our thoughts: We are extremely excited to see this book take the top prize. The detail in each meticulously-presented illustration will keep you hunting for more, while the masterful simplicity of the text is the work of a storeteller at the top of his game. Reading Atua is like sitting down at a campfire with a favourite uncle, eyes closed, listening to the stories of the past and being transported into them yourself by the skill of the orator. Ka rawe, Gavin — you have given us a taonga to be treasured always.


Picture Book Award

Lion guards the cake / Paul, Ruth

Judges’ comments: If a good picture book is a symbiosis of story and illustration, a stand-out picture book is one which includes that all-important third symbiotic element — the reader. Lion Guards the Cake is a sweetly irresistible story that invites readers to be both witness and accomplice to Lion’s furtive adventures and faux heroism as he upends the notion of duty. Its faultless, inventive rhyme, complemented by rich, silhouetted illustrations, engages the reader with effortless ease and a twinkle in its eye. This is confident storytelling of the highest calibre — a joyful read-out-loud which also rewards a more intimate and leisurely reading.

Our thoughts: We’re big fans of Ruth Paul here at Wellington City Libraries (she is a local author, after all!) and are really thrilled that this book has been recognised by the Awards. We predict this book will be a favourite bed-time read for ages to come, as it’s already a favourite for storytime in our libraries — it’s impossible not to feel some kinship with this cheeky lion as he fabricates more and more reasons why perhaps just a little bit more of the cake needs to be nibbled away… it’s a sacrifice, but someone’s got to do it!


Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction

The memory thief / Agnew, Leonie

Judges’ comments: From its eye-catching cover to the final conclusion, The Memory Thief is a stunning story that captures the reader early and holds them in an embrace of wonder, intrigue and imagination […] Unique but perfectly believable at the same time, The Memory Thief steps into another world whilst still inside our own. Memories themselves are both villains and heroes as they are taken or returned. The handling of a common illness, with its thought-provoking and original twist, is deftly handled and beautifully written.

Our thoughts: Junior Fiction is always a packed field — there are so many authors writing amazing chapter books for tamariki that it can be hard to choose a winner! The Memory Thief was a standout for us right away, however. The writing at times felt like Margaret Mahy — there’s an obvious love for the magic and mystery of language that resides at the heart of this book that encourages the reader to linger, just for the joy of feeling how the words all mesh and meld together. And it’s a rollicking good story to boot! An excellent book well-deserving of this award.


Young Adult Fiction Award

Learning to love blue / Koirala, Saradha

Judges’ comments: Learning to Love Blue is a celebration of finding independence in a new city. As Paige moves from Wellington and the comfort of friends and family to Melbourne, she must navigate new friendships and romantic relationships, all while navigating her complicated feelings about her absent Mum. Saradha Koirala conveys all the mixed emotions of this setting in a way that is realistic, compassionate, and firmly placed in the journey into adulthood. […]

Our thoughts: Something in this book feels very relatable and familiar — even though Melbourne serves as the main setting, there’s something inexorably ‘Wellingtonian’ about the way certain things appear or are expressed. And of course we love the Joni Mitchell homages that run through the story. Saradha Koirala’s characters leave strong impressions; their predicaments feel real and their triumphs well-earned. Awesome stuff.


Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for Te Reo Māori

I waho, i te moana / Morrison, Yvonne

Judges’ comments: In I Waho, i te Moana, the many sea creatures of the moana of Aotearoa are brought to life, with beautiful illustrations that highlight the interactions between sea creatures and their world. The story allows children to relate to these creatures, and to understand their roles as kaitiaki within the realm of Tangaroa. There is a beautiful flow to the reo, which reflects the expertise of the translator. Te reo Māori will transcend the imagination and encourage interactions between tamariki and parents who read this wonderful story. This will support growth in the te reo Māori capacity of both tamariki and parents who are at the conversational level.

Our thoughts: In the realm of te reo Māori translation, there are few people more accomplished than the legendary Pānia Papa. Her translation of Yvonne Morrison’s delightful Out in the Moana brims with life, character, and wit. If your whānau is just starting their journey in te reo Māori, we recommend borrowing I Waho, i te Moana alongside its English version, so you can enjoy the beautiful sounds of the reo while also keeping up with the story, which is masterfully supported by Jenny Cooper’s characterful illustrations. For whānau who are a little more advanced, this pukapuka provides a rich opportunity to dive deep with every sentence.


