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Teenager joins established names on shortlist for national children’s book awards

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A 16-year-old Kāpiti Coast student is among the writers and illustrators announced today as finalists in the 2023 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, the preeminent celebration of books for Aotearoa’s young readers.

Arlo Kelly, one of the Awards’ youngest ever finalists, is vying for the NZSA Best First Book Award with his debut novel Echo. The teenager is in fine company. A wealth of talent has been recognised by this year’s shortlist, including established names like Witi Ihimaera, Donovan Bixley and Kate De Goldi alongside familiar faces like Jason Gunn and Fifi Colston.

The finalist books deal with big topics, including death, identity and climate change, but there is plenty of lightness, too, with fun and frivolity guaranteed to bring a smile to young readers of all ages.

“This year’s entries reflect the changing nature of who we are as New Zealanders, with good helpings of humour and fantasy thrown in,” says convenor of judges Nicola Daly, an Associate Professor at the University of Waikato, where she is codirector of the Waikato Picturebook Research Unit and teaches courses in children’s literature.

“New Zealand children have many opportunities to read titles published around the world in our wonderful libraries and bookshops, but the importance of them seeing themselves and the communities around them in books cannot be underestimated,” she says.

The awards organisers and the judging panel wanted to have children more involved in the assessment process, so this year 15 primary, intermediate and secondary schools from across the motu were recruited to offer feedback. Each school was sent a selection of entries from relevant categories, together with review forms and judging guidelines to encourage critical thinking about the books. Their feedback was then shared with the judges.

“We really appreciated the input from tamariki and rangatahi, which allowed us to see the books from their perspective. It was an important contribution to our decision-making process,” says Nicola Daly.

The end result is 29 finalists, who offer Aotearoa’s young readers an educative, engaging and engrossing selection of books with a uniquely local flavour.

The winners of each of the six main categories – Picture Book, Junior Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Non-Fiction, Illustration and te reo Māori – take home $7,500 and are then in the running to be named the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year, with a further $7,500 prize money. In addition, the judges will award a Best First Book prize of $2,500 to a previously unpublished author or illustrator.

The ceremony to announce the winners will take place in Wellington on the evening of Thursday 10 August.