We interrupt this hiatus to bring you a list of Top Recommendations for the 2021 Holiday Season, created for you, our dear readers, as well as those of Newsroom’s ReadingRoom. Compiled by Editor Sarah with a bit of help from Editor Briar.
Moon and Sun. For kids who need a boost.
Everybody has had that friend in their lives—or sibling—who just seems to effortlessly shine that little bit brighter than them. The one that everybody gathers around, who doesn’t seem to struggle with people. This is what this thoughtful picture book is about. It’s a gorgeously illustrated exploration of difference by one of our most gifted picture-book authors.
Moon and Sun
By Melinda Szymanik
Illustrated by Malene Laugesen
What Colour Is The Sky? For kids who ask why.
This picture book is a simple yet clever take on the question of what we all see when we look to the sky. Pīhoihoi asks the seminal question during sunrise, and as hedgehog goes to sleep he says, ‘the sky is brown’. Ruru, frog, mouse, hare, snail—all have a different answer. Without being too heavy-handed, Shallcrass makes the point that everybody can see the same thing in a different way.
What Colour Is The Sky?
By Laura Shallcrass
The Tiny Woman’s Coat. For kids who like whimsy.
This beautifully published book is a new edition of a classic Joy Cowley tale. Giselle’s tiny woman is a joy, as she trots along, gathering gifts from her friends to stitch herself a warm coat from autumn leaves. Her pet snail can be found in some surprising places along the way, which is a great way to keep younger kids’ attention when reading aloud.
The Tiny Woman’s Coat
By Joy Cowley
Illustrated by Giselle Clarkson
Bumblebee Grumblebee. For kids who wriggle.
Bumblebee Grumblebee reminds me delightfully of the writing of Eric Veillé, but of course illustrated in a uniquely Elliot-ish style. It is a nonsense rhyme book perfect for reading to a squirmy toddler when they need a book to help them dream wonderful nonsense dreams.
By David Elliot
The Greatest Haka Festival On Earth. For kids who like festivals.
This book made me grin all the way through. Kapa haka tragic Nan takes her whānau to Te Matatini, the biennial kapa haka festival, where they see the biggest stars in the kapa haka world strut their stuff. The illustrations are exuberant and the story is simple and affirming. A total win, and an essential book for every school in Aotearoa. Also available in te reo Māori: Mokopuna Matatini.
The Greatest Haka Festival On Earth
By Pania Tahau-Hodges
Illustrated by Story Hemi-Morehouse
A Stick And A Stone. For littlies who go on bush walks.
This story has a lovely rhythm and is a great read-aloud. A family group are wandering through the bush, when a kea steals one of their hats! They find that tricky kea and come together again.
A Stick and a Stone
By Sarina Dickson
Illustrated by Hilary Jean Tapper
Atua. For every whānau and whare.
Like Peter Gossage’s retellings of the exploits of Māui, or Stacey Morrison’s My First Words in Māori, Atua is an essential book that happens to be targeted at tamariki… but should actually be grabbed and cherished and learned from by everyone who lives in Aotearoa. Gavin’s really the torchbearer for New Zealand’s entries into the ever-growing field of Big Beautiful Illustrated Books For Kids, and Atua’s magical combination of words and watercolours bring all the big names from pūrākau Māori to life.
By Gavin Bishop
Blimmin’ Koro! | Kātahi Rā, E Koro E! For kids whose granddads aren’t how they remember.
This is a well-told story of a koro who is sadly declining in health. He’s forgetting things, hiding things, and his grandkids are starting to get a bit worried. Nana is the hero, helping the rangatahi to understand that koro is still there, he’s just different, as his health declines. Gentle yet meaningful.
Blimmin’ Koro! | Kātahi Rā, E Koro E!
By Jill Bevan-Brown
Illustrated by Trish Bowles
This Is Where I Stand. For kids who want to understand more about the Anzacs.
Philippa Werry has a deft hand at bringing history to life for young people, whether it’s novels or picture books. This is a real treat from the latter category, ruminating on war from the perspective of a statue of a soldier who things back to his experiences while watching the world around him change. Beaut illustrations from Kieran Rynhart.
This Is Where I Stand
By Philippa Werry
Illustrated by Kieran Rynhart
Protest! Shaping Aotearoa. For young activists.
