Book Awards: The Non-Fiction Finalists

Simie interviewed five booksellers from around the motu about their favourite finalists in the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction category in this year’s NZCYA Awards. Booksellers are the passionate people who are putting these books into the hands of the adults who buy for children, and we found five particularly wonderful folks who were over the moon about this year’s selections, discovering that two things that the selected books appeared to have in common was their cross-generational appeal, and fabulous covers.

Megan Landon from Books for Kids Hamilton – Three Kiwi Tales, by Janet Hunt (Massey University Press)

Three Kiwi Tales is the whole package as far as Megan is concerned. From the cute, fluffy chick on the front cover that is guaranteed to get animal-loving kids to pick it up, to having ‘all the conventions of a non-fiction book’, making it perfect as a resource for schools and those kids who like all the facts.

‘I was a teacher/librarian for many years so I really look at a book when I buy it and I know that a lot of my customers are the same. I like the sturdy paperback with the extended flaps which makes it look like you’ve got an extra dust jacket and the patterned endpapers, which I always love.’

It’s hard to know what the right amount of words might be for a book, but this book hits the sweet spot, with just enough information without veering madly into being too wordy for the intended audience. Megan noted the great introduction, that informs the readers and lets them know what to expect, ‘it also sets out how there are five different types of kiwi—I didn’t realise that!’

Megan is a passionate bookseller who has a unique teacher/librarian lens when accessing a book, and she loves the narrative nature of this book, as well as the how it takes the reader through the vets diagnosis and treatment of three different kiwi. ‘The photographs and x-rays add beautifully to the text…it’s real-life stuff’. This is a reference book that tells a uniquely New Zealand story and Megan would like to see it in every school library, saying ‘it’s a must-have book…it’s one of the exceptional books out there.’

…Megan would like to see it in every school library, saying ‘it’s a must-have book…it’s one of the exceptional books out there.’

Megan noted that one of the exceptional things about it is that we often hear that kiwi are endangered, but we don’t always hear stories of how they are being helped, and this provides a refreshing perspective that may inspire a child reading it to become a wildlife vet. ‘Three Kiwi Tales is perfect for kids that love animals, and that cute kiwi on the cover would get them reaching for it–well done, Massey!’

Megan can’t recommend this book enough, it is sturdy, well-balanced, with lots of information but it is spaced perfectly for readability with illustrations, diagrams, x-rays, photographs and the handmade headings that Megan is particularly fond of.

Megan Landon, Owner, Books for Kids, Hamilton

Three Kiwi Tales

By Janet Hunt

Massey University Press

RRP $24.99

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Lucy Bailey from The Children’s Bookshop, Kilbirnie – Te Tiriti o Waitangi|The Treaty of Waitangi, by Toby Morris, Ross Calman, Mark Derby, Piripi Walker (Lift Education)

Lucy likens choosing a winner from the non-fiction category to picking a favourite child, however the powerful and timely message in Te Tiriti o Waitangi by Toby Morris makes this Lucy’s firm pick to win the non-fiction category.

The cover is immediately appealing, but it is more than an appreciation of a good illustration that draws Lucy to it—she loves how it shows the diversity of Aotearoa. She also loves the thought that clearly went into the small things, like putting the barcode on both sides, so that one side isn’t ‘backwards’: ‘you flip it over and it’s a normal looking book, no matter which way you’re looking at it’. This shows the publishers understand the importance of weighting the Māori and English translations equally.

‘I don’t know how you could actually have said no to it in the awards,’ says Lucy. The graphic nature of this book allows it to tell a detailed history of Aotearoa that while simplified, is not incorrect or misleading—a very tricky thing to do.

‘In a way, Toby Morris tells his story—it starts and ends with that and gives you his reason for telling it. This allows people to connect with it and hopefully kids will take it home to their parents and talk about it,’ Lucy reckons. ‘I think it’s also important that it is told from a Pākehā point of view because they are the ones who really need to know about it.’

Lucy also felt that Toby had a very good understanding of the issues, learning from others as he drew. ‘Lift Education is excellent at putting together the right people to work on a book.’

The graphic novel style makes the issues easy for younger people to engage with. She notes that graphic novels are huge at the moment and that kids respond well to information delivered in this way. ‘All the supporting imagery helps kids and tells them what’s going on.’

Lucy noted that it’s been a really good seller, especially to schools, and Lift has provided teaching resources that go into more detail than the book. ‘There are videos of where the treaty actually went to and where it didn’t go, [for example,] it didn’t go to Taranaki, where I’m from. But those are the sorts of things that people don’t actually know at all.’

Being a reorua/bilingual book means those concepts can cross over to kids who are reading in te reo Māori. This also makes it a great resource for people who are trying to learn te reo Māori.

