July 14, 2013
It’s been a while, but I thought I’d take some time to reflect on what won, what didn’t, and rather than having a knee jerk reaction, think through my response to the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards, 2013.
Firstly, the results.
Overall Winner, YA Category Winner: Into the River – Ted Dawe
Junior Fiction Category Winner: My Brother’s War – David Hill
Junior Fiction Honour Award: The Queen and the Nobody Boy – Barbara Else
Best Picture book: Mister Whistler – Margaret Mahy and Gavin Bishop
Best First Book: Reach – Hugh Brown
Children’s Choice: Melu – Kyle Mewburn
and a brief comment…
I think Into the River was a worthy winner, in many ways. It was clever, subtle, brutal and honest. It is one of the books in the finalist list that has lingered with me. There was a real sense of the inevitability of the story, while there was always still hope that it could be different – very difficult in a prequel. My difficulty with this book is that I wonder who its real audience is. It is absolutely a Young Adult book, and the story is something that I think many 15+ and 20 something readers will connect with. What I would like to know is the demographic of the people who have actually read the book.
My favourite, Reach, by first time author Hugh Brown, absolutely deserved the Best First Book prize. I only wish I was a Secondary School English teacher, so that I could introduce this quirky, humorous, thoughtful and absolutely Kiwi story to my students. I loved the literary references, which enriched without getting in the way, or feeling pretentious. I have made sure that it is in the Secondary Section of our library, and I hope that some of the English teachers pick it up and explore it with their classes. I would be extremely happy for my 14yr old RR to have this as a required reading!
The Junior Fiction category winner, My Brother’s War, is an interesting one. Certainly I enjoyed reading it. It opened up a whole area worthy of exploration in conscientious objectors. I also liked the use of two narrative voices, and how those voices changed according to their audience. But is ‘worthy’ what should win? Again, my question is who is the target audience? I have tried and tried to ‘sell’ this book, with my Year 7 and 8 classes. I’ve targeted the boys who like ‘war books’, the boys who like ‘action’, the boys and girls who like ‘issues’… So far, no takers. On the other hand, The ACB with Honora Lee, which I have to admit I thought would not catch on at all, is on the reading hot list amongst particularly the girls. It surprised me that The Queen and the Nobody Boy would gain an honour prize over this really quite compelling book. Again, this is one I have had trouble ‘selling’ in the classroom.
While the books that won were worthy of their prizes, in terms of the quality of their writing, I wonder about their relevance for parents, teachers and librarians trying to find books that children will read, and enjoy, and that will become part of the reading landscape for Kiwi children and Young Adults in the years to come. I’m all for us introducing books to children that challenge and extend their reading repertoire. I just can’t imagine using any of them in the classroom (except Reach) as a shared text, in the same way that I would use ‘See Ya Simon’, ‘Buddy’, ‘Juggling with Mandarins’, ‘Shooting the Moon’, and ‘Hunter’. That’s not counting classics like ‘Under the Mountain’, ‘The World Around the Corner’, or ‘The Guardian of the Land’.
Also, I query the sections. It seems to me that it is time we had a Middle Years fiction section. Junior Fiction is so wide – ranging from about 8 to at least 14-15, looking at the books in this year’s YA and Junior sections.
Still looking forward to next year’s competition…Go, New Zealand writers!
Over this month I am making a concerted effort to read all of the nominations for Young Adult and Junior Fictions for the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards.
As I read them, I will add my reviews and thoughts.
The nominees are:
- The ACB with Honora Lee – by Kate De Goldi & Gregory O’Brien
Published by Random House ISBN 9781869799892 Read my Review
- The Queen and the Nobody Boy (A Tale of Fontania) by Barbara Else – Read my Review here
Published by Gecko Press ISBN 9781877579233
- My Brother’s War by David Hill Read my review here
Published by Penguin Books ISBN 9780143307174
- Red Rocks by Rachael King Read my review here
Published by Random House ISBN 9781869799144
- Uncle Trev and His Whistling Bull by Jack Lasenby
Published by Gecko Press ISBN 9781877467158
Young Adult Fiction:
- Earth Dragon, Fire Hare Ken Catran
Published by HarperCollins ISBN 9781869509415 Read my review here
- Into the River by Ted Dawe Read my review here
Published by MUP ISBN 9780473205089
- The Nature of Ash by Mandy Hager Read my review here
Published by Random House ISBN 9781869799038
- Reach by Hugh Brown Read my review here
Published by HarperCollins ISBN 9781869509569
- Snakes and Ladders by Mary-Anne Scott Read my review here
Published by Scholastic ISBN 9781775430407
Just one book to go. Perhaps I’ve been saving something special for last…I am going to do something I didn’t think I would do. When I have read the Jack Lasenby I’m going to post who I think should win. There are some very good books in this year’s competition. But there are just one or two that will really stand the test of time, I think.
