Lasenby, Jack 1931–

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Lasenby, Jack 1931–


Born March 9, 1931, in Waharoa, New Zealand; son of Owen Liberty (a secretary) and Linda (a homemaker; maiden name, Bryce) Lasenby; married, 1963; wife's name Elizabeth (deceased 1969); children: Rebecca, Anne, Jeremy. Education: Attended Auckland University, 1950–51.


Home—137 Aro St., Wellington, New Zealand.


Worked variously as a deer culler, possum trapper, and teacher, c. 1950–68; New Zealand Department of Education, Wellington, editor of School Journal, 1969–75; Wellington Teachers' College, Wellington, senior lecturer in English, 1975–87; full-time writer, 1987–.

Awards, Honors

Esther Glen Award, New Zealand Library Association, 1989, for The Mangrove Summer; Sargeson fellowship, 1991; Victoria University of Wellington writing fellowship, 1993; Dunedin College of Education writing fellowship, 1995; New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards honour award, 1998, for Because We Were the Travellers, junior fiction award, 1999, for The Shaman and the Droll, 2001, for The Lies of Harry Wakatipu, and 2005, Aunt Effie and the Island That Sank, and senior fiction award, 1999, for Taur; Jack Lasenby Award established by Wellington Children's Book Association, 2002; Margaret Mahy Award, New Zealand Children's Literature Foundation, 2003; New Zealand Post Book Award Junior Fiction Award, 2004.


Lost and Found (school bulletin), photographs by Ans Westra, Wellington School Publications (Wellington, New Zealand), 1970.

Over Makara, Bottle Press (Paremata, New Zealand), 1971.

Two Grandfathers, Triple P. Press (Paremata, New Zealand), 1972.

The Chatham Islands (school bulletin), illustrated by Roger Hart, Wellington School Publications (Wellington, New Zealand), 1973.

Jackie Andersen, Triple P Press (Paremata, New Zealand), 1973.

Charlie, the Cheeky Kea (picture book), illustrated by Nancy Finlayson, Golden Books (Auckland, New Zealand), 1976.

Rewi, the Red Deer (picture book), illustrated by Nancy Finlayson, Golden Books (Auckland, New Zealand), 1976.

The Lake (children's novel), Oxford University Press (Auckland, New Zealand), 1987.

The Mangrove Summer (children's novel), Oxford University Press (Auckland, New Zealand), 1988.

Uncle Trev and the Great South Island Plan, Cape Catley Press (Picton, New Zealand), 1991.

Uncle Trev Stories, Cape Catley Press (Whatamongo Bay, New Zealand), 1991.

Uncle Trev and the Treaty of Waitangi, Cape Catley Press (Whatamongo Bay, New Zealand), 1991.

The Conjuror, Oxford University Press (Auckland, New Zealand), 1992.

Harry Wakatipu, McIndoe Publishers (Dunedin, New Zealand), 1993.

Uncle Trev's Teeth, and Other Stories, Cape Catley (Whatamango Bay, New Zealand), 1997.

The Lies of Harry Wakatipu, Longacre Press (Dunedin, New Zealand), 2000.

Aunt Effie, Longacre Press (Dunedin, New Zealand), 2002.

Harry Wakatipu Comes the Mong, Puffin (Auckland, New Zealand), 2003.

Aunt Effie's Ark (picture book), illustrated by David Elliot, Longacre Press (Dunedin, New Zealand), 2003.

Aunt Effie and the Island That Sank, Longacre Press (Dunedin, New Zealand), 2004.

What Makes a Teacher? (nonfiction), Four Winds Press (Wellington, New Zealand), 2004.

Mr Bluenose, Longacre Press (Dunedin, New Zealand), 2005.

The Tears of Harry Wakatipu, Longacre Press (Dunedin, New Zealand), 2006.

When Mum Went Funny, Longacre Press (Dunedin, New Zealand), 2006.

Also author of Power, Caveman Press. Stories included in anthologies Great New Zealand Animal Stories, Golden Press (Auckland, NZ), 1974; Favorite New Zealand Animal Stories, Golden Press, 1996; and Solve This: A Collection of Puzzling Stories, Shortland (Auckland, New Zealand), 2000. Contributor of poems, stories, plays, and articles to numerous magazines and journals.

Author's works have been translated into Maori.


Because We Were the Travellers, Longacre Press (Dunedin, New Zealand), 1997.

Taur, Longacre Press (Dunedin, New Zealand), 1998.

The Shaman and the Droll, Longacre Press (Dunedin, New Zealand), 1999.

Kalik, Longacre (Dunedin, New Zealand), 2001.


Dead Man's Head, McIndoe Publishers (Dunedin, New Zealand), 1994.

The Waterfall, Longacre Press (Dunedin, New Zealand), 1995.

The Battle of Pook Island, Longacre (Dunedin, New Zealand), 1996.


Uncle Trev and the Dog-scoffing Boar Pig (with Silver and Gold by Barbara Beveridge), Learning Media (Wellington, New Zealand), 1989.

Finding Your Own Tucker; Uncle Trev's Teeth; At Papakowhai School, Learning Media (Wellington, New Zealand), 1993.

My Friend (with The Skateboard Ramp, by Louise Tomlinson), Learning Media (Wellington, New Zealand), 1995.

Uncle Trev, Radio New Zealand (Wellington, New Zealand), 1996.