Appealing to a wide audience has been part of what makes this book not only a natural choice for the awards but also a success at The Children’s Bookshop. Lucy mentioned people were buying it for themselves, or to discuss with their kids, and schools have bought multiple copies to give to school leavers. ‘We don’t always get that with children’s books but this is definitely one that adults read themselves.’

Appealing to a wide audience has been part of what makes this book not only a natural choice for the awards but also a success at The Children’s Bookshop.

While Lucy thinks all the finalists are all worthy of winning, this is her pick to win the overall prize thanks to its timeliness and the fact that it is such an important issue. ‘Getting this message across to people in a really simple way that is hard to take offence at is something that we haven’t always been good at doing in books. This book is just a really important resource.’

Lucy Bailey (Te Ati Awa) from The Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie, Wellington

Te Tiriti o Waitangi | the Treaty of WAitangi

By Toby Morris with Ross Calman, Mark Derby & Piripi Walker

Lift Education

RRP $20.00

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Helen Wadsworth from the Dorothy Butler Children’s BookshopKuwi and Friends Māori Picture Dictionary by Kat Merewether, translated by Pānia Papa (Illustrated Books)

‘Where do I start? It’s so gorgeous, I like the format, the bigness of it. It is a bit trendy these days, but it still really suits the book. I love the colour palette and just the whole design of it really, the sort of almost pastel backgrounds and the variation, there’s some purple, some pinks, greens and blues.’

Helen from Dorothy Butler has all the feels for Kuwi and Friends, and notes that it is a book that has crossed boundaries and has adults buying it for themselves as well as for children.

There are a lot of elements that make this really appealing to children, including the units of time and the hatching Kiwi, and the references to the hungry caterpillar. While she thinks the bright, appealing illustrations are a drawcard for children, she feels that the fun, clear style works for any age group. ‘I’d be happy to use this as my Māori picture dictionary above other ones because it’s so nice to look at, it’s gorgeous.’

Where many picture dictionaries can feel perfunctory and dated, ‘this isn’t just a list of 100 words. The whole look of this book is great, including the typeface and the fact it is the Māori words that stand out, which is really cool’. Helen loved the inclusion of Māori culture and te ao Māori concepts. She loved the pages about Ngā Pūrākau (Creation narratives) and Te Marae, where ‘you get a cultural picture as well as a word picture’. It is all the extras, like the planets and black holes in Te Ao Tekupū and the Te Whakapapa page, that make this book exceptional.

Helen reckons Kuwi and Friends has also got what you need in terms of pronunciation, although she noted that it doesn’t have the syllable stressors which can be helpful when you are learning a language. While being beautifully made and having purely New Zealand content made it a sure fire pick for the judges, Helen also recognised how timely and relevant this book is, as more people wish to learn te reo Māori, ‘It’s just the right time for it really. It’s just great, every house should have one.’

Helen also recognised how timely and relevant this book is, as more people wish to learn te reo Māori

Helen believes the Kuwi and Friends Māori Picture Dictionary is a book that could turn you on to learn te reo Māori. ‘I used to be a language teacher and I dealt with a lot of picture dictionaries and a lot of them are purely functional, you know? They’re just like “okay, here’s the picture and here’s the word and we’ll just see how many we can cram on the page.” This is kind of the first one I’ve ever seen that’s actually been made into a beautiful object and has the content to match.’

Helen Wadsworth, Owner, Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop, Auckland

Kuwi and Friends MAAori Picture Dictionary

By Kat Quin

Translated by Pānia Papa

Illustrated Publishing

RRP $34.99

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Becks Popham from Unity Books WellingtonThe Adventures of Tupaia by Courtney Sina Meredith and Mat Tait (Allen & Unwin)

While there are books on Tupaia for adults, Becks hadn’t seen anything for kids, and certainly nothing of such a luscious publication outside the adult realm. So when she first spied a copy of The Adventures of Tupaia at a Booksellers conference she thought everything about it was visually stunning. But to find that the words and content matched the illustrations was almost too much for her bookseller heart.

Becks is a big fan of Mat Tait, more a total fangirl, by her own admission. ‘His colour palette is always amazing, and he has striking line work. I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. It’s quite a unique feel.

‘I’ve come from growing up loving graphic novels and the artwork that goes in graphic novels and it’s so expressive and clean and it captures it perfectly. It makes my tummy do funny things in a good way. That’s the technical term.’

Being an artist and illustrator herself, she was ‘immediately getting amongst it.’ Becks was thrilled at the idea of Mat pairing with Courtney Sina Meredith for this book. ‘She’s a powerhouse. I saw her at a writer’s festival a few years ago, and she is so clever and her writing is amazing, and listening to her talk I thought this is going to be amazing, she’s going to put an interesting spin on it.’

