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Published on May 2nd, 2016 | by Booknotes Administrator


50 New Zealand books every kid should read by age 12

Last week when Stuff published 50 books every kid should read by age 12, we started talking about NZ books we loved as kids, and NZ books that the kids in our lives love.

We’ve compiled a (very subjective) list of 50 NZ books we think every kiwi kid should read before they’re 12. We’re not making any high claims of this being THE list. (What even is THE list?) This is just a selection of books we’ve been talking about in the office lately – more of a jumping off point to start a conversation about what NZ books us kiwis think are important for our kids. We’d really love to hear your thoughts! Tell us in the comments below what NZ books you think every kiwi kid should read before they are 12.

Top three – Mahy, Cowley and Gee

Margaret Mahy, Joy Cowley and Maurice Gee are the holy trinity when it comes to NZ children’s authors. There was much bickering in the office trying to agree the best book by each author. In the end, we gave up. Our recommendation is for everyone to read ALL of their books – they’re the holy trinity for a reason!





4. The Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald’s Farm by Donovan Bixley

Okay, we also bent the rules and gave Donovan two books – they’re equally amazing and we have so many nieces/nephews/cousins who are obsessed with these two classics!



5. I am Not Esther; I am Rebecca; Being Magdalene by Fleur Beale

We recently surveyed our member schools, and found that this series is the most taught NZ book in schools for 2016.



6. See Ya, Simon by David Hill

see ya simon


7. The Bone Tiki by David Hair



8. Genesis Bernard Beckett



9. The Wednesday Wizard by Sherryl Jordan

wed wiz


10. The 10pm Question by Kate De Goldi



11. Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd



12. The Runaway Settlers by Elsie Locke

Runaway Settlers


13. My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes by Eve Sutton, illustrated by Lynley Dodd



14. Night Vision by Ella West



15. The Little Yellow Digger by Betty and Alan Gilderdale



16. The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith



17. I Am Not a Worm by Scott Tulloch



18. Alex by Tessa Duder



19. Duck’s Stuck by Kyle Mewburn, illustrated by Ali Teo and John O’Reilly



20. The Kuia and the Spider by Patricia Grace

pat grace


21. Oliver in the Garden by Margaret Beames



22. Mr. McGee and the Biting Flea by Pamela Allen

pamela allen


23. How Maui Slowed the Sun by Peter Gossage



24. Brain Jack by Brian Falkner



25. The Boring Book by Vasanti Unka

boring book


26. Changing Times: The Story of a New Zealand Town and its Newspaper by Bob Kerr



27. The Traveling Restaurant by Barbara Else



28. Baa Baa Smart Sheep by Mark and Rowan Somerset

baa baa


29. Pigtails the Pirate by David Elliot



30. Why Do Dogs Sniff Bottoms? by Dawn McMillan and Bert Signal; illustrated by Ross Kinnaird

dogs sniff


31. Grandpa’s Slippers by Joy Watson and Wendy Hodder



32. The Bantam and the Soldier by Jennifer Beck  and Robyn Belton


33. A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children edited by Paula Green & illustrated by Jenny Cooper



34. The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera



35. Purple Heart by Andrew Fiu



36. Baxter Basics: Poems for Children



37. Telesa by Lani Wendt-Young



38. Stomp by Ruth Paul



39. Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam by Juliette MacIver, Sarah Davis



40. Red Rocks by Rachael King



41. Project Huia by Des Hunt



42. The Red Poppy by David Hill, illustrated by Fifi Colston

red poppy


43. Juggling with Mandarins by V.M. Jones



44. Conrad Cooper’s Last Stand by Leonie Agnew



45. Chicken Licken by Gavin Bishop



46. New Zealand Hall of Fame: 50 Remarkable Kiwis by Maria Gill



47. Mōtītī Blue and the Oil Spill by Debbie McCauley



48. Ngā Ki by Sacha Cotter and Joshua Morgan Translated by Kawata Teepa


49. Anzac Day: The New Zealand Story by Philippa Werry



50. School Journal


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13 Responses to 50 New Zealand books every kid should read by age 12

  1. marg stevens says:

    What do you think would be suitable for an 8yr old girl and a 2 yr old boy whose Mum reads to him?

  2. john christeller says:

    “Falter Tom and the Waterboy” is a beautiful story by Maurice Duggan and deserves to be better remembered.
    Also we New Zealanders are so parochial and virtually ignore Australian art and literature. If you don’t enjoy Norman Lindsay’s “The Magic Pudding”, well, my copy is many-times-patched.

  3. Sarah White says:

    The Wild West series are one of Joy Cowley’s triumphs – a picture of one of those would have been good

  4. Sarah White says:

    I would have put in Grandma McGarvy paints the shed – Jenny Hessell – marvellous!

  5. Pip says:

    I’d probably add The Watercress Tuna and the Children of Champion Street (all language versions)

  6. Eirlys Hunter says:

    The real danger in giving a child a book that’s too old for them is not that they’ll be damaged in any way, but that they’ll miss out. Because they’ll either discard it (‘boring’) or rip through it without understanding what they’re reading, and never pick it up again. Don’t waste Genesis on an eleven-year old; astonish a fifteen year old with it instead.

    • Steph Soper says:

      I disagree with this lol. Totally get that there are a lot of 11 years olds out there that wouldn’t be ready for something like Genesis, in terms of content or reading level. But there are heaps that are! When I was 12, I was reading things like Lord of the Rings, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights. I loved them at the time, and I still love them now. There are a lot of 11/12 year olds that Genesis would not be ‘wasted’ on.

  7. Christine Haggerty says:

    For twelve or younger, One Boy, No Water by Lehua Parker is the beginning of a really good series.

  8. Raewyn Patton says:

    I’d swap out 10pm Question and put in “The ACB for Honora Lee” by the fabulous Kate deGoldi, myself. Or “Clubs” – just what kids need to read to inform them about this tricky world we expect them to negotiate.

    • Linda Gray Brett says:

      Great list but not enough Gavin Bishop for me I agree that I’d add Clubs and The ACB and Honora Lee by Kate de Goldi. I’d also add Memory by Margaret Mahy and some others that will come to mind later.

  9. Galenand says:

    Yep, great books. But there’s a few on there I wouldn’t give a 12 year old to read, and so many other great books that you could give them instead.

  10. Ada nally says:

    Purple Heart
    Amazing story
    However thought more for adults?

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