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12 August 2022

BooksAlive: connecting tamariki to book awards

We sent a reporter from Hooked on NZ Books He Ao Ano to Wednesday's BooksAlive Day at the National Library. As well as live-tweeting and Instagramming from the venue, Keira (left) talked to authors, illustrators, teachers and students about what made the event special.

Her report follows.

On a freezing, sleety August day, Wellington school students got invited to spend a few hours at the National Library as part of the annual New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults (NZCYA Awards). The kids got to kōrero with and be inspired by some award-nominated authors and illustrators. This was the final event in NZCYA’s BooksAlive programme, which has consisted of a series of virtual events over the past few weeks.

BooksAlive is an initiative to bridge the gap between prestigious award ceremonies - judged by adults - and the real kids who love to read. Illustrator Donovan Bixley (whose new book Draw Some Awesome was nominated for Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction) said “when creating a book you feel like you have some intuitive sense of what kids like, but in reality, you have no idea! So it’s great to be here with the readers, seeing them physically holding the book in their hands and enjoying it.”

Activities throughout the day included panels, writing workshops, Q&As, and signings. The signings were especially cool to watch, seeing kids of all ages crowd around tables of authors and illustrators to get their autographs on books or the back of a random bit of paper. It also allowed for a one-on-one chat, giving the students an opportunity to ask any personal questions about writing or drawing.

“Robert, aged 12, from Thorndon School was impressed by the YA panel with David Hill (author of Coastwatcher, nominee for the Young Adult Fiction Award), who he found “very funny.” From the same panel, Isla and Alex (also from Thorndon School) were convinced that Eileen Merriman’s book Violet Black should win the YA prize, as it was “contemporary and very relevant to issues right now.””

Other fan favourites (out of the kids I spoke to) included My Cat Sees Ghosts, Draw Some Awesome, Why Is That Spider Dancing?, and Spark Hunter. Elias, aged 10, said that Why Is That Spider Dancing?, was his favourite because “there were a bunch of good facts, and it might teach people to like spiders instead of being scared of them.”

The BooksAlive event ended in time for the students to go back to school, and the actual book awards ceremony was held in the evening at Wellington College. MC’d by Jase Te Patu, with live musicians, drinks, Hell Pizza, and only minor technical difficulties (a flickering projector) the event went really well. The bougie Wellington College arts centre was the perfect venue, and overall the vibe in the room was exciting and supportive.

Big congratulations to all the winners and finalists. I feel lucky to have been part of a celebration of children’s literature and culture in general. It’s very special to have an event like BooksAlive which gives tamariki the chance to meet the people behind their favourite books, inspiring them to read, write, and illustrate stories - stories that will eventually be the ones winning awards!

- Keira Haig is a student at Wellington High School.