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Sunday 19 March 2023

What’s on the 2023 Notables Picture Book List?

Have you been fine tuning your reading selections to target some of the great titles on the 2023 CBCA Notables list? This week Maureen shares her thoughts on titles in the Picture Book of the Year list.

I wonder….. I’ve never been very good at predicting the judges’ choices for the titles which are put onto the CBCA Short List. Though I often don’t agree with the choices, I am confident that the process has been thorough and the choices are those that the judges for that year have agreed on 

I’m going to focus only on the Picture Book category. I’ve read all but 2 of the titles on the PB Notables list and can no longer wait for the outstanding ones to come from the library. 

For me, the Picture Book list has a large number of books suited to the Early Childhood section. I wonder if this is an indication of what is being published? Are picture books viewed as being only for young readers? Are publishers not producing many picture books for more mature readers?  Or is the number of picture books included on the Notables list an indicator of the leanings of the judging panel? I don’t know the answer, and none of us do.

What have been my favourites? Remember too, there are 2 titles which I haven’t read so I haven’t been able to include or discount them. 

Be Careful Xiao Xin! by Alice Pung & Sher Rill Ng (2022), Working Title Press.

Xiao Xin thinks he is a red fire warrior but his family see the world as a dangerous place. A wonderful presentation of child and adult learning to conquer fear and developing trust. The book is bi-lingual, with visual and linguistic metaphors. Great for all ages.

Crumbs by Phil Cummings & Shane DeVries (2022), Scholastic Press. 

This is a book which shows a homeless man as a generous person and his actions have a strong impact on Ella and her father. The main theme is social inclusiveness. It reads well aloud and has some beautiful language. The illustrations portray the main characters clearly, but the backgrounds reflect the chill of the winter day. 

Dirt by Sea by Michael Wagner & Tom Jellett (20220, Penguin Random House. 

This large format book, with its comic-style illustrations, is a celebration of the Australian coastline, especially for a child raised in the dry red-centre. Daisy thinks our national anthem includes the words “dirt by sea” and Dad sets out to show her the sea and prove Australia is more than the landscape she has known.  Their road trip around the coast focuses on much that is stunning in our varied land. I’m not sure it’s shortlist quality, but I loved it. 

Farmhouse by Sophie Blackall (2022), Lothian.

Superficially, this is the story of an old American farmhouse and the family of 12 children who had lived in it, depicting the prosperous as well as the less good times. The illustrations are multi-layered, literally, and figuratively. At the end of the book, the reader sees the house as if it were a doll’s house and ends with the sad news that the building was demolished but that its valuables had been salvage.  One criticism for me is that the text is one long sentence. I would have preferred it to have some breaks to allow the reader to reflect, rather like ‘white space’ in illustrations. 

My Strange Shrinking Parents by Zeno Sworder (2022), Thames and Hudson. 

We all think our parents are strange – at least when we are young, we do. This fable is about parents who, without the money to buy what they think their child should have, barter their height throughout his life, to give him the best they can. A wonderful celebration of the sacrifice made by parents, including immigrants who arrive with nothing. Wonderful illustrations which repay the reader for careful attention to detail. 

The Tree of Ecstasy and Unbearable Sadness by Matt Ottley (2022), Dirt Lane Press. 

This is not merely a book to read, but is accompanied by a 50 minute sound track, composed by the author, which complements the text. It’s the story of a boy whose mental illness gradually takes over his life until the last section when there is hope. Even without the musical support, the story and illustrations are confronting and challenging. Readers need to come to it with kindness to themselves.  For me, this complexity and demanding nature of the content stops it being shortlist material because I think there could be readers who could be damaged by reading it without support. 

When You’re Older by Sophie Laguna & Judy Watson (2022), Allen & Unwin. 

A celebration of the bond between an older brother and his very young sibling, and all the things which are planned for the future. Young readers will empathise with the hopes of the older child. More mature readers, including adults, will appreciate the rich language and reflect on the experiences presented.   

Where? by Jordan Collins & Phil Lesnie (2022), Allen & Unwin.

This book presents a challenge to all readers to accept those around us for who they are, regardless of colour, ethnic background and beliefs and accept that everyone might look different on the outside but are very similar.  It’s based on a heartfelt poem written by the author when a teenager, having grown up in the USA, wanting to be the same as everyone else, but his skin prevented it happening. 

Whisper on the Wind  by Claire Saxby & Jess Racklyeft (2022), Allen & Unwin. 

After a dream, Ren sends a wish across the sea and the cumulative text follows that wish around the world until it is granted. The reader sees the sea in all its moods and imaginings: the ‘real’ world below the surface as well as fantastical creatures and concepts. Young readers will be able to join in to the text once they become familiar with it.

I would have liked to see My Shadow is Purple (by Scott Stuart [2022], Larrikin House) on the Picture list, rather than Early Childhood, as I think it would be powerful for slightly older readers, and there’s many discussion points within it for more mature readers. It has failings – the stereotype of blue for boys and pink for girls – but redeeming features in the recognition that we all have own skills and perspectives.  

What do you hope to see on the Short List when it is published at noon AEDT 28 March 2023?

Maureen Mann
Retired teacher librarian and avid reader

Editor's note: It is hard to pick a favourite from this list! I am still reading, but so far my top two favourite titles are Farmhouse and Be Careful, Xiao Xin! Their accessibility and the many layers of story within the illustrations are particularly strong and resonated strongly in my reading.

1 comment:

  1. I'm looking forward to seeing the pictures for Accidentally Kelly Street, and see which parts of the lyrics may have been included and which left out. I've appreciated Tim Minchin's two song to book adaptations.