A year of reading locally: Kids and young adult

Earlier this week I posted about the New Zealand fiction I'd read in 2020 and mentioned that this has led to me making more local choices as bedtime reading with my son (as well as more work by Māori authors). It also resulted in me reading several Young Adult titles. In today's post I'll run through what books for young readers by New Zealand authors we've enjoyed this year.



Ngā kī

Keys - A Māori father weaves imaginative tales for his daughter inspired by the keys he carries. This is a cute picture book that's fun to read, and with a really heartwarming ending that is a great prompt for before sleep cuddles. It's also available in a te reo version. Jingle, jangle, jingle!

Snake and Lizard

Snake and lizard - These stories by Joy Cowley generated quite a bit of conversation between me and my six year-old as there's a sly humour or deceit in some of them that needed explaining. Snake and lizard live in the desert and eventually become friends but are prone to disagreements due to their tendency to be vain, dishonest or greedy. Still, they endeavour to be helpful to their fellow desert-dwellers, and the stories continue in Friends, and Helper and helper (with illustrations for all 3 provided by Christchurch legend, Gavin Bishop). We read them all on eBook


Dewdrop - This graphic novel for kids by Christchurch author/illustrator is 100% adorable and follows a cute axolotl as they attempt to be helpful and supportive of their friends at the underwater sports day. But don't just take my word for it: our resident six year-old had this to say,  "awwh, that was a nice story, huh?". 

Whetū Toa and the Magician

Whetū Toa and the magician - In this chapter book by Steph Matuku, all of the characters (that aren't talking farm animals) are Māori. Even the King and Queen. I was quite taken aback by it but then kind of in awe, to be honest. In the story a young girl and her mother move to a farm to work for a famous magician and magical shenanigans ensue. One of the great things about this book is that the chapters are really short meaning when someone begs for "one more chapter!" you can indulge the request as it usually involves only reading a few more pages. Good magical fun.

The Smelly Giant

Tio Tiamu

The smelly giant - A boy keeps growing and growing into a giant, but unfortunately he also stinks! This is a poignant picture book story of a character who is rejected but never loses his ability to love and be kind. It's also a lovely way of introducing the Māori concept of viewing a wharenui as the body of a great ancestor with its backbone and arms forming part of the building. Also available in a te reo Māori version.

The Inkberg Enigma

The inkberg enigma - Jonathan King's graphic novel for kids is a cracker - part Terry Teo, part Tintin, with the spooky unnatural vibe of Under the mountain. Kiddo and I read this together and both really enjoyed it. Two local kids in a small fishing town happen upon a mystery and follow their noses until the case is solved. Highly recommended.


Mophead - Kiddo and I were lucky enough to get a reading of this rad title from Selina Tusitala Marsh herself during the WORD Christchurch Spring Festival. This picture book is autobiographical and uses simple but energetic drawings to convey "Mophead's" feelings of shame at being "different", but it soon becomes a story of finding inspiration and following your dreams. 

Young Adults

When We Wake

When we wake -  This is Christchurch author Karen Healey's science fiction tale of a teen brought back from the dead via cryogenics into an unfamiliar and disorienting future. Set in Australia, Tegan is woken up 100 years into the future and has to find her way, getting to grips with new technology, and making new friends - all that would be challenging enough but there are people who aren't happy with her resurrection, and there are things she hasn't been told by the secretive government types in charge of "protecting" her. A well-paced read with a sympathetic, determined protagonist. The story continues with a sequel, While we run.

Flight of the Fantail

Flight of the fantail - Another title by Steph Matuku, this one's a cracking adventure sci-fi with high schoolers. After their school bus has a catastrophic accident in a remote wilderness, several teens struggle to stay alive and cope with the situation. But there's more than just the wilderness and grief to deal with... there's a strange influence at work that makes electronics and machinery go haywire and seems to be having an effect on the survivors as well. This is a real page-turner with some interesting characters to root for.

Sky Dancer

Sky dancer - To be honest, I'm not even sure if this is young adult fiction (it's not a genre that Witi Ihimaera is known for), but it certainly ticks the boxes of having a young adult as the main character who is facing some pretty full-on challenges (and just a little bit of romance). Skylark has travelled with her mother to a sleepy seaside town for a break, but the town isn't as sleepy as it seems, and Skylark and her mother have more reasons for leaving the city behind than just enjoying the sea air. 

The use of Māori creation stories around Tāne and his relationship with the forest and the birds who live there plants this story firmly in Aotearoa. Some of the references are a little dated now but in some ways this is a classic story of a determined but stubborn young protagonist trying to save a loved one (and the world) from a supernatural threat. A bit slow in the beginning, but the action picks up in the last third of the book, with some high-flying and well-paced conflict. Te reo Māori is used throughout, but usually with context or an English translation so it's easy enough for non te reo speakers to follow.

Still on our "to read" list for the rest of 2020

Catalogue record for AnnualCatalogue record for Annual 2Catalogue record for Charlie Tangaroa and the creature from the seaCatalogue record for Legacy

More New Zealand fiction for young readers