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Ken Duncum is a dramatic writer, poet and educator. He has written for theatre, television and radio,...


David Hill on Into the River by Ted Dawe


Anyone who genuinely believes this is…’just pandering to sex and filth’ must have read the novel with their frontal lobes disconnected.
- David Hill

Almost two weeks ago it was announced that Into the River by Ted Dawe has been subject to an interim restriction order pending a decision by the Film and Literature Board of Review, which means it cannot be sold in New Zealand, or taken out of the library. A decision as to its classification is expected in October, but it is considered unlikely that the book will actually be banned.

The New Zealand Book Council is dedicated to encouraging a vibrant reading culture in New Zealand. We are therefore alarmed by the Board of Review’s decision to issue an interim restriction order for access to Into the River by Ted Dawe.

David Hill reviewed Into the River last year in the Winter edition of New Zealand Books. We think he makes many excellent points about this novel, and thought we’d share them with you. Below is an excerpt from David Hill’s article Hormones and Hedges. For the full review, click here.

Anyone present when Into the River won the Senior Fiction and Book of the Year categories at last year’s New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards couldn’t fail to be impressed – and moved – by the emotion of Ted Dawe’s speech: a speech which, it’s worth noting, he delivered in English and Te Reo.

Similarly, anyone reading the deluge of diatribe that followed the triumph of this unsettling, unflinching YA novel couldn’t fail to be moved (to denture-grinding despair, this time) by the illogic and rant of so many objectors. Sample text: “Pornography is pornography, no matter what you call it.” Indeed, madam, and an idiot is an idiot, no matter what….etc, etc.

Forgive the florid tone. I think we sometimes display an Anglo-Saxon aversion to acknowledging that authors often write with passion, that they frequently build stories and characters that brim with feelings. Reviewers especially seem embarrassed at responding in similar subjective, emotional terms. Robert Graves’ “cool web of language binds us in”, which is hardly the way to discuss Dawe’s visceral, bubblingly hormonal novel.

Dawe originally self-published Into the River, under the nifty name of The University of Mangakino Press. Now it’s been picked up by one of his previous mainstream publishers. So the print is clearer, the paper less glassy, the imprimatur more authoritative.

This is a book with big, bold ambitions, one that jumps with physical immediacy. His gift for words takes young Te Arepa from a tiny country settlement to Auckland, and a scholarship as the only Maori at a prestigious – read “reactionary” – private college whose masters with their gowns, Latin tags and compound-complex sentences evoke the late 19th as much as the early 21st century. It’s not easy to picture a contemporary school where boys “sneak out for a midnight ramble”.

Life at Barwell’s Collegiate is nasty, brutish, and occasionally short. Favouritism and unrestrained bullying rule. Te Arepa quickly finds it easier to conceal his Maori-Spanish ancestry; for much of the narrative, he’ll be called Devon. Joltingly soon, he’s off on a corrugated road to sex, cannabis and vodka, renunciation, betrayal and school theatricals. He seems to lose or abandon almost everything, yet at the very end there’s a departure and a yell of liberation that become a prequel to the author’s earlier, also award-winning Thunder Road.

It’s a percussively authentic rendering. The elbowing, anarchic humour is tone-perfect. Young males do jostle and abuse and jeer and confront like this. (They don’t always talk like this; I haven’t heard all that many kids announcing “I carry a huge weight and it slows me down”, but Dawe generally gets away with it.) They do make moral compromises and disastrous choices. They do throb for the sorts of imaginative – and disarmingly comical – sexual encounters that have outraged those who resent any book which reduces readers’ ignorance. Into the River is indeed a novel which empowers by informing. It’s not an issues book, however; narrative and characters always come first.

It’s not only the rawness that distinguishes Dawe’s story. There’s also the building sense of alienation and solitariness that drives Devon towards his defiant future. There’s reverence as well: for spirits of the river and land; for natural life, mythology, legend, whakapapa; for the potency of narrative. Anyone who genuinely believes this is (second sample text) “just pandering to sex and filth” must have read the novel with their frontal lobes disconnected.

You can fault aspects of Into the River. The Rural Maori Boy Comes to Pakeha City motif is incipiently cliched. The writing can be lush; characters declaim rather a lot and the author explains rather a lot. But the urgency and integrity are undeniable. Colin McCahon wrote once about not wanting any refinement of style to moderate the intensity of his content, and you can see a good deal of that in Dawe’s memorable book.


