Dear John: Rugby and astronomical fiction

John McIntyre from The Children’s Bookshop in Wellington was here once a month to answer your child-related reading questions. He was a top children’s bookseller until his death earlier this month. This is his final column.

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Dear John,

My 12-year-old has a new-found fascination with the sky – planets, stars, space exploration, etc. What are some good recent books we could buy or borrow that fit this theme?

Gretchen B.

Dear Gretchen,

I’ll avoid non-fiction as there are any number of resources available on space – both in book form and on the internet.

I have three novels for you to seek out that will appeal via the ‘cosmic’ aspect, but which will engage on a more human level as well.

Zeustian Logic by Wellingtonian Sabrina Malcolm was launched last month at the Carter Observatory and is pitched right at your child’s age and interest. It is a novel about a boy whose father disappeared whilst climbing, and his attempts to find out more, but interwoven with planetary discoveries and a touch of mythology. Set in Wellington, 13-year-old Tuttle finds escape by gazing at the universe through his telescope, losing himself in Sirius The Dog Star and Orion’s Belt.

We also loved See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng which canvases similar themes as Zeustian Logic – the need to find meaning from loss, but again with space as the back-story. It is beautifully written with some unforgettable characters.

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce is a comedic story of a tall, mature-looking 13-year-old who finds himself in charge of a space craft with a crew of children. Loads of laughs and not a lot about space as such other than that they’re in it, but I loved it. So did the Guardian.



Dear John,

Like many kids all over the world, my eight-year-old son is OBSESSED with rugby. He is also a very keen reader, particularly of factual books. Can you suggest a few rugby-oriented books for his collection?


Bobbie F.

Welcome to our nightmare, Bobbie.

In a country obsessed by the game, there are virtually no books available for children, and there never has been. We have begged and cajoled publishers but they don’t seem to understand that your boy is typical of many, and would devour these books.

It plays into the narrative I’ve been running for a long time that boys are readers if we give them books they want to read. There are some reasons for the dearth of rugby literature – anything from outside of New Zealand won’t cut it because who wants to read about players who aren’t All Blacks, and no self-respecting Kiwi child will read a ‘how to play the game’ book by an Englishman, for instance.

Books that feature individual players are problematic, too – the players tear a hamstring from the end of their careers and drop off the radar, and the books become out-of-date.

The one book that would suit your son is The Beginner’s Guide to Rugby by Aaron Cruden. He will love it – it is full of pictures, information and tactics, and stories of Aaron’s own career. It came out in April 2015, a few months before Dan Carter was due to retire and Aaron was the heir incumbent. He seemed the ideal candidate to take over – until injury and Beauden Barrett intervened.

You’ll find the odd copy for sale, but the publishers have advised us that it is now out of print and they have no plans to reprint.



Photo by Tiffany Matsis

Our Dear John passed away soon after answering these questions, so this will be the final publication of this wonderful column. There was a third question this week, to which John provided a list of books as his answer – the topic was building-block books for a child’s first library. We will put this on The Sapling later in the week. To find out more about the effect John had on the NZ children’s book industry, please read our memorial about him.

John McIntyre
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John McIntyre was the owner, with his wife Ruth, of The Children's Bookshop in Kilbirnie, Wellington (since 1992). He was a leading voice in children's literature in New Zealand, and an ardent supporter of our local authors, illustrators and publishers. Their store has hosted numerous launches, seminars, speeches, workshops and book-related events over the years.

John was the children's book reviewer on Nine to Noon on Radio NZ for 15 years, and had twice judged the New Zealand Children's Book Awards. He passed away after battling serious illness for many years, in June 2017.