2019 NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults

This year’s Book of the Year for young readers is The Bomb.

A sparkling story of courage and transformation has been judged the best book for young readers at this year’s national children’s book awards. The Bomb by Sacha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan, was awarded the highest prize in children’s publishing – The Margaret Mahy Book of the Year – during a ceremony at Te Papa in Wellington to celebrate the 2019 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

The judges were captivated by the spell this book cast. They described it as a summery, waterlogged, quintessentially Kiwi story about a child growing in self-confidence while striving to achieve the perfect “bomb”, supported every step of the way by the reassuring presence of his Nan.

“Joy and humour permeate the story and illustrations of The Bomb, and the reader is rewarded with each encounter – they see a new layer, another detail is revealed, fresh energy bubbles up,” says convenor of judges Crissi Blair. The judges also commended the language, which naturally incorporates te reo Māori, and the illustrations which celebrate our multicultural community.

The win rounded out an action-packed few months for the author and illustrator team of Cotter and Morgan, who have a winning partnership off the page as well, having recently become engaged and welcomed their first child into the world.

Best books for young readers

Seven other significant awards were also presented at the ceremony, held in Te Papa’s atmospheric Te Marae and attended by the country’s top children’s authors, illustrators, translators and publishers.

The Bomb also won the Picture Book Award. The judges said the books in this category “defied gravity” – being both simple and sophisticated in their message and illustration with serious child appeal but the ability to also delight adults.

The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble, an enthralling eco-drama about a future without grasses, was awarded the Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction, marking the second year in a row this category has been won by MacDibble. The judges found the unique voice and characterisation ensured the reader was emotionally invested while debating alternatives to the sometimes-violent measures taken to ensure survival.

Teenagers are very hard to please, said the judges in announcing the Young Adult Fiction Award, but the panel was confident the winner of this category, Legacy by Whiti Hereaka, was a book teens would love. They were unanimous in their appreciation for this novel, with its assured writing, cleverly constructed story and pitch-perfect historical rendering, which teaches much about life as a WWI Māori soldier.

A winning start

An instantly engaging, slyly educational book peppered with a sense of humour won the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction. Art-tastic by Sarah Pepperle is a rare book that makes art – in this case the iconic works in the Christchurch Art Gallery – accessible and fun for young readers and shows how it can touch all aspects of our lives.

With such high praise from the judges, it’s no surprise Art-tastic also took out the Best First Book Award, a fiercely contested prize in a field of books which all cut straight to the heart of what being a young person is about in very different ways. But the judges couldn’t go past Pepperle’s “out-of-this-world talent” for presenting information – both factual and abstract – in a digestible, hilarious, approachable way, and praised her rare instinct for understanding how children work.

When it’s done well, children’s book illustration is a high form of art combining technique, taste and vision with the ability to tell a story. The judges found the art exceptional in Russell Clark Award for Illustration winner, Puffin the Architect by Kimberly Andrews. They cited Andrews as an early-career treasure trove of talent, saying New Zealand children are lucky to have the rest of her career to look forward to.

Te reo Māori

The Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for te reo Māori was awarded to Te Haka a Tānerore by Reina Kahukiwa, illustrated by Robyn Kahukiwa, translated by Kiwa Hammond. The panel of judges convened by Te Rōpū Whakahau said the book enhanced readers’ understanding of Māori performing arts by telling the origin story of haka. They praised the way its close connection to identity and heritage was illustrated with exceptional artwork.

