2017 Christmas Shopping List: Picture Books

Do you want to be sure you’re getting top-shelf books for your favourite people this Christmas – or on any gift-giving occasion? We are making it easy for you! Here is our selection of the very best New Zealand picture books of 2017.

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The Longest Breakfast

By Jenny Bornholdt, illustrated by Sarah Wilkins

Published by Gecko Press

RRP $30.00

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In this delightful story Jenny Bornholdt shows us a family getting up and making breakfast, through fun little flashes of conversation. There are mysteries – what is the baby asking for repeatedly? – false assumptions and misunderstandings.

Friends and neighbours turn up, and everyone has different suggestions for the menu – and poor Malcolm, the only adult in the book, doesn’t look like a morning person!

Between them, Bornholdt and illustrator Sarah Wilkins make one of the most repetitive and familiar parts of family life fresh and captivating, with delightful characters, bright illustrations and enough to chat about with little ones to last dozens of readings. It’s a winner.

See Thalia’s full review here.

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The Curious Ar-Chew

By Sarah Grundy

Illustrated by Ali Teo & John O’Reilly

Published by Scholastic New Zealand

RRP $17.99

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Grundy tells the story of a mysterious creature hiding in a hollow tree log, and tells it well. Hedgehog thinks it looks a bit like Goose’s feet, so seeks out Goose to figure it out. Goose admits she doesn’t tend to sleep in trees, and comes for a look. She reckons it might be a Rabbit, and so the story carries on.

At each step, the animals are concerned that whatever it is must be lost and need looking after. There is a lot of compassion in the story, something which may play a good part if you wish to talk to your kids about empathy.

The illustrations are absolutely integral to the success of this book. The depiction of the boots, the fur and more are each well-drawn so as to not make it too obvious, what exactly the Ar-Chew might be.

See Sarah’s full review here.

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O le Meaālofa mo Ana/A gift for Ana

By Jane Va’afusuaga

Illustrated by Azra Pinder-Pancho

Published by Little Island Press

RRP $25.00

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This is a quiet, lovely story of a girl learning family history.

Ana wakes up on her first morning in Sāmoa and sits with her grandmother out in the garden. Not only does she get to eat a juicy mango, but she hears the story of how the mango tree came to be planted by her grandparents.

Jane Va’afusuaga has an ear for evocative, sensory details, letting us in on, for instance, not just the taste of the mango, but its warmth, scent, texture, and the way the juice drips down your chin. The illustrations are beautiful, adding depth to the scene perfectly.

Available in Sāmoan and English.

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The Singing Dolphin/Te Aihe i Waiata

By Mere Whaanga

Published by Scholastic New Zealand

RRP $20.00

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This is an original Māori myth about a family with a grandmother and three grandsons. The two older brothers are not kind to their odd-bird third brother – but the brother is a type of shaman, who can talk to nature.

The text and illustration are entwined beautifully by Whaanga, with white-background sketches pushing out the dream spirit world in a delicate, wistful way. You finish the book having been on a journey.

This is one of a growing number of picture books with the full text in both English and te reo Māori. There’s a full glossary at the back, so it’s an ideal stepping stone for English speakers who want to increase their reo, as well as being an immersive story for reo speakers.

See an extract from this book in our Picture Book Award coverage.

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Pūtangitangi Walks

By Stephanie Thatcher

Published by Scholastic New Zealand

RRP $18.00

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This simple and heart-warming rhyming book introduces us to pūtangitangi, the Paradise shelduck.

First we see the female pūtangitangi having a fine old time in the reeds, before she heads off to find a male friend. By the end, we have two pūtangitangi having fun together.

The rhyming and structure are beautifully simple and the illustrations full of warmth and good humour. A lovely book for littlies.

You can also make a pūtangitangi finger puppet with Fifi’s fabulous designs and instructions right here.

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Ngā Atua/Māori Gods

By Robyn Kahukiwa

Published by Oratia

RRP $25.00

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Kahukiwa’s atua are super-heroes, as they always have been in her work around this theme of identities in the Māori spirit and atua worlds, be it illustrative or painting.

They include Mahuika who carries ‘fire in her fingers’ which she hurls at her enemies, Tūmatauenga the warrior who fights ‘for truth and justice’, Maui, part-atua, part-man, who fished Te Ika-a-Maui out of the sea, Hinetītama, the dawn maiden whose ‘powers of love come with her transformation into Hinenuitepō, great woman of the night.’

The mythology about the atua and their special powers are accompanied by Kahukiwa’s wonderful illustrations.

Read the rest of the review-cum-profile of Robyn Kahukiwa, by Kelly Ana Morey, here.

We’re Off to Find a Kiwi

By Juliette MacIver

Illustrated by Kate Wilkinson

Published by Scholastic New Zealand

RRP $18.00

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Juliette MacIver’s typically first-rate, jaunty rhyming takes us on a tour of the country as two children go on a quest.

They don’t know anything about where a kiwi might be, so they take some wrong turns, and are helped along the way by a tūī, a sheep and a kea, until they finally put all the clues together and go to the right habitat.

There are nice opportunities for children to guess what’s next, or join in a repeated line, and some of the rhymes are just hilarious. I won’t spoil the very best one, at the end, but trust me, this is Juliette MacIver at her best – as she seems always to be!

See Mark Broatch’s review for The Sapling here.

He Wāhi i te Puruma

By Julia Donaldson, translated by Karena Kelly and illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Published by Huia Publishers

RRP $20.00

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He PĪIIIKI mihi tēnei e rere atu nei ki a Karena Kelly, nāna i whakamāori te pukapuka He Wāhi i te Puruma.

Karena Kelly’s translation of Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson is a standout Māori language kid’s book to come onto the market this year.

It’s not easy to translate a book written completely in short rhyming rhythmic stanzas, but Kelly has pulled off the task with flair. Her use of creative language in te reo, interspersed with lovely easy repetition so that kids can still follow along easily, adds to a book that was already great in English.

A joy to read aloud! Ka mutu pea!

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Grandad’s Guitar

By Janine McVeagh

Illustrated by Fifi Colston

Published by Mākaro Press

RRP $25.00

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Kahu learns about his grandparents by way of a weathered guitar he inherits. As he strums away trying to pick up chords and tunes, he finds out how his grandparents travelled to Europe and Asia decades before on a boat – one that looks more like a sleek liner than a floating hotel block. There the two – and the guitar – had all manner of adventures.

The story is surely, concisely told by Janine McVeagh in her first picture book. It’s clearly autobiographical: the offbeat tales from Asia ring true (as does the groovy 60s/70s haircut of Kahu’s future grandad), and the photos at the back of grandchild and grandma, and a guitar in a green case seal the deal. And it rolls in sweet lessons: music bonds across time and space. Your grandparents might have lived cool lives when they were young. Stick at something and you’ll get better. And there’s often no love like that between grandchild and grandparent.

Read Mark Broatch’s review here.

That’s Not the Monster We Ordered

By Richard Fairgray and Terry Jones

Published by Penguin Group

RRP $19.99

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Richard Fairgray is one of the most interesting picture book artists to emerge recently, and in this book he has taken a simple concept and used it to explore individuality.

The Turner Family has the best monster around. It is suave, strong, athletic and all round amazing! So after a lot of negotiation to get mum around to the idea, the family orders a monster online, and are very excited to find out what it is like. But, it’s not the one they ordered!

Their monster turns out to be goofy, cuddly and fun … even if he is a little smelly. This book is humorous and fun, and celebrates the joy of difference.

Read the interview between Zee Southcombe and Richard Fairgray, here.