Monthly Archives: September 2022

Poetry Box news: Call for CYA NZ Book Award Judges

The organisers of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are inviting expressions of interest from members and followers of the children’s literature community who would like to be considered as judges of the 2023 awards.

Applications to judge are now open to all those with suitable qualifications and experience, and will close on 26 October.

Awards are given in six categories: Picture Book, Junior Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Non-Fiction, Illustration and te Reo Māori. A total of five judges will be appointed for the English and bilingual categories and a further three judges will deliberate Te Kura Pounamu Award, which is given for books written entirely in (or translated entirely into) te reo Māori.

Nicola Legat, chair of the New Zealand Book Awards Trust Te Ohu Tiaki i Te Rau Hiringa, which governs the awards, says applications are welcomed from both the children’s literature community and members of the public with relevant experience. Past judges have included librarians, kaiako, authors, publishers, booksellers, academics, reviewers and bloggers. The organisers particularly welcome expressions of interest for both panels from applicants with a deep knowledge of te ao Māori and te reo Māori, fluency being essential for judges of Te Kura Pounamu award.

“We can’t deny that judging these awards is a big and important task, but over the years our judges have consistently told us how rewarding they have found the mahi. After all, what could be more enjoyable than immersing yourself in assessing the best New Zealand books of the year for rangatahi, and celebrating the importance of books and reading?” says Nicola Legat.

Convenor of the 2022 judges, author and educationalist Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith, describes the role as demanding, but the highlight of her year. “With a record 199 splendid, enchanting and thought-provoking entries, we had to hit the ground running. The experienced and diverse judging panel leaned into their strengths, creating vigorous discussions and a robust process. It was promising to see strong threads of te ao Māori throughout many entries supporting a uniquely Aotearoa flavour for our young readers,” Pauline says.

The English language judges will deliberate over what is expected to be at least 150 entries in five categories. They will select up to five finalists in each, and also up to five Best First Book finalists, then a winner in each category. Te reo Māori panel will also select up to five finalists (from approximately 20 entries) and a winner for Te Kura Pounamu Award. Both panels will be responsible for deciding on the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year.

Entries for the 2023 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are due to open on 16 November and the judges will begin their reading in mid-December. They reveal their finalists in early June 2023 and the awards event will be held early to mid-August in Wellington.

Expressions of interest forms and background information on the judging process and judges’ responsibilities can be downloaded below or supplied on request by emailing

Expression of Interest form

Judging panel general information (English and bilingual categories)

Judging panel general information (Te Kura Pounamu Award – te reo Māori)

Applications must be submitted by 5pm on Wednesday 26 October, and should include a covering letter and a brief resume that demonstrates the applicant’s experience and therefore suitability for the judging role.

The judging panels will be selected by the New Zealand Book Awards Trust, which includes representatives from the Publishers Association of New Zealand; the New Zealand Society of Authors; LIANZA, the association for library and information professionals in New Zealand; and Booksellers Aotearoa New Zealand.

The New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are made possible through the generosity, commitment and vision of its funders and sponsors: Creative New Zealand, HELL Pizza, Wright Family Foundation, LIANZA, Wellington City Council, The New Zealand Society of Authors Te Puni Kaituhi o Aotearoa, and Nielsen Book.

Poetry Box review: Brigid Feehan’s The Life and Times of Eddie McGrath

Poetry Box October poem challenge here

My Whitcoulls Top 50 Kids’ Books popUP poem challenge here

The Life and Times of Eddie McGrath, Brigid Feehan, OneTree House, 2021

“Even in ordinary life you never know what is around the corner. And maybe that’s half the fun.”

I really love novels that keep you thinking and feeling things, that get you roving through the world and seeing little corners through refreshed eyes. Reading The Life and Times of Eddie McGrath did exactly that for me. It was like a reading odyssey.

First up let me introduce you to the cast of characters.

Eddie, the protagonist, is a book worm which got me wondering why readers get to be called book worms. I guess because a book worm chews its way from start to finish and books can be very chewy things as the poet Ruth Padel once said. But I personally like the idea of being a book cat. I love snuggling into a book, stretching and arching, purring and even hissing, sniffing and tasting. Eddie is a very cool character – more about her soon.

Eddie’s mum and dad are busy so she gets quite a bit of freedom. Her mum illustrates books and her dad is a builder.

Eddie has a cat called Olaf who is a snuggle puss.

Her sisters Beth and Claire drive her slightly mad.

