The finalists of the 2022 NZ kids’ book awards are…

Each year, the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults make for a massive occasion in the Aotearoa kids book world – move over Oscars, out of the way Silver Scrolls. This is our night. This year there is intense competition between an amazing 199 titles. Without further ado: here they are.

The books nominated for awards this year take our tamariki from underwater with te wheke, through time with Amorangi and Millie, into the bush, out on the farm, back into the past and into an alternate reality. They teach us more about autism, about spiders, and about Māori gods and heroes.

This year is a bit of a hallmark for the awards. It is (I’m almost certain) the first year that a Pasifika writer has been the convening judge, and the first year that one of the judges – Ruki Tobin – has been on both the English and the Te Kura Pounamu award judging panels. There has always been a disconnect between the English-language awards and Te Kura Pounamu, one that this practise will go some way to healing.

It’s also, significantly, the first year we have had a trans woman judge, with author Kyle Mewburn taking that honour with panache. YA author Adele Broadbent and public librarian Laura Caygill fill out the rest of the English-language judging line-up. Te Kura Pounamu judging is led by Anahera Morehu, a veteran of these awards, Horowaitai Roberts-Tuahine joins her, along with Te Amohaere Morehu.

This year also had the largest number of books submitted in the history of the awards: 199 books that our authors and illustrators brought into life through sheer will.

Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith is the convening judge, and remarks in the official media release something The Sapling has applauded (and I applauded in my speech for the Betty Gilderdale prize): the growing strength of books with a te ao Māori worldview, and the growing number of Māori authors being published. And the welcome diversity of books entered in the awards.

There are six main categories, with prize money of $7,500 to each winner. There’s also a Best First Book prize of $2,000, awarded at the judges’ discretion to a previously unpublished author or illustrator. The big moment of the night is the presentation of the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award, worth another $7,500, which is selected from the category winners.

Judging these awards is hard. It is by no means oranges with oranges, especially in categories like non-fiction. So hurrah to the judges, this is a wonderful selection, and I applaud your weary eyes and brains for the hard work you’ve done whittling those 199 books down to 28.


Bumblebee Grumblebee, David Elliot (Gecko Press)

A quirky rhyming book for the toddler audience – the hardest to impress of all! This is a board book, and while wonderful and beautifully illustrated, it’s unusual for a board book to win this category.

Lion Guards the Cake, Ruth Paul (Scholastic New Zealand)

I was so delighted to see this book on the list. Ruth always has total command of her audience when creating her picture books. I found my inner 4-year-old yelling out ‘but he’s eating it!!’ If the judges are thinking audience-first this may well be a winner.

My Cat Can See Ghosts, Emily Joe (Beatnik)

Well this certainly explains some of the more alarming behaviour of our feline friends. While beautifully produced, I did find this a little patchy rhyme-wise and I felt as though I’d read it before. This book is also in the best first book category, and certainly has a chance there. Full review here.

The Eight Gifts of Te Wheke, Steph Matuku, illustrated by Laya Mutton-Rogers (Huia Publishers)

This is Steph’s first published picture book, and it’s just as good as you would expect. Te Wheke loves collecting things, and when Tamati’s little sister Aria won’t stop crying, he distracts the pair then steals Aria away. Tamati has to get her back, so takes eight treasures to bribe Te Wheke. This has rather an alarming ending for the devious octopus, but good kai is eaten at the end.

The Greatest Haka Festival on Earth, Pania Tahau-Hodges, illustrated by Story Hemi-Morehouse (Huia Publishers)

Kapa Haka is essential to Māori storytelling, and where better to see the best in action than the biannual Te Matatini festival. With characters that jump off the page, Pania takes us along in the rush as a whanau heads to Te Matatini to perform and applaud the other performers on the stage. The te reo Māori version of this book is in three other categories. Yay!

Who’s going to win?! I’m torn for this category between The Greatest Haka Festival on Earth, and Lion Guards the Cake. Buy them both! Lion Guards the Cake is just the type of book with universal appeal that you’ll eventually need to hide because you’ve read it too many times, but The Greatest Haka Festival on Earth is special—it truly does take you on a journey.

The Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction Award Finalists

Amorangi and Millie’s Trip Through Time, Lauren Keenan (Huia Publishers)

Lauren has definitely found a gap in our literature with this book: Māori history for 8-to-12-year-olds. Amorangi and Millie are heading home from school when they disappear, finding themselves back in time. The book tells the story through generations of one family, going back a generation at a time, back to the horrific events of Parihaka and further.

Spark Hunter, Sonya Wilson (The Cuba Press)

I was surprised by how delightful I found this book, and I think the audience for it will find a firm favourite. Sonya tells a story of Nissa, who follows the sparks to find a hidden people in the deep bush of Fiordland. The concurrent tale of the manhunt going on for Nissa as she disappears lends tension to the tale, and the respectful acknowledgement of Māori history is spot-on.

