Category Archives: Ted Dawe

Into the River – R14

Into the River

I was in my favourite bookshop yesterday, Paige’s Book Gallery, gathering another pile to read. Lesley and I got to chatting about books, and she said that “Into the River” was now classified R14. Now, my mother was on the Film and Lit Review Board for quite a few years, so I know these decisions aren’t taken lightly, but I think this probably opens a whole new can of worms for the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards, and its categories. It also demands the question, if this book needs to be rated so that children won’t buy it, aren’t there a whole lot of other books in bookshops that need a rating?? What happens with Fifty Shades, for example. It would be bizarre to sell it to young children (under 14) – but it’s not illegal, like selling Into the River would be. And, let’s be honest, being illegal may well have just upped the kudos of the book as well.

I don’t want all the books that win prizes to be sanitised, so I still think that if the judges thought this book merited a prize, it should have got a prize. It’s just that everyone in the category it won a prize in, should be legally allowed to read the book that won! But with the categories as they are, we keep running the risk of excluding the 12 – 14yr old category, or the 8 – 10 yr category. These are critical reading ages for children to be exposed to great literature so that they are motivated to continue reading into a life long habit.

Adults who were readers by choice as children and young adults, in study after study after study, have been shown to earn more, have more employment choices, and generally have more positive life trajectories that those who weren’t. The ‘reading slump’ is a well documented phenomenon, and occurs during the intermediate (Year 7 and 8) and early secondary years (Year 9 and 10). Good quality writing, both fiction and non-fiction, is vital. But what would be appropriate for one group, is just not for the other. Developmentally, these two age groups are very different readers.

What is the purpose of book awards? Sure, they critically acclaim the writer and the book, and that’s a great thing because, for most writers in New Zealand, the hourly rate is rubbish. And as any good behaviourialist knows, everyone needs positive reinforcement of some kind. But, let’s be honest, mostly it’s a commercial exercise. Lesley, at Paige’s, has had ‘The Luminaries’, recent winner of the Booker, positively flying out the door. Teachers, librarians, parents and other people who control the book buying in children’s lives, rely on book awards for guidance. We can’t possibly read every book – no matter how hard we try!

I have advocated for this before, but I really think that there should be four fiction categories in the NZ POST Children’s Book Awards:
– picture books (everyone!)
– junior fiction (8+)
– intermediate fiction (11+)
– young adult (14+)

Read below the decision by the Film and Literature Review Board to restrict sales of ‘Into the River’ by Ted Dawe

Into the River

R14 Parental advisory explicit content (Film and Literature Board of Review decision)

Date Registered: 08/01/2014

Into the River is a book by New Zealand author Ted Dawe. In September 2013 it was classified as unrestricted by the Classification Office after being submitted by the Department of Internal Affairs because of a complaint from a member of the public.

An application was made to the Film and Literature Board of Review for a review of the Classification Office’s decision. The Board of Review classified the book as R14.

How a review works

When conducting a review of a Classification Office decision, the Board carries out its own examination of the publication and applies the classification criteria to assign a classification. This process can result in the Board assigning a higher, lower, or same classification as the Classification Office.

The book’s plot:

The novel is centred on Te Arepa Santos, a boy from a fictional village on the East Coast of the North Island in New Zealand/Aotearoa. He wins a scholarship to a boys’ boarding school in Auckland, and the transition is difficult. He forges friendships, finds enemies, and discovers that his Maori identity is discounted and a disadvantage. He endures the bullying that comes from this, as well as that meted out to new boys, and sees what happens when that bullying goes too far. There are confusing encounters with sex and a growing understanding of intimacy, the use of drugs, peer pressure, deep racism, grief and death.

Decision summary

The Film and Literature Board of Review noted in its decision that the book contains themes of bullying, underage casual and unsafe sex, drug taking and other matters that people may find offensive and upsetting. The Board considered that the book is likely to educate and inform young adults about the potentially negative consequences that can follow from involvement in casual sex, underage drinking, drug taking, crime, violence and bullying. The Board also considered that the book serves a useful social purpose in raising these issues for thought and debate and creating a context which may help young adults think more deeply about the immediate and long term consequences of choices they may be called upon to make.

However, there are scenes in the book that are powerful and disturbing, and in the opinion of the Board run a real risk of shocking and disturbing young readers. Whilst those aged 14 and above are likely to have a level of maturity that enables them to deal with this, those below the age of 14 may not.

The Film and Literature Board of Review classified the book as objectionable except if the publication is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 14 years. The Board also requires that any further publications of the book carry the same descriptive note as the present publication, reading “parental advisory explicit content”.

