Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Review of Children's Book Council of Australia Awards 2021


It's always a joy to review the Australian Children's Book Council Awards each year. This year my review is a little later than usual, but 2021 has been quite a year. In this post I review the winners and honour books for the following categories 'Younger Readers' (7-12 years of age), 'Early Childhood', 'Picture Book of the Year', and the 'Eve Pownall Award' (Factual material children 0-18 years).

1.     1. Younger readers (7-12 years)

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. 7-12 years.



Aster’s Good, Right Things', by Kate Gordon, Riveted Press 

Aster attends a school for gifted kids, but she doesn't think she's special at all. If she was, her mother wouldn't have left. And if she isn’t careful, everyone else will leave her too. Each day Aster must do a good, right thing – a challenge she sets herself, to make someone else’s life better. Nobody can know about her ‘things’, because then they won’t count. And if she doesn’t do them, she knows everything will go wrong. Then she meets Xavier. He wears princess pajamas and has his own kind of special missions to make life better. When they do these missions together, Aster feels free…but if she stops doing her good, right things will everything fall apart?


This multi-layered novel for 10-13 year olds addresses the all too common issue of family breakups and its impact on children. As children deal with this friendships can make a difference. Aster isn't the type of child who everyone is drawn towards. She's anxious and lives each day with rituals. Her Dad and an Aunt understand her and her anxiety, insecurity and fears. School is a great struggle, and is made much worse by Indigo, an angry girl who has her own inner struggles that trigger anger, hatred and frustration, which she projects onto the hapless Aster.


Aster tries to deal with her challenges by doing a good, and right thing each day. She sets herself these challenges to make someone else’s life better. But she does them secretly, because she figures that if they know about her ‘things’, then they won’t count.  This is a complex novel for younger readers (aged 10-12) which any teacher or parent should read before giving it to a ten year old.

Kate Gordon grew up in a small town by the sea in Tasmania. Previous titles include ‘The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn(UQP, in 2020), ‘The Juno Jones, Word Ninja’ series (Yellow Brick Books), Rhiza Edge, ‘Three Things About Daisy Blue’ (Allen & Unwin) and ‘Writing Clementine’ with Allen and Unwin.



1. ‘The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst’ by Jaclyn Moriarty (illus. by Kelly Canby), Allen & Unwin

Long ago, the little Prince of Cloudburst was stolen from the seashore by a Water Sprite. Now, ten years later, the prince has found his way home. The King and Queen are planning the biggest party in their Kingdom's history to welcome him. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Kingdoms and Empires, Esther Mettlestone-Staranise is looking forward to another year at Katherine Valley Boarding School. But she arrives to find a number of strange and unsettling changes...

Jaclyn Moriarty is the author of a number of excellent novels for children, young adults and adults. These have included the international bestsellers 'Feeling Sorry for Celia' and 'Finding Cassie Crazy', as well as the 'Colours of Madeleine' trilogy. 


2. ‘Worse Things’, by Sally Murphy (illus. by Sarah Davis), Walker Books Australia

By Sally Murphy
Illustrated by Sarah Davis

This is a story of connections (and disconnections). 

When you’re part of the team, the sideline is a place of refuge, of rest, of reprieve. 

But when you’re out of the team, the sideline changes.

Suddenly it’s the loneliest place of them all.

Worse Things is a story about connections. How they are made, and what happens when they are lost or just plain illusive. Most children will experience these emotions from a very young age for a variety of reasons. 

After a devastating football injury, Blake struggles to cope with life on the sideline. Jolene, a gifted but conflicted hockey player, wants nothing more than for her dad to come home. And soccer-loving refugee, Amed, wants to belong. On the surface, it seems they have nothing in common. Except sport. A touching and inspirational story about the things that bind us all. As well as being a great author Sally Murphy is a university academic who "teaches teachers how to teach". 

Sally Murphy grew up loving books, babies and beaches, and nothing much has changed. Now she is grown up (though she tries hard not to be), she thinks a perfect day is one which involves reading, writing, walking or swimming at the beach, time with her six (also grown up) children, her grandchildren, and long-suffering husband. When she isn’t doing these things, Sally is a university academic, teaching teachers how to teach.

Sarah Davis is a multiple award-winning illustrator, and associate art director for Walker Books Australia. You'll see her work in many well-known books like the popular 'Violet Mackerell' series from Walker Books. She won the CBCA Crichton Illustration Award for her first picture book, Mending Lucille, in 2009, and since then has gone on to illustrate more than 40 titles, in a range of styles and genres.

2. 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 0-6 years.



‘No! Never!’ by Libby Hathorn & Lisa Hathorn-Jarman (illus. by Mel Pearce), Hachette Australia. 

This is such an easy book to love! Co-written by the legendary Libby Hathorn and Lisa Hathorn-Jarmon, it is a story that every parent will understand immediately, and I guess, every child (from a different perspective of course)! Every parent will remember how quickly children can stamp their feet and perhaps show the flat palm and shout "No never" or words to that effect. It is bound to get attention, but it's also an opportunity for parents to learn how to deal with it, and for children to learn just when these words are appropriate, and when they might not help one's cause.