David Hill is a versatile journalist, reviewer, fiction writer, playwright and children’s writer. Born in Napier, he spent fourteen years teaching before writing full-time. His many published books range from studies on poetry, to teenage fiction, for which he has received numerous prizes. His first young adult novel won the 1994 Times Educational Supplement Award for Special Needs. He won the 2002 Children’s Literature Foundation Gaelyn Gordon Award for a Much-Loved Book and the 2003 LIANZA Esther Glen Medal. David is available to visit schools through the Writers in Schools programme.


This review first appeared in New Zealand Books Volume 24 | Number 2 | Issue 106 | Winter 2014 edition. New Zealand Books is a quarterly publication dedicated to reviewing New Zealand literature. As well as in-depth reviews, you’ll find lively opinion on books and publishing, new poetry, and a prize-winning cryptic crossword. To find out more about New Zealand Books click here.

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The Fourth Fabulous Poetry Competition 2015


The New Zealand Book Council and Poetry Box recently staged The Fourth Fabulous Poetry Competition. New Zealand primary and intermediate schools were invited to submit twelve poems across a range of ages with no restrictions on style or content. The winning schools (in the North Island, the South Island and in Auckland) would receive a two-day visit from children's poet, Paula Green.

Paula judged the entries herself with the help of our CEO, Catriona Ferguson, and was delighted with the scope and quality of writing.

‘Every selection had a standout poem or two, a poem that crept in your pockets and was so good you knew it was going to stay with you. We loved poems that surprised us, that used language that made us laugh or gasp or just say ‘wow!’

'There were a lot of ANZAC poems, weather poems and family poems. The best of these used great detail, sounded good, and mattered to us. We loved the way poems can do and be anything. You can tell when a child has really enjoyed doing a piece of writing and feels proud of it. It shows.’

The winning schools for 2015 are:

The Winner: St Cuthbert’s School
Highly Recommended: Good Shepherd School and Hauraki School

North Island
The Winner: Ormond School, Gisborne
Highly Recommended: West End School and Carnot School in Palmerston North

South Island
The Winner: Port Chalmers School, Dunedin
Highly Recommended: Arrowtown Primary School and Russley School, Christchurch

...and a stand-out poem from each:

My Seed Pod Poem
Steep hills create a canoe
Wide dips form a slide
Brown curves build a roller coaster
The dark mahogany ladder
leads to the head of a hissing snake

Sara, Age 11, Year 6, St Cuthbert’s School


am a leafy, lovely tree
am a beautiful tree
staying on the grass
am brownish, yellowish
reddish and greenish
am a smooth tree
can feel the puffy clouds
lying on me
want to see
the marshmallowy clouds.

Ashlynne, Year 2, Age 6 Ormond School

Autumn Discovery
The leaf swishes and sways down to the
ground trying to be the first one.
It’s warm to the touch and red like fire.
The veins fade as the sun burns.
The spiny edges protect it from predators.
It lies dead as other leaves fall.
It rustles in the wind.
The bent stalk is like an umbrella handle.
Autumn has changed the weather to a dark
and cool place.
One sweep and a huge pile is gone.
One more sweep and all signs of life
have vanished.
Only the old and rugged branches of the tree
stand by.

Louie Y4, Age 8 Port Chalmers School

Looks like Term 4 is going to end on a high note for these schools. Congratulations to you all!

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The Top 4: Children Choose


Check out the writers and illustrators who have impressed kiwi kids with their brilliance, and won their vote in the 2015 NZ Book Awards for Children's Choice

Picture Book

The Anzac Puppy
Peter Millett & Trish Bowles

Scholastic NZ
ISBN: 9781775430971

Junior Fiction

The Island of Lost Horses
Stacy Gregg

ISBN: 9780007580262



The Letterbox Cat & other poems
Paula Gree
n & Myles Lawford
Scholastic NZ
ISBN: 9781775432234


Young Adult Fiction

Night Vision
Ella West

Allen & Unwin
ISBN: 9781743317662

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Peer Review: Young Adult Books August 2015


Reviews by Librarians, Teachers and Principals of the latest New Zealand books for young adults.

