Saturday, October 31, 2020

Australia's 2020 Children's Book of the Year Awards

The Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) has been making annual awards for 75 years. As usual, there have been many wonderful books. In this post I offer a quick review of the Winners and Honour books for younger readers.

1. 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 as some of these books may be for mature readers).


'I Need a Parrot' written and illustrated by Chris McKimmie

"Have you ever not just wanted something, but wanted it so much that you NEED it? The main character in I NEED a Parrot wants this pet so much that he attempts to persuade the unseen figure that he should get one."

Chris McKimmie has a style of his own. Always quirky he is the master of surprise in his work. His work is always surprising, and some might think a little bizarre at times. But it is always funny and kids get it! As usual this book has a great text well matched to his illustrations. His simple story gets at the problem of keeping and caging pets. As usual, there are few words and he never wastes a single one. The simple style of his illustrations might lead some to thinking, "I think I could do that!" Trust me, you can't! It's good to see Ford Street Publishing sharing the success as well. A small company that supports authors and illustrators by taking risks that sometimes the big publishers won't.

His blank double-page spread with the ‘aha’ moment, is brilliant! 

Chris McKimmie is a writer, artist, designer, musician, lecturer, grandad to seven grandkids and one dog, Teddy, a black Labrador who shares his morning tea biscuits. He has had many solo and group exhibitions of his art, and his previous books have been included in Children’s Book Council of Australia shortlists, long lists, honours lists and notable books lists.

I've been a fan of Chris McKimmie's for many years. You might like to read a post I did on his work in 2014 that includes an interview I conducted with him. HERE

Honour Books

'Nop' written and illustrated by Caroline Magerl

"A heartwarming picture book from award-winning author-illustrator Caroline Magerl about two unlikely loners who forge a forever friendship. Nop is a scruffy kind of bear. He sits on a dusty armchair in Oddmint's Dumporeum surrounded by the beaders, knitters, patchers and stitchers who are much too busy to talk to him. So he watches the litter tumble until, armed with a new bow tie, he has an idea that will change his life forever."

This story began with a memory of Caroline's school holidays in Sydney. Her father was welding a steel yacht in a boat yard and she wandered off . . . only to discover the local dump, a home for the things people throw out! Many years later, her daughter Jen made a teddy bear out of scraps for her father. It's a very sorry-looking, but endearing creature. Named Roadkill, ten years later it still sits on top of his desk. This story began with a memory of Caroline's school holidays in Sydney. Her father was welding a steel yacht in a boat yard and she wandered off . . . only to discover the local dump. A home for the things people throw out! Many years later, her daughter Jen made a teddy bear out of scraps for her father. It's a very sorry looking, but endearing creature. Named Roadkill, ten years later it still sits on top of his desk.

'Three' by Stephen Michael King

This is a very special book! watch a video of Stephen Michael King discussing his work by clicking on the link in the title below. Three is a three-legged dog with determination and a 'free' spirit. He survives due to many others who extend kindness. But his wandering takes him to new surroundings - the country! So many unusual creatures to deal with. And unlike him, they don't have 3 legs. This is a lovely story illustrated in King's typical style with lots of colour and expressive characters. It deserves being listed as an Honor book.

You can view a video of the author discussing his work 'Here'.

2. 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 Little Wave' by Harry Pip

When a Manly school sets out to bring a country class to the city for a beach visit, three very different kids find each other and themselves. Noah is fearless in the surf. Being at the beach makes him feel free. So where does his courage go when his best mate pushes him around? Lottie loves collecting facts about bugs, but she wishes her dad would stop filling their lonely house with junk. She doesn’t know what to do about it. Jack wants to be a cricket star, but first he has to get to school and look after his little sister. Especially if he wants to go on the class trip and see the ocean for the first time.

