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About the resource

Reading Stories from Aotearoa NZ is a tool for teachers that aims to give students a chance to see themselves and their stories in the classroom. Teacher choice and voice is paramount in this catalogue of local books suitable for classroom use: every title has been chosen by an English teacher, and is accompanied by a free teaching resource also written by a practicing English teacher.

Aimed at years 7-13, the catalogue is divided into seven sections, including novels and poetry for junior readers, collections, senior fiction, non-fiction and short stories.

We are very grateful to the Mātātuhi Foundation for the funding and guidance in creating this work and to the NZ Association for the Teachers of English (NZATE) for their guidance and support.

Finally, we thank the panel of eight English teachers whose hard work and thoughtfulness has made Reading Stories from Aotearoa New Zealand so special, and we hope, useful to others.

Te Kahu Rolleston at Papatoetoe High School for Writers in Schools
Te Kahu Rolleston at Papatoetoe High School for Writers in Schools

Junior Novels and Poetry

Dawn Raid

Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith 

Themes: Family, race, identity, migration

Examines the Dawn raids from a perspective that doesn't assume prior knowledge. A straightforward, accessible narrative style that would appeal to intermediate-aged readers. 

The Dragon Defenders Series

James Russell
Dragon Brothers Books 

Themes: Adventure, fantasy, teamwork, standing up for your beliefs 

A fun adventurous read in large font that makes it easy for less confident readers. There are a number of books in the series, giving kids something to move onto next, as well as a way to connect the book to an app that expands the world of the story. Another way in for those who can't put their devices away. 

The Pōrangi Boy

Shilo Kino (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Maniapoto) 
Huia Publishers 

Themes: Whānau, tino rangatiratanga, kaitiakitanga, Te Ao Māori, colonization, activism, protest. 

The Pōrangi Boy is a relevant and timely story about a young boy standing up for what he believes in. A great example of tino rangatiratanga and kaitiakitanga for a younger audience. Impacts of colonisation are explored in this text, as well as the importance of te ao Māori. 

Hine and the Tohunga Portal

Ataria Sharman (Tapuika, Ngā Puhi)
Huia Publishers 

Themes: Whānau, fantasy, adventure, atua Māori

Hine and the Tohunga Portal is a refreshing and adventurous tale, with Māori concepts and kupu naturally woven into the story. The fantasy escapade is told through both Hine and Hōhepe, siblings who find themselves thrown into a new world full of spirits and animals from Māori myth and legend. 


Liz van der Laarse 
OneTree House 

Themes: Survival, loss, family, NZ bush lore 

Two teen cousins use their strength, wits and the knowledge of their tupuna to survive a shocking accident, finally making their way home through miles of remote NZ bush. A story about identity, valuing mātauranga Māori and the strength that is to be found in whānau. For younger audiences, as it is quite a simple read. 

Charlie Tangaroa and the Creature from the Sea

Tania K Roxborogh (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Mutunga o Wharekauri) 
Huia Publishers 

Themes: Adventure, fantasy, Māori mythology

The Supreme Winner of the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year in 2021 merges action adventure with contemporary Māori mythology. This text also honours our Te Tiriti o Waitangi Treaty of Waitangi principles of participation, active protection and partnership in its themes exploring disability, family and kaitiakitanga. The glossary at the back is ultra-handy for less proficient speakers of te reo Māori which is woven throughout the novel. 

The Whale Rider

Witi Ihimaera (Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngā Tāmahuri, Rongowhakaata, Ngāti Porou & Whakatōhea) 
Penguin Books New Zealand 

Themes: Coming of age, identity, leadership 

This novel continues to be relevant for YA readers today. It has lots of themes to explore, intergenerational conflict, coming of age, our relationship with our environment, gender inequalities and what it takes to be a leader. This YA novel is also available as an audio book. 

When We Wake

Karen Healey 
Allen & Unwin 

Themes: Climate Change, politics, agency 

A speculative future dystopian novel considering young people's agency in changing the world in the face of the climate emergency and the geopolitics that come along with it. Strong female protagonist, and diversity in supporting characters. 

In Our Own Backyard

Anne Kayes 
David Bateman Ltd 

Themes: Race relations, apartheid 

Written during lockdown, this text connects directly to the Kiwi experience of 2020-2021. The novel's interesting structure teaches us about the tradition of 'he waka eke noa' by comparing the Covid-19 rāhui to the Springbok Tour and the social action surrounding it. Kayes deals with ideas of racism, leadership and finding your voice. This is a perfect text to explore alongside a range of Social Studies contexts; protest, social action and perspectives. We are also extremely fortunate as the author is available for school visits. 

