What writers wouldn’t jump at the chance to get their hands on a year’s worth of new children’s books? An excuse to lie around for 2 months and read. A legitimate reason to put off doing housework and dealing with a large garden.
Of course, it didn’t end up quite like the dream – I still had to vacuum and weed. And write my own stories. Lucky our progeny has flown the nest! Starving children comes to mind.
When I was approached to be the Younger Reader judge for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Clayton’s Shortlist for 2011, I unwisely (or wisely) didn’t ask for details – like how many books and how long did I have to read them?
Short answer: Almost 95 books to be read in two months.
FREAKY! But now that it’s over (like childbirth), I have to admit it was a huge pleasure – yes, the book publishing industry for young people in Australia is ALIVE AND WELL.
Luckily I’d read 15 of the titles before I started – so I only had 85 to get through. They ranged from glorious picture books to complicated 400-page novels.
Who’s the dingbat who left the fat ones till last?
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to read one box of books before the deadline fell – books like Sophie Masson’s the Hunt for Ned Kelly and Lian Tanner’s The Keepers, part of The Museum of Thieves trilogy.
I did finish reading The Keepers a few days ago, and absolutely adored it. My little reward for being a Claytons’ judge was to choose two books as a keepsake = The Boy and the Toy (Sonya Hartnett and Lucia Masciullo) and Lian’s The Keepers – a beautiful hard-cover version, and Lian has sent me a signed bookplate for it. I can’t wait for the next in this series, it’s a fabulous story.
One thing, I wasn’t prepared for was ending up with a long, shortlist in my final week of reading – 12 funny, heart-warming, thoughtful, clever, exciting stories – like Chris Bongers’ Henry Hoey Hobson, Angela Sunde’s Pond Magic, Pat Flynn’s The Trophy Kid, Sally Murphy’s Toppling and Lorraine Marwood’s Ute Picnic .
In the end, choosing my final 6 wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be – I could only approach the judging process as an author and a reader. It’s a bit like judging the Floor Packers Prize in the Archibald Art Prize.
It came down to the 6 stories that left their mark on my heart.
These are the ones that sent little shivers of delight up my spine as I read. Where I dreaded coming to the end of the story, but couldn’t stop reading however much I tried to slow down.
Even though some of them did not end up on the real CBCA Shortlist, they are the titles I wish I had written.
My CBCA Claytons Shortlist:
Arnie Avery by Sue Walker This heart-warming, engaging story explores the themes of ‘loss’ and ‘facing up to your fears’. And bullying. It’s told with humour and sensitivity, with plenty of action that will get boy and girl readers cheering for the protagonist right through to the final word.
Captain Stella by Ruth Starke
I love chapter books for younger readers, so I thought it only fair that one of my winners is a smaller book (it’s actually on the edge of being short – an Aussie Chomp). This is one of those perfect little stories – set in an ordinary suburb, a great plot with a cast of believable characters, including a strong female protagonist who comes up with a practical solution to benefit her community. Go Stella!
let me whisper you my story by Moya Simons
This novel grabs you from the very first page. I didn’t think it would – there’ve been many stories based around the rise of the Nazis in Europe. This one stands out in the genre – a coming-of-age story set during the terrible tragic times about a courageous girl who never loses hope. A beautifully written story that will stay in your mind and your heart.
Jaguar Warrior by Sandy Fussell
This exciting adventure novel delves into another culture, another country, another time – set in the ancient Aztec society, three engaging characters, fugitives on a quest, are running for their lives. Vividly told, this novel shows the author’s meticulous research. It gives the story authenticity with fascinating images from an unknown past without a hint of info dumping. I hope this is the first of a series so I can keep reading them.
Where there’s Smoke by John Heffernan
My next book is a powerful story of a young boy’s survival against bullying and the ramifications of past violence and family’s upheaval and breakup. It’s a positive story with an engaging young hero. This is also a story of the Australian landscape – used in the right hands (John Heffernan), it’s a powerful character. The thrilling climax as the fiery monster approaches, is heart-thumping-ly exciting – a fast paced story that both boys and girls will love.
Just a Dog by Michael Gerard Bauer
This exceptional book quietly and without fuss, lodged itself in my heart. It’s not just the author’s sure touch to capture the voice of the young narrator, Corey. It’s funny and sad, a story with heart – and an excellent book to read aloud to a class. A story has to be pretty-damned good to make me cry, then leave a sense of hope as well. Just a Dog does just that.
THE REAL SHORTLIST – yes, the authentic CBCA Shortlist is out. And yes, only my pick of Just a Dog was on it.
But, the Claytons is all about five individuals picking the books that impact on them. It’s a chance to let readers know about the many other fabulous books written by Australian storytellers.
Here are the 2011 Shortlist winners – CONGRATULATIONS TO THESE FAB AUSSIE AUTHORS!