This beautifully written story in verse form revolves around three quite different Primary school aged characters. The story pivots around a school assignment to write to a pen pal. The plots become interwoven. Lottie struggles to deal with her father’s grief that leads to hoarding. Noah is being bullied by his ‘best friend’. While Jack is living in poverty with a Mum who has an addiction. Diverse themes flow through the book, including of grief, poverty and bullying and poverty which are all explored. As with all situations of this kind, usually support comes from somewhere outside the household. A deserving book of the year for 'Younger Readers' (7-12 years).

Pip Harry is the author of young adult novels I’ll Tell You Mine, Head of the River and Because of You, which was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards; the Children’s Book Council of Australia – Book of the Year, Older Readers; and the Queensland Literary Awards. She currently lives and writes in Singapore.

Honour Books

'The Glimme' by Emily Rodda & illustrated by Marc McBride

Fantasy at its finest is found in this gripping read, where the spooky village of Wichaunt and The Glimme, a land of dragons ‘beyond the veil’ are vividly brought to life. Finn and Lori are brave and resourceful and learn to appreciate their family relationships. Teller is the complex, brave hero who nevertheless abandoned his son. The Housekeeper is a magical woman with an amazing secret. The villainous Bravo tricks them all with his subterfuge. Each phase of the quest is written to maximise suspense and excitement. Traditional themes of good versus evil, family relationships and letting your talent shine emerge effortlessly from the story... The extent of the detail and the breathtaking beauty of the illustrations are definite stand outs. 

Emily Rodda has been one of my favourite children's authors for decades (won't mention how many). She continues to write such special stories. Fantasy fans will just love this book. A very worthy Honour book.

'The Secrets of Magnolia Moon' by Edwina Wyatt & illustrated by Katherine Quinn

CBCA award-winning picture book author Edwina Wyatt makes her fiction debut with a whimsical tale of a curious little girl who shares more than just her surname with the moon: They're both excellent secret keepers. Magnolia Moon is nine years old, likes Greek mythology, her best friend Imogen May (who understands the importance of questions like, "If you could be one fruit, any fruit, what would you be?"), wishing trees, and speaking crows. She knows instinctively that buffadillos are armadillos crossed with buffalos and believes there are walramingos living in her garden. She's also the kind of person who can be entrusted with a great many secrets. Each chapter in this novel, which captures Magnolia's year of being nine and ends on Chapter Almost 10, reveals a secret that Magnolia is keeping. But the novel also chronicles a year of change for Magnolia. From her best friend moving to the birth of her little brother Finnegan, Magnolia navigates every challenge and secret that comes her way with the kind of authenticity and innocence that comes from being nine years wise.

 3. 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.


'My Friend Fred' by Frances Watt & illustrated by A. Yi

"My friend Fred eats dog food for breakfast. I think dog food is disgusting. My friend Fred howls at the moon. I don't know why. He does a lot of funny things. But even though we are different, Fred is my best friend."

The judges of the CBA said of the book: "This book is full of energy and movement while exploring themes of friendship, tolerance, and difference. The strong message of positive reinforcement that we can be very different in how we act, what we eat, how we behave, how we look and yet still be best friends, provides a highly satisfying ending. The short, engaging sentences, with some repetition, keep the pages turning. Together, the text and illustrations combine beautifully to present fully rounded characters."

Frances Watt gives credit to Anne Yi as the illustrator. He said of her "...she immediately saw the potential for the illustrations to support the idea of an unknown but present narrator. Whether the reader guesses the identity of the narrator through the pictorial clues or hunts for the clues on subsequent readings, the illustrations reward close observation."


Honour Books

'When Billy Was a Dog' by Kirsty Murray & illustrated by Karen Blair

'Can I please, please, please have a dog?' asked Billy.
'Would you walk it every day and wash it if it got dirty?'
'I would, I promise!' said Billy.
Billy wants a dog. He really really really wants one.
Billy's parents aren't so sure. So one morning, Billy takes matters into his own paws.



