Book Awards: The Junior Fiction Finalists

July 23, 2020

As part of our coverage for the NZ Book Awards, we asked the publishers of the junior fiction finalists what it was about these particular stories  that caught their imaginations, and why they seemed right for this format. These are the books that didn't sit still, they leapt off the page, and galloped and zinged their way into their publisher's hearts and lists.  

 

 

  

#Tumeke by Michael Petherick

We hope many readers will recognise the antic spirit of #Tumeke! (Annual Ink/Massey University Press). The much shorter ‘Community Noticeboard’, also written by Michael Petherick, was published in Annual 2, a story that you could call an early blueprint. For starters, both defy classification. The term “story” isn’t quite the right fit for Michael’s first inventive work in the same way that #Tumeke! proved itself a slippery beast when it came to writing the marketing copy (one reviewer settled on multi-media mash-up). It’s not a novel but has many elements of the novel. And while the visual features are many and varied – perfect for today’s sophisticated on-line generation – this is no picture book, either.

 

Some of the spreads from #Tumeke featuring the glorious community noticeboard!

 

Experimenting with form is exactly the kind of the thing that interests us. We’ve always believed that younger readers are smart and up for anything, and in the spirit of the Annuals, we’re keen to extend what’s on offer. Michael’s book is a great example of what’s possible if you push beyond the usual conventions and look for new ways to tell story.

 

Michael’s book is a great example of what’s possible if you push beyond the usual conventions and look for new ways to tell story.

 

We love that #Tumeke! doesn’t sit still. Texts, Instagram posts, emails, fliers, committee minutes, diary entries, blog posts, poetry, chatrooms, homework, raps, newspaper articles, and a community noticeboard – the story’s heart ­­– all document a diverse and energetic inner-city community as it prepares for a Waitangi Day event. Readers are asked to stitch these elements together in the same way they’re engaged by micro narratives online, often written in their own creative argots. The book is an active read.

 

We love that #Tumeke! doesn’t sit still.

 

Michael’s attention to the contemporary moment and his eye and ear for the enjoyably bonkers made him the perfect person to express the “mash-up” idea in its full glory. His book really feels like a publication for our times. It embraces the diversity of media, with its visual and linguistic storytelling possibilities and tonal variety, but above all, it celebrates the importance of community across generations and cultures – and who can go past that?

 

His book really feels like a publication for our times. It embraces the diversity of media...but above all, it celebrates the importance of community across generations and cultures – and who can go past that?


Susan Paris, Editor and Publisher, Annual Ink

 

 

#tumeke

By Michael Petherick

Published by Annual Ink

RRP $30.00

 

Buy now!

 

 

 

Lizard's Tale by Weng Wai Chan
When I was a kid I loved World War II stories: The Silver Sword, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, The Diary of Anne Frank. Still today books set in this time, such as the wonderful The War that Saved My Life, have great appeal to kids. But one thing I’ve noticed was that there seem to be very few if any World War II stories set outside Europe, Australia and New Zealand. So I was delighted to see a novel for middle grade kids set in wartime Singapore, a place so central to the war in this region.

 

...there seem to be very few if any World War II stories set outside Europe, Australia and New Zealand. So I was delighted to see a novel for middle grade kids set in wartime Singapore...

 

Then, to find a story with such sparkling writing and characters who leap off the page in an intriguing, fast-paced adventure was very exciting. I absolutely loved clever, brave Lizard and his super talented friend Lili. Not to mention the support cast of officious Brits, shady small-time crims and a rather-too-friendly Japanese photographer. The twists and turns of this mystery had me captivated from my very first reading.


The twists and turns of this mystery had me captivated from my very first reading.

 

Weng Wai Chan was born in Singapore and her grandfather told her stories of what it was like before and during the Japanese invasion, so it’s no wonder there’s such a strong sense of the place in this novel. The sounds, the tastes, the smells of the city surround you as you read this book. I was so thrilled when Weng Wai accepted Text’s offer to publish Lizard’s Tale I went straight out and bought some curry puffs. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself hungry for curry puffs when you read this book too!

