The Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) has been a champion for children’s and YA literature in Australia since 1945 and its importance cannot be underestimated. Be as loud and cranky as you like about some of its extremely frustrating structures and methods, but do not forget that our children’s and YA industry would not be where it is today, or as well regarded internationally, without the work of the CBCA. Some of the people behind the scenes have given over 20 years of voluntary service to the organisation. For a not-for-profit volunteer run organisation, they do some pretty amazing things.
The ten years I spent in CBCA, with stints as Qld Branch President and National Vice President, set me up in this industry professionally – absolutely no doubt about it. Personally speaking, I now count many CBCA people as among my closest friends and sadly, I have given speeches at the funerals and memorials of several of them who left us too early.
Volunteer work can suck the life out of you (and don’t be like me and fly with your newborn to a CBCA conference; I thought I was invincible, I was not!), but it can also be as rich and rewarding as any paid work you will ever do. If you have even the slightest interest in becoming involved in the CBCA, I urge you to attend a local branch meeting and if you’re in Brisbane, hook yourself up pronto with the amazing people there, and also consider joining Book Links. I feel saddened at times by the direction in which the CBCA has gone in the past few years and I worry that its relevance is waning as it struggles to keep up and stay on its toes with changes in the scene, but if you feel strongly about something then you should roll up your sleeves, crack the inner circle and make changes from the inside.
And so to the 2018 short list. Critique it as you like, with the above in mind. The judges work tirelessly to curate these lists and there is quite the rigorous process – this is one voluntary job I will never apply for. I will admit that I was not at all enamoured with the Notables list that came out last month and I worry that this is due to the change in structure of the judging process. There was some glaring omissions (but I have to wonder if the books were even submitted by publishers in some cases) and some titles on the list that I really do wonder how they made it on – I am even screwing up my face about a few as I type this. Two omissions that bother greatly this year are ‘The Fall’ by Tristan Bancks and ‘The Secrets We Share’ by Nova Weetman. I consider these two books middle grade (for readers about Year Six – Year Nine) and they do not fit neatly into the existing CBCA categories of Older Readers and Younger Readers. I’m not a fan at all of awards adding extra categories and even last year I would have rallied against the CBCA considering this. However I am increasingly frustrated that books of such enormous worth are not finding their place on the CBCA short lists. Authors and publishers have risen to the challenge and met the demand for high quality middle grade books and I am now coming around to the idea that, for the CBCA awards to remain relevant, there is going to need to be a separate category for Middle Grade. You are not comparing apples with apples when you put middle grade books next to the older reader books, nor when you put them alongside younger reader books – they are completely different readerships and there is glaring gap there in the middle. Personally I see the Younger Readers category as ages 7-10, the Older Readers category as 14-18 (and adult) and then there is Middle Grade ages 11 – 14. I am also cranky about ‘The Things We Promise’ by J.C Burke, not being on the OR list but I’m going to have to keep myself contained and just continue banging on about how great that book is because it was stiff competition.
Despite my musings, I am pleased with the 2018 CBCA Short Lists – the Notable lists were odd, but when I now focus on the short list, I am back in my happy place. Each title on the lists is deserving, and magical in a way that only the very best books can be. The Notables has been whittled down to the best of the best, and I highly recommend you add each of these books to your home or school library. The YR list is outstanding – and while I can normally ‘see’ the winner – any of these six titles could win and I am particularly happy to see ‘The Elephant’ on this list as it is high time Pete made the cut.
I also wrote some time ago that if ‘Swan Lake’ by Anne Spudvilas was not on the list, I’d be writing long letters of complaint and outrage. ‘Swan Lake’ is a sublime work of art and every time I walk past this book in a bookstore I buy another copy, ‘just in case’ I lose one of the ten copies I already own and gift to friends.
When I received my Dromkeen Award I was fortunate to then also be in Melbourne for a launch of ‘Swan Lake’ at the Australian Print Workshop Gallery, where some of the monoprints for the book were developed during Anne’s residency with them.
In this atmospheric adaptation of the iconic Swan Lake ballet by Tchaikovsky, Anne Spudvilas reimagines the classic tale of passion, betrayal and heartbreak in the dramatic riverscape of the Murray-Darling where she now lives. The text is on just three pages (told as the three acts of the ballet), allowing the evocative illustrations to take centre stage. The first time I read ‘Swan Lake’ I was unable to take in the beauty and heartbreak of the visuals in one sitting and to this day I still get shivers down my spine pondering some of them. The monoprints are largely black and white with carefully used splashes of red and the addition of pressed flowers (from around where Anne lives I wonder?) to the hair of the young Odette is exquisite. The delicate flowers look like they could be picked from the swan queens hair; well done to publishers Allen and Unwin for the magnificent print job and careful production of this book. I purchased the limited edition print ‘No one hears the sound of wings’ because the torment and heartbreak of this swan image is pretty much how I feel since Dan’s death. I bothered ‘The Two Anns’ (as I affectionately refer to them) at Books Illustrated until the Swan Lake prints went online and immediately purchased this one; I rarely have to own something but I had to have this haunting artwork – grief therapy shopping is a real thing people, but at least I’m buying artworks! The darkness and the light in ‘Swan Lake’ completely captures my last year and this image in particular says everything I want to say about grief and loss. ‘Swan Lake’ is my pick to win the Picture Book category in 2018.
