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Advanced Pre-Teen Reads #8: NZ fiction

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Library Li talks New Zealand Fiction for Advanced Pre-Teen Readers (APTRs)

 This is the last in a series of blog posts focussed on Advanced Pre-Teen Readers (APTRs). Find the first one here.

 There’s a cultural cringe around New Zealand fiction. I’m just going to say it, because I know it’s true: a lot of New Zealanders actively avoid New Zealand books. Some people have negative memories from reading it at school, others think it’s too dark, or parochial, or just doesn’t compare to fiction from overseas. Given that I am working to finish and then publish my own books, I hate that even I sometimes avoid New Zealand fiction. But there are so many gems published in this country. It’s a real shame to shun a book before opening it.

There is some AMAZING New Zealand fiction out there, and I’m going to tell you about some of my favourite authors, and some of the books by each author that I really liked. These are all suitable for the APTR audience.

Sherryl Jordan (Junior fiction JOR, YA fiction JOR)

To date (frantically googles), Sherryl Jordan has published more than 30 books, and some of them are up there at the top of my list of all-time favourites. She writes a lot of fantasy, and a lot of historical fiction, sometimes combining the two. Her books cover a huge range of ages, and her work can be enjoyed by the whole family.

For younger kids (or kids at heart; I re-read these because they are just so funny), The Wednesday Wizard series is a great read. Set back in times of no running water, in a small village, Denzil is the apprentice to the great Wizard Valvasor. When Denzil gets some terrifying news from Old Mother Wyse, he casts a spell, hoping to find his master and warn him about approaching danger. But Denzil doesn’t get his spell quite right… and he ends up not with his Master, but in the future… These books are so funny. Denzil’s understanding of things in the future is laugh out loud enjoyable, and his magic is… well, let’s just say he needs a little more training! There are four books in the series, and they’re all great.

Another that might appeal to the boys (because while books are for everyone, and we shouldn’t choose by gender, sometimes a boy wants to read about a boy, and a girl wants to read about a girl), is Rocco. Aimed at the slightly older crowd, Rocco is a boy who wakes one morning in a cave with no recollection of how he got there. He knows that it’s not his world and definitely not his time, but why he is there, or what he needs to do to get back is something he needs to figure out over time. Jordan creates such a believable set of characters who live in the caves Rocco finds himself in, and you get emotionally attached to each and every one of them. Definitely a thought provoking book with some big drama! Unfortunately, it’s out of print and the library doesn’t have a copy, but I wanted to include it here anyway. If you can get your hands on a copy, it’s worth a read.

Notable Mentions: Who am I kidding? Anything you pick up by her is wonderful. The most recent book, The King’s Nightingale, is set in the past, based around the capture and sale of Christian slaves by Muslims, around the same time that Europeans and white Americans were capturing and trading African slaves. It’s a beautiful story, and a topic I didn’t know about. Like The Raging Quiet and Winter of Fire, the main protagonist is a girl, but don’t let that put you or your boys off. Jordan’s writing is beautiful and will suck you in.

 Fleur Beale (Junior fiction BEA, YA BEA)

 Ah, Fleur Beale. If the first thing that comes to mind is I Am Not Esther, you wouldn’t be alone. While that is a wonderful book, as are the sequels (there are two more after Esther), I’m going to tell you about a few of Beale's other books.

Ever since I read Slide the Corner, I’ve wanted to be a rally driver. Yup, it was that good, and that well written, that all I wanted to do was get in a car and drive. Sadly, not a dream I have realised yet (I did try to convince my dad to buy a rally car for me and my brother, but unsurprisingly, it didn’t work). It’s a great book, with a male protagonist, and really focuses on the fact that we are not all the same, and that we won’t all be good at the same things. Our main character is a year 11 guy who feels like he doesn’t measure up to his academic siblings. But he can work with cars, and he’s GOOD at it. A fast-paced read, full of drama. Speed Freak and Dirt Bomb are also quintessentially Kiwi stories about cars and friendship and getting your hands dirty.

I haven’t read Lyla, which is a part of the Through My Eyes series. It’s set during and after the Christchurch Quake, which is something I personally can’t read. I’ve heard really good things, and for anyone interested in history or the My Story style books (also mentioned in ATPR blog #3), I would recommend it, with the caveat that it is a tragedy that is close to home.

Emma the librarian (author of the other ATPR blog posts) highly recommends End of the Alphabet, especially for girls, and especially for any young people who feel like they are overlooked or taken for granted. It’s about finding your voice and using it.

 Gareth Ward aka The Great Wardini (YA WAR)

 A local favourite! So far he has released four books, and while I’ve only read 2 and a ½, I can tell you that the other one and a half are wonderful too! His first is The Traitor and the Thief. If you’ve read the CHERUB series and like steampunk, this could be a go for you! Set in an alternative historical London, Sin, an orphan who has been living on the streets Oliver-Twist-style, tries to steal the wrong item from the wrong person, and gets caught. But then he gets invited to join COG, the Covert Operations Group. The training is fun, the weapons and gadgets are great, and the characters are all so very perfect. I’m only part way through book two (The Clockill and the Thief), but all good so far!

The first in his new series, Brasswitch and Bot: The Rise of the Remarkables I freaking in-HALED! I went down to Wardini Bookshop Havelock North on my lunch break, managed to get my hands on a signed copy, and then didn’t want to do anything but read for the rest of my day! Personally, with The Traitor and the Thief, I had to persevere a little (although once I was in I was all in and holding on for dear life), but Brasswitch had me from the first page. Book two just got released at the start of August, and is on my wishlist! The library has ordered a copy, too.

There are so many more amazing NZ authors out there, and I reckon we should all try to read more! If you see me in the library, tell me what you think about my suggestions, and suggest things for me to read!

Also try

  • Des Hunt (Junior fiction HUN) Nature, science and technology themes, set in New Zealand, feature native wildlife and landscapes
  • David Hair (YA HAI) The Aotearoa series is an adventurous saga flicking between current-day New Zealand and an alternate, historical reality where Māori deities and spirits are real and interact with people.
  • Tania Roxborogh (Junior fiction ROX, YA, ROX) Writes for all ages, and has also contributed to the My New Zealand Story series (Junior fiction MY).
  • David Hill (Junior fiction HIL, YA HIL) A range of stories for different ages.
  • Steph Matuku (YA MAT) Fantasy, te ao Māori themes. Older teen characters.

Come back for more

This series of blogs covers a selection of books from the children’s, YA, and even adult collections that are suitable for advanced young readers.

Look out for other APTR blog posts on:

If your APTR has read something great, let us know so that we can let other parents know! Email us or leave a note with staff at any of our libraries, letting them know to pass it on to Li and Emma. 

3 November 2021

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