The Memory Thief, Leonie Agnew (Penguin Random House NZ)

Leonie is one of my favourite authors for this audience. The Memory Thief uses the motif of a statue that comes alive each night to explore how people deal with trauma, reminding us that sometimes forgetting isn’t the best way to process big emotions. It is intricately told and felt, and the chase scene is genuinely nail-biting.

The Tomo, Mary-anne Scott (OneTree House)

Mary-Anne Scott can be relied upon for her sensitive male lead characters, and Phil is no different, as he gets sent to help out with the muster at a farm down the road while his dad undergoes cancer treatment. I learned a lot about the structure of tomo (naturally occurring holes in limestone) and enjoyed Phil and Blue’s story as they navigate the tricky world of male emotions and a sticky situation. Full review here.

The Uprising – The Mapmakers in Cruxcia, Eirlys Hunter illustrated by Kirsten Slade (Gecko Press)

As I get to the last named in this category I realise just how much of a job the judges had ahead of them when judging! This was one of my books of the year last year, as the mapmakers return and find a very different challenge ahead of them: one of acknowledging the rightful owners of land, rather than mapping ‘undiscovered’ land. Full review here.

Missing from this shortlist for me is Graci Kim’s book The Last Fallen Star, but given it is published in the US I doubt they let the idea of entering the NZ book awards trouble them!

My pick for winner of this category is The Uprising. Eirlys is a master of her craft, and Kirsten’s illustrations add just the right flair to the tale.


Coastwatcher, David Hill (Penguin Random House NZ)David Hill excels at war stories. This inhabits a piece of history I didn’t know about it, in the Pacific theatre of war. It deals sensitively with the villagers of Bougainville caught up in a war not of their making, and tells a tale of comradeship with some consideration of how you choose who to trust, and what race has to do with it. Full review here.

Displaced, Cristina Sanders (Walker Books Australia)Our colonial history is too rarely explored, and this book from Cristina Sanders does a great job of exploring the danger and drama of a new land for Eloise and her family, who leave Cornwall for New Zealand. Set in the 1880s, it explores the way in which colonial women forced rules to change so they could forge their new lives. Interview here.

Katipo Joe: Wolf’s Lair, Brian Falkner (Scholastic New Zealand)I came to this book without having read the other two, but it has carried me along on an exciting tale of derring-do and spycraft behind the enemy lines (and indeed, into the Wolf’s Lair, as the title suggests). With themes of loyalty, love and plenty of drama, it’s a great read.

Learning to Love Blue, Saradha Koirala (Record Press)I loved the first in this duology, and the second didn’t disappoint. Paige is freshly arrived in Melbourne and trying to carve out a living as a musician, while working out relationships and how to live without her parents. Sensitively told, and great for musical teens.

Violet Black, Eileen Merriman (Penguin Random House NZ)Our most reliably on-trend YA writer does it again, with this science fiction story of teens that survive a deadly fever (sound familiar?) only to be abducted by the mysterious Foundation and trained to use their new powers for possibly nefarious purposes.

There is one book that I thought deserved to be here wholeheartedly but which isn’t here, and that’s Steph Matuku’s Falling into Rarohenga. And Fleur Beale’s The Calling also missed out, though this may have been because its publishing date of 30 March 2021 meant it was in the previous years’ catchment.

I think Cristina Sanders deserves the win for Displaced, immersive historical fiction that doesn’t disappoint.


Atua: Māori Gods and Heroes, Gavin Bishop (Penguin Random House NZ)

Take a journey into the world of Pāpātuanuku and Ranginui, and their whanau, gods and demigods, and learn where many of the tikanga we practice today as a matter of course arose. This is Gavin Bishop continuing to draw and write at the top of his game.

Draw Some Awesome, Donovan Bixley (Upstart Press)

Draw Some Awesome is a fabulous tool for budding young artists, and is definitely a book that teachers will spot being passed around in class when their students are meant to be reading.

Why is That Spider Dancing?, Simon Pollard and Phil Sirvid (Te Papa Press)

A super accessible book full of fascinating spider facts that had me reading them aloud to my kids as I came across a new gross favourite. For budding spider experts.

How Do I Feel? A Dictionary of Emotions for Children, Rebekah Lipp, illustrated by Craig Phillips (Wildling Books)

Big emotions can be hard to handle, whether you are young or old. This gives kids the tools to help them self-identify these emotions and teaches them how they may want to deal with them. The language is direct and doesn’t talk down to kids.

Kia Kaha: A Storybook of Māori Who Changed the World, Stacey Morrison & Jeremy Sherlock (Penguin Random House NZ)

This is such a great collection of biographies of Māori who were formative, mixing demi-gods up with dancers, singers, and actors. Really well researched and a great way to open our kids’ minds to a word of opportunity. Interesting to see this in the awards, as the number of contributors is so large when including all the illustrators (a frequent bone of contention with previous years’ awards).