To purchase any of the books in this post click on title links. To purchase from local Brisbane independent bookstore, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’, click on the ad below.
Book of the Year: Older Readers
Entries in this category may be fiction, drama or poetry and should be appropriate in style and content for readers in their secondary years of schooling. Ages 13-18 years (NB: These books are for mature readers).
‘Mallee Boys’ by Charlie Archbold, Wakefield Press
‘In the Dark Spaces’ by Cally Black, Hardie Grant Egmont
‘Take Three Girls’ by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood, Pan Macmillian Australia
‘Because of You’ by Pip Harry, UQP
‘The Secret Science of Magic’ by Melissa Keil, Hardie Grant Egmont
‘Ballad for a Mad Girl’ by Vikki Wakefield, Text Publishing
Book of the Year: Younger Readers
Entries in this category may be fiction, drama or poetry and should be appropriate in style and content for readers from the middle to upper primary years. Ages 8-12 years.
‘The Elephant’ by Peter Carnavas, UQP
‘How to Bee’ by Bren MacDibble, Allen and Unwin
‘Henrietta and the Perfect Night’ by Martine Murray, Text Publishing
‘The Shop at Hoopers Bend’ by Emily Rodda, Harper Collins Publishers
‘Marsh and Me’ by Martine Murray, Text Publishing
‘The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler’ by Lisa Shanahan, Allen and Unwin
Book of the Year: Early Childhood
Entries in this category may be fiction, drama or poetry and should be appropriate in style and content for children who are at pre-reading or early stages of reading. Ages 0-7 years.
‘Rodney Loses it!’ by Michael Gerard Bauer and Chrissie Krebs, Omnibus Books
‘Boy’ by Phil Cummings and Shane Devries, Scholastic Australia
I’m Australian Too’ by Mem Fox and Ronojoy Ghosh, Omnibus Books
‘The Second Sky’ by Patrick Guest and Jonathan Bentley, Little Hare
‘The Very Noisy Baby’ by Alison Lester, Affirm Press
‘Hark, It’s Me, Ruby Lee!’ by Lisa Shanahan and Binny, Hachette Australia
Picture Book of the Year
Entries in this category should be outstanding books of the Picture Book genre in which the author and illustrator achieve artistic and literary unity or, in wordless picture books, where the story, theme or concept is unified through illustrations. Ages 0-18 years (NB. Some of these books may be for mature readers).
‘Ten Pound Pom’ by Liz Anelli (Text by Carole Wilkinson), Walker Books
‘The Great Rabbit Chase’ by Freya Blackwood, Scholastic Australia
‘Mopoke’ by Philip Bunting, Omnibus Books
‘A Walk in the Park’ by Gwyn Perkins, Affirm Press
‘Swan Lake’ by Anne Spudvilas, Allen and Unwin
‘Florette’ by Anna Walker, Penguin Random House
Eve Pownall Award
Entries in this category should be books which have the prime intention of documenting factual material with consideration given to imaginative presentation, interpretation and variation of style. Ages 0-18 years.
‘Do Not Lick this Book’ by Idan Ben-Barak (Illus. by Julian Frost), Allen and Unwin
‘M is for Mutiny!’ by John Dickon (Illus. by Bern Emmerichs), Berbay Publishing
‘Left and Right’ by Lorna Hendry, Wild Dog Books
‘The Big Book of Antartica’ by Charles Hope, Wild Dog Books
‘Amazing Australians in their Flying Machines’ by Prue and Kerry Mason (Illus. by Tom Jellet), Walker Books Australia
‘Koala’ by Claire Saxby (Illus. by Julie Vivas), Walker Books Australia
Crichton Award for New Illustrators
The Crichton Award aims to recognise and encourage new talent in the field of Australian children’s book illustration. Ages 0-18 years.
‘Can You Find Me?’ by Patrick Shirvington, New Frontier Publishing
‘I Just Ate my Friend’ by Heidi McKinnon, Allen and Unwin
‘Mopoke’ by Philip Bunting, Omnibus Books
‘Once Upon an ABC’ by Christopher Nielsen, Little Hare
‘The Sloth Who Came to Stay’ by Vivienne To, Allen and Unwin
‘Tintinnabula’ by Rovina Cai, Little Hare
To purchase any of these books click on title links or cover images. To purchase from local Brisbane independent bookstore, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’, click on the ad below.
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