Thursday, March 23, 2017

Turning in ever decreasing circles

It was a surprise and a bit of a blow to see the recent announcement from the Book Awards Trust regarding changes to the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults (you can check it out here). There are some positive developments in there - with increasing promotion of finalist titles through several initiatives and a revamped schedule of events that will see authors and illustrators hopefully reaching more of their young readers in what looks like a much more celebratory style - Good!

But my heart broke a little to see that these new intiatives come at the expense of the Children's Choice Awards. For a number of years children were able to vote for their favourite book from amongst the finalist titles. This was a limited approach with a format that tended to favour picture books but it encouraged engagement with all categories of New Zealand children's literature and was an important means of giving voice to our target audience. The prize was much coveted by authors and illustrators, a ringing endorsement from the people we write for. It was a huge thrill when The Were-Nana, my picure book with Sarah Anderson, won the Children's Choice Award in 2009. I love that book and I'm quietly chuffed that the children did too. It gave me the confidence to keep writing for children.

We rejoiced when Children's Choice expanded to acknowledge the book with the most votes in each book award category. And we were jubilant when  over the last few years children could vote for any book submitted for the book awards instead of just the finalists, and Children's Choice then drew up its own list of finalists and each category winner was feted individually. What a tremendous level of engagement for children around New Zealand. This expansion took some of the sting out of the cutting of the LIANZA awards. In a small country with a small population and little media exposure for local children's literature, the loss of these awards has been a real blow to the children's book community. The broadening of Children's Choice was seen as the ideal positive step forward, helping our local writers and illustrators achieve a greater connection with their audience, and giving that audience a chance to speak directly back to us through their choices. A real win:win.

And now it's gone completely.

I appreciate that giving potential voters access to all the eligible children's and young adults titles in a limited time frame, encouraging them to vote and collating the responses must be a significant and costly task. I understand that the organisation of a whole additional tier of finalists and winners adds a degree of complexity for the awards team. Maybe the administration of the Children's Choice Awards is ideally shared with another organisation, or could be reconstructed into a more manageable format that still allows children to have their say. How cool would it be if a dedicated sponsor came forward to fund Children's Choice. Our readers and their opinions are incredibly important to us and the future of children's literature in this country. Other countries with robust Children's Book Awards programmes have Children's Choice Awards. With tightening publishing lists and these cuts to children's book awards we are turning in ever decreasing circles.

Friday, March 17, 2017

A few good things...

It has been a week of news :)

I'm so thrilled to say I get to be a part of this year's Auckland Writers Festival. I've been involved in the Festival before and I didn't dare hope I'd get to take part again. I'll be running a workshop on writing picture books called Picture Book Practice, talking about key attributes, common mistakes, and avenues for publication. It'll be a 90 minute primer with lots of juicy information and a fun exercise to set you on your way. Information on the session is here. Sunday 21st of May 4.00 - 5.30pm at the Aotea Centre. The festival is jam packed with all sorts of amazing goodies and I can't wait to go along!!  Exciting times. Check out the full programme here.

I think one of the nicest types of feedback I can get on my workshops, school visits and other events is repeat business. I recently got invited back for the second time to an annual event, and received a request for a school visit from someone I've visited for before. I'm always working to improve my talks and workshops and always thinking of ways I can add value to what I do, so to know I'm on the right track with content and delivery is enormously helpful.

And a very exciting kind of feedback is acknowledgement of our books by the children's literature community. I'm very proud that Fuzzy Doodle, my picture book with Donovan Bixley, has been named a Storylines Notable Book for 2017. Here is the list of picture book fabulousness that I feel honoured to be a part of:

Storylines Notable Books List 2017

The Storylines Notable Books List 2017, for books published in 2016, has been announced. The award-winning titles are:
Picture Books
  • If I was a Banana by Alexandra Tylee, illustrated by Kieran Rynhart (Gecko)
  • Gwendolyn! by Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Terri Rose Baynton (HarperCollins)
  • Tuna and Hiriwa by Ripeka Takotowai Goddard, illustrated by Kimberly Andrews (Huia)
  • Maui – Sun Catcher by Tim Tipene, illustrated by Zak Waipara (Oratia)
  • Gladys Goes to War by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper (Penguin Random House NZ)
  • Fuzzy Doodle by Melinda Szymanik, illustrated by Donovan Bixley (Scholastic NZ)
  • Gorillas in our Midst by Richard Fairgray, illustrated by Terry Jones (Scholastic NZ)
  • Henry Bob Bobbalich by Juliette MacIver, illustrated by Link Choi (Scholastic NZ)
  • Witch’s Cat Wanted Apply Within written by Joy H Davidson, illustrated by Nikki Slade-Robinson (Scholastic NZ)
  • The Harmonica by Dawn McMillan, illustrated by Andrew Burdan (Scholastic NZ)
  • Rasmas by Elizabeth Pulford, illustrated by Jenny Cooper (Scholastic NZ)
  • The Best Dad in the World by Pat Chapman, illustrated by Cat Chapman (Upstart)

Junior Fiction

  • The Road to Ratenburg by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Gavin Bishop (Gecko)
  • Annual edited by Kate De Goldi and Susan Paris (Gecko)
  • The Diamond Horse by Stacy Gregg (HarperCollins UK)
  • Rona by Chris Szekely, illustrated by Josh Morgan (Huia)
  • Enemy Camp by David Hill (Penguin Random House NZ)
  • The Impossible Boy by Leonie Agnew (Penguin Random House NZ)
  • Grandad’s Wheelies by Jack Lasenby, illustrated by Bob Kerr (Penguin Random House NZ)
  • Barking Mad by Tom E Moffatt (Scholastic NZ)
  • Sunken Forest by Des Hunt (Scholastic NZ)

Young Adult

  • Lonesome When You Go by Saradha Koirala (Makaro)
  • Coming Home to Roost by Mary-anne Scott (Penguin Random House NZ)


  • See Play Do: A Kid’s Handbook for Everyday Creative Fun written and illustrated by Louise Cuckow (Beatnik)
  • Bruce Wants to Go Faster by Dreydon Sobanja, illustrated by Murray Dewhurst (Inspired Kids)
  • Armistice Day: the New Zealand Story by Philippa Werry (New Holland)
  • Speed King: Burt Munro, the World’s Fastest Indian by David Hill, illustrated by Phoebe Morris (Penguin Random House NZ)
  • Jack and Charlie: Boys of the Bush by Jack Marcotte (Penguin Random House NZ)
  • The Beginner's Guide to Netball by Maria Tutaia (Penguin Random House NZ)
  • Cricket with Kane Williamson by Kane Williamson (Penguin Random House NZ)
  • The Cuckoo and the Warbler: A True New Zealand Story by Heather Hunt, illustrated by Kennedy Warne (Potton and Burton)
  • ANZAC Heroes by Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivancic (Scholastic NZ)
  • Much ado about Shakespeare written and illustrated by Donovan Bixley (Upstart)

A downloadable poster in PDF format of all this year's Notable Books can be found here.