Juliet Roger, Chairperson of Booksellers New Zealand; Jo Breese, Chief Executive and Viv Beck, General Manager, Communications, New Zealand Post; Rosemary Wildblood of Creative New Zealand; the three 1997 Judges - Gillian Newman, Convenor, and Robyn Bargh and Dick Weir; authors, illustrators, publishers, readers, ladies and gentlemen, young people from Sacred Heart College and Tawa College, girls and boys: welcome to this grand finale to the 1997 New Zealand Post Children's Book Festival.
My wife and I are delighted to make Government House available again, to help us all celebrate the year's achievements by our outstanding writers for young New Zealanders. I also welcome the five pupils from the Wellington School of Dance who greeted you in the foyer: and the members of the New Zealand Post Youth Orchestra Quartet who will be playing during lunch, on the main staircase.
Our pleasure in hosting this ceremony is genuine and not mere establishment formality. Books have played an important part in our lives. In my case, that is partly because of the school holiday times I spent in my grandfather's bookshop in Palmerston North, Bennett's. Then, as we grew up, we were introduced to and loved our books. When our children came, it was a joy to introduce them to our favourites and to discover and share with them, the new generation of books that had come along. And now, with our grandchildren, we are sharing our children's treasures with them, and also discovering, as it were, a third generation of new books.
I must say that the character I envy most of all is the man whose mother was a pirate.
I now call upon Ross Stevens to introduce the other speakers this afternoon, leading up to the announcement of the winners of this year's Children's Book Awards, and the presentation of those awards. Mr Stevens.
[After other speeches.]
This year's crop of New Zealand children's literature is, once again, quite outstanding . The country is lucky indeed, to have the number and the standard of children's writers that it does. It is not at all controversial to say that the quality of the children's books written and illustrated by New Zealanders has, for many years, been extremely high. Yet as high as this standard has been, it has once again been matched; perhaps even exceeded by some.
Even so, the lives of the authors of this body of New Zealand literature, literature for young people, have not suddenly become financially serene and secure. So awards such as these are still vital to sustain them, because only a very rare few of these writers will ever really strike it rich, in purely monetary terms, despite their being so good at what they do.
Yet what they do is important; and important with a capital "I." What they do has to be, must be, encouraged. Because our New Zealand children's authors make learning to read, and continuing to read, and loving to read, easy for our young people. They help encourage reading as a life-long activity.
Reading and being read to, is not, and must not be just a fill-in activity before the next, usually-awful, so-called "children's programme" screens on TV. Our children's writers are the New Zealanders who know, from the tops of their heads (pointy or otherwise) right down to the tips of their fingers, that reading is a pastime that delights, certainly; but which also entertains, and stimulates, and teaches and encourages and civilises. Without it, we would be barbarians indeed.
I must also commend the sponsors. The nation owes a particular debt of gratitude to New Zealand Post for taking up the sponsorship , for supporting these most important Awards: supporting them to a level that makes them so useful to the recipients, and which sends such a clear signal that no matter that New Zealand is a small publishing market, New Zealanders who write children's literature are nevertheless, one way or another, accorded their due. This, hopefully, is the message that all nominees, whether they carry off an Award away today or not, can take with them from this ceremony.
And to all the finalists in the 1997 New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, and in particular to the Award winners, my warmest congratulations. What you do is important for the future of all of New Zealand's young people; you help to develop and to sustain in them the love of the best medium ever invented for providing a non-distorting window on the world, access to all places and all times. That is the value of the printed word, the medium that instils the love of knowledge, and a sense of perspective, and which nurtures the sense of judgement, even while it entertains.
Now, let us hear who the Award winners are.