• Briar Lawry

Book Awards: The Picture Book Finalists


As part of our coverage of this year's NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, we've asked the publishers of the picture book finalists to explain why that story caught their imaginations and demanded to be told in published picture book form.

best picture book
noon fiction

The journey to meeting and making Mini Whinny

Stacy Gregg is a hugely popular and masterful storyteller, so when the opportunity arose to publish a series of playful pony-themed picture books that would reach out to a younger audience through the antics and adventures of a spirited miniature pony, who could resist?

While she is a lovable little mischief-maker, Mini Whinny does possess a few less desirable traits that children may recognise in themselves or others. This first story in the series deals with Mini Whinny’s unwillingness to share. She doesn’t think it’s right that every horse should celebrate their birthday on the same day, and becomes determined to hijack the birthday celebrations and make them all her own! What she discovers, of course, is that a party is no fun when you’re the only participant. So, as in some of the most timeless classic picture books, a lesson is learned – and Mini Whinny won’t be the only one who learns it.

Pairing Stacy with award-winning illustrator Ruth Paul allowed us to capture just the right blend of sassy and sweet that we were seeking for the Mini Whinny tales, with the added bonus of humour that Ruth is famous for. With detailed endpapers that set the scene for Blackthorn Stables, Mini Whinny introduces young readers to a cast of colourful and memorable characters.

Pairing Stacy with Ruth Paul allowed us to capture just the right blend of sassy and sweet that we were seeking...

Stacy writes with a warmth and sense of adventure perfectly suited to the young target audience, and with each piece of art that arrived from Ruth, the entire team couldn’t help but fall in love with the adorably mischievous Mini Whinny – we hope that will be true, too, for readers young and old.

Lynette Evans, Publisher, Scholastic NZ


MIni Whinny: Happy Birthday To Me!

By Stacy Gregg & Ruth Paul

Published by Scholastic NZ

RRP $19.99

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Bringing to life Puffin the Architect Full disclosure – my maternity cover Diana Murray was the brilliant publisher who championed Kimberly Andrews’ picture book proposal. It was about a puffin architect trying to deal with some extremely fussy clients, who turned out (surprise!) to be her own offspring. Kimberly had submitted a story with some sample illustrations, and from the very first glimpse her Kenneth Graham-esque characters were adored.

Conversations at publishing meetings can sometimes involve anticipating doubts. Was it too adult a concept for children to relate to? Would most kids know what an architect is? But quickly the answers came – children are completely obsessed with buildings and homes, and they create them themselves all the time, with wooden blocks or Lego or making a hut with blankets and chairs, or even a sandcastle at the beach. They’ll spend hours arranging dollhouse furniture and staging elaborate plays about the family who lives there. And, anyway, why should a children’s book be dumbed down? Isn’t it a great thing to read fun stories about diverse occupations?

[Children] create [buildings] themselves all the time, with wooden blocks or Lego or making a hut with blankets and chairs...

So any initial qualms were swiftly settled and by the time Diana put up her feet and waited for her own baby to come, I arrived at my desk to find myself in charge of a gorgeous picture book in the making. I thought it was great to have a story featuring an architect who was also a somewhat frazzled professional mum and shelter provider, ingenious problem solver, creator of beautiful buildings and clever mechanical conveniences. She was a character a parent would definitely draw inspiration from while their child would be relating to the pufflings.

We didn’t expect that this story could give young readers another kind of surprise. At Kimberly’s book launch, a seven-year-old sat down to read his brand new copy of Puffin the Architect. When he reached the last page, he announced that he really liked the story, ‘But it had a big surprise at the end. Did you know that Puffin the Architect is a woman? I didn’t know architects could be women.’ His mum’s jaw dropped. How could he not think this was possible? He had a stay-at-home-dad and she was a full-time professional! Then a week later, a reviewer wrote about the story for the Weekend Herald and related the exact same conversation with her nine-year-old daughter.

Kimberly hadn’t set out to create a picture book that challenged children’s assumptions. She simply drew on material from her current life and interests – at the time she and partner James were designing and building a tiny house with lots of foldaway storage and mechanisms, matching living solutions to their lifestyle needs. They had once visited Iceland and she’d been captivated by the puffins there. These two strands came together in a wonderful picture book that encourages us all to think, dream and create.

Catherine O’Loughlin, Children’s Publisher, Penguin Random House NZ

explore aotearoa

Puffin the Architect

By Kimberly Andrews

Published by Penguin Random House NZ

RRP $19.99

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Behind The Bomb The Bomb is a story of its time and reminiscent of the taste and smell of a New Zealand summer. There are a number of underlying themes which gave the story depth and dimension. The HUIA team has enjoyed working together with Sacha and Josh on all the details of the language, illustrations and design as a complete package.

One amazing spread from The Bomb. More spreads and behind the scenes sketches coming in our feature focusing on the Russell Clark Illustration Award finalists!