Skinny Dip: Poetry

Edited by Susan Paris & Kate De Goldi 
Massey University Press

Themes: School, identity 

A collection of poetry by some of New Zealander's best, specifically written for intermediate-aged students around familiar school-based topics. Teacher notes on poetry styles and writing included. Notably some poetry in translation. Nina Mingya Powles and Anahera Gildea's poems stood out. 

Senior Novels

Mister Pip

Lloyd Jones
Penguin Books New Zealand 

Themes: Coming of age, identity, leadership

Shaped by Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, this text is set in the civil war of Bougainville, New Guinea, in the 1990s and is suitable for sophisticated senior readers. While containing conflict and violence, it also speaks to the way literature can save us. 

The Book of Fame

Lloyd James 
Penguin Books New Zealand 

Themes: Rugby and sport, novel in poetry, identity

Poetry and rugby seem like an unusual combination, but a winning one here. A novel in free verse, with some stunningly beautiful parts, able to capture students who love sport and those who love words in equal parts. 


Clare Moleta 
Simon & Schuster 

Themes: Climate Change, family refugees

In a post-climate change world, a future Australia holds a difficult present. An occasionally harrowing story about the bonds of family. I enjoyed that the narrative didn't centre on a romantic relationship. 


Whiti Hereaka (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Te Arawa) 
Huia Publishers 

'Bugs' is a great story about three teenagers making bad choices. Ultimately, Bugs must make the decision to leave her friends behind to pursue her future. There is some language and content that not every kaiako will be comfortable with, please read it first for yourself before purchasing a class set! However, I really enjoyed the complexities and flaws in Bugs' character and the choice that she makes which redeems her. 

Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings

Tina Makereti (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Te Ati Awa, Ngāti Rangatahi, Pākehā and, according to family stories, Moriori descent) 
Penguin Books New Zealand 

Themes: Pūrākau, race relations, history, mythology, colonisation 

This complex novel explores whakapapa, intergenerational trauma, colonisation and reconnecting with culture. The story alternates between two twins of Māori and Morioridescent, Lulu and Bigs; their tupuna Mere and Iraia in the 1880s; and a dream-like nameless tupuna from the Chatham Islands/Rēkohu. Bigs is connected to his Māori whakapapa while Lulu is reconnecting with her Moriori whakapapa. This novel is stunning and could be a good opportunity to debunk some of the misconceptions about Moriori history. The history is painful and misunderstood: this is both a caution (teach with a cultural advisor) and a reason for teaching it (amazing if taught with Taranaki and Moriori involvement). 


Patricia Grace (Ngāti Raukawa, Te Āti Awa) 
Penguin Books New Zealand 

Themes: Land loss, protest, Pūrākau, whānau, disability 

Potiki tells the story of a whānau facing land loss and follows their fight to retain the land. The narrative alternates between the members of the whānau. Students initially find the structure difficult; it is worthwhile spending some time unpacking the Māui tales to find the similarities between Toko and Māui. This text works well as a cross-curricular text alongside an exploration of the land protests of the late 1970s, and the protests at Ihumātao demonstrates its relevance today. It is also worthwhile delving into Grace's own fight against the Public Works Act. Potiki is one of the only novels that has a character with an intellectual impairment and another one with a physical disability. Their disabilities are not the focus of the novel, but just one aspect of their character.   


Patricia Grace (Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Raukawa, Te Āti Awa) 
Penguin Books New Zealand 

Themes: Whānau, adoption, identity, disconnection from whānau and culture. 

Adapted for cinema in 2020, the novel of 'Cousins' has some significant differences from the movie. Both are worthy of study. Like 'Potiki', 'Cousins' has a complicated narrative structure moving between multiple characters through different points in time. The issues it raises around adoption and the intentional removal of tamariki Māori from their whānau are particularly relevant while the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care investigates the mistreatment of tamariki in our institutions. 

White Lies

Witi Ihimaera (Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Ngāti Khungunu, Ngāi Tāmanuhiri, Rongowhakaata) 
Ngāti Porou & Whakatōhea) 
Penguin Books New Zealand 

Themes: Identity, class, colonization 

'White Lies' explores issues of identity, colonisation, and abortion from the view of Paraiti: a Medicine Woman who is grounded in whakapapa and knowledge of who she is. She comes into conflict with Rebecca Vickers, a woman who has gained success in the Pākehā world by depressing her Māori identity. The text includes the original novella 'Medicine Woman', which has been revised and republished as 'White Lies' and also includes Diana Rotberg's script for the film adaption. 