Jack Lasenby draws heavily on the landscape of his native New Zealand for his children's books, and he sets his stories for children and young adults in rural towns as well as amid mountains, beaches, and swamps. Universal themes that run through Lasenby's young-adult novels, such as The Conjuror, as well as the novels in the "Travellers" quartet, include group dynamics, political rule, and the quest for a better life. His works for younger readers include the much-anthologized Charlie, the Cheeky Kea, as well as his award-winning stories about Harry Wakatipu, a talking horse whose greatest effort is expended on avoiding work, and the tall tales recounted in such books as Uncle Trev's Teeth, and Other Stories and Uncle Trev and the Great South Island Plan. Lasenby's younger fans can also follow the incorrigible Aunt Effie and her twenty-six nephews and nieces on their globe-trotting adventures in humorous books such as Aunt Effie and the Island That Sank and Aunt Effie's Ark. Praising the title character's first literary appearance in Aunt Effie, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy contributor Lori Atkins Goodson wrote that Lasenby's "lively and humorous" picture book makes a clear promise: that "readers can expect to be taken along on many more humorous excursions in books to come."

Sexual misconduct is the focus of The Lake, one of Lasenby's early novels for young adults. The book finds Ruth facing tragedy at age ten, when her father dies. Three years later, her mother remarries, and now Ruth must face a new emotional challenge when she becomes victimized by her sexually abusive stepfather. Hoping to escape, she flees to a place of comfort: the lake cabin where her family had spent holidays prior to her father's death. After two years in the wilderness, she returns home to confront her stepfather and protect her younger sister. The book includes other instances of incest and sexual assault, most notably in the character of Tommy, a man whose charity toward Ruth during her stay at the lake serves as an atonement for his abuse of his own daughter. In Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, Diane Hebley observed that in The Lake "Lasenby lovingly evokes the beauty, majesty, and danger of Ruth's environment, which contributes to her growth in her struggle through grief and for survival."

Also geared for young adults, The Mangrove Summer is set during World War II. Pearl Harbor has been attacked and New Zealanders, faced with blackouts and fuel rationing, now fear an imminent Japanese invasion. George's family has moved to their isolated beach house in hopes of escaping harm at the hands of Japanese soldiers, and the six children—ranging in age from seven to adolescence—harbor doubts about their parents' ability to protect them. Together with George, they escape to the mangrove swamps, where they feel sure no one can find them. Noting that the deteriorating group dynamics that play out in Lasenby's novel are similar to those in William Golding's Lord of the Flies, Hebley added that in the case of The Mangrove Summer the conclusion is less brutal: all power struggles among the children cease in the face of tragedy.

In The Conjuror Lasenby again focuses on the problems of totalitarian rule. Existing within a harsh, volcanic landscape, a female-dominated futuristic society has lost most racial distinctions and now determines class designations through eye color. With the help of her Black Sisters, the Conjuror rules this kingdom using cruelty, drama, and superstition. Lasenby's hero, Johnny, secretly educates himself by reading books, and then convinces the next Conjuror-elect to escape with him.

In contrast to The Conjuror, Because We Were the Travellers, the first volume in Lasenby's "Travellers" science-fiction novel quartet, takes place in a primitive land called Whykatto. As the novel opens, a boy named Ish is traveling with an elderly woman, as both have been banished from their tribe and now must search for a safe haven. Taur finds Ish traveling south, fleeing the violent Salt Men while joining up with a mute named Taur, the Bull Man. While continuing to dodge threats to his existence, Ish finds himself in the land of the Great White Bear in The Shaman and the Droll. There, a meeting with the Bear Man and the wise Shaman reveal the key to harnessing human potential as well as give him the ability to use superstition and the tenacity of the human spirit for his own ends. The quartet closes with Kalik, wherein Ish comes in contact with the primi-tive Headland people, as well as with its charismatic leader, Lutha, and Lutha's lieutenant, Kalik. Although Ish knows he can flee this brutal land, his responsibility for a group of frightened children held captive by the Headlanders forces him to confront the menace that has haunted him.

Lasenby once told SATA: "I only regret that circumstances prevented me from becoming a full-time writer earlier. I enjoyed much of the work I did in my various jobs, but writing was always my aim. Much of my material to date has been drawn from direct experience. I choose to write for children because much of the best prose is being written for them: for example, by Cynthia Voigt, Philippa Pearce, and Margaret Mahy. I hope it's not too wild an ambition to be of their company. It seems to me that there are few authors for adults who share their competence."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature, Oxford University Press (Auckland, New Zealand), 1998.

Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1995.


Horn Book, January-February, 1990, Edith R. Twitchell, review of The Mangrove Summer, p. 64.

Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, May, 2003, Lori Atkins Goodson, review of Aunt Effie, p. 699.

Junior Bookshelf, October, 1988; October, 1989.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1989.

Magpies, March, 1997, review of The Battle of Pook Island, p. 7; May, 1997, review of Because We Were Travellers, p. 6; March, 1998, review of Uncle Trev's Teeth, and Other Stories, p. 8; November, 1998, review of Taur, p. 37; July, 2000, review of The Lies of Harry Wakatipu, p. 7; March, 2002, review of Kalik, p. 39; November, 2002, review of Aunt Effie, p. 7; May, 2003, review of Harry Wakatipu Comes the Mong, p. 7; November, 2003, review of Aunt Effie's Ark, p. 7; November, 2004, Frances Plumpton, review of Aunt Effie and the Island That Sank, p. 7; September, 2005, Bill Nagelkerke, review of Mr Bluenose, p. 6.

New Zealand Listener, April 16, 2005, Margaret Mahy, "The World of Jack Lasenby."

Publishers Weekly, May 12, 1989.

School Library Journal, August, 1989.

Times Literary Supplement, July 29, 1988.

Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 1990, review of The Lake, p. 344; April, 1990, review of The Mangrove Summer, p. 31.