If ever there was a time that children needed the escape of stories, 2020 is it. Today’s announcement of the finalists for the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults reveals an abundance of incredible storytelling for Kiwi kids to immerse themselves in.


The finalist books open their pages to make room for lots of much-needed joy, says convenor of judges Jane Arthur.

“They offer children whole worlds to explore and lose themselves in, which is crucial when there is so much uncertainty in their own. There are ponies, spies, communities, myths and, always, a quest for identity – both our country’s and the characters’.”

The range of names on the shortlist speaks to the depth of talent in New Zealand, from debut writers through to superstars like Joy Cowley, Gavin Bishop, Donovan Bixley and Stacy Gregg. The shortlist also features authors better known as writers for adults, including former New Zealand Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh and director of the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University, Damien Wilkins.

Children are also well served by books that shine a light on the world around them and help them make sense of it.

“They might be creating books for children, but our authors and illustrators are unafraid to tackle difficult topics – big things like the unhappy impact of colonisation on tangata whenua and nature, New Zealand’s place in the Pacific, puberty, racism and abuse,” says Jane.

Despite the challenging times, innovative approaches will connect children with the finalist books and authors – this year’s winners’ announcements will be streamed online, so anyone, anywhere will be able to enjoy the celebration.

The normal schedule of Books Alive events, which see finalists traverse the country talking to school children, will go mostly virtual, allowing even more children to interact with their favourite author or illustrator. The Award’s organisers will partner with the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) to present a series of virtual Books Alive storytimes and events. Plus, an activity booklet packed with fun resources to extend children’s interaction with the finalist titles will be released online.

There were a record 178 entries submitted for the Awards this year.  The winners of each of the six main categories – Picture Book, Junior Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Non-Fiction, Illustration and te reo Māori – take home $7,500 and are then in the running to be named the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year, with a further $7,500 prize money. In addition, the judges will award a Best First Book prize of $2,000 to a previously unpublished author or illustrator.

The first of the categories is the Picture Book Award where the finalist books, though diverse in content, present a special combination of excellent text and evocative illustrations. The judges felt the titles all have a playfulness and sense of fun, which while important to readers of any age, is particularly essential to engage young children.

The judges found the titles vying for the Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Junior Fiction Award were written, edited and produced with exceptional finesse and expertise leading to an eclectic shortlist of books that reflect the past and have an eye on the future.

The top contenders for the Young Adult Fiction Award this year don’t shy away from the ‘adult’ element, with titles that not only grapple with mature themes but do so in a way that doesn’t talk down to teenage readers. Ideas of belonging, otherness and survival through adversity (triumphant or not) speak meaningfully to readers.

The Elsie Locke Non-Fiction Award showcases a broad selection of Aotearoa-centred content brought to life with bright and vibrant illustrations. The judges say this was an outstandingly strong category, with the finalists chosen for the bold execution of their concepts, which engage the reader emotionally.

In the Russell Clark Illustration Award a wide range of styles and talents are on show in the finalists, who use either digital or watercolour media to create sometimes humorous, sometimes evocative and always stunning results.

The Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for books written entirely in te reo Māori has books that explore the uncomfortable, encourage the normal and relax into the different. But most of all the judges found they have a special glow, encompassing stories that keep the heart warm.

Finally, this year’s finalists for the Best First Book Award perfectly showcase the strength of New Zealand’s emerging talent.

The formidable task of narrowing the field to a list of finalists was met by this year’s experienced judging panel: Jane Arthur (convenor) is an editor, writer and poet; Alan Dingley, an intermediate school librarian; Briar Lawry, a bookseller, writer and editor; Steph Matuku (Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Toa, Te Ati Awa), who writes stories for young people for the stage, page, radio and screen; and Charlotte McKay, a specialist children’s bookseller.

They were joined by a panel appointed by Te Rōpū Whakahau, the national body that represents Māori engaged in Libraries, Culture, Knowledge, Information, Communication and Systems Technology in Aotearoa, to judge te reo Māori entries. Moana Munro (convenor), kaitiakipukapuka Māori for Hastings District Libraries, leads the panel for the third year; Cellia Joe-Olsen is the Tumuaki Tuakana or Immediate Past President of Te Rōpū Whakahau; and Francis Leaf, a 2019 recipient of the Robyn Hakopa Te Reo Māori award for promoting te reo and tikanga within the library profession.