New Zealand Society of Authors Best First Book Award

Spark hunter / Wilson, Sonya

Judges’ comments: Perfectly pitched for middle fiction readers, Spark Hunter weaves history, culture, conservation, humour, tension and adventure into her story of Nissa Marshall, who has always known there is more to the Fiordland bush than meets the eye. While leaning into the fantastic just enough to encourage the imagination, the inclusion of archival excerpts will spark keen readers to hunt out their own discoveries within the mysterious history of this corner of Aotearoa. Making this story’s light shine bright is te reo Māori blended throughout, and a cast of supporting characters that are easily recognisable as classmates, teachers, and friends.

Our thoughts: Every year, the category of Best First Book seems to get more and more contested. It’s exciting for us as librarians when new authors come out with works this confident, assured, and skilful — but all is for nought if the story won’t capture the imaginations of tamariki. Thankfully, Spark Hunter is the kind of book that our young readers will continue to return to for years to come. We love the concept of a survival-fantasy-adventure story set in Fiordland (seriously, why hasn’t this been done more often?), and the best word we can think of to describe the plot is ‘moreish.’ A unique read that’s a lot of fun to boot!

NZCYA Book Awards Winners Announced!

The day has finally come — the winners of the 2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults have been announced! The Supreme Winner at the Awards this year is former New Zealand Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh, for her book Mophead. Mophead, which won both the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year award as well as the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction, is an incredible book that is hard to describe in words and in every way is a taonga worthy of this highest honour. Find it, and the books that won the other six categories, on our catalogue below:


Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award; Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction

Mophead : how your difference makes a difference / Marsh, Selina Tusitala

Judges’ comments: This magic book reaches past our brains and squeezes life into our hearts and imaginations. Mophead places its writer at the centre of her own story, but also draws lines out to all the stories and histories that make up an individual: cultures, literature, family and education.
With exquisite design and production, it is 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.
Mophead is clever and joyful and inspiring, with not a smidgen of pretension or condescension. It is — dare it be said — perfect.

Our thoughts: Yes! While the calibre of the shortlist this year was nothing short of astonishing, we are beyond pleased to see this taonga take the top prize. This book is everything — by turns funny and poignant, strident and comforting, impetuous and patient; capable both of rousing a righteous anger and of gently taking the reader by the hand and leading them to a new point of view. This book is essential reading, and we’d like to see a copy in the hand of every child in the land. Plus, it’s about time the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award was won by a Pasifika author. Ka rawe!


Picture Book Award

Abigail and the birth of the sun / Cunningham, Matthew

Judges’ comments: This book ticks all the boxes for a great picture book. Abigail is a very real and relatable character: children will be able to see themselves in her, and adults will recognise her. Her curiosity is what drives the story, and is formed in a magical question on possibility. Her father tenderly cradles this curiosity, creating a beautiful narrative answer to her big question that is part magic, part science. The language is evocative and poetic and times, and yet still packed with facts. The illustrations support this gentle yet fantastical approach, with bold colours and big skyscapes combined with little touches like the ever-present family cat, and the astronaut teddy bear.

Our thoughts: This gorgeously-realised book will be a favourite for bedtime and storytime for years to come. The colour palette throughout is what most caught our eye — the stunning range of sunny yellows and ochres, reds so deep you could fall into them, verdant greens and velvety blacks, blues and purples — the book is a joy to look at. The text is the right combination of imagination-inspiring and comforting. We think you’ll like this one — be sure to pick it up next time you come to the library, though you may need to reserve it first!


Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction

Lizard’s tale / Chan, Weng Wai

Judges’ comments: Lizard’s Tale is a standout not only for its gripping storytime, but for its convincing characters and historical detail. Set in the crowded slums of Singapore’s Chinatown during World War Two, Lizard’s Tale tells the story of a young teenage boy who is offered big money to steal a mysterious box — and finds himself drawn into a dangerous world of espionage, kidnapping, daring escapes and covert missions. Readers are given a tantalising insight into a culturally diverse world, and a glimpse of history seen from a new, exciting angle. Fast paced and assured, this is a confident debut from an exciting new talent.

Our thoughts: This book was a standout for us amidst the extremely strong junior fiction field. The at times breakneck-exciting pace is perfectly measured by periods of quiet development and observation. At times the writing is reminiscent of classic 1940s spy and detective fiction, at times it’s more reflective and thoughtful. Before long, you find yourself inevitably drawn in to compellingly-drawn and richly historical world.