Honour Books


1. ‘Anemone is not the Enemy’ by Anna McGregor, Scribble Kids

Anemone lives alone in the rock pool. The tide comes in and the tide goes out.

Anemone lives alone in the rock pool. The tide comes in and the tide goes out.

All Anemone wants is a friend, but friends are hard to make when you accidentally sting everyone who comes near you.

Perhaps Clownfish has a solution to the problem ...

This delightful picture book might look like another amusing picture book with minimal text, but it is a quirky and funny book that teaches us about the wonder of rock-pool life. Any child who can recall the first time they looked into a rock pool how wondrous it was. And for those children who haven't, they might just pester their parents to take them to the seashore to explore one.

The colourful and digitally produced illustrations and simple text will delight all young readers.





2. ‘We Love You, Magoo', by Briony Stewart, Penguin Random House Australia

Magoo is a dog who has his very own ideas about a dog's life. What he can and should do in the kitchen, the car, dinnertime and bedtime! But there are so many annoying rules! Why are there Sooo many things a dog can't do? This is a book especially for Magoo (and those who love dogs like Magoo). 

This is a wonderful read-aloud picture book that will be read many times. Perhaps we'll recognise some of the Magoo in our own dogs?

The author and illustrator Briony Stewart is known internationally as an author and illustrator, including several award-winning books for children. Briony completed a double degree in Fine Art and Creative Writing at Curtin University. After graduating she won a Queensland based writing prize. The story soon became her first published book, Kumiko and the Dragon, which won the Aurealis award for Children’s short fiction in 2008.

In 2012, Briony completed a nine-month creative development fellowship in the UK after being selected by the British Council as one of five young Australian artists excelling in their creative field. Since then, Briony has published numerous successful titles. Most notably, her book Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers won the 2012 Queensland Literary Prize for Children's Fiction.












3. Picture Book of the Year




'How to Make a Bird' written by Meg McKinlay & Illustrated by Matt Ottley

When you have Matt Ottley and Meg McKinlay working together you should expect great things to result, and 'How to Make a Bird' does NOT disappoint. What a stunning book! How on earth can you take the idea of a child making a bird, and then turn it into a moving and uplifting tale of beauty and wonder at creatures in our world? First you need a writer who can craft words with minimalism and power, and second you need an artist who can turn words into images that create a work that is greater than the sum of its two parts. That's what we have in this extraordinary work. One of the most stunning picture books that I've seen for quite some time. 

We shadow the protagonist as she contemplates the blue print of an idea, collects the things that inspire from the natural world to shape a bird. And breathes life into it before letting it fly free. It shows how small things, combined with a little imagination and a steady heart, can transform into works of magic.

The story commences “To make a bird you will need a lot of very tiny bones …” But only when you have cast your bird into the air and you have watched it "stretch out just a little and ... tremble as it fills, inside its tiny, racing heart, with the dreams only a bird can dream of open sky and soaring flight" will you know that you have actually created a bird.

Children will return again and again to this wonderful book.

 Suitable for readers 5 to 100 years!

Honour Books

1. 'Not Cute', Philip Bunting, Scholastic Australia

'Not Cute' from author and illustrator, Philip Bunting is a worthy Honour Book in the CBCA awards for 2021. The illustrations are delightful with a Quokka (as you'd expect from the title) is, well, very cute! As much as tries to convince others that he is actually VERY dangerous, Dingo, Redback, and Crocodile are not buying it!

Once there was a quokka.
Quokka was very cute.
But Quokka did not like being cute.
Not one bit …

Not Cute is a simple story about self-acceptance, listening to others, and not succumbing to your own delusions. This is a story about being yourself. The end pages include a quote from fable teller Aesop, “The stubborn listen to nobody’s advice and become a victim of their own delusions”. A great story that will help children to understand that they need to beware of the unintended consequences of their actions. Readers from 2-5 years will love this book.

Philip Bunting's previous books, which he both wrote and illustrated include MopokeKoalas Eat Gum Leaves and Kookaburras Love to Laugh

2. 'Your Birthday Was the Best!' Written by Maggie Hutchings & illustrated by Felicita Sala

Hutchings and Sala work in perfect union to introduce the reader to the amusing antics of these cockroach anti-heroes. The result is a series of witty situations which encourages the reader to consider that bugs might revel in all things gross such as hairy cheese and toenails. The minimal and powerful text gives room for the illustrations to carry much of the story.

Maggie Hutchings is a counsellor, family-dispute mediator, writer and artist who spends her weekends covered in paint and scribbling lists that are never completed. In this simple story, a feisty young cockroach gate-crashes a birthday party  – with hilarious results. Funny, silly and surprisingly cute, Your Birthday Was the BEST! is the perfect blend of downright gross and delightfully entertaining.

Felicitas Sala is an incredible illustrator and author who is gaining a big reputation internationally. She is the author/illustrator for the best-selling 'Mermaid!' and 'Unicorn!' Felicitas was born in Rome in 1981. She grew up in Perth, where she graduated in Philosophy from the University of Western Australia. She now lives and works in Italy. She has illustrated many picture books for American, Canadian, Italian and French publishers. Her Book 'She Made a Monster' (written by Lynn Fulton) was selected among the 10 best illustrated books of 2018 by the New York Times.