In all honesty, I can’t see Atua: Māori Gods and Heroes losing this category, but I do have a question. Where on earth is Mandy Hager’s masterful Protest!? It’s really unusual for a non-fiction book to be published for a teen age group in Aotearoa, and it does a really good job of exploring our history of protest. I wish it had been recognised.

The Russell Clark Award for Illustration Finalists

Atua: Māori Gods and Heroes, Gavin Bishop (Penguin Random House NZ)

The illustrations of this book are drop-dead gorgeous, and it is beautifully designed.

Mokopuna Matatini, Story Hemi-Morehouse, written by Pania Tahau-Hodges (Huia Publishers)

This is the te reo Māori version of The Greatest Haka Festival on Earth. The characterisation of the humans, and the variation in perspectives make this a top-runner for me.

Moose the Pilot, Kimberly Andrews (Penguin Random House NZ)

Moose and his faithful illustrator certainly have their work cut out for them in this story of Moose the Pilot. Detailed and deep illustrations with plenty of detail for the toddler dragging their feet at bedtime.

My Cat Can See Ghosts, Emily Joe (Beatnik)

The shining orbs of cat-eyes haunt this beautifully produced book. The illustrations play with shapes and angles beautifully.

The Eight Gifts of Te Wheke, Laya Mutton-Rogers, written by Steph Matuku (Huia Publishers)

If I could be forgiven for using youth slang for a moment, I fully stan Laya Mutton-Rogers’ illustrations. She is incredibly talented and I think she deserves all the prizes all the time.

When you have a Gavin Bishop in your category, as previously noted, it’s hard to pick anyone else to win. How on earth do you beat an illustrator who has grown his craft so immensely over so many years? With that said, I think Story Hemi-Morehouse may be in with a shot for Mokupuna Matatini. If I was a judge I’d give Gavin the non-fiction award, leaving this award open for the next generation. But I’m not, so who knows what they’ll do!

The Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for te reo MAAori

The judges of the Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award, which is for books written entirely in te reo Māori, praised the language of all submissions, finding the reo beautiful, with the depth and breadth to advance te reo abilities of tamariki of all ages.

He Wheke Wai Mamangu Au, Stephanie Thatcher, translated by Pānia Papa (Scholastic New Zealand)

I Waho, i te Moana, Yvonne Morrison, illustrated by Jenny Cooper, translated by Pānia Papa (Scholastic New Zealand)

Ki te Moe Aotearoa, Donovan Bixley translated by Darryn Joseph (Upstart Press)

Mokopuna Matatini, Pania Tahau-Hodges, illustrated by Story Hemi-Morehouse (Huia Publishers)

Te Hipo Huna, Juliette MacIver illustrated by Sarah Davis, translated by Karena Kelly (Gecko Press)

I don’t speak te reo Māori, so can’t comment on this category. I am however very happy that Juliette MacIver’s That’s not a Hippopotamus has been translated into te reo!

The translators and writers featured are very experienced, but the judges appointed by Te Rōpū Whakahau are more than equal to the task in this growing category.


Hine and the Tohunga Portal, Ataria Sharman (Huia Publishers)

I am Autistic, Chanelle Moriah (Allen & Unwin)

Mokopuna Matatini, Pania Tahau-Hodges illustrated by Story Hemi-Morehouse(Huia Publishers)

My Cat Can See Ghosts, Emily Joe (Beatnik)

Spark Hunter, Sonya Wilson (The Cuba Press)

This is a very strong category for the NZSA Best First Book Award—and shows a real blossoming of skill in the children’s book publishing world. Of the two that aren’t also nominated in their categories, I found Hine and the Tohunga Portal well-written but with slightly over-complex world building, and I am Autistic was accessible and well-explained.

Though I feel this may be foolish given the number of categories My Cat Can See Ghosts is selected in, my pick for the win of Best First Book is Sonya Wilson. Spark Hunter is ambitious and immersive. Love it.

Do I have a pick for the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year? On the one hand, obviously Atua: Māori Gods and Heroes. But there are outside options that may pop to the top. Maybe it’s Eirlys’ year for The Uprising? Or perhaps the winner of Te Kura Pounamu will take it out.

No matter who wins, let’s celebrate the hell out of our own NZ children’s books and their authors and illustrators. There is a book for everybody in this lot—get reading!

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Sarah Forster has worked in the New Zealand book industry for 15 years, in roles promoting Aotearoa’s best authors and books. She has a Diploma in Publishing from Whitireia Polytechnic, and a BA (Hons) in History and Philosophy from the University of Otago. She was born in Winton, grew up in Westport, and lives in Wellington. She was a judge of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in 2017. Her day job is as a Senior Communications Advisor—Content for Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.