The winners of the 2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults will be announced in a virtual presentation, streamed online on the evening of Wednesday 12 August.

The New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults are made possible through the generosity, commitment and vision of funders and sponsors: Creative New Zealand, HELL Pizza, the Wright Family Foundation, LIANZA, Wellington City Council and Nielsen Book. The Awards are administered by the New Zealand Book Awards Trust.

The finalists for the 2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are:

Picture Book Award
Abigail and the Birth of the Sun, Matthew Cunningham, illustrated by Sarah Wilkins (Penguin Random House)

How Māui Slowed the Sun, written and illustrated by Donovan Bixley (advised and translated by Dr Darryn Joseph and Keri Opai) (Upstart Press)

Mini Whinny: Goody Four Shoes, Stacy Gregg, illustrated by Ruth Paul (Scholastic NZ)

Santa’s Worst Christmas, Pania Tahau-Hodges and Bryony Walker, illustrated by Isobel Joy Te Aho-White (Huia Publishers)

The Gobbledegook Book, Joy Cowley, illustrated by Giselle Clarkson (Gecko Press)


Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction

#Tumeke! Michael Petherick (Massey University Press)

Lizard’s Tale, Weng Wai Chan (Text Publishing)

Miniwings Book 6 Moonlight the Unicorn’s High Tea Hiccup, Sally Sutton, illustrated by Kirsten Richards (Scholastic NZ)

Prince of Ponies, Stacy Gregg (HarperCollins Publishers)

Time Machine and other stories, Melinda Szymanik (The Cuba Press)


Young Adult Fiction Award

Afakasi Woman, Lani Wendt Young (OneTree House)

Aspiring, Damien Wilkins (Massey University Press)

The History Speech, Mark Sweet (Huia Publishers)

Ursa, Tina Shaw (Walker Books Australia)

Wynter’s Thief, Sherryl Jordan (OneTree House)

Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction

Kuwi & Friends Māori Picture Dictionary, written and illustrated by Kat Quin, translated by Pānia Papa (Illustrated Publishing)

Mophead, Selina Tusitala Marsh (Auckland University Press)

Te Tiriti o Waitangi / The Treaty of Waitangi, Ross Calman and Mark Derby, illustrated by Toby Morris, translated by Piripi Walker (Lift Education)

The Adventures of Tupaia, Courtney Sina Meredith, illustrated by Mat Tait (Allen & Unwin, in partnership with Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum)

Three Kiwi Tales, Janet Hunt (Massey University Press)

Russell Clark Award for Illustration

Dozer the Fire Cat, illustrated by Jenny Cooper, written by Robyn Prokop (Scholastic NZ)

Santa’s Worst Christmas, illustrated by Isobel Joy Te Aho-White, written by Pania Tahau-Hodges and Bryony Walker (Huia Publishers)

Song of the River, illustrated by Kimberly Andrews, written by Joy Cowley (Gecko Press)

The Adventures of Tupaia, illustrated by Mat Tait, written by Courtney Sina Meredith (Allen & Unwin, in partnership with Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum)

Wildlife of Aotearoa, illustrated and written by Gavin Bishop (Penguin Random House)


Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for books written completely in te reo Māori

Arapū Toi, Moira Wairama, illustrated by Austin Whincup (Baggage Books)

Ko Flit, te Tīrairaka, me ngā Hēki Muna, written and illustrated by Kat Quin, translated by Ngaere Roberts (Scholastic NZ)

Ngā Hoa Hoihoi o Kuwi,  written and illustrated by Kat Quin, translated by Pānia Papa (Illustrated Publishing)

Te Kirihimete i Whakakorea, Pania Tahau-Hodges  and Bryony Walker, illustrated by Isobel Joy Te Aho-White, translated by Kawata Teepa (Huia Publishers)

Tio Tiamu, Kurahau, illustrated by Laya Mutton-Rogers (Huia Publishers)

Best First Book Award

Michael Petherick for #Tumeke! (Massey University Press)

Weng Wai Chan for Lizard’s Tale (Text Publishing)

Isobel Joy Te Aho-White (illustrator) for Santa’s Worst Christmas, written by Pania Tahau-Hodges and Bryony Walker (Huia Publishers)

