31 reasons to love NZ books and writing

A selection of stories about the history of Kiwi writing, writers and books – one for each day of NZ Book Month.

Ponga and Puhihuia

'Surely the best of all the Maori stories', is how Margaret Orbell, then editor of the magazine Te Ao Hou, described the tale of the impetuous 17th-century lovers Ponga and Puhihuia. The story describes an illicit romance taking place in a world of desperate canoe voyages, flamboyant dances, cunning deception and hand-to-hand combat. More...

Buller's birds

Today many New Zealanders would undoubtedly find Sir Walter Buller's comment that 'the flesh of the pukeko [is equal] to that of the best English game' distasteful. But although he was a controversial figure, Buller's monumental History of the birds of New Zealand (1872-3) remains 'admired, coveted, and still consulted'. More...

The armed Chartist's book shop

Booklovers in colonial Wellington made a beeline for the 'Old Identity Book Shop' on Molesworth Street, run by the eccentric Robert Holt Carpenter. He claimed his shop was patronised by 'the cleverest men and prettiest women in the Southern Hemisphere', including the Governor, judges and 'all the leading statesmen'. More...

Julius Vogel looks into the future

In 1889 former Premier Julius Vogel wrote a futuristic novel entitled Anno domini 2000; or, woman's destiny, in which women held the highest posts in government and poverty had vanished. He also predicted that in all homes heavy manual work would be replaced by 'remarkable contrivances for affording power and saving labour.' More...

Edmonds cookery book

The Edmonds cookery book has sold over 3 million copies since it was first published in 1908, making it the best-selling New Zealand book by far. For several generations of Kiwis, the book with its distinctive rising sun cover and 'Sure to rise' slogan was 'as much a part of New Zealand kitchens as a stove and knife'. More...

The School Journal

In May 1907 New Zealand schoolchildren were able to read a school book published in their own country for the first time. Many of New Zealand's foremost authors and illustrators, from Alastair Campbell to E. Mervyn Taylor, have had their work published in the School Journal over the past 100 years. More...

Reminiscences of a wanderer

R.C. Bruce spent many years in the 19th century sailing on British, colonial and American merchant ships, interspersed with spells on the Otago and Queensland goldfields. His 1914 memoir, Reminiscences of a wanderer (written under the name 'Able Seaman'), is a ripping yarn of a nomadic labouring life at sea and on land. More...

Katherine Mansfield

This internationally acclaimed author revolutionised 20th century English short-story writing. Her short stories broke new ground, abandoning the traditional plot and allowing the reader to roam through a series of different narratives, perspectives and tenses. Sadly, she died from tuberculosis in France at the age of 34. More...

Tutira: story of a sheep station

An internationally acclaimed classic of ecological writing, William Herbert Guthrie-Smith's Tutira: the story of a New Zealand sheep station (1921) was New Zealand's first major environmentalist publication. In it he describes what he saw as 'an occult sympathy betwixt the elementals of the soil and those who touch its surface with their feet'. More... 

The Railways Magazine

The New Zealand Railways Magazine was published each month from May 1926 to June 1940. Historian James Cowan was the magazine’s most prolific contributor, writing more than 120 articles. Robin Hyde produced a lively travel series, while other contributors included Pat Lawlor, Alan Mulgan and Denis Glover. More...

Robin Hyde

Robin Hyde (Iris Wilkinson) packed a lot in to her short and often tragic life. Best known today for her novels Passport to hell, Nor the years condemn and The godwits fly, she was also a fine poet and a crusading journalist who wrote for newspapers and magazines ranging from NZ Truth to the feminist Woman To-day. More...

John A. Lee

A charismatic ex-soldier, orator and propagandist, John A. Lee was a dynamic figure in the Labour Party from the 1920s until 1940. But Lee had a parallel career as a writer and later bookseller. His best-known novel, the largely autobiographical Children of the poor (1934), was described as a 'sensational book on vice, poverty, misery'. More...

Helen Shaw

Helen Shaw's 50-year career as a creative writer began in the 1930s, when she was strongly influenced by the literary nationalist writing of the day. A growing interest in mysticism and spirituality led her to pursue a more personal kind of art and promote aspects of writing that she felt were too often ignored in New Zealand. More...

Ngaio Marsh

Newsweek described her novels, which featured the British detective Roderick Alleyn, as 'the best whodunits ever written'. Regarded as one of ‘Queens of Crime’ in the 1920s and 30s, Ngaio Marsh was also an artist, playwright, actor and director. The New York Times called her New Zealand's best-known literary figure. More...

Geoffrey Cox: eyewitness to history

Geoffrey Cox was as an eyewitness to momentous events in Europe during the 1930s and 40s. He wrote extensively of his experiences at the time – in Defence of Madrid (1937), The Red Army moves (1941) and The road to Trieste (1947) – and in later years, in A tale of two battles (1987), Countdown to war (1988) and Eyewitness (1999). More...