The best non-fiction books for children also teach adults a thing or two, and this book from Mandy Hager certainly fits the bill. Covering protests through history, from Parihaka, to land marches, to apartheid protests, to the climate strikes, Mandy ably takes us through the history of protest for change in Aotearoa. The cover is eye-catching and the selections of photos excellent. A fantastic resource.
Protest! Shaping Aotearoa
By Mandy Hager
How Do I Feel? A Dictionary Of Emotions. For kids who pay attention to their minds.
This is perfect as a parenting tool or as a beautiful book for your kids to leaf through and learn more about what may be going on for themselves and others around them. The illustrations of the diverse peoples of Aotearoa show everything from misery to optimism, in a gentle swooshing colour palette, ideal for soothing troubles away.
How Do I Feel? A Dictionary Of Emotions
By Rebekah Lipp
Illustrated by Craig Phillips
Incredible Journeys: New Zealand Wildlife On The Move. For kids who love to travel—with animals.
Ned shows his skills from the front cover to the back in this non-fiction picture book from Potton & Burton. In this, he tells us about the animals who travel, and why. The kuaka (bar-tailed godwit) may be the most notorious traveler, but the toroa (southern royal albatross) gets around the Southern Ocean, as does the tohorā. A good primer to kick off a love of our native animals, many of which have their own non-fiction titles.
Incredible Journeys: New Zealand Wildlife On The Move
By Ned Barraud
Potton & Burton
RRP $21.99 (pb) $29.99 (hb)
Kia Kaha. For kids who like to know about society.
The key to an excellent biographical anthology is choosing the right people, and Stacey and Jeremy have got this absolutely spot on. The choices range from Māui (demigod) to the Upper Hutt Posse, chief justice Sir Joe Williams to fashion designer Kiri Nathan, and suffragist Meri Te Tai Mangakāhia to the Māori All Blacks. Illustrations from Josh Morgan, Xoë Hall and a variety of other fabulous Māori artists bring it to life.
By Stacey Morrison and Jeremy Sherlock
Illustrated by a variety of Māori illustrators
Draw Some Awesome. For kids who love to draw.
Donovan Bixley takes budding young artists through tricks of the illustration trade, from taking inspiration from unlikely sources (a lively toaster), simple ways to draw animals, how to draw expressions, and the essential—how to draw a unicorn. This is set to become The Drawing Book for the Zoomer generation. Keep an eye out next year for Donovan’s book on Leonardo Da Vinci, it’s going to be incredible.
Draw Some Awesome
By Donovan Bixley
Why is that spider dancing? The amazing arachnids of Aotearoa. For kids who like creepy-crawlies.
Simon Pollard is a spider expert, and in this book he explains what there is to love about spiders. Perfect to encourage littlies into the garden—and into the rafters, in my house anyway—to see how many spiders they can find.
Why is that spider dancing? The amazing arachnids of Aotearoa
By Simon Pollard
Te Papa Press
Remarkable Animal Stories from New Zealand and Australia. For kids who like tales with a happy ending.
The indefatigable and marvellous Maria Gill has done it again with this cool title gathering up several local animal legends from here and Australia in this bright and beautiful book.
Remarkable Animal Stories from New Zealand and Australia
by Maria Gill, illustrated by Emma Huia LovegroveScholastic NZ
Junior And Middle Fiction
Hine and the Tohunga Portal. For kids who love magic and mythology.
Hōhepa and Hine are heading home from kapa haka practise when after a fight, Hōhepa runs into the bush in Manaia, followed by his sister Hine. They have fallen into a portal to an earlier period of history, with patupairarehe, giant eagles and warrior kea. I really enjoyed the fact that while both kids had magic powers, they didn’t come easy—they had to practise for them, using the taiaha and the poi.
Hine and the Tohunga Portal
By Ataria Sharman
The Memory Thief. For kids who like to disappear into a good story.
This tale is fairytale-ish and perfect. A statue/boy that feeds on memories, meets a girl late at night as she searches for her cat. This girl wants to forget. The Memory Thief is a twilit tale of friendship and manipulation—something all 11-year-old girls are experts at. It has a beautiful tone and a surprise twist at the end. One of my favourite reads of the year.
