It’s been a year since Peppercorn Press and New Zealand Books Pukapuka Aotearoa launched Hooked on NZ Books, www.hookedonbooks.org.nz, a website designed to encourage, nurture and publish young reviewers reading New Zealand books. During our first year, Hooked on NZ Books has supported that online activity through workshops in high schools, which talk to young readers about the purpose and value of reviews, and how they might develop what is a highly specialist skill.
In the process, we’ve found that the much bemoaned death of the book may be overstated. We’ve been lucky enough to meet teenagers who love to read books (and prefer a book over a screen), who enjoy talking about what they’re reading with each other, who have strong opinions about what they’re reading, and who place a high value on the publication of their writing.
What has surprised us, though, is how little young readers know about local writers and writing, and how vague is their sense of a body of national literature. They are able to name few New Zealand authors; we were jolted when no-one in a class had heard of Janet Frame. Which is not to say they don’t read New Zealand writers; they just don’t know they do. Many young readers read in the science fiction and fantasy genres, set in alternate or imagined worlds, and many simply don’t know where the books they read are set, let alone where their writers are from: as if there is some kind of bookland that sometimes has familiar features and sometimes doesn’t. They rarely see themselves reflected in what they’re reading.
In these pages, we’ve been featuring some of the work from our young reviewers – this issue it’s Caitlin Walker on page 21 – and the feedback those reviews have received from the readers of New Zealand Books Pukapuka Aotearoa has been enormously positive. Readers have pointed out how inspiring is the enthusiasm and sincerity of those young reviewers, remarking that the very personal responses of our YA reviewers to what they’re reading should remind the rest of us of why we love to read in the first place.
Louise O’Brien and Harry Ricketts