Children’s Book Week, Australia

Since 1945, the Children’s Book Council of Australia has been promoting quality children’s literature in this country. It does so through activities, outreach, and through a venerable program of literary awards. These awards are celebrated every year in Children’s Book Week, and they’re an important event in the children’s literature calendar. Children, teachers, librarians, authors, illustrators and publishers eagerly await the announcements. The endorsement of the Children’s Book Council means a lot–it’s a stamp of approval for children’s literature that the judges regard as beautifully produced, well written and illustrated, and relevant to children’s lives. There are several categories, by age group and genre, and then there is the announcement of the overall winner, the Book of the Year.

Normally Children’s Book Week is held in August (towards the end of the Australian winter–a reliable sign that spring is coming…), but this year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is held in October. This week, in fact.

In a year which demonstrated how difficult the world can be, the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards have recognised thought-provoking and uplifting stories that allow young people to take on all challenges

I must say, that although it has been a difficult year, it has also been a year in which the value of storytelling–of writing and reading, of producing and receiving stories–has been well and truly recognised. Even though in Australia the artistic community has been hit very hard by the impacts of the COVID-19 shutdowns (and our governments could be doing rather more to support creative industries in general), it’s very clear how much we rely on storytelling–to lift our spirits, free our minds, open up the world to our imaginations, and help us think through all sorts of issues. There’s something about immersing oneself in a book that is better for the brain that the jittery rush of doom-scrolling and constant panic about the state of the world.

I’ve been watching in admiration as writers and illustrators adjust their usual whirlwind of book tours and classroom visits to promote their works, and encourage the joy of stories–through zoom events, online conferences, twitterfests and more.

And so it’s wonderful to see the Children’s Book Council of Australia also adjust–one of Australia’s older literary establishments finding a way to celebrate storytelling in these strange times. The theme for Book Week this year is Curious Creatures, Wild Minds, and you can click on the link to see the program for the week.

And in terms of the Book of the Year, here are the announcements, made by well-known Australians: enjoy!

CBCA Book of the Year Awards 2020

–Elizabeth Hale

Home Time

During the COVID-19 crisis, we’re all at home rather more than usual. Miriam Riverlea writes about how myths and literature are helping her young family think about time at home…

While we’re self-isolating, I’ve been helping Milo, my seven year old son, learn how to tell the time.  He’s got a handle of the basics, but is still struggling with the concept that the numbers on the clock face mean different things whether it is the long or short hand that is pointing to them.  And the arcane term ‘o’clock’ remains a mystery to him. 

Perhaps part of his struggle is that time itself seems to be moving at a different rate as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds.  With nowhere to be but at home, the minutes and hours move quite slowly, but the days are passing by at breakneck speed.  What day is it again? we ask each other, and, did that happen yesterday, or was it the day before? 

A treehouse fit for an odyssey!

This is family time, in a way we’ve never really experienced before, freed of the usual routines of work and school and other social outlets.  Amid the anxiety and the uncertainty, I’m trying to keep positive and count our blessings.  There’s much to be thankful for – glorious autumn weather, a big backyard (with a brilliant treehouse), siblings to play with, and unlike so many across the world, job security and good health, at least for the moment. 

Family Time

Books are offering a welcome escape from the grim reality of the daily news.  We’ve been working our way through CS Lewis’ Narnia books in nightly instalments.  We’ve had lots of conversations about the logistics of time travel, the possibility of multiple universes, and the relationship between primary and secondary time.  And I’ve been reflecting on a different kind of time travel as I read aloud from a battered copy of the first three books in the series, which I’ve had since I was eight.  It’s a real treat to share the stories that I loved as a child with my own children.  

And while we are all appreciating its fantasy elements, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe also seems relevant at the moment for its representation of sibling dynamics.  Having adjusted to life at home, my three children are (mostly!) enjoying each other’s company.  But a story that foregrounds the lessons of loyalty, forgiveness, and courage is a valuable reminder of the importance of taking care of each other at this challenging time. 

Leo’s Labyrinth

Alongside books, jigsaw puzzles and board games, we’ve had fun making mazes for each other.  Jan Bajtlik’s Greek Myths and Mazes (2019) is providing plenty of inspiration. 

Jan Bajtlik’s Greek Myths and Mazes

I’ve got an idea for getting the kids to make comic strips featuring mythical characters in unlikely modern settings (the Minotaur goes to the supermarket?), and as the weather gets colder, we might attempt some simple weaving on cardboard looms.  And with no clear sense of when normal life will return, maybe we’ll finally get around to making this model of the Parthenon out of marshmallows and gingerbread.  If so, I promise to share our creation in another post for this blog!

–Miriam Riverlea