Witi Ihimaera (Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki, Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tāmanuhiri, Rongowhakaata, Ngāti Porou & Whakatōhea) 
Penguin Books New Zealand 

Themes: Coming of age, intergenerational conflict, arranged marriage 

This classic Ihimaera novel was made into the movie 'Mahana' in 2015. Bulibasha explores the conflict between two powerful paternal figures and how this conflict plays out through generations of two East Coast whānau. Simeon and his grandmother Ramona are caught in the conflict between his grandfather Taohana and Rupene Poata. This novel also explores sporting rivalry , the clash between youth and traditional values and is told from inside the Māori world, looking outside occasionally to Te Ao Pākehā. 

Telesā Book One: The Covenant Keeper

Lani Wendt Young 
One Tree House 

Themes: Mythology, Identity, Environment

This book's reputation as Samoa's answer to 'Twilight' is well-deserved. A flirty coming-of-age story with a supernatural twist, this book draws heavily on the spiritual traditions of Samoa. Perhaps more appealing to girls, with a strong romance theme, it has strong potential as a lower senior text due to the cultural allusions, symbolism and environmental motifs. 

Senior Non-Fiction

Mansfield and Me

Sarah Laing 
Te Herenga Waka Press 

Themes: Graphic Novel, identity 

Laing's lovely watercolour illustrations and sense of humour feature in this comparison of Laing's journey as compared to Mansfield's. Would support students in considering themselves in comparison with their own heroes, as well as cracking the door to Mansfield open a bit further. 

Can You Tolerate This? Personal Essays

Ashleigh Young 
Te Herenga Waka Press 

Themes: Identity, belonging 

Ashleigh Young has become something of an iconic New Zealand essayist and this collection holds a number of her explorations through the weird and wonderful, the personal and first/second/third person. Many could be used as models for student writing as a way to develop voice. 

Two Hundred and Fifty Ways to Start an Essay About Captain Cook

Alice Te Punga Somerville (Te Āti Awa, Taranaki) 
BWB Texts 

Themes: Aotearoa history, Captain Cook, colonisation

A pocket rocket of a book, perfect for kickstarting seniors to write essays, explore voice and think about critical lenses. An accessible, articulate and fun way into issues of colonisation. 

This book offers readers a fascinating challenge about how we use our voice to frame, minimise or elevate history. I think it could have legs as an assessment text in its own right. 

Senior Poetry


Tayi Tibble (Te Whānau ā Apanui, Ngāti Porou) 
Te Herenga Waka Press 

Themes: Identity, race relations, Māori mythology 

Debut collection of powerful poems. Explores growing up as Māori, with a lot about the interaction and a little conflict between cultures. Unapologetically raunchy at times. Tayi is available for author visits through Read NZ Te Pou Muramura.

Goddess Muscle

Karlo Mila 
Huia Publishers

Themes: Pasifika identity, Aotearoa politics 

Feminine and feminist, the poems in this book are as beautiful as the stunning typesetting. Mila draws inspiration from Oceania, from Aotearoa and Hawai'i, from the environment and from whakakpapa. Mila's poetry is sensual, empowering and honest. 

Wild Dogs Under my Skirt

Tusiata Avia 
Te Herenga Waka Press 

Themes: Poetry, identity, illness, sexuality, relationships, mythology 

Nearly 20 years after being published, this poetry collection still speaks to my heart every time I read it. Wild Dogs Under my Skirt, which was originally performed on stage by Avia as a solo performance, was performed in 2019-2020 by six actors. Avia's poetry crosses genre and sits in the space where poetry, waiata, drama and spoken word collide. 

I am a human being

Jackson Nieuwland 
Compound Press

Themes: Poetry, identity, sexuality, relationships, trans author

Winner of the Ockham NZ Book Awards MitoQ Best First Book Award for Poetry in 2021, Nieuwland plays with identity, perspective and self-aware humour. 

He's so MASC

Chris Tse 
Auckland University Press 

Themes: LGBTQIA+, Identity, pop culture 

Tse traces his way through pop songs, identity and romance, unpacking who we think the poet is, and who the poet thinks he is. Bold poems that speak to the shifting sands of identity with a playfulness that makes them fun. 


Nina Mingya Powles 
Seraph Press 

Themes: Identity, food, family 

Powles' poetry is peppered with Chinese characters as she looks at language, food, culture and the way we use these things to form our sense of selves and history. Deeply rooted in the physical senses and the natural world, this collection is beautiful. 

National Anthem

Mohamed Hassan 
Dead Bird Books 

Themes: Identity, race relations, migration, spirituality 

Voices from the Middle Eastern diaspora are underrepresented in New Zealand writing. This powerful collection of poems explores the realities of immigration, reconciling identity, and New Zealand in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack. 