Bernard Beckett

Text Publishing, RRP:PB $26.00
ISBN: 9781922182753
Ages: 14–18

Reviewer: Angela Thompson, Library Leader
Remarkables Primary School

Lullaby is a quick and amazing read. It cleverly covers some pretty deep ideas, which makes me think it is for older young adults. The book poses deep psychological questions to the reader; questioning our morals by asking what we would do in the position of the main character, Rene.

Told from Rene’s point of view, Lullaby follows the story of identical twins, Rene and Theo, both 18, and orphaned at the age of 12. The brothers are complete opposites. While Theo is very confident and popular, Rene is the quiet achiever who struggles with friendship. Theo is always the one to support Rene, until a freak accident leaves Theo unconscious and brain damaged, and Rene is asked to give consent for an experimental procedure.

The incredible complexity of the storyline provokes deep and challenging thinking that we do not always find in young adult novels. The storyline develops at an extremely fast pace, with some clever twists in the plot, making the book impossible to put down, and leaving you exhausted from some very tough questions.

A clever and thought-provoking read, Beckett uses some beautiful visual language. This is a great novel for both young adult and adult readers alike.

Rebecca Lim

Text Publishing, RRP: PB $26.00
ISBN: 9781925240498
Ages: 14–18

Susan Scott-Knight, Teacher
Botany Downs Secondary College

This novel sucked me in straight away. What a hook of an opening line: ‘I used to believe in ghosts’.

The narrator, Sophie, is an orphaned, teenage girl who lives with her grandmother, and is somewhat unconventional. She is unpopular, confronts bullies, and finds herself set a series of tasks by a ghost. Like Sophie, we wonder about the purpose of these tasks. The reader engages with Sophie as she tells her story in the first person, and displays the strengths and weaknesses that make her credible and appealing. It is important to suspend disbelief and believe in the apparitions that Sophie and her boyfriend Jordan encounter. If you are like me, you want to follow Sophie in her quest to solve the mystery presented by Eve, the mysterious ghost, and discover why she chose Sophie in the first place.

I enjoyed this book immensely and will be looking for the next one in the series. The cliff-hanger ending has hooked me into the series just as efficiently as that hook of an opening. I still need to discover why she doesn’t believe in ghosts anymore. Enjoy.

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Peer Review: Intermediate Books August 2015


Reviews by Librarians, Teachers and Principals of the latest New Zealand books for intermediate readers

Draw New Zealand Birds: A step-by-step guide
Heather Arnold
, Illustration: Heather Arnold, Geoff Moon and Rod Morris
Dragonsauce Books, RRP: PB $25
ISBN: 9780473237004
Ages: 8+

Stephanie Gibbons, Library Manager
New Plymouth Boys’ High School

Draw New Zealand Birds arrived around the time that the children’s librarian at Takapuna Library mentioned there were no books on how to draw New Zealand birds, and suggested that Heather Arnold write one.

The following nine birds are profiled: kōtare/kingfisher, tūī, ruru/morepork, kākāpō, hoiho/yellow-eyed penguin, kererū/New Zealand pigeon, North Island brown kiwi, kārearea/New Zealand falcon and the tākapu/Australasian gannet. As a non-drawer, I was happy to see an explanation with visual examples of techniques used throughout and a list of materials. Each bird has a two to four page profile that starts with a photo, then systematically takes you to the finished drawing. The final step takes it to a high quality, good looking reproduction of the photo, using shading, layering and other pencil techniques. The author has thoughtfully included a paragraph with information about each bird’s habitat, life cycle and what they like to eat.

The book is pitched at a more technical level than the ever popular How to Draw series, but could easily suit both beginners and those with some experience, as the finishing details are what set this book apart from others.

The Golden Spark Plug of Awesomeness
Stu Duval

Big Bang Books NZ, RRP: PB $19.95
ISBN: 9780473312091
Ages: 8–12

Sandra-Lee Bryant, Pirongia School Librarian
Pirongia School

This story is told by a Father to his Son. The Son interrupts throughout the narrative and challenges the authenticity of the ridiculous, fun and outrageous happenings as they unfold. Very fast paced with no room for boredom, a good vocabulary is necessary to navigate the adjective overload such as ‘majestic camels’, ‘scout the terrain’ and ’entangled my path’. Similes such as ‘white as a ghost’ are taken a step further with ‘white as a ghost’s washing’. Loads of nonsense will appeal to young readers, like the ‘Volcano of Vegemite’, ‘Fartypong Swamp’, and Hula-Hula Pom Pom the mermaid with a piercing in her lip. Randomly scattered illustrations complement the chaotic narrative. I would definitely recommend this book for reluctant readers.