Waimatua Morris, Sales & Marketing Manager, Huia Publishing


The Bomb

By Sacha Cotter & Josh Morgan

Published by Huia Publishing

RRP $23.00

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How Things in the Sea Are Touching Me! touched its publisher It’s a celebration of Kiwi summer. It’s a celebration of childhood adventure and the safe circle of family. It’s a splashy, bright package bursting with happy shrieks and squeals, and just as the sun on a scorching summer’s day is shaded for a moment here and there by a passing cloud, there are tendrils of toe-tingling surprises to provide drama and contrast in both the words and illustrations of this beautifully crafted picture book.

From the first reading of Linda Jane Keegan’s manuscript, we knew this was a story that needed to be told, thanks to its playful, child-friendly and perfectly penned plotline reflecting a fun family day at the beach and the familiar sensation many may well relate to as they tip-toe into the waves. After all, who hasn’t experienced that feeling: GOLLY, OH GEE, something in the sea is touching me?

After all, who hasn’t experienced that feeling: GOLLY, OH GEE, something in the sea is touching me?

Matching this story with Minky Stapleton’s playful, child-centric illustration style and fresh perspective and palette truly helped to bring it to life. Minky has used clever graphics to hint at the threat of something scary beneath the waves, but Ma’s calm and sensible explanations each time give children an insight into the natural world. And they love it when, at the end, the tables are turned and it’s Ma who gets the fright!

Not only does this picture book allow us to celebrate the seaside culture of Aotearoa, it also reflects the diversity of family life in which our children are immersed, here and now, in 2019. The child in the story has two mothers, but that is not treated as something remarkable; it is purely incidental to the drama of the story.

And finally, we are thrilled to have published both English and Māori editions to capture the full Kiwi experience, thanks to the craftsmanship of te reo expert Ngaere Roberts.

Lynette Evans, Publisher, Scholastic NZ

Things in the Sea are Touching Me!

By Linda Jane Keegan & Minky Stapleton

Published by Scholastic NZ

RRP $19.99

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The story behind Who Stole the Rainbow? *Warning: contains plot spoilers*

The sky was grey but the sun was smiling when I was driving my daughter to daycare a few weeks ago. Out the window she was amazed to see the biggest, brightest and most razzle-dazzle rainbow of her almost three years’ experience. The next day, Eva looked out of the car window again and burst into tears. 'Where’s the rainbow?' she cried. 'I want to see the rainbow!' I tried to explain that rainbows never stick around for long and we’d see another sometime soon, but she was inconsolable. That evening I read her Who Stole the Rainbow? (the nine-year-old brother instantly appeared at our shoulders) and then we used my phone to follow the QR code and watch Vasanti’s brilliant accompanying video. My kids were entranced! Eva has requested this story daily ever since.

The publishing journey of Who Stole the Rainbow? began with an exchange of emails – Vasanti had been working on a whodunit tale about a rainbow and thinking of illustrating it in bold colour with nods to Marimekko and Chris Haughton. There would be a beagle assigned to investigate the case of a missing rainbow, with eyewitnesses, interviews with suspects, a trail of clues, and an eventual conviction. The sun would be the culprit, of course, with the rain as an accomplice.

When she sent through her story draft I was charmed. It made me laugh as I read it aloud, and it still makes me laugh now. I also loved that the science behind the story was spot on – it was such a clever and effective way of explaining rainbows to children. We agreed it should include a proper explanation at the end of the story.

Vasanti’s books are some of our most fun and challenging to produce, as she loves to innovate and explore various production ideas to heighten the reader’s experience. New ideas continue to occur to her while the production is underway and the PRHNZ team works on the understanding that the project will constantly evolve as Vasanti’s next good idea strikes. We love that she’s taken us into new territory and given our printers a good challenge with each new book.

Vasanti’s books are some of our most fun and challenging to produce, as she loves to innovate and explore various production ideas to heighten the reader’s experience

Vasanti hit on the idea of the gatefold page opening out to reveal the rainbow, and that proved beautifully effective for delivering a ‘ta daaa!’ moment. She also experimented with various fluoro inks, before settling on the dazzling hot pink which leaps off every page. Vasanti’s final stroke of genius was to produce an accompanying video that could be viewed at home or in a classroom, in which the book characters took a deeper dive into the science of rainbows.

The one other, very critical, thing that Vasanti did to ensure her story-in-progress was pitched just right for her audience, was to read it to sample groups of kids. She watched and listened carefully to their responses and made some tweaks based on their valuable feedback. The result is a story that not only pleases adults who adore her wild colourful aesthetic and genre humour but reaches out and resonates with her intended readers.

Catherine O’Loughlin, Children’s Publisher, Penguin Random House NZ

sky high

Who Stole the RAinbow?

by Vasanti Unka Published by Penguin Random House NZ

RRP $19.99

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

The Best First Book finalists go down memory lane and talk through some influential book moments of their youth

The NZCYA finalists announcement, including reckons from editors Sarah and Briar

#Reviews #Awards #NZBookAwardsforChildrenandYoungAdults #NZCYAAwards2019 #PictureBooks #MiniWhinny #PuffintheArchitect #TheBomb #ThingsintheSeaareTouchingMe #WhoStoletheRainbow #StacyGregg #RuthPaul #KimberlyAndrews #SachaCotter #JoshMorgan #LindaJaneKeegan #MinkyStapleton #VasantiUnka