2024 NZCYA Picture Book Award Finalists

The picture book finalist pukapuka are as varied as they are colourful. Linda Jane Keegan takes the shortlisted books to a few classes at Tākaka Primary School and asks the tamariki what they think. See our comments on the complete list of finalists here, and keep and eye out for our coverage of each category over the coming weeks.

I love reading aloud, though I feel a little guilty about doing these pukapuka such a disservice by only doing a quick read and response. I was conscious of not taking up too much class time, as well as getting to each class at the allotted time. As it was, I didn’t make it to one class before their break time (sorry Pikopiko! I promise I will come back to read to you another day!). It is a nice reminder, though, how powerful stories are for prompting discussion and how important it is to reflect on the narratives, meanings, characters, intentions of the writers and illustrators, and so much more. Each of these pukapuka do completely different things, all these types of books (and more!) should have a space in our homes, schools, and libraries.

Dazzlehands, by Sacha Cotter & Josh Morgan (Huia)

This was so much fun to read aloud to a class. I read it to six- and seven-year-olds and they helped me out with the mooing and clucking and razzling their dazzlehands. The unexpected oink at the end was a clear favourite with the class; here’s what they had to say about that and their other favourite parts:

I liked it when the pig keeps doing dazzlehands but at the end goes “oink”.

Ellie, 7; Raz, 7; & Rosa, 7

I like the part where the pig goes “Oi… oi… everybody… dazzlehands!”

Chase, 7; Knox, 6

I like it how the cow goes moo, a chicken goes cluck and the pig does dazzlehands.

Harlow, 5; & Mei, 6

I liked the part where the farmer says what are you talking about, you don’t have hands you have hooves.

Annabel, 6

Read Annelies Judson’s review of Dazzlehands here.

At the Bach, by Joy Cowley & Hilary Jean Tapper (Gecko Press)

This is such a lovely book and I wish I had more time to spend with the class enjoying the illustrations. Being of relatively few words they felt it was over too quickly! Here are a few thoughts from the students:

I liked how the house was next to the beach.

Benjamin, 9

One thing I didn’t like—it was really short.

Belle, 9

It was realistic.

Boston, 8

[I liked] the part when she found the shell under the pillow.

Kingston, 8

I liked the entire thing. Very beautiful pictures, reminds me of a bach down that way [pointing towards West Coast].

Nova, 9

I like how you read it.

Taimane, 9

Aw, thanks Taimane! You know, when people write really well, it makes it a lot easier to read it well!

Read Carly Thomas’s review of At the Bach here.

Hatch and Match, by Ruth Paul (Walker Books)

The kids loved finding the chickens and their eggs and pointing them out when they found them. We had to go touching your nose when you spotted them, lest you either give it away or blocked someone else’s view! (Anyone who has worked with or read to groups of Year 1 and 2 aged kids will know what I mean!). Here’s what they said about it:

I liked that you had to find the matching.

Jesseca, 6

I really liked the part with the chicks hatching.

Kasayus, 6; & Teo

I like how they all got mixed up at the end.

Raz, 7

I liked how you had to find them.

Rosa, 7

Read Bee Trudgeon’s review of Hatch and Match here.

Lucy and the Dark, by Melinda Szymanik & Vasanti Unka (Penguin Random House)

Only one kid in this class (my kid, funnily enough!) had read this before so it was really special to share a new book with them. This is what they had to say:

The dark person was so cool.

Ted, 8

I didn’t get how she got the letter halfway through.

Cooper, 8

[I liked that] the dark showed Lucy not to be afraid.

Myla, 9

What I didn’t like about it, when dark goes away from the room it makes everything light, it doesn’t make sense ‘cause he’s still there.

Jack, 8

I like how the front glows in the dark.

Neve, 10

[I liked] when they had an adventure together.

Lili, 8

I like how it’s like the movie Orion and the Dark.

Lauren, 9

Read Annelies Judson’s review of Lucy and the Dark here.

Paku Manu Ariki Whakatakapōkai, by Michaela Keeble & Tokerau Brown (Gecko Press)

This is such an unusual and—in my opinion—sophisticated picture book. I was so curious about how it would be received. I had the chance to read this to two classes (separately) and it highlighted to me how it’s the sort of book you want to spend time with to unpack the different layers with young readers and listeners. I wish I had more time with the class for all the discussion the book invites!

It’s confusing […] in a good way.

Etta, 8

A lot of kids expressed confusion, many about the different ages claimed by the narrator. When I asked them why they thought the author had written it like that, one suggestion—from Lucie—was that it was different timelines.

I liked the book because it’s funny.

Kaiah, 9

I don’t understand what gender they are.

This was a lovely opportunity to ask them if it mattered what gender the character is, to which the student said she wouldn’t know how to describe them. Another student helpfully suggested using they/them.

It was really funny when the kid whacked the moon on the head, and got their best friend to help whack the person on the TV.

Aaron, 9 and a half

I like how he thought he was the best.

Billie, 9

Weird and a little bit boring.

Quentin, 8

I like that the sky is pink and the clouds are red and blue.

Ivy, 8

The second class I read this to said:

At the end he says he’s not afraid of anything, but in the book he says he’s afraid of dying.

Max, 9

[I liked] when they hit the moon on the head.

Troy, 8

[I liked] that her name’s so long […] it feels like two minutes to read it but it’s actually short.

Benjamin, 9

I liked the bit where she said her grandma is so old.

Violet, 8

I liked when she was in the river with a boat.

Kingston, 8

I liked how the ladder wasn’t leaning on anything when she bonked the moon’s head.

Parker, 9

[I liked] the ending bit—she said she was seven but she was turning 10.

Zaya, 9

I liked it when they went through the TV and smacked that guy.

Mason, 9

I like that she said she had two [sic] birds and a dog but the dog wasn’t real.


Read Maraea Henare’s review of Paku Manu Ariki Whakatakapōkai here.

cartoon character with long hair smiling

Linda Jane is the lead editor of The Sapling, a parent, and a writer of picture books, poetry, and other tidbits. Her background is varied, including work in ecology, environmental education, summer camps, and a community newspaper. She is Singaporean-Pākehā, queer, and loves leaping into cold bodies of water.