This is a very worthy Honour Book. The judges said of the work: "...The author and illustrator have worked closely to produce familiar scenes (the dilemma of owning a pet) and make the characters appealing and believable. The illustrator has mixed charcoal, watercolour and gouache to depict Billy, his family and where they live. Facial expressions and body language portray the characters’ range of emotions and feelings. The bright, appealing front cover image immediately attracts and engages young readers... The heart-warming ending provides a solid, satisfying resolution to a highly age appropriate story."

'Goodbye House, Hello House' by Margaret Wild & illustrated by Anne James

This is the last time I'll fish in this river. This is the last time I'll run through these trees. This is the last time I'll dream by this fire Goodbye, old house. Goodbye. A heartwarming story of letting go and starting anew, of moving from the country to the city, with a unique illustration style that allows room and space for the reader's imagination. Hello, new house. Hello!

Margaret Wild has given us so many wonderful books over many years, this one will not disappoint. Anne James is also a wonderful illustrator and contributes much to the success of the book. A very worthy Honour book.

4. 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.


'Young Dark Emu: A Truer History' by Bruce Pascoe

Bruce Pascoe has collected a swathe of literary awards for 'Dark Emu' and now he has brought together the research and compelling first person accounts in a book for younger readers. Using the accounts of early European explorers, colonists and farmers, Bruce Pascoe compellingly argues for a reconsideration of the hunter-gatherer label for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians. He allows the reader to see Australia as it was before Europeans arrived – a land of cultivated farming areas, productive fisheries, permanent homes, and an understanding of the environment and its natural resources that supported thriving villages across the continent. Young Dark Emu - A Truer History asks young readers to consider a different version of Australia's history pre-European colonisation.


When making the award to Bruce Pascoe the judges rightly pointed to the wonderful "Visual and textual information is produced on a traditional palette of ochre yellow, red and oranges and charcoal black. Full-page illustrations magnify and enhance detail in the historical photographs, documents, engravings, diary entries and sketches."

In doing so the author seeks to debunk... "terra nullius that positions Aboriginal people as nomadic hunter gatherers through an engaging discussion accessible to primary school and young adult readers." Instead we continue to learn how sophisticated Indigenous culture was (and is) across a period of at least 60,000 years.

Honour Books

'The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Ugly Animals' by Sami Bayly

Marvel as you enter the fascinating hidden world of ugly animals in this encyclopaedia of the animal kingdom's most unusual and beauty-challenged species. It's time for ugly animals to shine! With more than sixty ugly animals to explore, this compendium of the unusual celebrates the beauty in 'ugliness'. Children and adults alike will pore over the breathtaking scientific illustrations of unusual animals, debating their relative ugliness and merits, learning about science and nature along the way. Featuring illustrations and facts about the thorniest species the animal kingdom has to offer, from the naked mole rat to the goblin shark, aye-aye, sphinx cat, blobfish and many more 'ugly' beauties. This gorgeous hardcover book is illustrated in exquisite detail by exciting new Australian talent, Sami Bayly.

'Wilam: A Birrarung Story' by Aunty Joy Murphy & Andrew Kelly, illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

This is another stunning Indigenous picture book, from Black Dog books. Talented Indigenous artist Lisa Kennedy, respected Elder Aunty Joy Murphy and Yarra River keeper Andrew Kelly combine to create a special book. It tells the Indigenous and geographical story of Melbourne’s beautiful Yarra river, from its source to its mouth, and from its pre-history to the present day.

Lisa Kennedy is a descendant of the Trawlwoolway People on the north-east coast of Tasmania. She was born in Melbourne and as a child lived close to the Maribyrnong River. Here she experienced the gradual restoration of the natural river environment alongside cultural regeneration and reclamation. The experience of loss and reclamation is embedded in her work. The illustrations are richly coloured with a bright palette of green, red, blue, yellow and brown. Many of the plates would be stunning works of art on their own. But in combination with the text from Aunty Joy and Andrew Kelly, we have a special book to share with children aged 3-8 years of age. It is a very worthy Honour book.