Saturday, 6 August 2016

Twelve Picture Books Every Kiwi Kid Should Know

10....ooops 11....scratch that....
TWELVE Picture Books Every Kiwi Kid Should Know

When I sat down to write this post of my favourite picture books, my goal was to limit my list to 10. But I just couldn't do it. So I settled on twelve because any more than that makes a very loooooong blogpost. But there are still many more I love dearly; maybe this blogpost will become part of a series! 

In no particular order......

The House That Jack Built by Gavin Bishop

Ok, so I said in no particular order but that doesn't apply to Gavin Bishop's The House That Jack Built. In my humble opinion, this book is hands down one of the smartest, most important New Zealand picture books ever written and should be in every classroom and family bookshelf in the country. The interplay of text and artwork is phenomenal and the message is so compelling. I have so much to say about this book but I made a promise to myself to keep the text in this post brief so I'm going to leave you with this; if you do not own a copy of this, walk, don't run to your nearest independent bookshop and buy one! 

Little Red Riding Hood, Not Quite by Yvonne Morrison and Donovan Bixley 

This book and its companion, The Three Bears Sort Of are absolutely hilarious! Both are great tools for classroom conversations around being discerning and questioning everything we read. You are guaranteed to know a student who is exactly like the child in the story. And Donovan Bixley's illustrations? Just Wow! 

Two Little Bugs by Mark and Rowan Sommerset

It was hard to choose one favourite from this awesome team as they are all so much fun. I settled on Two Little Bugs for its awesome message about optimism. We talk a lot in our classrooms about growth mindset and taking risks and this is a great book for starting that discussion. My class of Year 8s loves this book. Gorgeous die cut shapes too. 

Gladys Goes to War by Glyn Harper and Jenny Cooper

This non-fiction book is the incredible story of Aucklander, Gladys Coates an amazing woman who wouldn't take no for an answer. All children will love this story but girls particularly will be inspired by her refusal to bow to societal norms and her determination not to let expectations of girls dictate her choices in life. 

Changing Times- The Story of a New Zealand Town and its Newspaper by Bob Kerr

Wow! This is an incredibly ambitious picture book and I love it! The book chronicles changes in the way news is communicated in New Zealand but Changing Times is so much more than that. It tells the story of the McPherson family, who emigrate here from Scotland in 1840, and through incredible illustrations and cuttings from the newspapers of the day, it introduces New Zealand history from 1840 to the present day. The style is almost like a graphic novel and there is just so much to look at. This would be a great tool to use as a starter for personal inquiries into events that have shaped Aotearoa into the nation it is today or even for an exploration of technological advances.  I also love Bob Kerr's After the War which has been a favourite in my classes for many years.  

Dashing Dog by Margaret Mahy

How on earth does one choose just one title from the absolute Queen of picture books? What an impossible task. So I let my daughter do it! She is an enormous Mahy fan and some of her happiest memories are around this fantastic story. Dashing Dog is Mahy at her absolute best; full of fun and imagination. I love that Margaret Mahy never dumbed-down her language for young readers'; the wordplay in this story is just fantastic. I will never forget the proud looks on her grandparents' faces when our three-year-old daughter described a wrought iron fence as "curlicued!" Thanks, Margaret! 

Taming the Sun by Gavin Bishop 

I just love all of Gavin Bishop's Māori Myths and Legends. They are accessible and entertaining and the illustrations are stunning. I also love Counting the Stars and Riding the Waves. He has also ensured a balance of well-known myths with introducing some that are lesser known. These are well-thumbed in our classroom.  

Fuzzy Doodle by Melinda Szymanik and Donovan Bixley

I recently came across this amazing book and was absolutely thrilled; A Winter's Day in 1939 by Syzmanik is one of my favourite pieces of historical fiction and everything Donovan Bixley turns his hand to is gold. This is no different; I adore it and I strongly recommend many readings as you will see something new with each reading. It is surprisingly sophisticated with a powerful message about creativity. I can't read this book without humming Paul Kelly's "From Little Things Big Things Grow." This is a great starter for conversations around the power of yet! 

Haka by Patricia Grace and Andrew Burdan

Haka is a must-read for all New Zealand children, actually, scratch that. Haka is a must-read for all New Zealanders, regardless of their age! This picture book had my nine-year-old, rugby-mad son completely mesmerised and gave us all a new understanding and appreciation of the 'Ka Mate' haka. The illustrations are absolutely stunning, an artwork in their own right. Buy this book for your own collection. My prediction is that we'll all reach for it frequently. 

The Boring Book by Vasanti Unka

This book is so much fun! The production values are stunning with lots to explore. I am a terrible font-geek and so I loved Unka's use of typography to highlight various words. This is a fantastic book for a writing workshop on Vocabulary. Use it to start discussions around the careful consideration of word choice and I guarantee your Asttle writing Vocab grades will increase! The Boring Book is anything but boring! 

The Duck in the Gun by Jow Cowley and Robyn Belton

The Duck in the Gun is a true New Zealand classic. It was first published in 1969 and has a strong anti-war sentiment. Despite the powerful message, it is full of whimsy and hilarity and really captures the imaginations of children. I have used this as a starter in Philosophy for Children for a Circle of Inquiry about war. There are lots of ways to use this story in classrooms of all ages. So much fun! 

Old Huhu by Kyle Mewburn and Rachel Driscoll

This is a stunning book which deals with the loss of a loved one. It features absolutely stunning artwork from Rachel Driscoll and a touching message about grief and the acceptance of losing a loved one. This is a sad story with a very hope-filled ending. 

So that's twelve New Zealand picture books I absolutely adore. I could easily sit down right now and write another installment but I'll leave you to mull over this list. 

What are your favourite New Zealand picture books? Please share your recommendations in the comments! I'd love to hear your suggestions. 


  1. Yay - you are blogging again!! Soooo pleased - you have awesome things to say and such a fantastic perspective. Dead chuffed. Re: your 12 fav pic bks - I love that my top 12 would be totally different!!! Have to have a hunt for some of these :-)

    1. Awwww thanks! Don't go hunting. I have most of them! 😆
      Belinda Whyte did a post on this today too. Some awesome childhood classics on her last. I think you'll love them. I think I am always considering our Y8s when I write which is probably why Hairy McL etc didn't make this particular list even though they are firm C-M whanau faves!

  2. I have to agree with your top pick. It has so many important layers of understanding to it. I've even used the book and Gavin as an artist model for Level 1 NCEA Art research. A great book.