War and the CBCA 2016 Shortlisted Picture Books

War is a recurring theme in the 2016 CBCA shortlisted books and dominates the picture book category.

RideRide Ricardo Ride by Phil Cummings, illustrated by Shane Devries (Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia) has an Italian war setting, where the soldiers are portrayed as menacing shadows. It particularly looks at the relationship between Ricardo and his father, who work together on Ricardo’s bike  (a major symbol in the book).

The illustrations include panels superimposed over larger digital paintings and strategic cropping of heads, and it looks to be influenced by the artwork of John Brack.

Suri’s Wall by Lucy Estela, illustrated by Matt Ottley (Penguin Random House) has the inevitable sorry pairing of war and refugees.Suri wall

Suri is treated with suspicion by the other children who live with her behind the wall because she is tall. But her height enables her to look over the wall to see the devastation beyond. However, she tells them tales of very different settings inspired by imagination and beauty. Themes include occupation, difference, imagination, resilience, compassion and hope. Books with similar issues and themes are The Cat at the Wall by Deborah Ellis, The Wall by William Sutcliffe and The Kites are Flying by Michael Morpurgo.

FlightFlight by Nadia Wheatley, illustrated by Armin Greder (Windy Hollow Books) has already been shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary awards – the Patricia Wrightson prize. It begins with a small family fleeing into the desert to escape persecution, which parallels the Biblical story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus fleeing to Egypt. It shows how “an ancient story becomes a fable for our times”. The merging of the Biblical story with a contemporary refugee tale has been more than seven years in the making with prominent author Nadia Wheatley (My Place, Papunya) writing many drafts.

And the BandAnd the Band Played Waltzing Matilda by Bruce Whatley & Eric Bogle (Allen & Unwin) is a confronting anti war cry. It is a ballad as a protest song – and is not for young readers. It’s about Gallipoli, although written in response to the Vietnam War. It is structured around the Eric Bogle song, as well as Waltzing Matilda.

The illustrations could be compared with Whatley’s illustrations for Jackie French’s The Beach they Called Gallipoli (digitally manipulated photos & pen in watercolour and acrylic collages). Here the illustrations feature searing line drawings, allusive blood splotches and are dominated by the narrator soldier’s direct gaze.

stepOne Step at a Time by Jane Jolly (who wrote Tea and Sugar Christmas), illustrated by Sally Heinrich (Midnight Sun Publishing), explores the repercussions of land mines in Burma. The illustrations are reproductions of hand coloured lino prints. Panelling (panel strips) and movement lines are used effectively across the cover and elsewhere. Repeated motifs of elephants and other symbols make decorative borders but the underlying issue in this book is not pretty.

My Dead BunnyMy Dead Bunny by Sigi Cohen, illustrated by James Foley (Walker Books) is not a war story in the conventional sense, although it is raising heated views. It is a zombie rabbit tale, told with over the top humour and rhyming couplets: “I poked at Bradley with a stick – his fur was muddy, damp and thick, and in his final resting place, the worms had tried to eat his face”. The illustrations are in digital comic style using a predominately black and white colour scheme with sparing touches of lime and orange.

YA at the SWF: Vikki Wakefield and the Best and Worst Years of our Lives

Vikki WakefieldLast week I spent three days with four top YA writers at the Sydney Writers Festival. We travelled from Roslyn Packer Theatre at the Wharf in the city, to Parramatta Riverside Theatre and our third day was at the Chatswood Concourse. These enormous venues were filled with secondary students from schools in Sydney and further afield.

Our two international author guests were John Boyne (Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Boy at the Top of the Mountain) and Michael Grant (Gone, Front Lines) and one of our Australian authors was Claire Zorn whose publication of her new novel One Would Think the Deep was rushed forward in time for the SWF.

Our other Australian writer was Vikki Wakefield.

Vikki Wakefield spoke about how being a teenager can be the best – or worst – years of our life. Vikki spoke honestly and vulnerably about once being voted the girl least likely to succeed, failing high school but learning to discover the extraordinary in life.