Young Adult Fiction Award

Aspiring / Wilkins, Damien

Judges’ comments: Aspiring demonstrates a stunning insight into the teenage mind, both in its exploration of character and its respect for the intelligence of its audience. In Ricky, the book has a kind, thoughtful main character, even as he towers over those in his life and deals with difficult memories of family trauma. Books like this can provide a bridge from young adult reading to feeling confident to start tackling literary books for grown-ups. There are plenty of teens out there like Ricky, and it is to be hoped that seeing themselves reflected on the page in all their uncertain, wildly imaginative glory will remind them to stay true to their thoughtful and inquisitive selves.

Our thoughts: We loved the verbosity and relatability of 15-year-old Ricky’s near-constant internal monologue throughout this book — it’s full of the kinds of observations about life in a small town that we recognise and empathise with. It’s exciting to see the author’s bold and unpretentious voice applied to young adult themes and characters for the first time in this book, and we’re hoping there’s more to come in this space in the future!


Russell Clark Award for Illustration

The adventures of Tupaia / Meredith, Courtney Sina

Judges’ comments: Mat Tait’s illustrations reach the reader on an intellectual, gut and aesthetic level. They teach us about our history in part by engaging our emotions, via dramatic perspectives and powerful colours. We witness a battle for power as we journey through the Pacific, and are struck by confusion and grief. A clever combination of modes is used: comic strips, vignettes, full spreads of starry skies, and symbols from throughout the Pacific. The pared back, simple lines and limited colours have us the sense that history isn’t merely something from the past — it’s still happening now. These illustrations are modern and cool — but with an urgent fire in their belly.

Our thoughts: The visual style of this excellent non-fiction book is striking, deliberate, dignified, and sharp. In comparison to some of the other books on the shortlist for this award, the colour palette is slightly muted and pared back — but this is entirely to the book’s benefit. The prevalence of cool greens, the fullest range of blues and purples, with subtle flashes of warmer colours, and the ingenious use of whites and creams as highlights, gives the story a sense of solemn unity without ever detracting from the fierce excitement of the true story being told. We think this book, along with being a wonder to behold, is an essential read for anyone wanting to learn more about the history of the Aotearoa in the Pacific.


Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for Te Reo Māori

Tio Tiamu / Kurahau

Judges’ comments: Tio Tiamu, aka Toe Jam — what a dreadful predicament, oh the humiliation! Tio Tiamu is a gigantic character with the kindest heart and genuine love for his hapū. He overcomes many challenges and deliberate acts of nastiness, only to be shunned. There are mixtures of ‘if only’ moments, cautiously laid like and absorbing tangi the senses of the reader are tuned in to. ‘Ha aha te mea nui o te ao, he tangata’ — it is known the most important thing in the world is its people. This te reo journey exudes manaaki tangata with generosity, benevolence, and grace.

Our thoughts: This book really is the complete package. The story feels at times very much like a legend being told in a traditional oral storytelling mode — the text often repeats, loops back in on its self, steps forwards or backwards to further explain a point or leave something poetically unsaid. There is an incredible sense of balance throughout, where the weight of the storytelling is shared equally between the stylised, yet detailed illustrations and the entrancing, sometimes very playful, language. Yet the story does not pull its punches, and we can’t guarantee there won’t be tears the first time it is read by your tamariki. At the core of it all lies an incredibly powerful message that resonates especially powerful right now — that kindness to others is the only thing that matters, in the end.


Best First Book Award

#Tumeke! / Petherick, Michael

Judges’ comments: #Tumeke! is every bit as diverse as the Newtoun community, which we see revealed piece by piece, flyer by flyer, as the fun, endearing mosaic that makes New Zealand the unique paradise it is. Michael Petherick tells a sweet and funny tale, with a creative multi-media format that engages the eye and challenges the brain. Ages and cultures merge in this story of a small community filled with huge heart. Readers will find themselves cheering on every new character, and will easily see themselves somewhere in this fantastic, genre-bending book.

Our thoughts: This is a completely unique book with so much to discover — a whole diverse community, in fact (that may or may not bear more than a passing resemblance to our very own Newtown). Really, this book is a whole series of relationships, events, conversations, debates, personal thoughts, and public announcements all distilled into a format that bursts off the pages. You can absolutely read it in one sitting, drawn into the experience of the new kid at school and the swirling excitement of the organisation of a community event. But equally, you can dip in and out, reminding yourself every now and then of why it is you have grown to love and care about the eccentric and relatable characters sketched so expertly within. A challenging and different read, but absolutely worthy of that elusive Librarian’s Choice sticker.