I have been reading Earth Dragon, Fire Hare, and as I was reading it I was thinking again about this year’s nominees for the NZPChB Awards. I was also thinking about book longevity – those books that become classics. I’m thinking of books like, ‘The Outsiders’, and ‘The Lord of the Flies’ and ‘The Chocolate War’. What gives them their durability, and what means that you can read them, and read them again – finding something new each time? And, how many of this year’s nominees come close to this kind of writing? How much does that matter?
Some books I read and loved ten years ago are supremely irritating to me now. Does that make them less worthwhile than my ten treasure island books? Or do they still have an important place in my reading history?
My bias is that I like books that become a permanent part of my reading landscape. I like it when people say, ‘Have you read….’ and immediately the book comes rushing back to me, and we can say, ‘remember when…’ and ‘that character drove me nuts because…’, ‘I loved it when…’, ‘that sentence just sticks with me.’ Books that linger and wake you up in the middle of the night, because suddenly something new came to you about it, and you have to get up and find the place in the book, just to check. Books that echo, so that every time you see a smiling dog, India Opal Buloni says, ‘ It’s hard not to immediately fall in love with a dog who has a good sense of humour’, or when you see someone painting a fence, Tom starts conning me, ‘Does a boy get the chance to whitewash a fence every day?’…the list could go on.
Which of these books will linger? So far, Young Will, quirky Perky and the curiously self-contained Perry are characters that have lingered, as well as Te Arepa/Devon and the conflict between his worlds. Jake and Jessie have also been surprisingly present and Red Rocks may well be a book I go back to – I am keen to see what some younger people make of it.
Just some thoughts for now…
So, April finished before my challenge did…but I will persist. I have now read and posted a review for Into the River – fantastic book. I have begun Earth Dragon, Fire Hare – which I have to say already feels very assured as a novel. My last novel to read, and this is a little bit deliberate, is the Jack Lasenby. I have always loved his Uncle Trev Stories – so it’s been a little bit like saving Easter chocolate… I know I’m going to like it, it’s just a question of how much!
Have finished Red Rocks and begun ‘Snakes and Ladders’ by Mary-Anne Scott. (Also read a couple of not NZ Post Books for a wee break).
So I am having a bit of a moment with the NZ Post books – I am confused. Why are so many of our female authors using male protagonists – is it to target the boy reading market? Have publishers been saying, ‘we need books boys will read’? I just wonder, because when I look at the protagonists this year, we have:
Reach – Hugh Brown – Will (boy – and a favourite for me, so far)
Red Rocks – Rachael King – Jake (boy)
The ACB with Honora Lee – Kate De Goldi – Perry (girl – most memorable character, so far)
Snakes and Ladders – Mary-Anne Scott – Finn (boy)
The Nature of Ash – Mandy Hagar – Ashley (boy)
My Brother’s War – David Hill – Edmund and William (boys)
The Queen and the Nobody Boy – Barbara Else – Hodie (boy) and (supporting character) Sibilla (girl)
Finished My Brother’s War yesterday, and posted a review today. Right now, I am off to read ‘Red Rocks – Rachael King’ and to pop into Paige’s Book Gallery to pick up the rest of the NZ Post Books waiting for me.
Oh dear – more dollars…One comment I would like to make is that reading is expensive if you are trying to read the very latest in fiction. So far, my spend on these books has been $ a lot! (Will find them and add them up later)
Have read The ACB with Honora Lee, The Queen and the Nobody Boy, and The Nature of Ash. Now I’m off to read My Brother’s War, since it is Anzac Day tomorrow.
Listen to a podcast of John from The Children’s Bookshop reviewing ‘My Brother’s War’ here: New New Zealand Novels – 16 November 2012
The first book I am reading is ‘Reach’ – by Hugh Brown.
I chose this book as my first read because it seems to be well-regarded. Kate DeGoldi has reviewed it on National Radio. (This link is Kate DeGoldi reviewing both ‘The Bridge’ and ‘Reach’). Interestingly, she also picks out that amazing! first sentence in ‘The Bridge’. Hugh Brown is the inaugural winner of the Tessa Duder Award for Young Adult Fiction.
Kate DeGoldi is VERY positive about the book – the review is well worth listening to because it also gives a very good synopsis of the story. Updates to follow…
Other useful links for ‘Reach’ – Hugh Brown:
The Children’s Bookshop – Wellington, New Zealand
I am buying all of these books from my favourite bookshop, Paige’s Book Gallery, here in Whanganui. So, there is no prejudice to my reviews. This is an interesting experiment for me. I am committed to supporting NZ literature but, at times, I find that it is difficult to find or source what is new and fresh on the market. Most of these books were published last year, and I have not yet read any of them. I personally found the Booksellers site, where the awards were listed, strange to navigate, and sadly lacking in reviews. Books do not come cheaply, and many of these titles are not available in electronic format. Some even have limited availability. NZ book month was last month, March. Finalists for the awards were announced on Friday 3rd April. Surely, there needs to be some kind of synchronicity around these events?
Again, there is a mixture of new and established writers on the list. Fantastic! With each review, I will try to find a little more information about the book, the author and the publisher. Time to get started.