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
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
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!