Novelists use the art of suspension of disbelief in an attempt to encourage readers to surrender logic and sacrifice realism for the sake of enjoyment. Children are naturally more susceptible to stories that defy belief purely because their imaginative acceptance is less eroded than ours is. What I admire about these two middle grade novels is their easy ability to captivate the imagination and suspend disbelief, pressuring readers to levels of discomfiture whilst retraining a sense of irrefutable realism. At the end of both, you walk away loving the characters just a little bit more and happily consider risking life, limb and sanity to walk with them all over again.
Words flow like silken cream from Russon’s pen in this entrancing tale of ghosts, family disintegration and returning to ones roots. Told in alternating points of view from each family member and a couple of resident ghosts, this story heaves readers from the gumtree-clad hills of Australia to the history-rich, leafy suburbs of inner London with mysterious charm and grace.
For small children, many life-firsts can be a harrowing and daunting experience. Starting school is a prime example. However, many other situations also call for emotional resilience and understanding. These next few picture books provide helpful lessons in acceptance, each demonstrating for youngsters that is it okay to doubt, fear and ultimately embrace who you are.
Glitch is a nervous, twitchy kind of bug who trembles through his days in the rubbish heap, always full of self-doubt. June is his best mate who exudes calm and reason. Together they make a formidable team, building and racing billycarts. However, they have never won a race thanks to Glitch’s inability to handle the pressure and his severe lack of self-belief. It is not until he is forced to take the reins, aka steering wheel in their next big race that Glitch learns that it is not about winning or losing, but rather being brave enough to give it your best and enjoy the ride. Glitch is an exhilarating tale spiced with plenty of entertaining alliteration and action to keep readers glued to their seats and cheering for their new hero until the very end. An encouraging read for pre-school and early primary aged readers.
The CBCA (Children’s Book Council of Australia) Notables (or long lists) have been announced today.
The short lists will be announced on Friday 20th May at the national conference which is held in Sydney this year.
I’ve listed my favourites (of those I’ve read) below: BOOK OF THE YEAR: EARLY CHILDHOOD
I interviewed the delightful Sara Acton for the most recent edition of Magpies magazine. As Big as Youopens up vertically instead of the usual horizontal format to show height. Sara is one of our new illustrators to watch.
Janeen Brian and Ann James have produced innovative picture books in I’m a Dirty Dinosaur and I’m a Hungry Dinosaur(which I reviewed here). It is hard to go past mud and chocolate icing as illustrative media.
Some other favourites are Perfect by Danny Parker and Freya Blackwood, This is a Ball by Beck Stanton and Matt Stanton and This & That by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek.
PICTURE BOOK OF THE YEAR
Perfect is nominated again in picture book of the year. Other personal favourites are Flightby Armin Greder and Nadia Wheatley. This impressive book seems to be telling a version of the Nativity story but also becomes a refugee story. And there are parallels between Jesus’ early life and that of a refugee. Matt Ottley is long listed twice: for a story of incarceration and hope in Suri’s Wall, written by Lucy Estela and the incomparable Teacup, a refugee storywritten by Rebecca Young.
Other standouts are Where’s Jessie? by Anne Spudvilas and Janeen Brian (again), Mr Huff by Anna Walker, Adelaide’s Secret World by Elise Hurst and How the Sun Got to Coco’s House by Bob Graham. This is a really strong list and also includes some non-fiction books such as My Gallipoli by Robert Hannaford and Ruth Starke, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda by Bruce Whatley and Eric Bogle and Platypus by Mark Jackson and Sue Whiting.
THE EVE POWNALL AWARD FOR INFORMATION BOOKS looks particularly strong this year and includes We are the Rebels by Clare Wright, Lennie the Legend by Stephanie Own Reeder, The White Mouse: The Story of Nancy Wakeby Peter Gouldthorpe, Atmospheric by Carole Wilkinson, and I could easily go on…
BOOK OF THE YEAR: OLDER READERS My picks are Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, Freedom Ride by Sue Lawson (which has just been shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards), The Beauty is in the Walking by James Moloney, The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex by Gabrielle Williams (also shortlisted for the NSW Prems) and Inbetween Daysby Vikki Wakefield, who I am chairing in three sessions at the upcoming SWF. Meg McKinlay is listed here for A Single Stone, continuing her run of being long and shortlisted in both YA and children’s awards.
The recent CBCA shortlisted Book of the Year for Younger Readers is an impressive list, not least because of the strength of the books that are Notables but didn’t make the shortlist. Younger Readers is traditionally a category of the awards that receives an enormous number of entries and it is thrilling that the quality is so high this year.
Many of the shortlisted books are aimed at upper primary age children, which is the case most years, although The Cleo Stories:The Necklace and The Present by Libby Gleeson, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Allen & Unwin) is for much younger readers.
It is surprisingly difficult to find an outstanding junior novel. Books in series, for example, often cater for the seven to nine year-olds, and picture books and simple chapter books cater for even younger children. Libby Gleeson achieved the feat of creating an excellent junior novel years ago with the brilliant Hannah Plus One (which did become a series). In TheCleo Stories (for even younger readers than Hannah), she acknowledges the situations and feelings of a young girl, firstly when she wants to be like the other girls and then when she needs a present for her mother. The character of Cleo and her concerns reminds me of Anna Branford’s lovely Violet Mackerel – one of the titles in the series was a Notable book this year.
Realism novels dominate the 2015 short list. Steven Herrick always does an authentic portrayal of relatable primary school kids and the groups they mix in. Bleakboy and Hunter Stand Out in the Rain (UQP), about a new boy who is bullied, works well in prose rather than the verse novel form he often uses. It also looks at environmental issues.
Ben in Two Wolves by Tristan Bancks (Random House) tries to deny the trauma in his life but is forced to confront the troubles caused by his parents and use his own initiative.
Figgy in the World by Tamsin Janu (Omnibus Books, Scholastic) is quite different from the other shortlisted books, being set in Ghana. Figgy’s grandmother is ill so Figgy is running away to the United States of America to buy medicine. It gives an excellent insight into another world at an appropriate level for primary-aged Australian children.
Withering-by-Sea: a Stella Montgomery Intrigue by Judith Rossell (ABC Books, HarperCollins) is a gothic mystery but the fact that it is the first in the ‘Stella Montgomery Intrigue’, rather than ‘Mystery’ gives an insight into Judith Rossell’s original and quirky style.
Some of the Notable standouts that missed out are Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy by Karen Foxlee, The Ratcatcher’s Daughter by Pamela Rushby, Paper Planes by Allayne L. Webster, The Crossing by Catherine Norton and Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll by Rosanne Hawke.