Her best friends Liam and Meri are loyal and caring and adventurous. Liam is a vegan and Meri a drama queen.

Aunt Ruth, who also lives in the family home, is a radiographer and a Druid (think an ancient Celtic religion with maybe a whiff of magic).

Sylvia is a mysterious woman they meet in a ramshackle, rundown place – a turning point meeting!

Second up let me introduce you to the catch in the narrative.

Eddie has won a national competition – Spend a Day with an MP. She wrote an essay on voting at the age of 15. But she turned the award down as she hates speaking in public especially making a speech in front of a TV camera and the Prime Minister. She would have to spend the day with the MP listening to people’s issues, pick a problem and try to find a solution to fix it. And then make a speech!

BUT somehow Eddie moves from NO! to accepting the award. You could say the novel is an odyssey – a way of discovering more about who and how you are. Unearthing more about how to deal with mammoth challenges and little disappointments. You could claim the YES! as a turning point that unexpectedly shines a light on making choices.

The cast of characters is magnificent. I have such a soft spot for a protagonist who is concerned about chicken welfare (as is Liam!), who loves to read books more than once (heck yes!), who makes lists of heroines (and heroes), who believes in ghosts, and who finds comfort in books (double heck yes!).

The Life and Times of Brigid Feenan is an inspiring read. It made me think about how we treat animals, how we care about old people, and how we can create creative solutions to tricky problems. How things can and often fall into place. Oh and how democracy can work for the good of others.

I loved the advice the Prime Minister gave Eddie after telling her she did something rare and precious.

“You asked a good question. And you listened to the answer, really listened.”

I most definitely snuggled up close with this book like the book cat I am. I purred and stretched and smiled, and I read and read until it finished in one slow cat gulp. I think the novel would be suitable for intermediate ages. Recommended!

Brigid Feehan was born, raised and educated in Wellington.
She studied law at Victoria University and travelled overseas for a few years before returning to Wellington. She now lives in Island Bay with her family and her probably not very bright, but definitely very handsome cat, Magnus. Brigid has worked for the government in a number of roles, none of which have involved meeting the Prime Minister. Stella Star, Brigid’s first novel, won the Tom Fitzgibbon Award and was included in the Storylines List of Notable Books in 2006. A sequel, Maybe Stella, was published in 2007.

OneTree House page

Poetry Box Reading Back, Reading Forward: Philippa Werry on ‘The End of the Harbour’ and ‘The Immigrants’

Poetry Box October poem challenge here

My Whitcoulls Top 50 Kids’ Books popUP poem challenge here

These two books (junior fiction and a picture book) are both set in the same period of New Zealand history. 

The End of the Harbour by Elsie Locke (better known for The Runaway Settlers) was published by Jonathan Cape in 1968 and I assumed it was long out of print, but a memorial edition appeared in 2001 to commemorate the author’s death. It is set in 1860 in Waiuku, where Elsie Locke grew up. David and his family have just arrived from England after a long sea journey during which his baby sister was born and died. His mother is nervous about the presence of local Māori but David is fascinated by his new life. He makes friends with a boy called Honatana and finds himself acting as the doctor’s apprentice in an influenza outbreak. Amidst tensions over land as more Pākehā settlers keep arriving, Māori gather at a hui attended by King Pōtatau to discuss the rumours of fighting in Taranaki. 

Elsie Locke was a lifelong pacifist and this book presents “the untiring search of the Māori leaders for peace with justice.” David gradually starts to pick up te reo Māori and it is used in some of the conversations, which must have been unusual for a children’s novel published in 1968. The dedication is in te reo too: Mo nga tamariki katoa o Ngatiteata – For the children of  Ngatiteata. (Ngāti Te Ata is an iwi from around the Manukau Harbour.) As an extra treat, the book is illustrated with black and white drawings by Katarina Mataira.

Elsie Locke Trust page for The End of the Harbour 

The second book is The Immigrants by Alan Bagnall, with beautiful illustrations by Sarah Wilkins (Mallinson Rendell, 2002). This was shortlisted for the 2003 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards, named as a Storylines Notable Picture Book and won the 2003 LIANZA Russell Clark Award. 

