The All Books at the Kids’ Lit Quiz World Finals!

New Zealander Wayne Mills has been running the Kids’ Lit Quiz for thirty years. This year Palmerston North youth librarian Alan Dingley coached the New Zealand winners and accompanied them to Singapore for the international finals. Read all about it!

What is the Kids’ Lit Quiz? You may well ask!

The Kids’ Lit Quiz is an annual literature quiz for students aged 10-13 years. Thousands of students from the length of the country compete in regional competitions, leading to National Finals. The quiz was founded by New Zealand quizmaster Wayne Mills, who reads enough books to write several thousand questions each year. You can even test yourself on some of Wayne’s questions by visiting his Question Bank. Head to for everything under the sun.

Before 2019, Palmerston North Intermediate Normal School made the National Finals 11 times. And 11 times PNINS made that trek full of hope, only to stumble at the last hurdle. But 2019 would for some reason be different.

The all-girls team of Esther Steer, Reinhelda Gowthaman, Hannah Rynhart, and Mina Gagic broke the curse and for the first time PNINS would go to the World Finals – in Singapore!

July 8 rolled around and we presented at Palmerston North airport full of hope and expectation, only to be crushed with the overhead announcement that ‘Flight XYZ, Palmerston North to Christchurch has been delayed due to mechanical issues.’

So began the 24 hour trip of doom. Re-directs, missed connections, and patience were the story of the day as we finally arrived at our Singapore hotel, just in time to meet the other teams leaving for the day’s activities. After a 2-hour recovery time (featuring blessed shower) we met the other 10 teams at the astounding Tampine Library.

Being a football-playing, cooking-loving, theatre advocate, and movie buff this complex was nirvana. Seeing the indoor artificial football pitch with tiered seating, the culinary school, the movie theatre, and performance theatre, all in the same complex, was mind-blowing. The Library was very modern, in design and thinking, making use of the local senior population for volunteer duties, while the core of the staff were younger, vital, progressive thinkers.

We spent four sweltering days of seeing Singapore’s gorgeous sights, learning about the tenacity of their country’s existence, and just marvelling at how ‘right’ they do everything in its design. From the dome containing Gardens By the Sea with its indoor 40m waterfall, the River Safari with the Pandas rolling around in front of us, to the laser light show at the Marina Bay Sands – we were treated extremely well and saw so much in our wonderful time there.

But important business was afoot. The Final was drawing near. From all over the world, 11 teams of 4 kids, all incredibly intelligent young people, were growing excited and nervous.

The final was made up of 10 rounds of 7 questions, ranging from Dickens to Dahl, from Poppins to Cats.

Sitting in the crowd watching it all unfold was nerve-wracking, but nothing compared to the rollercoaster of emotions of the teams on stage. In time-honoured tradition, there were two points for correct answers but a point deduction for incorrect answers. So patience, as well as knowledge, was important!

The final was made up of 10 rounds of 7 questions, ranging from Dickens to Dahl, from Poppins to Cats. 

The PNINS girls had a strategy of patience that paid off. Some teams jumped the gun in pushing the buzzer, only to lose a vital point. The hardest round for the girls was ‘Extracts’ (random extracts from books were read) in which they fired off their only incorrect answer: Catching Fire instead of The Hunger Games. Such slim margins when you’re in expert company!

‘Books Into Musicals’ gained us two correct answers, as both answers were shows PNINS had actually produced in recent years.

The depth and breadth of knowledge these exceptional young people show is astounding, and training for something like this is incredibly hard, since anything could pop up.

The 10 categories on the night were: Adults in Kids; Books, Authors, Books to Musicals, Creatures, Extracts, Titles, Picture Book Openings, Nemeses, Characters, and Prologues. Head to the Quiz website to test yourself on all sorts of challenging past questions.

As the literature dust settled, the United States had cleared out to an impressive victory but the PNINS team had secured second place! The girls were over the moon, and the coach was quite chuffed himself.

The following night was the Gala Dinner which gave students (and chaperones) a chance to dress up to the nines, and mingle in the relaxed post-Final glow.

The joy of the Lit Quiz, in sports-dominated countries like New Zealand, is that kids and adults can enjoy an intense international competition where students can compete and connect with other book-lovers.

In 2008 Quiz founder Wayne was awarded the New Zealand Margaret Mahy Medal for his substantial and distinguished contribution to literature and literacy and in 2011 he was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for meritorious service to his country. The quiz has been running close to 30 years and Wayne is looking forward to many years more.

I’m not sure how next year’s Aotearoa team will fare, but I am looking forward to heading to the 2020 World Kids Lit Quiz Final in Hamilton in any capacity possible!

Alan Dingley
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Alan is Aotearoa’s Te Awhi Rito Reading Ambassador and is the Library Manager at Freyberg High School in Palmerston North. He has a background in theatre (part of current NZ Theatresports champions ‘SpontaneoUS’) and enjoys using his theatre skills teaching story-building workshops, where he tries to give children, young people, and even adults the confidence to tell their stories, their way. He is a lucky Dad to two gorgeous girls, Sam and Georgie, who lost their Mum Kirsty 6 years ago. Books have played a massive part in their healing process.