Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Sunday 28 August 2011

I guess ‘controversy sells?’ - by CBCA judge Jenni Connor

Christopher Bantick, in the Mercury 23 August, went into quite a rant about the CBCA judges selecting Nicki Greenwood’s Hamlet as joint winner of the Picture Book of the Year category. Bantick’s burning concerns were two-fold:

  1. that ‘new mums’ (a patronising term I wouldn’t have used) might somehow take the CBCA sticker as a global mark of ‘quality’ and choose Hamlet for their newborn baby; 
  2. that ‘the once sacrosanct world of children’s books where the good guys always won, animals talked, possums ate lamingtons and princes and princesses fell in love, has been appropriated ... by hard core peddlers of violence, sex, incest, suicide and family dysfunctionalism’ (Shakespeare, of course, DOES deal with all of the above and I’m not sure devotees would take kindly to him being described as a ‘hard core peddler’)

In the first instance:  ‘mums’, as the Mercury headline to my letter points out, are ‘not that silly’. They are not going to pick an enormous, visually complex & expensive tome off the shelf, flick through it and conclude that ‘baby might like this’. They will go to the picture book shelves and/or seek the advice of a good bookseller. Or they might refer to the CBCA Book of the Year: Early Childhood list, from which they will find a wealth of suitable titles, including Lester’s Noni the Pony and Niland’s It’s Bedtime William as well as the very deserving Winner and Honour Books in that category. My absolute favourite is Maudie and Bear, by Jan Omerod and Freya Blackwood.

Secondly, CBCA does badge its categories for the Awards and the Picture Book category clearly states ‘Some books may be for mature readers’.

Bantick is obviously out of touch with developments over at least the last ten years, in which ‘picture books’ have broadened from ‘books for the very young’ to include sophisticated works in which literary and artistic unity is achieved, and which are worthy of serious study by young people in secondary schooling. Hence the establishment of two categories – ‘Early Childhood’ and ‘Picture Book Award’.

Perhaps the image accompanying Bantick’s article gives us a clue – although, to be fair, he may not have chosen it. The image is of a delightfully privileged-looking mother, with two squeaky clean blonde children, reading a book from the Moomintroll series published in Finland and Sweden. Moomintroll is beloved worldwide but it’s an odd choice for an article castigating the Children’s Book Council of Australia (also, note from Kate, I wonder if Bantick has seen this wonderful blog post about sexuality in the Moomintroll series http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/05/tove-jaanson-out-of-the-closet).

The merits of Hamlet, the graphic novel for adolescents and beyond, can and should be debated. Debate about books for children and young people is healthy and informed choice is very much encouraged.
But, it really does pay to get on top of your subject matter before you attack an organisation as prestigious and hard-working as the Children’s Book Council.

Friday 19 August 2011

And the winner is ...

... and so do the CBCA judges after another tough year!

Another year, another list, and from that list an even smaller list of booky awesomeness. Book lovers watch the CBCA Award announcement with keen little owl eyes, and it always provokes its shares of contention and controversy. Here are this year's winners and honour books:

Older Readers Book of the Year 2011

NOTE: These books may be for mature readers
WINNER Hartnett, Sonya – The Midnight Zoo, Viking Books, Penguin Group (Australia)
HONOUR Crowley, Cath – Graffiti Moon, Pan Macmillan Australia
HONOUR MacLeod, Doug – The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher, Penguin Books, Penguin Group (Australia)

Younger Readers Book of the Year 2011

NOTE: These books are intended for independent younger readers
WINNER Carmody, Isobelle – The Red Wind, Viking Books, Penguin Group (Australia)
HONOUR Bauer, Michael Gerard – Just a Dog, Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia
HONOUR Branford, Anna, Illus: Davis, Sarah – Violet Mackerel's Brilliant Plot, Walker Books