The prologue on the endpapers tells us that it’s 1856. Maria’s mother has died in Sydney and she must go and tell her father “far away in New Zealand” (on the goldfields, we later discover). She hasn’t enough money for her fare but a young man called Ihaia helps her to stowaway on the Toroa and the captain allows her to stay on as cook (mostly potatoes and mutton stew). Also on board are some sheep huddled in their pen and a small flock of silvereyes clinging to the rigging. An albatross glides overhead, then they sail through a storm for three frightening days and nights, but on the seventh day they sight land and soon sail into the mouth of the Aorere River in Golden Bay. 

This is an adventure story with a happy ending – the epilogue explains that Maria found her father with Ihaia’s help and Maria and Ihaia got married and “like the silvereyes, made their home together in Aotearoa New Zealand.” (I’m not sure if it’s based on a true story or not.)

But it’s also so much more. In a perfect mix of text and pictures, the book puts the gold rush into historical context, shows how difficult things were at that time for young women on their own and gently reminds us that immigrants don’t always have to be human.  Animal and bird migrants would have a big impact on the landscape of Aotearoa and far more dangerous ones (rabbits, stoats, ferrets) were soon to follow. The epilogue also tells us that silvereyes were self-introduced in the 1860s. Their name in te reo Māori is tauhou which means “stranger” or (literally) “new arrival”. 

These books are treasures, like their authors, but they are also gold for anyone looking for resources for teaching New Zealand history. It would be great to see The Immigrants re-released to coincide with the introduction of the new history curriculum. (And in another unexpected link, The End of the Harbour also mentions silvereyes!)

Philippa Werry lives in Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington. She writes fiction, non fiction, plays and poetry, mostly for children and young adults, and has a special interest in history.

Elsie Locke, a writer, historian and leader in peace movements and women’s affairs, made a significant contribution to New Zealand society. She edited the 1930s feminist journal Woman Today and later served on the national executive of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. In 1959 she received the Katherine Mansfield Award for Non-Fiction and in 1992 published her major study, Peace People: Peace Activities in New Zealand. Locke is best known as a children’s writer, and her major contribution to children’s literature was acknowledged with the 1995 Margaret Mahy Medal. (via Read NZ)

Alan Bagnall is a poet and storywriter for children. For over twenty years he has contributed to Learning Media Publications including both the School Journal and the Ready to Read series. His poetry has been included in A Treasury of NZ Poetry. His 2002 story The Immigrants, illustrated by Sarah Wilkins, was shortlisted for the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards. His latest children’s book with Sarah Wilkins, The Sam & Lucy Fables, was published in 2016. (via Read NZ)

Poetry Box review: Victoria Clean and Isobel Joy Te Aho-White’s Lost in the Museum

Poetry Box October poem challenge here

My Whitcoulls Top 50 Kids’ Books popUP poem challenge here

Lost in the Museum, Victoria Clean, Isobel Joy Te Aho-White, Te Papa Press, 2022

I have missed going into museums and art galleries. I once wanted to write a children’s poetry collection inspired by objects in a museum – but that idea is still sleeping! However in New York Pocket Book (Seraph Press), loads of my poems are inspired by New York galleries and museums.

I went to the old Immigration Centre on Ellis Island and it affected me deeply. I got lost in a small pair of boots that had belonged to an immigrant child. I’d spent so many years at university doing my Italian degrees, going to Italy, reading truckloads of Italian books, speaking Italian. I fell into those dear empty boots and the emptier they felt, the fuller they grew. They made me think of my own daughters, of my love of Italy, of how tough it has been for immigrants across the centuries, across the globe, of how it was for those new arrivals, so full of hope and loss. I am picturing those dear little boots again now, and thinking of refugees, right at this moment in time, of their hope and loss, despair and pain.

Today I want to celebrate Lost in the Museum. It is sublime. It is a book that resonates on so many levels. Isobel’s illustrations are like resting bays in the narrative. So absorbing. So full of life and mood and connections.

Victoria’s narrative is equally absorbing. A family is in the museum but, when it’s time to go home, Pāpā is lost. The woman at the information desk knows exactly what to do and takes them to Rongomaraeroa, to the pounamu with its powerful energy. The family learns that a person might have a special attachment to a taonga and lose themselves in its world.

Together they place their hands on the pounamu, they learn te hononga is when they form their own connections with a taonga. And that is what happens as they think of all the taonga Pāpā may have been drawn to.

“If te hononga is strong, a person can lose themselves in the world of the taonga.

A taonga is not just an object in a museum – it is rich in story, human connections and personal resonance. Every person feels an object, a treasure, a taonga, in different ways. There are multiple pathways through a museum.

