The shortlist for the 2022 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults was announced recently, which is super exciting for a kids book nerd like me! This year, I thought it'd be fun to try and read them and let you know what I think. I'm not sure if I'll manage to get through all the titles in all the categories, but I'm gonna give it a shot! I wonder whether my favourites will win?
I'm going to start with the the five finalists in the picture book category, not just because they're quick to read, but also because I LOVE picture books! I always have, and I always will 🙂
Steph Matuku has drawn on Māori mythology in this tale about a fearless big brother rescuing his sister from Te Wheke the monster octopus. Te Wheke tricks Tamati with a beautiful gift for each of Tamati's arms, then steals Aria away while Tamati has his hands full. But Tamati and Mum are not so easily beaten! Laya Mutton-Rogers brings the story alive with her vivid illustrations, full of little details that add humour to the story. There's a seagull with floaties, fish with sunnies and snorkels, and all sorts of "treasures" to find in the ocean. I just love little sister Aria with her plasters on knee and elbow, her crocks, tutu, and "Mana Wahine" T-shirt. The ending was a little darker than I expected, but it's a perfect fit for the story!
There've been some fantastic feline characters created by kiwi authors over the years—Greedy Cat, Slinky Malinki, Horse from Footrot Flats, and the many cats from My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes, to name a few. Emily Joe's My Cat Can See Ghosts is a great addition to this feline tradition. I'm sure all cat owners are familiar with those moments when their cat suddenly takes fright at something no-one can see, and stampedes round the house in cat-attack-mode. The idea that they have just seen a ghost and need to frighten it away is the premise of this book, cleverly executed through Joe's rhyming text and vibrant illustrations.
This book wasn't what I expected. I didn't think a story about a haka festival would be so funny and exciting, but it is! I've never had the opportunity to go to Te Matatini, the Greatest Haka Festival on Earth. But reading this book, I felt like I was there! Pania Tahau-Hodges draws you into the festival and makes it all come alive. I've had a bit of a go with poi over the years, and felt quite pleased with myself just the other day when I demonstrated long poi to an American friend. I actually managed to keep my two poi flying for about a moment-and-a-half before they got tangled up. So the thought of The Flying Wheke, the ultimate poi move involving eight poi IN EACH HAND genuinely filled me with awe. And the glossary description of it, with it's Do not try this at home warning, truly had me laughing out loud! The risks include "getting a black eye, strangulation, and knocking your nan's cuppa out of her hand while she's in mid-sip." I get tangled up enough in my two poi, I defintely won't be trying this one at home! But I'd love to see it! And if I don't ever see it for reals, then Hemi-Morehouse's illustrations are a great next-best-thing.
I love cake just about as much as I love picture books. I've baked and decorated a fair few fancy birthday cakes over the years. Many's the time I've gone to bed on Party Eve worrying what will happen to the cake while I'm asleep. Will the ants find it? Will the sugar flowers slide down the sides as the icing shifts with glacial slowness? Will the tall and narrow eight layer creation still be standing when I wake up? If I could have someone standing guard over my cake, perhaps I would sleep a little sounder—but I wouldn't want Lion guarding my cake!! By day, Lion is a stone guardian atop the pillar by the gate, but at night he comes alive to guard the cake. Lion protects the cake from the mice, the cat, and the dog, but I think the cake was always in more danger from Lion himself than anyone else! This rhyming story is very readable, and the illustrations are lovely. But I just can't help feeling sorry for the baker and the birthday child!!
I love this book! I actually read this one before I knew it was shortlisted, and I even shared it with the mums and bubs at Babytimes the other week. It has everything I love about picturebooks: beautiful illustrations, a dollop of humour, and a text that can really be appreciated by the older reader, as well as the littley who is listening. There's actually no story as such in this book, it's purely a collection of word plays on the names of a number of different animals. But the word plays are wonderfully clever in their simplicity, and the illustrations capture the animals expressions so perfectly! You've just gotta feel for poor rhinoceros who drops his ice-cream and becomes a "crynoceros" or the bumblebee who becomes a "grumblebee" when the string on his Buzzy Bee breaks. And who doesn't know the feeling of delicious, satiated fullness at the end of a great meal that we see on Hamster Jamster's face?
David Elliot's illustrations have a muted softness that really appeals to me. I've often dreamed of illustrating children's books. If ever I get to do that, I'd want my illustrations to have the same sort of vibe (though I know I'm a million miles away from achieving that!!)
So. Which story is my favourite to win? They're all great books, but I'm putting my money on Bumblebee Grumblebee! The Eight Gifts of Te Wheke and The Greatest Haka Festival on Earth definitely come a close second. I'll be counting down till 10 August to find out if I'm right!