 

I was so thrilled when Weng Wai accepted Text’s offer to publish Lizard’s Tale I went straight out and bought some curry puffs.

 

Jane Pearson, Senior Editor, Text Publishing

 

 

lizard's tale

By Weng Wai Chan

Published by Text Publishing

RRP $21.00

 

Buy now!

 

 

 

 

 

Miniwings Book 6 Moonlight the Unicorn's High Tea Hiccup by Sally Sutton and illustrated by Kirsten Richards
Let me tell you – it is impossible not to be RAZZLE-DAZZLED, splish-splooshed and reDONKulously magicked by this herd of miniature flying horses. There are six naughty Miniwings, and each has their very own personality and story.

 

...it is impossible not to be RAZZLE-DAZZLED, splish-splooshed and reDONKulously magicked by this herd of miniature flying horses.

 

I was instantly drawn to these stories, because Sally’s characters are mischievously real and full of energy and life. Her Miniwings captured my imagination from the get-go. They are warm-hearted and although naughty, they are honest too. I love how they always admit their mistakes and work together to fix what is wrong, vowing to be better next time!

 

I was instantly drawn to these stories, because Sally’s characters are mischievously real and full of energy and life. Her Miniwings captured my imagination from the get-go.

 

 

Moonlight, the one and only unicorn, possibly has the most delishy personality of them all. He definitely has the most delishy story, because it is jam-packed with dinky little sammies and scrumbly chocolate cake for an ever-so-proper high tea. The humour throughout Moonlight’s high-tea tale is irresistible. Take a gaggle of Great-Aunties, flying false teeth, a horrific case of the hiccups and a foodie like Moonlight, and the end result is a super-sized serving of reading fun, which is what I love most of all in children’s books.

 

 

...the end result is a super-sized serving of reading fun, which is what I love most of all in children’s books.

 

 

The Scholastic New Zealand team couldn’t be prouder of what Sally Sutton and Kirsten Richards, with her wealth of humour and adorable diary doodles, have achieved across the series and especially in Moonlight the Unicorn’s High Tea Hiccup – and we also check, rather often, that none of those naughty Miniwings are causing havoc at our keyboards, stealing our lunches (Moonlight would be the greeby-gutsie there) or sneaking home with us for further mischief!

 

Lynette Evans, Publisher, Scholastic

 

 

Miniwings Book 6 Moonlight the Unicorn's High Tea Hiccup

By Sally Sutton, illustrated by Kirsten Richards

Published by Scholastic NZ

RRP $14.99

 

 

Buy now!

 

 

 

 

 

Prince of Ponies by Stacy Gregg
Sometime in late 2005 or perhaps it was early 2006, word came from the HarperCollins Children’s team in London about the first in a new series of pony books from a New Zealand author. The book was presented during our monthly international launch meeting. Certain stalwarts around the table were fixed in the idea that pony books didn’t sell (they must have been rugby supporters), but the two horsey girls present (myself included) recalled a dreamy childhood engrossed books by the Pullein-Thompson sisters or Monica Dickens, and held firm. 

 

Fifteen high-flying years on, Stacy Gregg’s novels for the junior fiction market remain a mainstay for our children’s publishing programme. Her first books were the Pony Club Secrets and Pony Club Rivals series, which chart the trajectory of an average pony club kid on her journey to become a world champion (every pony-loving girls’ dream). Since 2013 she has been writing standalone novels for the same market.

 

Stacy won the coveted Children’s Choice Award for Junior Fiction in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults three years in a row. Last year, her novel The Fire Stallion won the Storylines Kids Pick competition by a mile. Her books are consistent bestsellers in New Zealand – no small feat in a segment dominated by David Walliams and Andy Griffith.