At the back of the book there is a glossary with details about the taonga we have encountered in the narrative : Hīnake (eel trap), Britten V1000 motorbike, Tauhunu vaka (canoe), Cheongsam (woman’s dress), South Island giant moa, a kauri painting.

I love this book so much. It is a book that hugs you, that inspires you, that sets you musing and thinking. The writing is fluid and fluent, the story engaging, informative, journey-making, experience enhancing. Reading this book is as good as a trip to the museum as it open doors and leaves you enriched. I do hope it is in every school library and on every family bookshelf.

Thank you for this gift, this pukapuka, this taonga.

Victoria Cleal works as a writer and editor at Te Papa. She worked on the Nature | Te Taiao exhibition and several stories for the children’s TV series He Paki Taonga and its associated book. Her first book, also based on a treasure at Te Papa, and illustrated by Isobel Joy Te Aho-White, was Whiti: Colossal Squid of the Deep, winner of the Best Children’s Book at the 2021 Whitley Awards for zoological literature.

Isobel Joy Te Aho-White (Ngāti Kahungungu ki te Wairoa, Rongomaiwahine, Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Irakehu) is a graphic artist with a diploma in Visual Arts (UCOL) and a Bachelor of Design (Hons) majoring in illustration from Massey University. She has illustrated for Huia Publishers and the School Journal (Lift Education), as well as several of the stories for the children’s TV series He Paki Taonga and its associated book.

Te Papa Press page

Poetry Box Reading Back, Reading Forward: David Hill on Falter Tom and the Water Boy

Poetry Box October poem challenge here

My Whitcoulls Top 50 Kids’ Books popUP poem challenge here

Falter Tom and the Water Boy, Maurice Duggan, Kenneth Rowell illustrator, Kestrel Books, 1959

Auckland author Maurice Duggan wrote Falter Tom and the Water Boy way back in the late 1950s. Falter Tom is an old, lame Irish sailor who tells many stories of his life. But none of them match what happens in the book, when one day he’s walking on the beach and sees a small dolphin playing in the waves. No – it’s not a dolphin. It’s a young boy, with green hair and copper-coloured skin, who leads the old man into all sorts of adventures and astonishing places beneath the sea. They become friends. They face danger. They find treasures. It’s a book full of magic, wonder and secrets, and it won prizes and praise in several countries.

David Hill lives in Taranaki, where he has been a fulltime writer for 40 years. His novels and stories for young readers have been published in several countries and languages. His new book, Below, the story of a boy and girl trapped deep underground when a tunnel collapses, will be published next March.

Maurice Duggan (1922-1974) is one of New Zealand’s greatest exponents of short fiction, despite a small output. His 1957 Falter Tom and the Water Boy was one of the first internationally successful New Zealand children’s books. In 1960, Duggan was the second recipient of the Burns Fellowship. His Collected Stories was published posthumously in 1981.

Poetry Box 72 hour popUP challenge: celebrating Whitcoulls Kids’ Top 50 Books

Aotearoa New Zealand’s younger readers have an insatiable appetite for book series, Whitcoulls announce, as they unveil their Kids’ Top 50 Books List today, Tuesday 27 September 2022.

Now in its 24th year, the Whitcoulls Kids’ Top 50 Books is a calendar event and hotter than ever with more votes received than ever before – up nearly 4 percent from last year. More votes came through online than in previous years and as they rolled in some trends emerged: the popularity of books in a series, local New Zealand books and adventure stories.

Whitcoulls Book Manager Joan Mackenzie says, “The importance of New Zealand books for children can’t be overstated – it’s so important they see themselves in some of these stories, and see their own environment reflected back to them. Our local authors, illustrators and publishers do a wonderful job and Whitcoulls loves being able to showcase their work.”

Sixteen of the titles voted on to the List are books in a series, with ten of those appearing in the top 25. Significantly, nearly 40 percent of the titles are books by New Zealand authors and illustrators, both new faces and leading names, including Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy (#2); Aroha Series (#7); The Little Yellow Digger (# 9); and How Do I Feel? (#10). Keeping young readers engaged is a huge factor in keeping them reading and book series enhance their enjoyment.

More than half the books, 28 in total, are new to this year’s List and perennial favourite, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series is again voted into the number one spot. Other titles of note are Dav Pilkey’s fun Dog Man Series (#3), Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar (#4), and Tui T. Sutherland’s dragon adventures Wings of Fire Series (#5).

