Christmas crackers, Celia Dunlop

This selection of good New Zealand books worth considering for children at Christmas is made from titles which have appeared or won awards in the last year. The choice was based on the book’s overall quality, potential pleasure as a gift, and value for money. These recommendations are not ranked, as the choice of a book is guided best by a young person’s character and interests.



Pamela Allen, Mr McGee Goes to Sea, Hodder and Stoughton, $24.95

A superb picture book (sequel to Mr McGee, 1987) in which nonsense verse is illustrated to perfection and presented with panache.

Lynley Dodd, Hairy Maclary’s Showbusiness, Mallinson Rendel, $19.95

Aim Children’s Picture Book of the Year. A bustling, rhyming tale about the dog star slipping his lead at the cat show and winning ‘Scruffiest Cat’!

Christine Ross, Lily and the Present, Methuen, $17.95

Meticulous, comical pictures in warm shades of colour invite exploration in this story about small Lily, choosing exotic gifts for her new brother in a department store.

Also recommended: Lynley Dodd, Slinki Malinki, Puffin, $10.95; Sandra Morris, One Lonely Kakapo: A Counting Book, Hodder and Stoughton, $10.95: winner, New Zealand Library Associations Russell Clark Award (for illustration); Curtis Turnbull, I Don’t Want to Go to Bed, illustrated by Trevor Pye, Ashton Scholastic, $8.95


AGES 4 ‑ 7

Betty Gilderdale, The Little Yellow Digger, illustrated by Alan Gilderdale, Ashton Scholastic, $21.95

This splendidly local book has a high-interest, cumulative, rhyming story about various diggers getting stuck in rainy weather, enhanced by bright, bold double-page pictures.

Jenny Hessel, Grandma McGarvey Paints the Shed, illustrated by Trevor Pye, Ashton Scholastic, $21.95

Wacky verse gains even more gusto from vivid cartoon illustrations showing the hair-raising stages in Grandma’s ‘spectacular’ creation.

Lynley Dodd, The Minister’s ABC, Mallinson Rendel, $19.95

A clearly designed alphabet book based on the traditional children’s alphabet game and depicting antics by ‘Sneaky’ ‘Quarrelsome’ Scarface Claw, ‘Impish’ ‘Keen-eyed’ Slinki Malinki, and other Dodd felines.

Katerina Mataira and Terewal Kemp, Cry-Baby Moon/ Marama Tangiweto, illustrated by Hone lhi-o-te-rangi Ngata. Mallinson Rendel/ Ahuru Press, $19.95

Published in separate, finely presented English and Maori editions, this delightfully simple story and decorative, swirling pictures tell how only Rainbow knows how to make Moon smile.

Margaret Mahy, The Horrendous Hullabaloo, illustrated by Patricia MacCarthy, Hamish Hamilton, $29.95. 

Batik illustrations give a jewel-like glow to this alluringly alliterative tale of pirate Peregrine’s aunt and parrot who, banned from the pirates’ nightly cavorting, hold a’ horrendous hullabaloo’ of their own.

Pamela Allen, Belinda, by Hodder and Stoughton, $24.95

A rollicking story and fun pictures show the unexpected chain of events when Bessie leaves Old Tom to cope with the farm chores – and a knowing cow.

Gaelyn Gordon, Duckat, illustrated by Chris Gaskin, Ashton Scholastic, $17.95

Appealing for its whimsy and tempo, this story about a duck with mistaken identity is complemented by paintings which include pleasing portrayals of the main character, Mabel. (To age 10.)

Also recommended: Peti Nohotinia, Parera Parera, illustrated by Elspeth Williamson, New Zealand Natural Heritage Foundation, $12.95: a duck-shooting tale in English and Maori editions; Michelanne Forster, Rodney Rat and the Sneaky Weasel Gang, illustrated by Graeme Kyle. Hodder and Stoughton, $10.95; Martin Baynton, Baby Floats, Ashton Scholastic, $9.95


AGES 7‑ 10

Joy Cowley, Bow Down Shadrach, illustrated by Robyn Belton, Hodder and Stoughton, $24.95; Puffin (paperback without illustrations), $9.95. Aim Children’s Book of the Year. 

A rich, absorbing story, and charmingly illustrated, about three children who follow their instincts to see that their beloved old horse ends his days with compassion and dignity.

Bob Kerr, The Optimist, Mallinson Rendel, $14.95 

Excellent presentation and copious illustrations enhance this story of Danny, who comes face to face with terror, and the nature of friendship and fair dealing, when he sneaks a ride in Mr Martin’s boat.

Pauline Cartwright, Matau the Giant of Wakatipu, illustrated by Te Maari Gardiner, Ashton Scholastic, $9.95 (paperback)

A powerfully illustrated, fluent telling of the creation and moods of Lake Wakatipu. (To age 12.)

Gwen Gawith (ed), Something Zany: A Crazy Miscellany of Poems, Rhymes and Stories, Ashton Scholastic, $9.95 (paperback)

Work by local writers, imaginatively presented and extended by Gwen Gawith’s animated drawings.

Donna Bryant, What’s Going on Over the Fence: Odd and Interesting Facts About the Insects and Animals in Paddocks and Open Spaces, photographs by Rod Morris, Hodder and Stoughton, $15.95 (paperback) 

Another Wildtrack book with excellent colour photographs and good design, offering lively discussion, ‘Odd Facts’ sections and glossary. (To age 13.)