A performance poet whose work reads beautifully off the page, but students may love his spoken word videos online.

Senior Short Story Collections

The Garden Party and Other Stories

Katherine Mansfield 
Penguin Classics 

Themes: Identity, growing up, finding your place, class struggles 

Mansfield's stories are rich with imagery, language and symbolism. Would be a great look at in conjunction with Sarah Laing's Mansfield and Me, to give a new perspective to a set of classic stories. 

Black Marks on the White Page

Edited by Witi Ihimaera and Tina Makereti 
Random House New Zealand Vintage 

This anthology of Aotearoa and Pacific writing collects some of our most well-known and distinctive Indigenous voices. The collection also showcases a couple of artists so could be used to have quite interesting conversations about the role of different artistic mediums in public discourse. Some pieces are quite challenging reads, both in terms of academic difficulty but also in terms of emotional confrontation. 

Monsters in the Garden: An Anthology of Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction and Fantasy

Edited by Elizabeth Knox & David Larsen 
Te Herenga Waka Press 

Themes: Science fiction, fantasy 

Science fiction is often maligned, but this collection proves that wrong. Some masterful stories by New Zealand writers that examine the human condition in a form that many students love.

Six by Six: Short Stories by New Zealand's Best Writers

Edited by Bill Manhire 
Reprinted in 2021 
Te Herenga Waka Press (VUP Classic) 

Themes: Literary, short texts 

A good place to find some classics of the New Zealand story, a form our writers excel in. This contains Mansfield, Sargeson, Duggan, Frame, Grace and Marshall, allowing also for an overview across the 20th century. 

Collections for Junior and Senior

Puna Wai Kōrero

Edited by Reina Whaitiri (Kāi Tahu) & Robert Sullivan (Ngā Puhi, Kāi Tahu) 
Auckland University Press 

Themes: Poetry, identity, love, whānau 

This anthology collates a range of Māori perspectives from both well-known and lesser known authors. Ehara tāku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini. The strength of this anthology is the variety of perspectives, authors and themes represented. 

Small Holes in the Silence: Collected Works

Hone Tuwhare (Ngāpuhi) 
Random House 

Themes: Poetry, iconic Māori Poet Laureate 

This stunning anthology collates works from across Tuwhare's career. Many of the poems have been translated into te reo Māori for this anthology. All of his well-known poems have been included as well as a good number of lesser-known poems. Every English classroom should have a copy of this hefty work by our second poet laureate. 

Pūrākau: Māori Myths retold by Māori Writers

Edited by Witi Ihimaera & Whiti Hereaka 
Random House New Zealand Vintage 

Themes: Short stories, poetry, Māori mythology, identity 

This anthology collates texts inspired by pūrākau Māori. Some are more traditional retelling of the pūrākau, some are very, very far removed from the original story. The anthology is in 'chronological' order and covers a wide range of famous pūrākau. 

Could be stimulating for creative writing exercises as well as for use as assessment texts. Some accessible texts at a variety of academic levels. 

Out Here: An Anthology of Takatapui and LGBTQIA+ Writers from Aotearoa New Zealand

Edited by Chris Tse and Emma Barnes 
Auckland University Press 

Themes: Diverse voices, LGBTQIA+, identity, belonging 

A collection of multiple different text types, all by queer New Zealanders. Many of the works deal with identity, and belonging, and will resonate with students who identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community as well as with those who don't. A good way to find authors to chase down a rabbit hole. 

Lit: Stories from Home

Edited by Elizabeth Kirkby-McLeod 
OneTree House 

Themes: Short Stories, diverse voices, identity, belonging, multiple themes 

A selection of 16 famous short stories from a range of authors. There are classics from Mansfield, Sargenson, Owen Marshall and Elsie Locke, as well as contemporary stories from established and emerging writers. Excellent diversity of voices and plenty of good options to suit a range of ages and to compliment a range of thematic studies. 

Texts are a great length in this anthology. Practical for close reading exercises, as well as compelling writers. 

A Clear Dawn: New Asian Voices from Aotearoa New Zealand

Edited by Paula Morris and Allison Wong 
Auckland University Press 

Themes: Diverse voices, Asian identity, belonging 

A comprehensive anthology of 75 local voices offering a wide range of different text types, voices and experiences which link Aotearoa to countries from all across Asia. An excellent way to help a diverse range of students to 'see themselves' in the English classroom. 

There is something for every academic level in this collection. I thought this book was so beautiful, inside and out.