Belinda O’Keefe for The Day the Plants Fought Back, illustrated by Richard Hoit (Scholastic NZ)

Laya Mutton-Rogers (illustrator) for The Smelly Giant, written by Kurahau (Huia Publishers)


Social Media Links


Facebook: /NewZealandCYABookAwards/

Twitter: /nzcya

Instagram: nzcya_awards


Hashtags: #NZCYA #BooksAlive

Notes for Editors:

The New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are a unique celebration of the contribution New Zealand’s children’s authors and illustrators make to building national identity and cultural heritage. Awards are made in seven categories: Picture Book, Junior Fiction (the Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award), Young Adult Fiction, Non-Fiction (the Elsie Locke Award), Illustration (the Russell Clark Award), te reo Māori (the Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award) and the Best First Book Award. The main category awards carry prize money of $7,500 and the Best First Book winner receives $2,000. The overall prize, the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award, carries a further prize of $7,500.

The awards are governed by the New Zealand Book Awards Trust (a registered charity). Members of the Trust are Nicola Legat, Karen Ferns, Paula Morris, Melinda Szymanik, Jenna Todd, Anne Morgan and Melanee Winder. The Trust also governs the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards and Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day.

The Wright Family Foundation is dedicated to making a positive difference by advancing education and spreading knowledge, supporting individuals to achieve their full potential. Its goal is to “grow the good” in New Zealand. Supporting literacy and a passion for words and reading is a key focus of the foundation. Its CEO, Chloe Wright, is Patron of both the Kids’ Lit Quiz and the New Zealand Spelling Bee. By supporting the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, the foundation hopes to champion New Zealand writers who will inspire the imagination of children.

Creative New Zealand is the national arts development agency of Aotearoa and has been a key partner of New Zealand’s book awards for decades. Creative New Zealand encourages, promotes and supports the arts in New Zealand and internationally for the benefit of all New Zealanders through funding, capability building, and advocacy initiatives. It offers financial support for emerging and established artists, art practitioners, groups and organisations, and provides training and online resources to help artists and practitioners develop professionally, grow audiences and markets, and manage their organisations. In addition, it supports internships and national touring activities to enhance the development of New Zealand arts. Creative New Zealand provides a wide range of support to New Zealand literature, including funding for writers and publishers, residencies, literary festivals and awards, and support of organisations which work to increase the readership and sales of New Zealand literature at home and internationally.

HELL Pizza was established in 1996 and now has 76 outlets throughout New Zealand. HELL has reinforced its commitment to getting more kids hooked on books by sponsoring the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. The associated HELL Reading Challenge, initiated in 2014, continues to grow. HELL says it has “always challenged the norm, and with kids now becoming so engrossed with modern technology, we are bucking that trend and making reading cool again. We want pizza to be the gateway to reading addiction!” The programme rewards students with a free ‘333 HELLthy pizza’ once they have read seven books and had their achievement approved by a local librarian with a stamp in each segment of their HELL pizza wheel. In 2019, 699 schools and 223 public libraries around New Zealand took part, and over 300,000 pizza wheels were distributed, which means that some 2 million books were read by Kiwi kids as a result.

LIANZA, the association for library and information professionals in New Zealand, introduced the first award for children’s fiction in New Zealand, establishing the Esther Glen Junior Fiction Award in 1945. LIANZA added other awards over the years including the Russell Clark Award for Illustration in 1975 and the Elsie Locke Non-fiction Award in 1986. The Te Kura Pounamu Award for literature written in te reo Māori was established in 1996, in partnership with Te Rōpū Whakahau. In 2016 the LIANZA Children and Young Adult Book Awards were merged with the Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, strengthening the 60-year legacy of the LIANZA Awards.

Nielsen Book provide a range of services to the book industry internationally, aiding the discovery and purchase, distribution and sales measurement of books.

Wellington City Council’s arts and culture strategy positions the city as a place where both Wellingtonians and visitors are able to actively explore its culture and experiment with their own creativity. It values heritage arts, culture and traditions and focuses on contemporary ways of expressing what is happening now and experiences that result from collaboration, both within the professional arts sector and with communities. The Council believes in the importance of literacy and imagination in the development of New Zealand children, and it supports a wide range of arts for and by children.

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