What does this decision mean?

The Board of Review decision replaces the one by the Classification Office. It is illegal for anyone, including parents and guardians, to supply Into the River to anyone under the age of 14.

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Filed under New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, New Zealand Writer, Prize winners, Ted Dawe

NZ Post Children’s Book Awards – 2013

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Congratulations to all finalists and Prize Winners in this year’s NZ Post Children’s Book Awards.

There were some surprises in this year’s winners, and some books that I felt deserved more recognition than they got.  I am only commenting on the Junior Fiction and Young Adult Fiction categories, as these are the ones for which I have read all of the finalists.  For the results click here

My prize list would have looked something like this:

The book I enjoyed the most and would like to pick up again:

Reach – Hugh Brown.

The book that has been most read and passed around by children in my three English classes:

The ACB by Honora Lee – Kate de Goldi

and

Honours in this category to

Red Rocks – Rachael King

The book that had the most compelling narrative:

Into the River – Ted Dawe

The book that is well written and informative, with a fresh perspective, but is it really written for kids (it won Junior Fiction):

My Brother’s War – David Hill

NZ Post childrens book awards

Some thoughts I have about the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards.

* Are three judges enough? Many judging panels for book awards are larger.  Does five sound unreasonable?

* Should there be more judges who are in touch with what children are actually reading? (This year’s panel were a very fine team of pe0ple, with Bernard Beckett – high school teacher and writer of Young Adult novels; Eirlys Hunter – writer, writing tutor at Victoria University and in Wellington Schools, and Lynn Freeman – wonderful host of National Radio’s The Arts on Sunday – which is always worth a listen).  My quibble is not with them, but where are the representatives for younger readers, and particularly those at the challenging ‘tween’ stage (specifically, Year 8, 12 and 13yrs)?

* Do we need a category for Middle Readers?  Young Adult, as a category, seems to have evolved into a beast of its own, important, but not relevant to most teachers and librarians who will not be able to put the books on their shelves, or in their classrooms, because of the explicit content.  Middle readers are very different to Junior Readers, in that they are wanting to read dystopian fiction that challenges the status quo and explores the separation from families that begins to happen at this age.  But, they don’t particularly want or need the serious relationship, drug and alcohol, and other stuff explored in young adult books.

* What really makes a great book?  For example, in my classroom of late, a series that has caught the imagination of the children and has been devoured by most of them is, ‘Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading’, ‘Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credits’, and ‘Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Summer Vacation’.  I have waiting lists for these books – with boys names on them!  Lots of names.  They are humorous.  They are full of action.  They deal with real issues in a very matter of fact way.  They are getting kids who haven’t been readers enthusiastically recommmending them to their friends.  I know this doesn’t make them great books necessarily, but they are well-written and they have a witty, current voice.

* Have we done the war theme now?  I kid you not…go back through the last few years of the NZPCBA and you will find acres of material on the war (WW1, WW2 – mostly).  Let me illustrate (in case I exaggerate, and have to eat my words).

2013:  My Brother’s War category winner– (1914-1918 – conscientious objectors, and war), Earth Fire, Dragon Hare finalist (1948 – 1954 Malayan Emergency)

2012: Nice Day for a War Overall winner and category winner (WW1)

2011: Zero Hour: The Anzacs on the Western Front category winner (WW1)

2010: Dear Alice Category winner (WW2)

…You get the picture.  I admired Mandy Hagar’s ‘The Nature of Ash’ to some extent, and Jane Higgins’ ‘The Bridge’ very much, for being New Zealand stories that place themselves in possible futures.  I’d like to see a little more dystopian, speculative fiction out there and being taken seriously.  I think also of Joy Cowley’s ‘The Hunter’, which plays with time in a uniquely New Zealand way.   Let’s get some real variety into the book award finalists lists.  Where’s the humour and fun edginess of Melinda Szymanik’s ‘The Were-Nana’?  I ramble, but I’m looking for diversity here.  Other favourites from the past, for me, include ‘The 10pm Question’ – Kate de Goldi, and ‘Juggling with Mandarins’ – VM Jones.

Next year is the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of the 1914-1918 Great War.  I am sure that has not slipped the mind of publishers, and I’m guessing a flurry of ANZAC books, but we really do already have some great ones, and some not so great ones.  If there is a flurry, I do hope that quality wins through and we find some new narrative persectives (as David Hill did, this year).

