April is a busy month for award-watching: the inaugural Stella Prize is announced on April 16, longlists for the Kibble & Dobbie Awards were released, along with those for the the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and, for those of us with a specific interest in books for younger readers, the much-anticipated Children’s Book Council of Australia shortlists were announced, long in advance of Book Week in August, when the winners are revealed.
The Older Readers (Young Adult) category of the CBCA Awards has attracted a lot of attention and criticism, including from this critic and observer (me: here!), for having a long-standing habit of favouring books by men and those with male protagonists, a ‘trend’ that can be easily traced back to the early 90s. This is starting to shift and this year we see an even-spread between male and female writers in the CBCA Older Readers shortlist. I’ve just completed serving my 3rd consecutive term as judge for the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature (the YA category) for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and this more than tallies with my own reading over the past five years—some of the most innovative and challenging YA fiction of recent years has been written by women, so it’s great to see the CBCA awards catching up on that at last.
Women writers for younger readers (early childhood through to the tween years) have fared rather better in awards, with writers such as Ruth Park, Robin Klein, Emily Rodda, Jackie French, Anna Fienberg and Elizabeth Honey consistently being recognised over two decades (and more) for their critically and popularly-acclaimed children’s novels. (Honey is, of course, also a highly accomplished illustrator.) Similarly Margaret Wild and Libby Gleeson have been CBCA shortlist stalwarts for their beautifully crafted picture book texts, illustrated by many different illustrators, but perhaps none more sympathetically than Julie Vivas (the former) and Freya Blackwood (the latter).
Alison Lester, one of our first Children’s Laureates, is another of those rare people who crosses over successfully between writing and illustrating picture books and fiction for older children. Ursula Dubosarsky, who is also a multiple winner of the NSW Premier’s Literary Award, may be in a league of her own, having also received shortlistings in the older readers, younger readers, picture book, early childhood and Eve Pownall Award for Information Books categories—I’d hazard a guess she’s the only writer, male or female, to have done so. And no mention of the modern history of the CBCA Awards would be complete without mention of Jeannie Baker, who is as equally lauded as a fine visual artist as she is for her remarkable body of work as perhaps our pre-eminent picture book author/illustrator. Other women writers and illustrators of children’s fiction and picture books given consistent recognition by the CBCA awards in the past 10 or so years include Glenda Millard, Catherine Bateson, Kate Constable, Sarah Davis, Lisa Shanahan, Anna Branford, Emma Quay, Bronwyn Bancroft, Rebecca Cool and Sally Murphy. (More, please, in the comments!)
This year’s CBCA shortlist recognises these fine books for children by Australian women writers and illustrators.
Jackie French, Pennies for Hitler (Review by Jenny Hale)
Sonya Hartnett, Children of the King (Review from My Book Corner)
Glenda Millard, The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk (Stephen Michael King, illustrations) (Review from Children’s Books Daily)
Julie Hunt, The Coat (Ron Brooks, illustrations) (Review by Sally Murphy at Aussie Reviews)
Margaret Wild, Tanglewood (Vivienne Goodman, illustrations) (Review by Fran Knight at Read Plus)
Alison Lester, Sophie Scott Goes South (Review by Rebecca Newman at Soup Blog)
Glenda Millard, Lightning Jack (Patricia Mullins, illustrations) (Review by Pat Pledger at Read Plus)
Jackie French, A Day to Remember (Mark Wilson, illustrations) (Review by Tania McCartney at Kids Book Review)
Perhaps not so curiously, the Early Childhood shortlist is dominated by women writers and illustrators:
Emma Allen, The Terrible Suitcase (Freya Blackwood, illustrations) (Review by Jackie Small at My Little Bookcase)
Tania Cox, With Nan (Karen Blair, illustrations) (Review at Adventures of a Subversive Reader)
Sue DeGennaro, The Pros & Cons of Being a Frog (Review from Kids Book Review)
Ursula Dubosarsky, Too Many Elephants in This House (Andrew Joyner, illustrations) (Review by Katrina Whelen at Babyology)
Christine Harris, It’s a Miroocool! (Ann James, illustrations) (Review by Thuy On at Fancy Goods)
Anna Walker Peggy (Review by Kristy Diffey at webchild)
Eve Pownall Award for Information Books:
Jackie Kerin, Lyrebird! A True Story (Peter Gouldthorpe, illustrations) (Review by Susan Whelan at Kids Book Review)
Kirsty Murray, Topsy-turvey World: How Australian Animals Puzzled Early Explorers (Review by Anastasia Gonis at The Reading Stack)
Kristin Weidenbach, Tom the Outback Mailman (Timothy Ide, illustrations) (Review from webchild)
So, a good year for women writers and illustrators for children. It’s also well worth checking out the CBCA Notables list, a longlist of outstanding titles recommended by the CBCA judges each year. A fully annotated copy of the list will be available closer to Children’s Book Week in August. (Although, is it just me, or has the Notables list shrunk significantly over the years? Only around 17 or so books have made each of the categories Notables list, and I know from my own reading there were plenty more outstanding YA and children’s books published in this country last year. I’m not a fan of quotas: surely Notable should mean quality, not quantity?)
I’m not at liberty to comment in any detail about the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards shortlists, given my role as Chair of the Ethel Turner Prize panel (our confidentiality agreement extends to the entire awards), but there’s nothing stopping me from noting that Glenda Millard has also been shortlisted for The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk (one of only a small number of books shortlisted for both the CBCA and the NSW Premier’s Awards this year) and Carole Wilkinson for Dragonkeeper Book 4: Blood Brothers (review by Sharon Greenaway). Both these books are the latest installments in substantial series for young readers (Millard’s book is the 6th in the Kingdom of Silk series), a testament both to the popularity of series fiction with young readers and the quality maintained by both these seasoned, accomplished children’s authors.
You can see the children’s books reviewed for the AWW challenge here.
About Judith Ridge:
A friend once called me the Swiss Army Knife of children’s books. I’ve been a teacher, editor, critic, writer, and arts program manager, all focusing on literature for children and young adults. I am a Churchill Fellow and I wrote my MA thesis on feminist criticism, narrative theory and fairytale retellings for teenagers. I’ve just finished my 4th stint as judge on the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. I am currently working on a novel for children, and I recently had my first poem for children published in The NSW School Magazine. My current day job is here. You can read more about me here.