2019 New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults Winners

Margaret Mahy Book of the Year Award and Picture Book Award


The Bomb, Sacha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan (Huia Publishers) – BUY HERE

Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction and Best First Book Award


Art-tastic, Sarah Pepperle (Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū) – BUY HERE

Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction


The Dog Runner, Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin) – BUY HERE

Young Adult Fiction Award


Legacy, Whiti Hereaka (Huia Publishers) – BUY HERE

Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for the best book in te reo Māori


Te Haka a Tānerore, Reina Kahukiwa, illustrated by Robyn Kahukiwa, translated by Kiwa Hammond (Mauri Tū) – BUY HERE

Russell Clark Award for Illustration


Puffin the Architect, written and illustrated by Kimberly Andrews (Penguin Random House) – BUY HERE

The New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are a unique celebration of the contribution that New Zealand’s children’s authors and illustrators make to building national identity and cultural heritage. The awards are made possible through the generosity, commitment and vision of funders and sponsors: Creative New Zealand, HELL Pizza, the Wright Family Foundation, LIANZA, Wellington City Council, Nielsen Book and Te Papa. They are administered by the New Zealand Book Awards Trust.

Information in this article was provided for media release.

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  1. kymmage 01/09/2019 at 8:15 pm

    I would really like to read The Bomb. It sounds right up our alley, and perfect for beach holiday reading. Artastic also looks great. I love art and introducing my kids to all the ways artists interpret our world. It’s also inspiring, because they can try their hands at art styles at home.

  2. Alezandra 31/08/2019 at 9:54 pm

    Great article! The Bomb and The Puffin Architect books sure like something we can try to read. It’s really good to have this type of awards and celebrate authors and illustrators. It’s inspiring for any future author and illustrator. I wish I could write a book in the future. 🙂

  3. candyjanenz 31/08/2019 at 5:35 pm

    Before reading this article I had not heard of any of these books. The one that I think looks really fantastic is the artastic book. Watching the video of the book helped me to know what this book is about and it looks bright, fun and has lots of different artistic activities for children, which I think would keep them entertained for a long time.

  4. Loucyd3 30/08/2019 at 10:48 pm

    These all sound like really good reads and with my son being such a big book worm I could see him getting caught up in these roads. Its great to see these amazing New Zealand writers being awarded.

  5. Bevik1971 27/08/2019 at 3:15 pm

    These all sound like great reads! The Bomb looks very interesting – I’m glad that we have awards like this for awesome and talented writers in NZ 🙂

  6. MuddledUpMolly 27/08/2019 at 2:04 pm

    ‘The Bomb’ sounds like an awesome read for our 9 year old who is developing his reading range and is also working on being more assertive and having more self confidence himself so it sounds very relevant.

  7. SarahBlair 26/08/2019 at 4:30 pm

    What a lovely collection of books, they all sound wonderful in their own ways! I think that its so great that we can celebrate NZ authors with these book awards and to be able to get the recommendations from the judges. I will have to keep and eye out for a few of these books at the shop.

  8. Jen_Wiig 23/08/2019 at 3:58 pm

    My eldest son has finished reading The Bomb and absolutely loved it to the point he wanted me to read it. He described it like a good movie where you can’t miss a second in case you miss something.
    WE are so lucky here in NZ having amazing talented authors there are some exceptional books both English and Te Reo Maori.
    We love to read in this household so always get excited for the book awards to see what new exciting ones come out and good ideas for Xmas.

  9. Mands1980 23/08/2019 at 1:57 pm

    The book The Bomb sounds like a great all round book with great pictures and s great story for the family including children and adults. It is great to see a book the includes te reo as well as not many books do in (NZ). (NZ) is becoming very multicultural so this sounds great.

  10. Micht 23/08/2019 at 3:46 am

    Loving the new stories coming out for kids embracing members of the family and placing importance on family as a whole like this story of the Bomb which emphasizes the Nan… its also so important to acknowledge the impact family members have on the kids and what a difference that can make to their future. Look forward to catching this book soon…any other good recommendations for kids books please?!

  11. Shorrty4life1 22/08/2019 at 12:50 pm

    This sound’s like a great book for the whole family. It’s pretty Cool how it incorporates the reo Maori language which my kid’s have been really interested in learning this year. Definitely will have to get the kids to look out for this one at our local library.

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