The most important thing to me is that the books that win their categories, and the overall prize, are books that children and young adults will read, and that will encourage them to read more.  I am sure that this years ‘Into the River’ could have an audience in the 15+ age groups, and ‘Reach’ falls well into the YA category.  I also felt that ‘The ACB with Honora Lee’ and ‘Uncle Trev and his Whistling Bull’ are well pitched as Junior Fiction.  ‘My Brother’s War’ is an excellent book, which, in my opinion would be best represented by a Middle Years category.  Congratulations to all writers in this award.  It was a fine vintage!

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Filed under Hugh Brown, Kate de Goldi, New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, New Zealand Writer, Prize winners, Ted Dawe, Uncategorized

Into the River – Ted Dawe – R14

Into the RiverM – Readers 15+, Classified R14

Winner Young Adult Category, and Overall Winner, NZ Post Children’s Book Awards, 2013

It is illegal for this book to be sold to children under 14 years of age.

This book is the prequel to Ted Dawe’s Thunder Road (2003), which won both the Young Adult and Best First Book awards in the 2004 NZ Children’s Book Awards.  Having read ‘Into the River’, I am very keen to read ‘Thunder Road’.  One of the things about a prequel is that it is always leading to a thoroughly told beginning, and so there is an inevitability to the story. Even though I haven’t read Thunder Road, I could really feel the inexorable drive of this story.  I think this is a real strength of the book.

Preview of Into the River

The story beings with young Te Arepa and his best friend Wiremu eeling.  This is beautifully written, with the friendship between Wiremu and Te Arepa having real legs.  The dialogue and interaction have a truth to them that draws the reader ‘Into the River’ with them, as they catch a monster eel:

He’s a monster!’

‘He’s the taniwha of the river!’

The eel made his leisurely way downstream, the hook projecting from the side of his mouth.  The boys trotted along, keeping pace.  After fifty metres, the river changed course and crossed a shallow ridge of river boulders.

‘We can get him when he crosses the rocks,’ yelled Wiremu.

As if it heard, the eel immediately made for the bank.  It nuzzled its way into the reeds immediately above the rapids.

Now’s our chance,’ said Te Arepa.  ‘We might be able to drag him over to the rocks.’

They let the line go slack and ran to where it was shallow enough to cross.  Once they were halfway across, they began to pull together.  At first it seemed pointless.  Nothing would shift this monster.  But then his head appeared and he made a dash straight past them over the rushing rocks.’

However, as the back of the book says:

‘Some rivers should not be swum in.  Some rivers hold secrets that can never be told.

When Te Arepa Santos is dragged into the river by a giant eel, something happens that will change the course of his whole life.  The boy who struggles to the bank is not the same one who plunged in, moments earlier.  He has brushed against the spirit world, and there is a price to be paid; an utu to be exacted.’

As you may have noticed, Te Arepa’s last name is Spanish.  The telling of the story of Diego, the ancestor who gave Te Arepa his last name, is a fantastically wrought tale told over three nights to Te Arepa and his younger sister Rawinia, by their grandfather, Ra.  All of this tale weaving lulls you into a false sense of security.  You feel, as a reader that, when Te Arepa is offered a place at an elite Auckland Boarding School for boys, he has the strength to cope and to hold on to who he is.

But it doesn’t quite work like that.

As Paikea drives him to Auckland in her courier van, Te Arepa becomes transfixed with her driving – the way that she seems at one with the vehicle.  He has his first lesson (despite being 13 years old).  At school, he is given a new name – Devon – and makes he friends with the worldly and world weary Steph, athlete and petrol-head Mitch, and farm boy Wingnut.  Progressively, Devon separates himself from everything that identifies him as Maori, because of the consistent and persistent bullying from the older boys and even the masters.  His first year at school reveals some cracks, but his second year is relentless.

While there may seem to be some similarities between ‘Snakes and Ladders’ (another NZ Post Children’s Book Awards nominee) and ‘Into the River’ (small town boy is moved to elite Auckland boarding school, where he needs to learn to deal with the super rich and the bullies, as well as the eccentricities of elite boarding school life) in reality, there are few.  This tale is an absorbing, relentless, addictive read.  The characters are well drawn and three dimensional  – although not always likeable.  There is an inevitability to the story that feels real, even though you don’t want it to be that way.

This book is definitely 14+ in my view, as sex, drugs, alcohol etc feature relatively prominently – but not gratuitously (at least most of the time…it does occasionally slip into 14yr old fantasyland…IMO)  Recommended.  4/5 stars.

Read more about Ted Dawe here:

Ted Dawe

Read another review of Into the River here:

Bobs Books Blog

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Filed under Four stars, New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, New Zealand Writer, Ted Dawe, YA 14+