Littledene: a rural community

Crawford Somerset’s Littledene: a New Zealand rural community (1938) was a groundbreaking sociological study of a typical New Zealand small town – Oxford in North Canterbury. According to commentator Brian Easton, the book ‘combines the wry insights of a sociologist and the lyric observations of a poet’. More...

The Listener

'To what purpose is this waste?', wrote one reader in 1939. Fortunately he was in the minority, and the Listener was welcomed by many as a cut above the alternative, the gossipy Radio Rag. The arts were always a major focus, with the Listener publishing work by James K. Baxter, Janet Frame, Maurice Shadbolt and many others. More...

Allen Curnow

Allen Curnow's poetry has been recognised as among the finest produced in New Zealand, and has received critical acclaim both at home and internationally. He was one of the defining voices of 20th-century New Zealand literature, with a career spanning six decades, and a strong local and international following for his work. More...

The Esther Glen Award

The honour for New Zealand's longest-running book award goes to the Esther Glen Award, given 'for the most distinguished contribution to New Zealand literature for children and young adults'. The award was established in 1945 in commemoration of one of New Zealand's finest children's writers. More...

Landfall

Founded in 1947, the quarterly Landfall soon became New Zealand's foremost literary magazine. Otago poet Charles Brasch was the publication's exacting first editor, holding the post until 1966. Landfall's high literary standards reflected his ambition to stimulate a vigorous and critical cultural life in New Zealand. More...

Te Ao Hou

From 1952 to 1976 this bilingual quarterly provided, as its first issue promised, 'interesting and informative reading for Maori homes...like a marae on paper, where all questions of interest to the Maori can be discussed'. Now available online, it is a valuable resource for anyone researching Māori topics. More...

James K. Baxter

Acknowledged as New Zealand’s most accomplished poet, Baxter devoted the last years of his life to social work among alcoholics and drug addicts. According to Paul Millar, Baxter's 'criticisms of national life and his ultimate decision to step out of the mainstream seemed to develop naturally out of the preoccupations of a lifetime of verse.' More...

Hutu and Kawa

During the 1950s Avis Acres produced a comic strip for the New Zealand Herald featuring two pohutukawa fairies called Hutu and Kawa, who lived in the bush with friends such as Willy Weka and various pixies and elves. The strip was developed into a series of three richly illustrated and very popular books. More...

Barry Crump

Barry Crump established himself as the iconic 'Kiwi bloke' in the three-and-a-half decades before his death from a heart attack in 1996. His many books captured the humour and personalities of rural New Zealand. Crump's best-known novel, A good keen man, was published in 1960 and became a Kiwi classic. More...

The boys of Puhawai

The publication in 1960 of a collection of stories about the day-to-day adventures of three young Kiwi boys was a welcome addition to the limited range of quality children's literature. The stories in The boys of Puhawai are unusual in that they give a clear and unromanticised view of the place of Maori in post-war New Zealand. More...

Sports writing

The story of New Zealand writing wouldn't be complete without acknowledging the enormous popularity of books written by or about our sports stars. How many New Zealanders besides rugby legend Colin Meads, for example, could inspire two biographies, published 30 years apart, and sell a combined total of more than 110,000 copies? More...

Hairy Maclary

Hairy Maclary

The publication in 1983 of Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy skyrocketed Lynley Dodd to the status of picture book legend. Since then Hairy has been sent off on six more adventures. He's rescued hats on windy days, caused a rumpus at the vet, and even saved archenemy Scarface Claw when he got stuck in a tree. More...

Keri Hulme wins Booker Prize

By 1985 Keri Hulme had already won several New Zealand awards for her writing. But the decision to award her first novel, The bone people, theprestigious Booker Prize was a surprise to literary critics, bookies and Hulme alike. It was the first time any first novel had ever won, and the first time a New Zealand book had won the award. More...

Writing about New Zealand’s internal wars

Over the last 60 years writing about war has become a mainstay of local non-fiction publishing. Generations of New Zealanders are familiar with our exploits in two world wars and the impact of these conflicts on the nation. But how familiar are New Zealanders with our own internal wars of the 19th century? More...

Duck hunting in New Zealand

Some 30,000 Kiwis purchase a game-bird hunting licence each year. Duck shooters flock to ponds, lakes, swamps and rivers to enjoy the annual ritual of opening morning – the first Saturday in May. Gary Girvan's excellent Duck hunting in New Zealand is a recent addition to this country's surprisingly sparse game-bird hunting literature. More...

State-funded history

The New Zealand government has a long history of involvement in the culture and heritage sector. In particular, it has commissioned and published historical works of all kinds, ranging from the 50-plus volumes of Second World War history to the cutting-edge digital projects of the early 21st century (including NZHistory.net.nz!). More...

 

How to cite this page: '31 reasons to love NZ books and writing', URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/culture/nz-book-month/writing-stories, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 16-Oct-2013

Community contributions


Dido
28 Mar 2013

Hi
I was wondering if you would be able to recommend a good book that is full of real stories and could be used as a classical history book for children beginning a study of New Zealand history. I would really appreciate it if you could provide me with some information on this as I am struggling to get anything other than rather boring text books!
Thanks

What do you know?