Author Sue Copsey explores the world of New Zealand Junior Fiction, discovering plenty of titles that are just as good as the internationals.
Our bestseller lists for kids’ books can make frustrating reading if you’re a New Zealand children’s author. At the time of writing, in the International children's & YA Top 10 there are two titles by David Walliams, three by Andy Griffiths (Treehouse series), and one each by bestseller regulars Jeff Kinney (Wimpy Kid series), and Dav Pilkey (Captain Underpants, Dog Man).
Nielsen, who produces the list, also compiles a separate one for New Zealand children’s books. Let’s take a look at this week’s. Ah. Picture books about kiwis. Again. But only three of them this week – quite a low tally, compared to the usual flock. Also two picture books about sheep.
Could it be that people only buy books by local authors when their sister in the UK has a new baby?
What are we to make of this strange inconsistency? Why is junior fiction always at the top of the international lists, but nowhere to be seen in the local Top 10? Perhaps our own books don’t stack up? Can we really hope to compete with the likes of Walliams and Co?
In the words of Walliams, “It’s a yes from me!”
NZ junior fiction deserves a fair go when you’re considering what to buy next for your kiwi kid or your school library. So next time your little darling makes like a heat-seeking missile for the Andy Griffiths, head them off towards a Kyle Mewburn or a Donovan Bixley. When they reach for Clarice Bean, stick a Lily Max under their nose. NZ historical novels for children have blossomed during the WWI centenary – try Des Hunt’s Broken Poppies if they’re a fan of Michael Morpurgo.
Our local junior fiction authors are a super-talented bunch, so help your kids discover them, and let them be inspired by our own stories, some of them set in our own beautiful country.
If they like David Walliams …
Try: Suzanne Main, Peter Millett, Tom Moffatt
If they like highly illustrated series, like Andy Griffiths’ Treehouse books and Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid diaries …
Try: Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley’s Dragon Knight and Dinosaur Rescue series, and Donovan’s Flying Furballs series
If they like Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants and Dog Man …
Try: Peter Millett’s Boy Zero series
If they like Michael Morpurgo’s historical and animal-themed books …
Try Broken Poppies by Des Hunt. (Interesting aside: when I emailed Des, he said, “When I was planning Broken Poppies, I read several of Michael Morpurgo’s novels looking for a lead into writing historical fiction which I’d only touched on before in Cry of the Taniwha. He convinced me to place an animal in my story as a way to soften the impact of the violence that is inherent in a war story.”)
… or A Winter’s Day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik, The Bakehouse, by Joy Cowley, or one of Susan Brocker’s books, e.g. 1914, Riding into War
FAIRIES AND PONIES
If they like the Rainbow Fairies series …
Try Sally Sutton’s Miniwings series (oh my gosh – these are SO much better!)
QUIRKY HEROINE WITH A DISTINCTIVE VOICE
If they enjoy Lauren Child’s Clarice Bean …
Try Jane Bloomfield’s Lily Max
If they like Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series, or Robert Muchamore’s Cherub books …
Try Brian Falkner’s Team Recon Angel (for older children/younger teens)
This next one was really hard! What could we suggest for a Harry Potter fan?
We don’t have anything obviously similar, but if your child enjoys fantasy, try Barbara Else’s Tales of Fontania series. Or, from the NZ backlist, Maurice Gee's The World Around the Corner.*SF
If they like Kate diCamillo and Geraldine McCaughrean …
Try Sarah Johnson’s whimsical books The Spaghetti Giraffe and The Bold Ship Phenomenal - or Mary McCallum's Dappled Annie and the Tigrish.*JA
For fans of books based on mythology … Try Phillip W Simpson’s books Titan and Argos (older children). Or David Hair's The Aotearoa Series, beginning with The Bone Tiki.*SF
And last but not least, if I may be so bold …
If you think they’d like a Goosebumps-Famous Five mashup with a large dollop of New Zealand history …
try Sue Copsey’s spooky adventures, The Ghosts of Tarawera!
My thanks to everyone’s favourite bookselling sisters, the lovely Helen and Mary Wadsworth of the Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop in Ponsonby, for their help with my research. (the two recommendations from The Sapling editors are marked with * and initials!)
Sue Copsey is an editor specialising in children’s and YA, and also writes junior fiction and non-fiction. She was a senior editor at Dorling Kindersley UK before relocating to New Zealand, where she worked as a project manager at Pearson Education. Sue now freelances for various publishers here and overseas, as well as working directly with independent authors. Her books include Our Children Aotearoa (2011), and The Ghosts of Tarawera (2015).