Rangitoto: Te toka tū moana – The rock standing in the ocean
Maria Gill
, Illustration: Heather Arnold
Penguin NZ, RRP: PB $19.95
ISBN: 9780473239145
Ages: 8+

Reviewer: Nova Gibson, Library Manager
Massey Primary School

This book is a must for every New Zealand school library, particularly Auckland schools. Rangitoto is a huge volcanic rock island in the Waitemata Harbour. But how did it get here, and how old is it? These questions are answered in the book.

The book opens with birds sensing something is up and fleeing to the mainland of Auckland. A huge eruption signals the birth of a volcano which arises to become the island wildlife sanctuary and tourist attraction that it is today.

The text is accessible for most ages. Along the bottom of each page are two or three lines of simple text in bigger print with appeal for younger readers. More complex explanations of the eruption are in text boxes down the sides of the page. There is no index or glossary at the end of the book and no table of contents, so this is not a fact-checking book, but rather a story of a volcano. Most pages have their own mini-glossary explaining some of the more complex words on that page.

The book is set out in a very appealing way using maps, diagrams, paintings and photographs to illustrate and explain.

Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars
Martine Murray

Text Publishing, RRP: PB $17.99
ISBN: 9781925240085
Ages: 8–11

Reviewer: Angela Thompson, Library Leader
Remarkables Primary School

Molly thinks her life is strange. Her Mama is not like other Mums; she rides a yellow bike, collects herbs in the forest at dawn and makes potions. Molly’s best friend, Ellen, is very normal, with a sensible Mum and a regular lunch that comes in packets. Molly wants to be more like Ellen, and avoid the herbs, potions and magic. She is also secretly intrigued by a boy in her class, called Pim. He is a little bit eccentric, very inquisitive, and not embarrassed by who he is.

Molly comes to appreciate how special her own life is when her Mama casts a spell that goes dreadfully wrong ,and only Molly can put it right. As the relationship between Molly and Pim develops, the story focuses on friendship and the value of being close to nature. I really wanted to know more about who Pim was, and where he came from. Unfortunately, the character is always in the background and we learn very little about him.

This book is an easy and enjoyable read with a lovely plot that highlights the importance of individuality and imagination. There are lovely illustrations throughout, and a really nice section at the end with Molly’s notes on herbs.

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Phone 0064 4 801 5546
Level 4, Stephenson & Turner House, 156 Victoria St, Te Aro,
Wellington 6011, New Zealand

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G Brassi is a children's writer whose books explore realistic situations where hard work wins out over...


Writers in Schools: on Tour 2015

Throughout the school year we tour a variety of writers and illustrators away from their home region, so that schools can benefit from hosting someone they couldn't otherwise afford. Member schools are alerted first so that they can secure a booking early, and are offered these visits at a discounted rate. Non-member school rates are indicated below. The fees contribute towards the additional costs of accommodation, and food and transport for the writer.

Touring Fees (excl. GST):

Member Schools
First visit: Half day visit: $130.00/ Full day visit $220.00
Second or Third visit: Half day visit: $265.00/ Full day visit: $330.00
Workshops: $55.00 each

Non-Member Schools
Half day visit: $500.00
Full day visit: $700.00
Workshops: $55.00 each


Speed Date an Author Events

Interactive workshops are a great way to learn, and Speed Date an Author workshops allow your school’s budding writers to experience five 25-minute writer sessions over the course of a morning. They usually take place in a local museum or public library, and are delivered by five fantastic writers and illustrators. We organise six Speed Date an Author events each year. Three take place in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, and the other three rotate around the regions. Member schools are alerted first so that they can secure a booking early, and are offered these sessions at a discounted rate.

Entry Fees (incl. GST):

Member Schools: $20.00 per student
Supervising adult: Free

Find out more about Writers in Schools, tours and Speed Date an Author here.

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Back to The School Library.

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Phone 0064 4 801 5546
Level 4, Stephenson & Turner House, 156 Victoria St, Te Aro,
Wellington 6011, New Zealand