Mophead takes top prize at children’s book awards

Described as “a taonga that should be placed in the hands of every child in Aotearoa”, Mophead: How Your Difference Makes a Difference, written and illustrated by Selina Tusitala Marsh, has won the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year.

Selina Tusitala Marsh with her hand-carved tokotoko, or ceremonial walking stick.

As well as taking out highest prize in children’s publishing at the 2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, the graphic memoir also won the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction.

Dr Tusitala Marsh, former New Zealand Poet Laureate and an associate professor of English in the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Arts, is delighted with the success of her first children’s book, which follows her own journey from self-conscious girl with an unruly mop of hair to celebrated poet and academic.

“I’m so moved that people embraced Mophead’s resilient difference. Dedicated to all those who stick out, her message is: I see you, I hear you, I got you,” she says.

The book’s success is also a win for Auckland University Press (AUP), whose director Sam Elworthy says he feels “very lucky” to have such a vibrant talent on his list.

“She’s a great hive of creative energy and it’s been such a wild ride working with her to make Mophead, so last night the whole AUP team celebrated (at home!) her win. Taking out the supreme Margaret Mahy award with your first children’s book is quite an achievement, only Selina could have done it; she’s always showing how her difference makes a difference.”

I’m so moved that people embraced Mophead’s resilient difference. Dedicated to all those who stick out, her message is: I see you, I hear you, I got you.

Associate Professor Selina Tusitala MarshFaculty of Arts

The judges called Mophead  “clever, joyful and inspiring, with not a smidgen of pretension or condescension” and felt it was especially important for young Pasifika children who might not yet know their own creative power.

Judges’ convenor Jane Arthur said they also loved the book’s design and production and that “its part picture book, part graphic novel, part memoir, part poem form is exactly what it wants and needs to be, which is the message of the book too”.

And the good news for Mophead fans is that its sequel Mophead Tu: The Queen’s Poem , in which Mophead is invited to read a poem for the Queen in Westminster Abbey, is due out in hardback in November 2020, and will also be published by AUP.

In other awards,The Adventures of Tupaia, written by University of Auckland Young Alumna of the Year Courtney Sina Meredith, received the Russell Clark Award for Illustration for Mat Tait.

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