Her books are consistent bestsellers in New Zealand – no small feat in a segment dominated by David Walliams and Andy Griffith. 

 

There’s nothing formulaic about Stacy’s stories for the 8-12 readership, but they do consistently feature appealing, strong heroines and nail-biting adventure and suspense (and of course, a beautiful pony). There is a unique historical aspect to each storyline (The Diamond Horse was based on the story of Balagur, the ex-police mount who became one of Russia’s most successful Olympic dressage horses) or horse event (the famous, centuries-old Palio horse race in Siena, Italy, formed the setting for The Girl Who Rode the Wind).

 

There’s nothing formulaic about Stacy’s stories for the 8-12 readership, but they do consistently feature appealing, strong heroines and nail-biting adventure and suspense (and of course, a beautiful pony).

 

Accurate research is the key, and sometimes Stacy draws from her own experiences – The Thunderbolt Pony, for example, is about a girl whose every minute is controlled by the constant rituals of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a condition Stacy experienced first-hand through her daughter.

 

Now, there’s a TV series based on Pony Club Secrets due to hit our screens in August, plus more exciting news to come.

All this aside and quite simply, Stacy is a great storyteller. This is why her books continue to appeal to young readers, it’s why she makes perennial appearances on bestseller lists and it’s why she is consistently voted favourite by children.

 

...quite simply, Stacy is a great storyteller.

 

Sandra Noakes, Marketing and Communications for HarperCollins and Arotahi

 

 

prince of ponies

By Stacy Gregg

Published by HarperCollins

RRP $24.99

 

Buy now!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Time Machine and other stories by Melinda Syzmanik
Who wouldn’t want to work with Melinda Szymanik? We knew her books already – thoughtful, playful, quirky, with their own Szymanik energy – powered perhaps by that fabulous name? That fabulous brain? Award-winning to boot.

 

Who wouldn’t want to work with Melinda Szymanik? We knew her books already – thoughtful, playful, quirky, with their own Szymanik energy... 

 

She came to us with a manuscript called Time Machine that collected up a bunch of stories and a novella that she loved and wanted all together in one place. It seemed her usual publishers weren’t biting because, well, stories and novellas were tricky to market. We read it. We took it. It seemed a no-brainer. The stories zinged with empathy, imagination and humour, likeable characters and not-so-likeable characters, dogs, monsters and fairies. Each one a small world. Check out, for example, the rules-to-live-by in ‘Pirate Eye‘, where a boy with a 'lazy eye' finds his courage when a shipload of pirates kidnap him: 1. Be in charge 2. Follow your gut 3. Don’t let Shorty cook.

 

The stories zinged with empathy, imagination and humour, likeable characters and not-so-likeable characters, dogs, monsters and fairies.

 

 

The drawback with the collection as we saw it was the time machine. It was a museum artefact that opened up the past in the imagination – nice, but it didn’t actually take you anywhere. Would Melinda write another story about a real time machine? Not one but two stories turned up – both great. What to do? Then two more random stories arrived in our Google drive that she’d ‘just written’ while she was at it. We’d take the lot.

 

Not one but two stories turned up – both great. What to do? Then two more random stories arrived in our Google drive that she’d ‘just written’ while she was at it. We’d take the lot.

 

Then we started work with the author, editing side-by-side on Google drive to freshen the stories for a book, open up their diversity in terms of gender, ability and race, and link some of them via characters and events. Partnering Melinda with up-and-coming illustrator Theo Macdonald added a further layer to the text, giving the stories another level of humour, energy and diversity and wrapping them up in a fantastic cover. The finished book made us proud even before it was shortlisted for the book awards.

 

The finished book made us proud even before it was shortlisted for the book awards.

 

Mary McCallum, Publishing Director, The Cuba Press

 

 

Time Machine and other stories

by Melinda Szymanik
Published by Ahoy!

RRP $25.00

 

Buy now!

 

 

 

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

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

 

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