Read a New Zealand Book this Christmas

Books by local NZ writers are a unique offering for our bookshops all over the country. So this Christmas, we want to see these titles flying out the door – we want to see people declaring they #readNZ. #ReadNZ was initiated by the NZ Book Council earlier this year, and has a long-running campaign behind it, involving many members of the NZ Book Industry - festivals, book clubs, and more. 

We’ve asked the publishers of New Zealand what single NZ fiction, non-fiction and children’s / YA title they want to see our bookshops support this Christmas; and we have suggestions from 20 publishers. Thank you to all of you who responded, for your 30 wonderful  recommendations. There will undoubtedly be something for everybody on your Christmas list within this article. 

Remarkable journeys 
We’ve got to start our journey somewhere, and where better to begin than with Wild Journeys, by Bruce Ansley. As well as having a cool cover, Sandra Noakes from HarperCollins says, ‘One of our finest writers takes us on an unexpected journey through New Zealand from top to bottom. This is a pure and indulgent reading experience for the fabled armchair traveller, for those who like to escape with a great book, for the difficult uncle and brother or dad who love a great yarn.’ 

Scenic Playground: The Story behind New Zealand’s Mountain Tourism, edited by Peter Alsop, Dave Bamford and Lee Davidson is vaunted by Te Papa Press as The Christmas book. Nicola Legat says, ‘There are more mountains, glaciers, climbers, lakes and alpine flora and fauna in this book than you can shake a ski pole at, in 416 epic, visually stunning pages.’ 

If you like to keep it frosty over Christmas, perhaps try Hillary’s Antarctica, from Allen & Unwin. Editor Jenny Hellen says, ‘This book has it all – a riveting story of Hillary and his team crossing Antarctica on tractors in true Kiwi style, amazing photography from Jane Ussher, and never-before-seen diary entries, all in a beautiful package. The perfect gift for lovers of history and design.’ 

Perhaps you are looking for some history? Le Quesnoy 1918: New Zealand’s Last Battle by Christopher Pugsley, tells the tale of the end of the First World War, which Oratia Press Publisher Peter Dowling says is ‘a pivotal period that hasn’t been written about enough. Le Quesnoy tells the story of how the war ended for the New Zealand division in France, as told by our most distinguished military historian. The audience for this is in history and culture enthusiasts in NZ and France.’ 

CUP’s Catherine Montgomery recommends Rising from the Rubble, which reveals the untold story of the extreme challenges faced by those working for the health system during and after the Canterbury quakes. She says, ‘It’s an inspiring and moving read, for locals like me, but also for anyone interested in this oft-overlooked part of our recent history.’
Of beasts and biographies 
Do you have a herpetologist in your family? Or perhaps a budding sports, political or literary star? Here are the books for them. 

Reptiles and Amphibians of NZ: A Field Guide is by Dylan van Winkel, Marleen Baling and Rod Hitchmough. Auckland University Press’ Sales and Marketing Manager Andrew Long says, ‘This is the definitive field guide to all 123 native species of New Zealand’s tuatara, geckos, skinks, frogs, marine turtles and marine snakes. With more than 400 photos, this bite-sized book is perfect for those with a passion for herpetology, and anyone with an interest in our incredibly diverse natural world.’ This book is special to Long, as when he was young, he used his pocket money to buy animal encyclopaedias and proclaimed he would grow up to be a zoologist. ‘This book, while very technical and scientific, is so visually chocka it is perfect for those kids who are also nature enthusiasts.’ 

If horses are more your thing, Massey  University Press has the book for you: The New Zealand Horse, by Deborah Coddington and Jane Ussher. Publisher Nicola Legat says, ‘From the patrician stallion Tivaci on the elegant jacket to the images of the wild horses of the Kaimanawas in the closing pages, this book says one thing: the ultimate Christmas gift.’ 

Now we are into biographies: from literary to sports heroes, and heroes of humanity.

David Ling has Maurice Shadbolt covered, saying, ‘Twenty-five years ago, I published Maurice’s memoir of his early years, One of Ben’s. Now I’m delighted to be publishing Life as a Novel, Philip Temple’s major account of Shadbolt’s early years, professionally and personally, equally entertaining and in much more revealing detail. Anyone who has read Shadbolt’s novels will want to read this.’ 

Publisher Fergus Barrowman recommends Of Memory Pieces by Maurice Gee, saying ‘I loved this intimate and evocative insight into the early life and times of New Zealand’s greatest living writer, and I’m sure a very wide range of readers will too.’ 

Upstart Press is publishing Simon Mannering – Warrior. Publicist Gemma Finlay says, ‘By his own admission, Simon Mannering had limited natural ability. But through sheer hard work and dedication, he rose to the top in one of the world’s toughest sporting arenas.’ 

