The winner of the Picture Book Award of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults will be announced at an awards ceremony at Tiakiwai Conference Centre at the National Library in Wellington on 11 August. The judging panel are a mix of librarians, educationalists and writers and are all very qualified to make a judgement on which book will take out the top prize. No arguments there.
But what does my 7 year old son think?
I borrowed each picture book finalist and read them for bedtime stories over a few nights and judged his reactions to them, and was sometimes able to elicit commentary. Below are the results, from lowest ranked to highest:
This book that weaves Māori mythology with themes of conservation came in as his least favourite. Reason? "The pictures aren't very colourful". Which it's hard to argue with as the illustrations by Kate Parker (who also wrote the story) are in the form of silhouettes in tones of browns, greens and yellows which is to say, not his favourites. But if your kid is nature-mad or really keen on trees it might spark joy with them.
No issues with the illustrations for Hare & Ruru which are lavish and invite closer examination for little bugs and creatures. From a parental point of view this was one of my favourites both for the illustrations and for the talking points on the last page which stimulated some conversation about how to deal with a brain that's too busy and has trouble being quiet. However, the story is a very simple one and might suit a slightly younger child.
(This title is also available in a te reo Māori version: Ko Hea rāua ko Ruru)
A picture book about a war memorial wasn't one I thought he'd rank highly but I think Anzac-related topics at school meant that something clicked with him about this one. We certainly had some further discussion about war. We talked about how sad it is when soldiers never make it home again which is why war is something to be avoided and not just all "blowing stuff up" fun that he imagines it to be.
In the end I couldn't get him to pick a single winner so tied in first place are...
I felt sure he'd pick Hound the Detective for the winner because he thought it was very funny when we read it and he really enjoyed trying to find the caterpillar hidden on each page. Kimberly Andrews' illustrations are detailed and joyful and the "mystery", though easily solved by parents, provided a great hook for this younger reader. With a lot to look at on every page we actually both enjoyed this one a lot.
I was more suprised by how much he liked The Hug Blanket. I didn't realise until part way through our first reading that the story involves the sudden death of a grandparent and I was worried we'd have tears not before, but during bedtime. And certainly the emotion wasn't lost on me either as I remembered spending time with my own, now departed, Nana as a youngster.
He got very quiet and sad looking when the Nana died in the story, and fair enough too. However, the story ends with real poignancy and warmth as the main character enjoys snuggling in the blanket her Nana made for her and her Nana lives on in the form of an enveloping hug. I think ending the story on an upbeat note, with a child enjoying the remembrance of familial love is what made the book. It's a suprisingly emotional story which he subsequently asked for it a few more times - always the sign of a winner picture book!
(The Hug Blanket is also available in a te reo Māori version: Te paraikete tauawhi)
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