Stepping into Oz Children’s Literature on the Global Stage

I’ve just been presenting about Australian children’s and YA literature at the international IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) Congress in Auckland, New Zealand. This is the first time the conference has been held so far south, it’s usually a preserve of the northern hemisphere. NZ did an excellent job as host.

ColoursAustralian authors and illustrators such as our Children’s Laureate Leigh Hobbs (Mr Chicken, Old Tom), as well as Ursula Dubosarsky (The Golden Day), Bronwyn Bancroft (Colours of Australia), Nadia Wheatley (Papunya, My Place, illustrated by Donna Rawlins) and Marcus Zusak (The Book Thief) were recognised at the conference, alongside international creators.

Legendary NZ author Joy Cowley spoke after a warm traditional Maori welcome by adult and children’s groups. I reviewed Joy’s Speed of Light for the Weekend Australian and one of her famous characters, Mrs Wishy Washy was brought exuberantly to life throughout the conference. Joy’s 80th birthday was also celebrated. Other keynote and major speakers included Whale Rider’s Witi Ihimaera, Ghana’s Meshack Asare and Kate de Goldi (The 10pm Question) whose most recent children’s novel From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle just won the Esther Glen Junior Fiction Book Award (NZ Book Awards for Children & Young Adults 2016). Kate was also on a panel with the incredible Katherine Paterson and Ursula Dubosarsky, chaired by UK children’s book critic Julia Eccleshare. This session was a highlight.

Sir Richard Taylor and Martin Bayton from Weta Workshop, which was responsible for the animations and effects in movies such as Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Avatar and The Chronicles of Narnia also presented some stunning visuals.  Sir Richard had a useful quote, ‘The art of innovation is to throw yourself at failure and simply miss.’

FlightThe CBCA winners and honour awards were announced just after my presentation, which was chaired by Nadia Wheatley, so it was a privilege to be able to congratulate Nadia on her winning picture book (illustrated by Armin Greder), Flight.

 I presented after speakers from Norway and Sweden and was followed by a Canadian speaker. Exciting to be a part of such diversity. I was thrilled to share books by some of our iconic and talented authors and illustrators including How the Sun Got to Coco’s House by Bob Graham, Fog a Dox by Bruce Pascoe, One Would Think the Deep by Claire Zorn, A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood (which was announced as CBCA winner for Older Readers), The Other Christie by Oliver Phommavanh, MaralingaMaralinga’s Long Shadow by Christobel Mattingley, some verse novels – Another Night in Mullet Town and The Spangled Drongo by Stephen Herrick and Sister Heart by Sally Morgan (announced as a CBCA Honour book), plus a number of other picture books, novels and graphic novels.

We were fortunate that table places weren’t set at the Gala Dinner. People could select where they sat and we had the pleasure of the company of delegates from countries as diverse as Haiti, Japan, South Korea, Norway and Samoa. As a proud Australian I was able to answer the quiz question about which country won the Hans Christian Andersen award (administered by IBBY) in the same year for both author and illustrator.

NargunPatricia Wrightson and Robert Ingpen both won in 1986, the only Australians to have ever won this most prestigious international award.

The final highlight was another coincidental one. We spoke to a distinguished lady before dinner and shared information about where we lived and why we were at the conference. This lady informed us that she is an author. Imagine my shock after asking her name to discover we had been speaking (without realising it) to children’s book royalty, Lynley Dodd, creator of Hairy Maclary!  

Hairy Maclary

Original books for all ages from NZ

changeoverThere is an incredible depth of literary talent in New Zealand ranging from Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton to Kate di Goldi, Lloyd Jones, Janet Frame and the incomparable Margaret Mahy. NZ is also the base for amazing publisher Gecko Press, which publishes books from around the world for children.

We should keep an eye on what NZ is publishing because it is so close to us here in Australia and, as in many areas; it punches above its weight.

Some of Gecko Press’s most outstanding recent books are The Big Book of Animals of the World, an oversized board book by Swedish/German author-illustrator Ole Konnecke.Bert

This creator also pops up with You Can Do It, Bert! Children will wonder what Bert is trying to do. Most of the action happens in the illustrations and the text is minimal.

Help! The Wolf is Coming! by French author Cedric Ramadier and illustrator Vincent Bourgeau is a very appealing, interactive story which will scare children as the wolf approaches but also empower them because they can tilt and shake the book to ward the wolf off.

Another fascinating book for young readers about animals is Line Up, Please! by Japanese author/illustrator Tomoko Ohmura. Fifty animals join a queue but the surprise is where they are queuing. The numerals are written, as well as the animals’ names, such as ‘giraffe’.

International best-seller Stephanie Blake’s rabbit reappears in I Want Spaghetti. How can the little rabbit be tempted to eat something else? The bold, clear colours and design are a visual lure.

When I am happiestWhen I am Happiest by Swedish author Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated in black and white by Eva Eriksson, is a heartwarming early chapter book about Dani who always tries to be happy despite having lost her mother at a young age. When her father is hit by a car, she has to summon more courage.

Dani has two hamsters, and a hamster is the larger-than-life protagonist of Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster by Astrid Desbordes and Pauline Martin. This self-absorbed hamster features in the many short stories that make up this brightly coloured book.

Very short, but profound, stories also form the structure of The King and the Sea by Heinz Janisch and Wolf Erlbruch. This book is inventive and uses a restrained, perfectly calibrated mixture of collage.

Finding Monkey Moon isn’t published by Gecko Press but is written by NZ author Elizabeth Pulford and illustrated by Kate Wilkinson (Walker Books). It is a picture book that tells the story of Michael who can’t find his toy monkey. His father is a patient, loving man.

BakehouseNZ legend Joy Cowley’s latest book is The Bakehouse (Gecko Press). It is an introspective novel about war and some of its effects in NZ. My favourite recent Cowley is Speed of Lightwhich I reviewed here.

Elizabeth Knox is another standout NZ writer. Previous works are The Vintner’s Luck, The Dreamhunter Duet and Mortal Fire, which I reviewed here. Her recent book Wake is adults-only and is an addictive horror/sci-fi set in a NZ town where most of the inhabitants are killed. Only fourteen people survive and they must try to keep community and civilization alive, as well as themselves. Not for the faint-hearted.

In Wake, like other books mentioned here, we can expect NZ creators and publishers to give us something out of the ordinary.