Early Childhood Book of the Year 2011

NOTE: Intended for children in the pre-reading to early reading stages
WINNER Ormerod, Jan, Illus: Blackwood, Freya – Maudie and Bear, Little Hare Books
HONOUR Champion, Tom Niland & Niland, Kilmeny, Illus: Niland, Deborah, The Tall Man and the Twelve Babies, Allen & Unwin
HONOUR Norrington, Leonie, Illus: Huxley, Dee – Look See, Look at Me, Allen & Unwin

Picture Book of the Year 2011

NOTE: Intended for an audience ranging from birth to 18 years. Some books may be for mature readers
JOINT WINNER Baker, Jeannie – Mirror, Walker Books
JOINT WINNER Greenberg, Nicki – Hamlet, Allen & Unwin
HONOUR Bancroft, Bronwyn – Why I Love Australia, Little Hare Books
HONOUR Riddle, Tohby – My Uncle's Donkey, Viking Books, Penguin Group (Australia)

Eve Pownall Book of the Year 2011

NOTE: Intended for an audience ranging from birth to 18 years. Some books may be for mature readers
WINNER Ursula Dubosarsky, Illus: Riddle, Tohby - The Return of the Word Spy, Viking Books, Penguin Group (Australia)
HONOUR Brooks, Ron – Drawn From the Heart: A Memoir, Allen & Unwin
HONOUR One Arm Point Remote Community School – Our World: Bardi Jaawi: Life at Ardiyooloon, Magabala Books

Now, it's over to you! What do YOU think of this year's list? Let us know. We love a bit of debate and controversy!!!

Monday 15 August 2011

The CBCA Awards - a judge's perspective

Don’t forget: next Friday (August 19th at noon), the CBCA Book of the Year results will be announced, and Children’s Book Week will be underway. This is always a time of excitement and debate. Some people will think the judges have made exactly the right decision and others will wonder how our children’s book awards can be so wrong. And then of course there are those who stand somewhere in the middle. I wonder where you will be this year.

Literature is such a personal choice. What I adore today may not be what I really like tomorrow, because in that short time I have read something else which changes my outlook slightly. And we need to remember that the judges have read all the books submitted and make their decisions based on this. None of the rest of us has done this. The judges use very clearly stated criteria based on literary merit for their choices. But it is wonderful that there is discussion about the awards because that keeps the world of Australian children’s literature thriving.

You can find the short list on the Children’s Book Council of Australia website (http://cbca.org.au/Shortlist_2011.htm), so check it out if you haven’t already done so. And the criteria used by the judges can be found under Information for Publishers: http://cbca.org.au/userfiles/file/Downloads/Nat%20Site/2011/awards%20criteria.pdf .

I have recently been in Canada and spent time looking at some of their many awards given to children’s and young adult literature there. I chose my favourite genre of picture books and especially the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award, administered by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. You can find details of all Canadian children’s books awards at http://www.bookcentre.ca/awards/canadian_awards_index.
The Short List for the 2011 Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award was announced June 14 and the winners will be named October 4. To be eligible, the book must
  • have artistic and literary unity,
  • be a seamless integration of text, illustrations and design,
  • be an original work in English (or the translation published simultaneously),
  • be aimed at children ages three to eight,
  • be written and illustrated by Canadians and first published in Canada.
The prize money is $20,000. The choices are made by a panel of three children’s literature specialists. Details of the awards can be found at http://www.bookcentre.ca/awards/marilyn_baillie_picture_book_award

And here are the shortlisted books:

I Know Here 
Written by Laurel Croza, illustrated by Matt James
Groundwood Books, for ages 5-7
A young girl (first person narration) learns that her family is to move from her known rural environment to Toronto with all the worries and fears that going into the unknown produces. She shows the reader all her favourite places full of great memories, comparing the certainty of now with the uncertainty of the future. As adult readers we understand that her family are itinerant workers and this would lead to some great discussions with child readers. The illustrations are child-like and there’s good use of whitespace on the page. The endpaper maps would help all readers, but especially those from outside Canada.