To celebrate Whitcoulls sharing a love of books, I am hosting a 72 hour popUP poem challenge. I will have some books from the list to give away and will post some favourite poems.

What: Choose a book title from the list and use as the title of a poem (you don’t need to include word ‘series’!).

How: Write the poem anyway you like – use your imagination, or real things, or even the book itself as an idea. Over to you!

Send to:

Include: Your name, age, year, name of school

Deadline: 9 pm Friday 30th SEPTEMBER

Don’t forget: to put LIST POEM in email subject line so I don’t miss your email.

I will reply to all your emails, post some poems, and give some books away.

Poetry Box Reading Back, Reading Forward: Renee Liang on Mischief and Mayhem: 30 New Zealand Stories

Poetry Box October poem challenge here

Mischief and Mayhem: 30 New Zealand Stories ed. Barbara Else, illustrations Philip Webb (Random House 2005)

We found this book on a share bookshelf in a motel in Rotorua when I was there for a conference. The kids took it back to our room, and in between spa dips and exploring tree tops and hot pools, fought over the right to have this book in their possession.  Eventually my husband resorted to taking control of the book himself so he could dole out the stories by request, equitably.  But our bedtime routine got longer as we stretched to ‘just one more’ story.   It was easy to see why – the short stories, all by NZ authors (some familiar names such as James Norcliffe and David Long, others less recognisable) are wry and amusing, often with a twist, and undeniably Kiwi. Our homecoming day arrived – and we knew we’d have to take the book with us.  So we chose which of our books to leave behind in its place…. and took our new friend home, where from time to time the kids still disappear into a couch or the attic with it.

Renee Liang is a poet, playwright, paediatrician, medical researcher and essayist who has collaborated on visual arts works, film, opera and music, made theatre works, dramaturged, taught creative writing and organized community initiatives like New Kiwi Women Write, a writing workshop for migrant women. Renee has written, produced and toured eight plays including The Bone Feeder, later adapted as an opera, one of the first Asian mainstage works in NZ. In 2018 she was appointed a Member of the NZ Order of Merit for services to the arts, and won Next Woman of the Year for Arts and Culture. Her poems for children can be found in A Treasury of NZ Poetry for Children (Random House, 2010) and Roar Squeak Purr: A NZ Treasury of animal poems (Penguin, 2022)

Poetry Box 72 hour popUP poem challenge: Hedgehog and Goat word list poems

Ha! I just spotted this activity sheet on Penguin and thought it would make a cool poem challenge for a LONG weekend.

Use at least FOUR words from the list to write a poem.

The poem can be about ANYTHING you like.

You can write the poem ANY WAY you like.

Let your imagination and eyes and ears go ROAMING!

You can try the activity sheet here

Send to:

Include: Your name, age, year, name of school

Deadline: 9 am Tuesday 27th SEPTEMBER

Don’t forget: to put Hedgehog POEM in email subject line so I don’t miss your email.

I will reply to everyone, post some favourite poems, and give away at least two signed copies of my new book Hedgehog and Goat.

Poetry Box review: Hiroshi Ito’s Free Kid to a Good Home

Poetry Box October poem challenge here

Free Kid to a Good Home, Hiroshi Ito, trans Cathy Hirano, Gecko Press 2022, originally published 1992

Free Kid to a Good Home is an Japanese bestseller and I can see why. It has a comic feel and is a joy to read.

A sister is completely thrown when her new baby brother arrives. She thinks he looks like a potato and all he ever does is CRY! EAT! POOP! And nobody pays the sister the slightest bit of attention. She is feeling extremely LEFT OUT!

Only one thing left to do: run away! She advertises herself as a Free Kid to a good home. She sits in a cardboard box with her sign and dreams of the ideal home. She waits and she waits and she waits. Things turn up but not exactly what she expected.

You will have to read the book yourself because no way I am spoiling the surprises (I loathe spoiler reviews), but oh my gosh this book is so HOPEFUL! And there was a page where I felt extremely sad.

Hiroshi’s writing flows like a gentle stream and the illustrations are beguiling. They are simple fluid drawings of the characters, and it feels like they have stepped out of an ultra cool cartoon.

As for the ending (shsh! can’t tell you what happens!) it is utterly perfect.

This is a GEM of a book and I can see why it is a bestseller! Highly recommended.

Hiroshi Ito was born in Tokyo, Japan, and graduated from Waseda University with a degree in education. He began creating picture books while still a student and has since published many award-winning books.

Gecko Press page