Happy Book Week!
As children (and teachers and authors) around the country get out their best book-related costumes, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate the Australian Women Writers who featured among the winners and honours at the Children’s Book of the Year Awards.
Wildlife by Fiona Wood won the Older Readers section which was primarily reviewed last year. Belle’s Bookshelf described it as a book you can really relate to:
Wildlife is pretty much the perfect teen book. It is so incredibly realistic, while also being touching and inspiring. It’s a fun, easy read, but it also explores very important and deep issues. It will make you feel happy and sad and worried and excited and so many things all at once. It will tear you apart into tiny pieces, before patching you up again, just as whole, but not quite the same.
The Honour books in the Older Readers section were also written by Australian women. Faith described Fairytales for Wilde Girls (by Allyse Near) as “a gorgeously lyrical, gruesomely dark concoction“, while Shaheen and Welcome to my Library both talked about the deeply engaging world created in Claire Zorn’s The Sky So Heavy.
In the Younger Readers section, Catherine Jinks won for City of Orphans:A Very Unusual Pursuit. Welcome to my Library talks of how Jinks “has painted pictures with her words of Victorian London” while Amanda Curtin talks about how the main character is written:
The orphan Birdie is a beautifully realised, wholly believable character. Jinks arms her with a Victorian version of ‘girl power’ that would resonate strongly with young female readers especially (although the book’s appeal is wider than that), but she never breaches the boundaries of plausibility. Birdie is gutsy and forthright but always within the context of her time and place, her social position.
Light Horse Boy by Dianne Wolfer was an Honour Book in this category.
Other winners include The Swap by Jan Ormerod in the Early Childhood section with I’m a Dirty Dinosaur by Janeen Brian and Banjo and Ruby Red by Libby Gleeson being awarded Honours. In the Eve Pownall Award for Information section, Welcome To My Country by Laklak Burarrwanga and Family was an Honours book.
There weren’t a large number of children’s books reviewed over the last two months, but I wanted to highlight two reviews from A Strong Belief in Wicker which focused on picture books. The first was The Treasure Box, from the prolific author Margaret Wild (and the equally prolific illustrator, Freya Blackwood)
The Treasure Box raises issues of war, death, refugees and oppression. It also deals with hope, perseverance and the power of the human spirit. Just your average picture book stuff.
This review points out that picture books often stray far beyond ‘traditional’ topics of childhood stories, and that they’re an important medium in bringing diverse and important stories to readers. Picture books do not often appear among the reviews for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, which is a pity since they are quick to read and often have so many layers to discuss. (The Treasure Box was on the short-list for the Children’s Book of the Year awards)
A House for Donfinkle is an extraordinary, sparkling gem that teaches kids the importance of sticking to your guns and standing up for your taste in a fun, rhyming, and non-preachy way. Adults will recognise the dangers of committees, and the beauty and simplicity of a singular vision.
Seeing two reviews of books I have not come across – although I have a toddler and frequently spend time looking through the picture book section of the library – reminds me how important word of mouth, through reviews, recommendations and conversation, is when it comes to children’s books. Children’s books often get less review space than adults books and when they do receive space, this is often criticised by those who feel that children’s books are not ‘worthy’ of review. It’s librarians (in schools and public libraries), book sellers, teachers, parents and reviewers who help children’s books get out into the world – and help to get the right book into the right hands. And when we get the right books into the right hands – we can help to create readers.
I challenge everyone to read and review a picture book or children’s book by an Australian women writer in the next few months. There is some absolutely extraordinary work being done in this area, and we can support it so easily.
I’ve had a strong interest in children’s fiction since Grade 1 when a fabulous teacher bribed me with Famous Five novels. I continued reading children’s and YA books long after I was supposed to ‘grow up’ – something which served me very well when I became a teacher and was known all over the school as ‘the teacher with the books’. I’m currently on maternity leave, enjoying the rich world of picture books with my toddler and sporadically blogging over at Adventures of a Subversive Reader