In Front of My House
Written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc. Translated by Yvette Ghione
Kids Can Press, for ages 3-7.
This circular story reflects the imagination of a child who starts by looking at her immediate environment but quickly expanding into a broader journey, the whimsical and the improbable but eventually coming home again. The format remains constant throughout the book. The right hand page includes a positional phrase. Turn the page and on the left an object is named and is illustrated opposite, with the next positional phrase below it. There is wonderful use of white space, with plenty of scope for young imaginations to create their own environment.

Singing Away the Dark
Written by Caroline Woodward, illustrated by Julie Morstad
Simply Read Books, for ages 4-8
The child narrator starts her song with the words, “When I was six and went to school, I walked a long, long way …” and then takes us on her journey through the dark and snowy woods to catch the bus. For most Australian children this winter journey is outside their experience but many will understand the worries of being alone and the fear of getting lost. This is another book with great use of white space which rests the eyes but also represents the wintry journey.

Spork written by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Kids Can Press, for ages 3-8
Spork is the child of a spoon and a fork and doesn’t quite have any of the advantages of either of his parents. He doesn’t fit in with either the various shaped forks nor the spoons, until one day a messy thing arrives and Spork is exactly what is wanted. This book is a celebration of difference and the need to fit in. I am not a great fan of anthropomorphism but in this story it works and the humour in both verbal and visual texts adds to the finished product.

Stanley’s Little Sister written by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Bill Slavin
Kids Can Press, for ages 3-7
This is the most recent of the Stanley series. When a new kitten comes into Stanley’s house, his nose is put out of joint but he tries to make friends. He hasn’t yet learned how to behave around this new sibling. Through trial and error, creating mayhem and annoying his people in the process, Stanley finally gives up trying so hard. The result is friendship and acceptance. Children will enjoy the humour in illustrations and words. For me, though, some pictures are too dark and the text placement isn’t as successful as it could be.

So which is my favourite? At the moment I’m wavering between I Know Here and In Front of My House. My three year old grandson much prefers In Front of My House with its whimsy and outlandish inclusions. I wonder what the judges will choose. Much like I wonder which will be winners in the CBCA Book of the Year Awards. We’ll soon know.

Have you read any of the books on the Canadian shortlist? Do you think major book awards lead to international recognition?

What do you think of the CBCA Awards? Do they have their finger on the pulse of great contemporary Australian literature?

And, finally, what do YOU think of THIS year's list? What will win? What SHOULD win? And which books SHOULD have been on the list?

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Every School Library Should Own This Book! (Patsy goes to the launch of One Small Island)


I was fortunate enough to attend the Hobart launch of this new book a week or so ago – I had been waiting and waiting for this for months! And now I have my signed copy!

Coral Tulloch
Why was I so keen to get my hands on a copy of this book about Macquarie Island? There are a couple  of reasons. One is that, in my opinion, both author/illustrators are excellent, and we can rely on their output being of high quality. And as a member of the Tasmanian National Parks Association for some years, I have been concerned at the ‘she’ll be right, mate!’ attitude shown in the past by both federal and state government as the World Heritage Macquarie Island continued to deteriorate. The Association has kept up a postcard campaign for several years and has published articles in its newsletter in an attempt to raise the importance of the issue in public and political eyes.

Yes, I’ll admit, some problems have been addressed, but it has taken so long – an island at that latitude will not recover rapidly from the despoliation caused to its flora and fauna by species introduced by exploitative humanity.

Alison Lester
The book itself, through the covers, the endpapers, the text, and the detailed artwork, contains material which addresses many issues relevant to Macquarie Island. Its geology, its exploitation as a source of seal and penguin oil, its history associated with Antarctic explorers, the impact of feral species on the island, and the conservation message are all there.

Every school library, whether primary or secondary, should have its copies, and every family will find it a source of information and discussion with a wide range of ages.

Congratulations to Alison and Coral for their thoughtful contribution to available material on Macquarie Island!

- Patsy Jones, President, CBCA Tasmanian Branch