The winners and honour books of the 2020 Children’s Book Council of Australia have been announced this week to coincide with Book Week.
BOOK OF THE YEAR: OLDER READERS
This Is How We Change the Ending – Vicki Wakefield
This is a raw, gritty story with plenty of compassion that will leave the reader with a sense of hope. The skillfully drawn setting, of a suburb in decline with locals suffering from acute poverty, adds another dimension to the initial apathy and hopelessness felt by the complex main character, Nate. The character development here is excellent. Nate is a smart boy beaten down by his circumstances, who has learned to hide his intellect and emotions. A deep love for his younger brothers, stepmother, and even his abusive father, is the driving force in demonstrating how the powerless can be powerful. Wakefield does not shy away from the realities of destitution and domestic abuse, both physical and emotional. Almost every character is flawed but Wakefield’s skill lies in creating empathy without resorting to sentimentality. The tone and pacing are pitch-perfect, and the story will encourage teenage readers to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Ultimately, it is a thought-provoking and uplifting read.
BOOK OF THE YEAR: YOUNGER READERS
The Little Wave – Pip Harry
Expertly written in verse form, the story revolves around three plausible, three-dimensional characters who alternate their narration. Primary school children, they have been given an assignment by their teachers to write to a pen pal and thus the two contrasting settings, a beautiful surfing beach and a remote outback town, serve to highlight the challenges which the children experience. The story flows smoothly with the three plots becoming increasingly interwoven, creating complex layers and parallels: Lottie is dealing with her father’s grief and consequent hoarding, Noah is being bullied by his ‘best friend’ and Jack is challenged by his family’s poverty and his mother’s addiction. There are themes of grief, family, bullying and poverty which are explored with an overarching theme of supporting each other through connection: Jack and Lottie have aunts who support the family; Lottie’s and Noah’s dads connect to provide emotional stability. The plot development is compelling and the inclusion of the pen pal letters is a clever device to add information and enhance the connections. The cover is colourful and appealing.
BOOK OF THE YEAR: EARLY CHILDHOOD
My Friend Fred – Frances Watts, Illus. A Yi
This book is full of energy and movement while exploring themes of friendship, tolerance, and difference. The strong message of positive reinforcement that we can be very different in how we act, what we eat, how we behave, how we look and yet still be best friends, provides a highly satisfying ending. The short, engaging sentences, with some repetition, keep the pages turning. Together, the text and illustrations combine beautifully to present fully rounded characters. The writing mimics the cheeky nature of felines, while the illustrations allow the reader to visualise Fred’s boundless energy and enthusiasm, highlighting the personality and differences between the two friends. Observant readers may notice the clues to Fred’s feline friend on the first reading hidden in the illustrations; however, finding Fred’s friend will add to subsequent readings. There is an appealing artistic style in the pastel-toned watercolour illustrations. The design elements of the page layout highlight Fred’s exuberant nature and movement, while still allowing white space. The endpapers perfectly bookend the story with all other elements combining to provide a strongly appealing, high-quality book for young readers.
PICTURE BOOK OF THE YEAR
I Need a Parrot – Chris McKimmie
Chris McKimmie’s style is unmistakably his own. This book rewards several readings and affirms the complementarity of the author being the illustrator. McKimmie is a very assured illustrator who is both skilled and witty in execution. McKimmie’s bizarre and humorous print text is well suited to the insightful illustrations showing the problems of our desire to keep and cage pets. With very few words and deceptively simple drawings, this book gives readers lots to ponder and discuss. Vivid colours, first-person narrative and various media combine to communicate the understated final message. Child-like and sophisticated at the same time, the story opens with an opening cage to set the tone. The blank double-page spread with the ‘aha’ moment, which simply says ‘Oh.’, is genius. To then turn to another double-page spread of just the sky with the bird flying is amazing. It further creates a beautiful resolution to the story. This book exploits economy in its exemplification of ‘less is more’—so much more!
EVE POWNALL AWARD
Young Dark Emu: A Truer History – Bruce Pascoe
This book argues that for 80,000 years, Aboriginal people were living in established agricultural societies in managed landscapes, reliant on Aboriginal astronomy. Farming and food supplies were determined by Emu Dreaming, the spaces between the stars of the Milky Way, where the Spirit Emu resides. Citing colonial diaries and artworks describing organised villages and regulated food supplies, Pascoe shows how the decimation of Aboriginal people and culture ensured that after 1860 all evidence of any prior complex civilisation was eradicated. A passionate environmentalist, Pascoe advocates the cultivation of indigenous plant species, needing no extra water or pesticides, are potentially capable of meeting our carbon emission targets. Visual and textual information is produced on a traditional palette of ochre yellow, red and oranges and charcoal black. Full-page illustrations magnify and enhance detail in the historical photographs, documents, engravings, diary entries and sketches. This beautifully produced book presents a powerful argument that debunks the notion of terra nullius that positions Aboriginal people as nomadic hunter gatherers through an engaging discussion accessible to primary school and young adult readers.
CBCA AWARD FOR NEW ILLUSTRATOR
Baby Business – Jasmine Seymour
Jasmine Seymour’s visual style feels primal and sophisticated at the same time. The scribbled white lines provide atmospheric effects. The suggestion of smoke is truly a delightful method with the suggestion of the smoke shifting and changing achieved with the appearance of blurred strokes. Also deftly handled are the nuanced skin tones, the varied clothes of the women and the rich honeycomb of the bees. Although the artworks are digital, they show excellence in the illusion of different art types. There is a lovely connection between traditional and ethereal realism. The simple two-dimensional colour of the women draws them out of the background. This is how we come to understand culture, through line, texture and colour, as well as through language.