The Adventures of Tupaia might have spoken to Becks in a visual way but she found Courtney’s writing visual and lyrical as well, ‘it captures you in the way you don’t expect from a non-fiction book. It has transcended from non-fiction. It reads like the old type of writing where it’s got that lyrical element to it. Like the old songs that tell the stories. It’s the oral history side of it coming through.’

And then there is how important it is to tell this story to a wider audience. Becks notes how Tupaia’s achievements have been overshadowed by Cook and all the things he has meant to have done. ‘When really, he wouldn’t have got half as far without Tupaia. And Tupaia is such an important person in his own right, as a priest, and as a warrior. And especially with what is happening in the world at the moment, we need non-coloniser voices coming through and their stories to be told to a wider audience.’

When buying for the children’s book section, Becks loves that there are so many books for kids that have an adult appeal as well. ‘The Adventures of Tupaia has had a wide range of people buying it, from people in their 30s, to grandparents buying it, and schools, so we know that there is something about it that is capturing a lot of people. And on the merit of the cover alone, people grab it.’

‘The Adventures of Tupaia has had a wide range of people buying it, from people in their 30s, to grandparents buying it, and schools, so we know that there is something about it that is capturing a lot of people.’

As for the intended audience, Becks hopes this is a book that will encourage kids to learn more about Tupaia, and that the visual elements will draw them in. ‘I hope it sparks intrigue, they have heard the name somewhere and want to read it.’

And while she loves so many of the non-fiction line-up this year, she is really backing this book that has resonated with her so deeply. ‘This book has given me the heart squeezes. The love rage. I don’t know why I love it but I do.’

Becks Popham, Children’s Book Buyer, Unity Books Wellington

The Adventures of Tupaia

By Courtney Sina Meredith & Mat Tait

Allen & Unwin

RRP $35.00

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Ange Travers from Little Unity, Auckland – Mophead by Selina Tusitala Marsh (Auckland University Press)

Mophead was always going to be a winner for Ange. ‘The production has everything I love in a book, the matte production, everything about it I find fantastic. Even the unconventional size of it, we’ve had it on our table from the day we launched it.’

It is also a book that she sees as incredibly timely: ‘Selina couldn’t have known how timely it was going to be, and it’s such a gorgeous story. She obviously had her worries as a child. And for every worried child there are two worried parents. It’s the perfect storm, the production, the quirkiness, the story, the humour.’

LIttle Unity has seen a lot of adults buying Mophead for the children in their lives saying ‘she will love this’. We are quick to do the tall poppy thing in Aotearoa, but what many people love is that this book celebrates that, says Ange. ‘It’s empowering, and whether they already identify their kids as victims of bullying, quiet children, or a bit different in some way, they can see that it is a book that will help their child.’ Equally there are a lot of people buying it because it’s so funny. It’s a cute story.

Ange loves the repetition and the sassy nature of the protagonist, ‘once she’s made up her mind—she is like “aha! I’m not going to do that for you!” Her personality is actually quite Pippi Longstocking-esque, just going to sass out people with her unconventional look’.

The book has behaved a lot like the protagonist. Ange laughs, ‘It’s a naughty little book: it came out into a world that reckoned it shouldn’t be successful, but look at it, it’s just wonderful. It is unconventional, and it will continue to sell even with the next one coming.’ She notes that they have sold nearly 200 copies of Mophead which is pretty intense for a little New Zealand book.

It is something in this underdog element to the story, how the story is about celebrating being different and making your difference work for you that appeals to Ange, and it’s something she knew her customers would love. ‘I can say on so many levels why a customer should buy it.’

It is something in this underdog element to the story, how the story is about celebrating being different and making your difference work for you that appeals to Ange, and it’s something she knew her customers would love

Without even having to pause, Ange is certain this is her pick from the finalists, although she acknowledges that the line up is tough and a lot of the things she loves about Mophead are true for the others. ‘The judges’ decision is tricky, but what a great dilemma to have.’

This is a book that sits comfortably in many different genres and in many people’s hands, it is a lovely present for babies but it is a story that has far-reaching appeal. ‘It’s actually an incredible story, I mean she’s met Barack Obama, the Queen. Is she serious?’

Ange Travers, Little Unity Manager & Buyer, Unity Books Auckland


By Selina Tusitala Marsh

Auckland University Press

RRP $25.00

Buy now

Check out our coverage of the other Book Awards for Children & Young Adults categories:

The Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for Te Reo Māori – reorua reviews

The Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction Finalists – publisher takes

The Picture Book Finalists – Tara Black illustrates her reviews of the finalists

The Young Adult Fiction Finalist authors explain the story behind their stories

The Book Awards 2020 Book Quiz

The Best First Book finalists answer our Q’s about the inspiration, challenges and audience for their books

The Russell Clark illustration finalists give us exclusive insight into the process of illustrating each book

The NZCYA finalists announcement, including reckons from editors Sarah, Nida and Simie