We also have a selection from Julia Wells from BWB Books. ‘Kim Workman: Journey Towards Justice is published in November, and tells the remarkable story of a life lived through times of great personal and political upheaval. This is a powerful first-hand account that will capture many readers.’ 

Food, glorious food 
Hachette NZ is getting behind a classic as their pick for a cookbook present this Christmas. One of the Top 20 Bestsellers of the Decade for NZ Bookshop Day, Edmonds Cookery Book is what the Hachette NZ team will refer to for a disaster-free Christmas feast. ‘National Sales Manager Suzy Maddox-Kane will be whipping up a Christmas Cheese Ball, while MD Melanee Winder’s family love making Christmas shaped shortbread. Product and Sales Coordinator Ashleigh Richards has already started her Christmas Mince Pies (her tip is to make the fruit mince at least two weeks before putting it in the pastry as it improves with age.’ 

Ripe Recipes is back with a third helping, by Angela Redfern (Beatnik Publishing). Publicist Karen McMillan says, ‘The Ripe Recipe books have been phenomenally successful, and I’m delighted that this third book is finally being published so it can join the other two in our kitchen at home. It’s the perfect book for anyone who enjoys cooking and great food. 

Debra Millar has a new publishing venture, Point Publishing, and her first book is Meat & Three, by Kathy Paterson, out on 22 October. ‘This is the quintessential Kiwi cookbook, as the name suggests. Beef and lamb are the hero ingredients in Kathy Peterson’s recipes, with a healthy side order of veggies. Including profiles of some of our most iconic farms, this really is the ultimate New Zealand cookbook and one I’m especially proud of as it is the first book from my new independent publishing company.’ 

Seguing from cook books nicely into children’s books, we have Cook’s Cook by Gavin Bishop – a picture book about the chef who worked on Captain Cook’s ship. Publisher Julia Marshall says, ‘Much has been written about Captain Cook but this book gives a completely fresh perspective. You can tell so many different stories through food – culture, class, adventure, humour and history. And there are more stories in the illustrations – it is a masterpiece in my opinion. Great for people who love facts, history, adventure … and food!’ 

A colourful range of picture books 
From Scholastic NZ for this Christmas, we have We’ve Got a Boat, by Jay Laga’aia and Donovan Bixley. Editor Penny Scown says, ‘From the minute we first heard Jay’s song, it stuck – it’s that good, and that catchy! And as proud Kiwis, who sailed all the way with our awesome Emirates Team NZ in the last Cup challenge, we look forward to singing this ‘anthem’ loudly during the next one. We love the way Jay has connected the modern challenge with Māoritanga – the sails woven with flax, the ancient seven waka, Tangaroa and more, and Donovan has created some hilarious characters to add to his crew of cow, kea and sheep.’ 

Oratia Media has something a bit different in their title When Dad Came Home, by Vanessa Hatley-Owen, illustrated by Rosie Colligan. This tells the incredibly important story of what PTSD meant for families of returning servicemen. Peter Dowling says ‘When Dad Came Home is ideal for kids, bought by parents, grandparents and schools. There are teacher notes in the back of the book.’ 

Upstart Press recommends Tales of Aotearoa – How Māui fished up the North Island for littlies this Christmas, saying ‘It’s a unique twist on the traditional tale, but with Donovan’s trademark humour. An absolute pleasure to publish.’ 

Kat Merewether has a new Kuwi book out for Christmas, Kuwi’s Rowdy Crowd. Her publicist Karen McMillan says, ‘I can’t resist this delightful picture book where all Kuwi the Kiwi wants is to sit down with a quiet cup of tea, but wherever she goes, someone turns up to shatter the peace. This is sure the be a favourite with families everywhere.’ 

David Ling Publishing recommends William’s Waitangi Day, by David Ling, illustrated by Nikki Slade Robinson. ‘I wrote William’s Waitangi Day myself as I saw a need for an introductory fictional story with New Zealand children discussing the meaning of Waitangi Day. In it, at school, Māori children Joe and Ani help William to understand why this day is significant to Aotearoa.’  

You can’t get more iconic than Margaret Mahy, and Hachette NZ has a new edition out of A Lion in the Meadow, marking 50 years since it was first published. Publicity Manager Tania Mackenzie-Cooke had just moved to NZ from Australia when she first heard the story. ‘My teacher read A Lion in the Meadow to the class, and I fell instantly in love with the big, shaggy lion. Identifying, I imagine in a very childlike way, that the little boy was just desperate for a new friend – just like me.’ 

Fiery Stallions and alternative realities – Junior Fiction & YA 
Stacy Gregg has a new junior fiction title out for Christmas, and it’s bound to be brilliant. The Fire Stallion, says Noakes, is ‘a tale for young girls and boys who love adventure and gripping tales (and for pony-mad women who remain young at heart.’ Noakes says, ‘Ponies, mythology and the courage of strong, young girls who overcome the odds are themes that resonate with me personally.’