Geoffrey J Cox, Dinosaurs of New Zealand, Viking Pacific, $19.95 (paperback)

Detailed, dramatic paintings and brief informative text bring to life some of the huge marine reptiles and dinosaurs that existed here 70 million years ago. Three cut-out models are included.

Also recommended: William Taylor, Knitwits, Ashton Scholastic, $17.95; Pauline Cartwright, A Dog for Keeps, illustrated by Lyn Kriegler. Ashton Scholastic, $6.95


AGES 10 ‑ 13

Elsie Locke, The Runaway Settlers, illustrated by Gary Hebley, Hazard Press, $14.95 (paperback)

Set in the mid-19th century, this classic tale of an Australian family who flee from a drunkard father and become pioneers in New Zealand is based on fact.

Sherryl Jordan, Denzil’s Dilemma, Ashton Scholastic, $6.95 (paperback)

A pacy, entertaining sequel to The Wednesday Wizard (1991), describing Denzil’s trouble when he whisks Sam – dressed as an angel for the school’s Christmas play – back to medieval times.

Jeffrey Leask, Little Red Rocking Hood: A Rock Opera, illustrated by Gavin Bishop, Ashton Scholastic, $10.95 (paperback), (accompanying cassette tape $15.00)

Great fun. Leask’s witty rendition of the traditional tale proves the perfect vehicle for Bishop’s imaginative flair: flamboyant spreads rock you from page to page.

William Taylor, Fast Times at Greenhill High, Puffin, $10.95 (paperback)

Fast and funny: the Greenhill Intermediate gang are now at high school and in their heyday running political innuendo and a ‘relationship’ column in the school rag.

James Norcliffe, Under the Rotunda, Hazard Press, $14.95 (paperback)

A busy, unpredictable plot, about a conjuror’s efforts gone wrong, colourful characters and zippy dialogue make this Christchurch fantasy full of fun. (To age 14.)

Joan de Hamel, Hideaway, Puffin. $9.95 (paperback)

Becky, who is staying with relatives and tending a goat herd on the Otago Peninsula, faces mystery and issues of conscience when she encounters her cousin Chloe, and a scruffy foreign boy. (To age 15.)

Also recommended: Margaret Mahy, Dangerous Spaces, Puffin, $9.95


AGES 13 ‑ 15

David Hill, See Ya, Simon, Mallinson Rendel, $19.95

A joyfully open, sensitive, funny, unsentimental story about the home and school life and eventual death of Simon, who has muscular dystrophy.

Margaret Mahy, Underrunners, Hamish Hamilton, $29.95

Strong settings, the everyday and fantasy worlds, intrigue and environmental concerns are blended in this story of Tristam Catt, his inter-galactic friend, and waif-like Winola from the local children’s home.

Tessa Duder, Alessandra: Alex in Rome, Oxford University Press, $19.95; Penguin, $9.95. 

Winner of the New Zealand Library Association’s Esther Glen Award (for a distinguished work of fiction), and third in the Aim Children’s Book of the Year Award. At the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, swimmer Alex faces the rigours of training and competition – and the special interest of a suave young man.

John Bonallack, Goat Kingdom, Oxford University Press, $19.95. 

An attractively presented, enjoyable family sailing adventure, set in the Marlborough Sounds. It includes gold-panning excursions and brushes with danger, environmental themes emerge and there is a glossary of sailing terms.

William Taylor, Supermum and Spike the Dog, Harper Collins, $19.95 (hardback), $12.95 (paperback)

Hurtling along, this hilarious romp is another saga in the lives of the earthy Porter brothers, their music-loving pup and devoted Mum – whom they’ve entered in a ‘Supermum’ competition.

Also recommended: Sherryl Jordan, Rocco, Ashton Scholastic, $6.95; Barry Faville, Stanley’s Aquarium, Puffin, $9.95; Gaelyn Gordon, Tripswitch, HarperCollins, $15.95; Ken Catran, Deepwater Black, HarperCollins, $14.95.



Tessa Duder, Songs for Alex, Oxford University Press, $19.95

Home from Rome, Alex must confront difficulties at school, a demanding play, the offer of overseas training, her ambition to become a lawyer – and her stormy but deepening relationship with Tom.

Jack Lasenby, The Conjuror, Oxford University Press, $19.95

Told in four ‘books’, this epic tale encompasses cruelty, death, love and courage. Vivid descriptions evoke a violent, futuristic society headed by an evil matriarch from whom Johnny and Hannah, desperate for truth, humanity, freedom – and their lives – must escape.

Deborah Savage, A Stranger Calls Me Home, HarperCollins, $16.95 (paperback)

Three teenagers – a Pakeha girl raised by Maori, a part-Maori boy raised by Pakeha, and a Pakeha boy who has spent four years in America – seek their personal and cultural identities. Topical and stirring.

William Taylor, Beth and Bruno, Ashton Scholastic, $9.95 (paperback)

This fine portrayal of the love developing between a ‘tough’ adult student and a new recruit to a rural high school also raises the issues of family values and ties to the land.

Diana Noonan, Sonnet for the City, John Mclndoe, $18.95

A true-to-life story of student life in Dunedin which finds Penny Rider embroiled in the hot political issue of education cuts, student protests against the proposed Law and Order Bill, the kidnapping of the local MP – and romance.

Also recommended: Gwen Gawith, Ripping into Research: Information Skills for Secondary and Tertiary Students, Longman Paul, $15.25


Celia Dunlop is a librarian and a researcher.


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