The Memory Thief
By Leonie Agnew
The Uprising: The Mapmakers in Crucxia. For kids who like to go on an adventure.
This fabulous book reintroduces us to the Santanders, united with their mum after winning the mapmaker’s race in the first adventure. We join them as they go to the last place their dad was seen—Cruxcia, a community being wrecked by the interests of the Granian Trading Company. The author gives kids plenty to consider while bringing in a range of new characters, including wheelchair-using and whip-smart Vivi, who needs the kids’ skills to help her townspeople prove they own their land.
The Uprising: The Mapmakers in Crucxia
By Eirlys Hunter
Illustrated by Kirsten Slade
Whetū Toa and the Hunt for Ramses. For kids who like to dream on the stars.
This is one of two books I’m recommending by Steph, who this year has also put out a fantastic picture book. Whetū and her mum look after the house and animals of a bona fine magician, who spends a lot of his time touring. One morning, Whetū realises Ramses—the golden fleeced, diamond-horned sheep is missing. Cue an adventure involving a ginger cat and multiple starbeams.
Whetū Toa and the Hunt for Ramses
By Steph Matuku
Skinny Dip. For kids who like poetry, and for those who just haven’t realised that they might be able to see themselves in it.
This is poetry written with the kids of Aotearoa in mind – without ever coming across cloying as children’s poetry can sometimes be. It’s a love letter to New Zealand childhood, with the most incredible poetic glossary. You just have to look back at Briar’s rave review to get the full picture of its magic.
Edited by Susan Paris and Kate De Goldi
Massey University Press
The Last Fallen Star. For kids who wish upon a star.
For kids who wish upon a star. This book brings the magic in spades, as Korean-American Riley works with her sister Hattie to become part of the Gom healer witch clan. Graci is an incredibly skilful writer, bringing you straight into the drama, in a way that reminded me of the fabulous Nevermoor. Family secrets! Fabulous powers! And a magical library accessed via a washing-machine!
The Last Fallen Star
By Graci Kim
Rick Riordan Presents
Falling Into Rarohenga. For kids who want to journey.
Tui and Kae are twins. And they do not get along. But when they fall into Rarohenga and realise their mum is trapped there, they have to reluctantly work together—or at least mostly together—to free her from the clutches of their evil, selfish father. Steph spins a tale of magic and mayhem, and Hinekōruru gets the last word. I think I have a new favourite genre: modern teens meet Māori magic.
Falling Into Rarohenga
By Steph Matuku
The Calling. For kids who wonder what it was like back then.
The Calling tells the story of 15-year-old Molly, who has grown up knowing she wants to become a nun. While she is Catholic because her mum (who died when Molly was 12) raised her so, her brothers and father are Protestant. When her father marries a new woman, Molly finds her hand forced and runs away to Hirohanga / Jerusalem to join Sister Mary Joseph. Wonderful historical fiction.
By Fleur Beale
The Tomo. For farm kids and reluctant teen readers.
The Tomo is the story of a boy and his family’s dog Blue, set against the backdrop of a family illness. Phil is sent to work reluctantly at Chopper’s farm over the Christmas break. When he is finally allowed to help with the muster, he is plunged into adventure when Blue disappears into a tomo, which sees he and his whānau and friend Emara scrambling to mount a rescue mission.
By Mary-Anne Scott
Displaced. For kids looking to understand the bleak realities of nineteenth century migration.
Let’s be honest—teens do enjoy a spot of grim. Displaced is the story of a family who came to New Zealand not in pursuit of their own happily ever after—but by being pushed into it by circumstances out of their control. At times traumatic, at other times hopeful, it’s a must for history buffs.
By Cristina Sanders
Walker Books Australia
These Violent Delights. For those who have an appetite for gore and romance.
These Violent Delights is set in 1926 Shanghai, where local gangs and international interests are vying for a piece of the black market. Juliette and Roma are heirs to the thrones of the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers, in this reset of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy. Despite their rocky past, the two must work together to defeat a monster that rises from the river, leaving people pulling their own throats out, before it ruins their city. Chloe cleverly weaves names and key elements of the original story into a blood-soaked new story.
These Violent Delights
by Chloe Gong
Published by Hachette