She lives in the Adelaide Hills and loved horses when she was growing up. She has written some short film scripts and does party tricks, one of which she demonstrated on stage after a request by the audience.

Her novels are mainly for mature YA readers.

Her first two YA novels All I Ever Wanted and Friday Brown have won awards and Friday Brown was shortlisted for the prestigious Prime Minister’s Award and CBCA award.

One girl in the audience declared that Friday Brown changed her life. Friday Brown

I think that Vikki must be nocturnal and I’m guessing that she always refused to go to the movies at the cinema and would go to the drive-in instead. Drive-ins feature in Vikki’s latest novel Inbetween Days.

Vikki sets this novel in an Australian town, with the thought provoking name of ‘Mobius’.

The main character is 17 year old Jack (nickname for Jacklin) who’s left school and her life seems pretty meaningless but she hopes for a better future.

Jack tries to keep her secret relationship with Luke alive. But she really wants to be loved both privately and openly.

Jeremiah seems to offer love but can he cope with Jack?

Vikki creates Jack as being vulnerable yet tough, knowing yet naïve.

Can Jack summon enough self-esteem, resilience and drive to turn her life around?

Vikki’s writing has an understated tone and style that seems particularly Australian. Her characters act like young Australians do and incidents occur realistically, such as the events in the derelict drive-in theatre and in the nearby forest, which are surprising without hyperbole.

Inbetween Days (Text Publishing) has just been shortlisted for the CBCA awards. Congratulations to Vikki for her vulnerable writing and authentic characters.

All I Ever Wanted

Children’s Book of the Year

Rules of SummerIt is the time to celebrate the CBCA Books of the Year: a plethora of excellent books. No one will be be surprised that Shaun Tan’s inimitable Rules of Summer has won Picture Book of the Year. From a visual literacy perspective, it excels in composition – what is put where and how distance and depth is created; salience – what is most prominent on the page; juxtaposition – contrasting elements such as light and dark and texture; and symbolism. Congratulations to Bob Graham and Nick Bland for their Honour awards in this category. Graham’s Silver Buttons was always a contender with its consummate celebration of the ‘everyday’ and Bland’s award for King Pig, a fable about selfishness, power and redemption, also reflects his enormous popularity. Such a shame that Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood’s peerless The Treasure Box wasn’t recognised, and Danny Parker and Matt Ottley’s brilliant Parachute may have fared better in Early Childhood.

The SwapThe judges got the awards in the Early Childhood category absolutely right. The Swap by Jan Ormerod and Andrew Joyner uses subtle humour and retro illustrations to look at sibling jealousy and love. I’m a Dirty Dinosaur is a rhythmic swamp romp by Janeen Brian, illustrated with pencils and mud by Ann James. Banjo and Ruby Red is a tale of farmyard friendship by Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood.

Book of the Year: Younger Readers is an unusual shortlist, particularly because only five of six possible books were shortlisted so a fine book for this important primary age-group was omitted. Catherine Jinks, a well-regarded writer, won the category with her Victorian gothic, A Very Unusual Pursuit. No surprises that the award-scooping My Life as an Alphabet by Barry Jonsberg is an Honour book but less expected is Dianne Wolfer and Brian Simmonds’ Light Horse Boy, which many would have shortlisted in the factual Eve Pownall category. It is disappointing not to see Julie Hunt’s Song for a Scarlet Runner receive an Honour but it has been acclaimed in other awards.

I'm a Dirty DinosaurSome of my personal favourites missed out in the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books, particularly the well designed, Meet … Captain Cook by Rae Murdie and Chris Nixon but due regard to winners Christopher Faille and Danny Snell for Jeremy, which explains the life of a kookaburra at a perfect level for very young readers and Honour recipients Peter Gouldthorpe for Ice, Wind, Rock, which tells the important story of Mawson, and the commendable Welcome to My Country by Laklak Burrarrwanga and family, which has also been acknowledged in an outstanding new YA novel, Nona and Me by Clare Atkins.

ParachuteWildlife by Fiona Wood is a completely deserving winner of the Older Readers category and Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near and The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn are meritorious Honour awardees.

(See my previous posts on Older Readers and Eve Pownall)