Taupo illustrator and author Donovan Bixley and novellist and writer Tina Shaw, both from Taupō have today been announced as finalists in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Released in 2019, children's book How Maui Slowed the Sun by Donovan and young adults' novel Ursa by Tina were named for the prestigious awards.

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Three time winner Donovan said he was super-duper excited to be in the finals, saying it was fantastic his book was chosen over hundreds of others. Donovan has illustrated over 100 New Zealand children's books including best sellers The Wheels on the Bus, Old McDonald's Farm and The Looky Book.

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How Maui Slowed the Sun is the second book Donovan has written about the demi-god, and he has a third Maui book in the pipeline. He held off starting the Maui books as he was hesitant about taking on a story about a Māori legend.

The cover of How Maui Slowed the Sun, by Donovan Bixley with Darryn Joseph and Keri Opai. Photo / Supplied
The cover of How Maui Slowed the Sun, by Donovan Bixley with Darryn Joseph and Keri Opai. Photo / Supplied

"I'm a Pākehā guy and I did not feel I had the mana or connection to take on this story," said Donovan.

He got there in the end, with the help of fellow children's author Dr Darren Joseph who encouraged him. He says being named a finalist was doubly-triply great because the kudos could be shared with the kaumātua and fellow authors who were involved.

Taupō author Tina Shaw is delighted her young adult novel Ursa is a finalist in the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Photo / File
Taupō author Tina Shaw is delighted her young adult novel Ursa is a finalist in the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Photo / File

Last year Tina Shaw's young adult book Make a Hard Fist was shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Awards. Set in Auckland, Make a Hard Fist is about a 16-year-old girl who is being stalked. Today Tina's book Ursa has been named finalist in the awards.

Appealing to teenagers, Tina says her books for young adults are intentionally a little bit dark.Ursa is a thriller set in a dystopian future where two separate peoples inhabit one city. Although the city is not identified in Ursa, Tina says it is based on Berlin after her experience there in 2001 on a Creative NZ writing residency.

The cover of Tina Shaw's book, Ursa. Photo / File
The cover of Tina Shaw's book, Ursa. Photo / File

Tending to write contemporary NZ fiction for general readership, just before lockdown Tina published Ephemera. Spookily predicting the future the opening line reads: 'We were probably doomed from the moment the virus hit the airport.'

Today's announcement of the finalists for the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults reveals an abundance of incredible storytelling for Kiwi kids to immerse themselves in.

Awards convenor of judges Jane Arthur says the finalist books "open their pages to make room for lots of much-needed joy".

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"They offer children whole worlds to explore and lose themselves in, which is crucial when there is so much uncertainty in their own. There are ponies, spies, communities, myths and, always, a quest for identity – both our country's and the characters'."

Other names on the shortlist range from debut writers through to the country's most esteemed heavyweights like Joy Cowley and Gavin Bishop, bestselling superstars such as Donovan Bixley and Stacy Gregg, and authors more known for their work for adults, including former New Zealand Poet Laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh and director of the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University, Damien Wilkins.

Award winners will be announced in a virtual presentation, streamed online on Wednesday August 12.

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