1. 'Older Readers' category (Young Adult Readers)
'Sea Hearts' by Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)
speculative fiction. This story tells of an unremarkable young woman, Misskaella Prout who struggles to find her place in the stormy and isolated island of Rollrock. She discovers she has natural magic gifts and can use them to coax selkies (mythological creatures found in Icelandic, Irish, and Scottish folklore) out of their sealskins. Her world is changed and is the community in which she lives. One by one the local men are captivated by the allure of the beautiful sea-wife. Will all the men fall captive to her as all the 'real' women leave the community. This is a powerful story of desire and revenge, human weakness, as well as all-consuming love and even a dash of loyalty.
'The Ink Bridge' by Neil Grant (Allen & Unwin)
'Friday Brown' by Vikki Wakefield (Text Publishing)
2. 'Younger Readers' category (Independent Younger Readers)
'Children of the King' by Sonya Hartnett (Penguin)
This is a stunning book from a great Australian writer. Three children have been sent to live in the countryside away from war-ravaged London in WWII. Nothing unusual about this. Two children (Cecily and Jeremy) end up in a home of privilege, and an evacuee (May) from a poorer background is taken in with them. May who boldly explores the local area discovers two boys, who have strange dress and are mysterious. May and Cecily eventually confirm that there are two boys. When they find the boys the past and the present merge and transform what has been a regular tale of girls having an adventure, into one that deals with many themes, including loss of innocence, the brutality of war and its consequences.
In the midst of this Hartnett introduces and overlays the story of the Princes in the Tower drawing parallels between the story of the children with the unresolved story of the Princes. This is a superbly written and nuanced tale by a master storyteller, which is a deserving winner.
'The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk' by Glenda Millard (ABC Books)
3. 'Early Childhood' category (Preschool and beginning readers)
'The Terrible Suitcase' by Emma Allen and illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Omnibus, Scholastic Press)
This delightful picture book has a story line that all children and parents will identify as true to life. Your mother buys you something, which isn’t what you wanted or expected. In this story it’s a red suitcase to take to school instead of a bright red backpack with rockets and silver zip that you just had to have! The typical child response is to be mad. There is much sulking and tantrums. But when she finally goes to school she discovers that sometimes different things can occur when you’re different. New friends, experiences and creative and imaginative fun that were as unexpected as the terrible red suitcase.
If you write a first book as Emma Allen has and have it accepted for publication, then you could only dream of being assigned an illustrator like Freya Blackwood to turn her creative genius to helping you communicate this common real life scenario with authenticity and interest. Freya has used delightful watercolour, gouache and pencil line work. Emma Allen's text is beautifully written with minimal well-chosen words that in combination with Blackwood's illustrations create a book worthy of this acknowledgement.
'With Nan' by Tania Cox and illustrated by Karen Blair (Windy Hollow Books)
'Too Many Elephants in This House' by Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by Andrew Joyner (Penguin)
4. 'Picture Books' category (Varied ages, Birth to 18 years)
The Coat' illustrated by Ron Brooks and written by Julie Hunt (Allen & Unwin)
The Coat stood in a paddock at the end of a row of strawberries. It was buttoned up tight and stuffed full of straw and it was angry. 'What a waste of me!' it yelled. Then along came a man. 'I could do with a coat like that,' the man said. Together, swooping and swinging, they travelled to the Cafe Delitzia, and had the night of their lives.
What self-respecting coat would want to end up rotting away on an old scarecrow? When the coat beckons a passing stranger he sees that this might well be a great coat for him. They begin a great adventure together as they travel to a city where the man soon discovers that this coat can do more than keep him warm. Together they form a great team that makes people sit up and listen.
Sounds quirky of course, and it is. But it is also a wonderful mysterious metaphysical tale that pushes the boundaries of what is possible and what might be. There are many themes that play out in the story, not the least of which is the power of friendship, discovering things within yourself, and the development of self-belief. The combination of Julie Hunt’s well-crafted story and Ron Brooks’ genius as an illustrator helps to make this story work. Brooks has many devices including subtle use of colour that tracks the mood of the key characters, from simple black and white to rich colour as the exciting partnership between the man and the coat unfolds. By the end his use of colour is rich and flamboyant. This is a wonderful book.
The reviewer in Reading Time described the work this way:
'It is simply impossible to categorize this unique and harmonious work of art... This is book that exemplifies James Joyce’s criteria of unity, harmony and radiance. It defies the prophets of doom. Books are alive and flourishing – particularly picture books from Australia.'
'Herman and Rosie' by Gus Gordon (Viking)
'Sophie Scott Goes South' by Alison Lester (Viking)
5. 'Eve Pownall Award for Information Books' category (Varied ages, Birth to 18 years)
'Tom the Outback Mailman' by Kristin Weidenbach and illustrated by Timothy Ide (Lothian)
'Tom the Outback Mailman' by Kristin Weidenbach and illustrated by Timothy Ide won the Eve Pownall prize for information books. This delightful true story of a great Australian character is based on Weidenbach's story of Tom Kruse who was the driver of the Marree-to-Birdsville mail. Once a fortnight for twenty years Tom loaded his Leyland Badger truck and drove 1,000 km across perilous territory on little more than a dusty dangerous rutted track. His job was to deliver mail and provisions to arguably the most isolated residents in the world. Tom was a great Australian character who lived in the middle decades of last century
The book is a version for younger children that Weidenbach has adapted into a delightful picture book for young readers. It offers just a small slice of the events of Tom's life. When floods cut the Birdsville Track, the station residents run out of supplies and worse still, the Birdsville Hotel runs out of beer! It takes Tom’s ingenuity to beat the floodwaters and get the mail and the beer through. Timothy Ide provides wonderfully detailed watercolour illustrations that add to what is already a compelling narrative account.
Lyrebird! A True Story' by Jackie Kerin and illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe (Museum of Victoria)
'Topsy-turvey World: How Australian Animals Puzzled Early Explorers' by Kirsty Murray (National Library of Australia)