Gecko Press, based in Wellington, is an oddity in New Zealand children’s publishing. While we take enormous pride in being part of the fabric of New Zealand publishing, we purposefully stand outside local and even international trends, selecting books we think are curiously good, that children and adults will want to read hundreds of times. We choose from the best books in the world for translation into English, for sale in New Zealand, Australia, the UK and the US – so while we do publish New Zealand authors and illustrators each year, Gecko Press is not completely representative of what is local.
That does make it difficult to write beautifully about New Zealand publishing and trends in children’s books…
With that disclaimer: no account of New Zealand publishing and children’s books would be complete without mention of the grand triumvirate of authors Joy Cowley (Snake and Lizard, Greedy Cat), Margaret Mahy (Bubble Trouble, Down the Back of the Chair) and Lynley Dodd (Hairy MacLary from Donaldson’s Dairy).
If Joy Cowley were to be judged by awards – something she would not at all approve of – 2018 has been a very good year. She was shortlisted for the international Hans Christian Andersen (given to Eiko Kadono from Japan), and in May was awarded a Member of the Order of New Zealand, the country’s highest honour.
Prime Minister and Minister of Arts Jacinda Ardern – about to have her own baby – commented on how much Joy Cowley’s contribution to literature and literacy is treasured in New Zealand and internationally. (The Prime Minister recently gave a pack of books – nicely including two from Gecko Press – as a present to the new royal Louis.)
As I am sure is the case in other English markets, New Zealand readers love books by local authors and illustrators. There is a particular look to New Zealand children’s books which is a little cheery and cartoon-like. Animals and birds loom large – along with titles that celebrate local events such as the two cows that survived the earthquake by surfing on a piece of turf in the midst of flooding and chaos. We like humour.
And as in other English-speaking markets, the international bestsellers are well-represented here too.
Some local publishers are enjoying overseas trends with local ‘big books’ – the magnificent Aotearoa by Gavin Bishop, for example, and a New Zealand version of Rebel Girls.
There are also many new children’s book publishers emerging – possibly because some of the major internationals have pared back their New Zealand presence in recent years, with Penguin Random House, Hachette, Harper Collins now headquartered in Australia. Some of the newcomers are working directly – and clearly filling a need – into Te Reo Maori and Pacific languages.
As far as trends go, libraries in New Zealand are still central and strong, but as in the UK there is concern about the diminishing number of schools with libraries and librarians, and the move to digitise collections.
New Zealand is a country of four and a half million, and we pride ourselves on our reading culture. But judging by recent reports, we think we read more than we do and there is a worrying long tail of children who have fallen outside the system.
This is a guest post from Julia Marshall, Publisher at Gecko Press. the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG.