Today the children and young people of New Zealand enjoy a wonderful array of books, many by New Zealand writers. This exhibition takes a look at the books available to New Zealand youngsters from the earliest days of European settlement through until 1960. After this, a treasury of locally written and published books became available, featuring the writers we know and love today – Margaret Mahy, Lynley Dodd and Ken Catran, to mention just a few.
However, in the early days of the colony, we had to rely on books written and published in Britain. In “Boys” by Lady Barker, one of her tales is that of the “Emigrant boy”, the story of a young person sent out to the colony by a family benefactor to make his fortune. The earliest book in the exhibition is “Distant homes or, The Graham family in New Zealand” published in 1862. For the early European colonists there was a great deal to learn about their new home: varied landscapes, different animals and plants, and a resident people with a rich culture of their own. The books in this exhibition show the development of material written specifically for children living in this new environment, incorporating Māori myths and legends and adapting European stories to reflect New Zealand. Writing stories about New Zealand was not looked upon as a profitable venture – stories that identified too strongly as New Zealand were difficult to get into publication because there was not a big enough local market and not enough interest from overseas readers. Many of our writers began by publishing stories in magazines such as “Red funnel” . Edith Howes, one of our most prolific early writers for children, had stories published there. The title for the exhbition is borrowed from her book “The Long bright land: fairy tales from southern seas” because it conveys the idea of creating a new culture in an adopted home.
Aside from the stories written for enjoyment, many have an underlying message: education of youth in the values of the society they lived in, their responsibilities both as young people and those they may face in the adult world. No such exhibition would be complete without featuring some of the Whitcombe’s Story Books. These were adapted versions of classic stories thought to be worthy literature for young people and were widely distributed and reprinted. However, they were often stories of a time and place that were now unfamiliar to young New Zealanders.
We also acknowledge the influence of Esther Glen – herself a writer for children but remembered today by the Esther Glen Medal for excellence in writing for children awarded annually by the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa. And, closer to home, we look at the life of Dorothy Neal White and her work providing library service for young people in Dunedin.
This is only a small selection of the childrens books held in the Heritage Collections, we have other titles by many of the authors represented here. Some difficult decisions were taken by the curators in selecting which books to display but we hope we have given you a satisfying glimpse of what is available! We have grouped the items within subjects and linked them with a letter of the alphabet, so we invite you to look at this exhibition - your journey will take you from A is for Adventure to Y is for Young Citizens. Enjoy!