You’ve probably heard by now, but comedian Rhys Darby has written a book, Top Secret Undercover Notes of Buttons McGinty, the first in a planned series. He illustrated it too! Scown says, ‘Anyone familiar with Rhys Darby’s comedy will hear his voice as your read this hilarious book, written and illustrated by the funny man himself – international comedian, Morse code king and now passionate ambassador for reading. As Rhys says, it was written by a 12-year-old (him) and is full of all those silly jokes and puns that appeal to the inner child in all of us. Darby fans of all ages are raving about this one.’ 

The Mapmaker’s Race, by Eirlys Hunter and Kirsten Slade is recommended by Marshall from Gecko Press. ‘At the launch of The Mapmaker’s Race, Roger Smith quoted Peter Steinhart: “Maps are a way of organising wonder.” This book has wonder, and mountains, and children getting along without adults, and one child in particular who can harness her view of the world and put it on paper, even though it takes all her energy and being – a wondrous child and book. ‘ 

You will know Toitoi as the creators of one of the best literary journals in New Zealand, and they are celebrating their first 12 issues by publishing a book of the best bits, called The Jillion. ‘Over the last three years, Toitoi has published over 1000 young writers and artists, aged 5-13. To celebrate their curiosity, courage and creativity, we have created The Jillion.’ 

Escalator Press has a YA recommendation for us, in Monsters of Virtue, by L.J. Ritchie. ‘This is an extraordinary story of 1930s new Zealand and eugenics – is an elite school at Otaki gathering the best young people in order to breed a perfect race?’ Mary-Jane Duffy says, ‘We’re proud to be publishing this novel – we think it’s a bold and riveting look at a controversial time in New Zealand’s history.’ 

Other YA picks that we know of include The Rift, by Rachael Craw, which Sarah Forster from The Sapling recommends as a great pick for teens who love fantasy tales with a page-turning love story; South Auckland high school story Slice of Heaven, by Des O'Leary; fantastic war story with a  modern twist Legend, by Whiti Hereaka;  and Take Flight, by J.L. Pawley, following on from Air Born, from Eunoia Publishing. 

A wide & wonderful range of fiction
Let’s start with some literary fiction, and who better to begin with than Anne Kennedy, for her book The Ice Shelf, published by VUP. Barrowman says, ‘This hilarious romp through New Zealand literary life is painfully close to the bone. It will be enjoyed by all readers of local fiction, especially those with a taste for the absurd.’ 

Winged Helmet, White Horse by Karyn Hay is the fiction pick from publicist Karen McMillan. ‘I’m super-excited about Karyn Hay’s latest literary novel, which is a darkly comic psychological drama and a must-read for anyone who loves good literature. Karyn Hay is one of NZ’s best writers and I personally love that each of her novels are so original and surprising.’ 

Adrienne Jansen’s A Change of Key is a follow-up from her book The Score. Duffy says, ‘This book revisits a ramshackle community of migrants living in council flats, this time telling the story of Marko – the success and tragedy of this former virtuoso violinist.’ She adds, ‘The Score struck a chord with many readers, and we think that A Change of Key will do just that too.’ 

Deborah Challinor’s titles are long-lasting on the bestsellers lists, and undoubtedly From the Ashes will be no different. Noakes says, ‘One of our best historical novelists turns her attention to 1950s Auckland and discovers those ‘golden years’ were in fact a time of disparity and social intolerance.’ Noakes adds, ‘For me, Deborah’s trademark research shines through, her deft characterisation makes this a very enjoyable escape from a busy day and it is set in a city I’ve spent much of my life in.’ 

Nicky Pellegrino’s 2018 title A Year at Hotel Gondola has been selling well all year, and as the publishers say ‘now the paperback is out, we see this as perfect summer reading for anybody who missed it earlier in the year or as a gift.’ Product and Publishing Manager Alison Shucksmith says, ‘It’s a great book to escape into, with a great cast of characters. You’ll definitely be wanting a holiday after you’ve read this.’ 

CUP has a fabulous collection of short stories, called Bonsai, out for summer reading. ‘This title was a massive undertaking for its editors, who cast their net widely to capture 200 stories from 167 writers (plus 7 essays!) and for designer Aaron Beehre who came up with the stunning design.’ Montgomery adds, ‘ It was great fun to work on this fabulous collection of such diversity and vitality. It’s a ‘keeper’ and will have wide appeal.’ 

Finally – poetry. The Read forgot to ask publishers for their poetry picks, but VUP supplied one, so here it is: Short Poems of New Zealand, edited by Jenny Bornholdt. Barrowman says, ‘This very personal selection mixes some of our most famous poems with delightful surprises. This beautifully produced anthology of accessible short poems is a perfect introduction for young readers.’ 

We promise we’ll do more on poetry in future weeks. In the meantime, we are sure you have plenty of ideas of which books might be on your Christmas list for both selling and buying. Enjoy! 

Feature by Sarah Forster