Children's and Young Adult Books

Stephanie Owen Reeder

 

Good picture books stimulate a child’s imagination. Nick Bland and Stephen Michael King celebrate creativity in The Magnificent Tree (Scholastic, $24.99 hb, 32 pp, 9781742832951). Bonny and Pops enjoy sharing ideas and making things together. Bonny’s inventions are ‘simple, clever and properly made’, wh ...

The Shiny Guys, quite a departure from Doug MacLeod’s usually quite light-hearted work, is nonetheless a real success. This foray into the world of mental illness and treatment calls to mind, and even refers directly to, complex works such as The Castle and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. A book about fear, uncertainty, and suffering, it is rich in complexities but perfectly told for its young adult audience.

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Cecily Lockwood’s heart ‘bounced like a trout’. An arresting simile on the first page of a novel is always a good sign, but will this piscatorial comparison mean anything to young readers? No matter, back to those footsteps climbing the dark stairs to twelve-year-old Cecily’s room, where she is quailing under the bed. She pictures her older brother Jeremy in the next room, his heart ‘flipping and diving’. Ah, so that’s what trouts do. Clever Sonya Hartnett.

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Australian picture books are among the best in the world. Some of our most notable authors and illustrators include Bob Graham, Libby Gleeson, Freya Blackwood, Stephen Michael King, and Glenda Millard. The latest books by these creators are valuable additions to Australian children’s literature.

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Mamang   by Kim Scott, Iris Woods, and the Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories Project & Noongar Mambara Bakitj by Kim Scott, Lomas Roberts and the Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories Project

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February 2012, no. 338

Mamang and Noongar Mambara Bakitj are retellings of traditional Noongar narratives by the Miles Franklin Award-winning author Kim Scott, in collaboration with a team of others. The books are part of a broader Wirlomin Noongar Language and Stories reclamation and revitalisation project currently under way in the south-western coastal region of Western Australia, an area roughly traversing Albany to Esperance. Like many other Australian languages today, Noongar is barely hanging on. These modest diglot books, charmingly illustrated by Noongar people in simple, unaffected, and direct style, therefore represent a timely intervention into the continuing post-colonial destruction of this critically (and globally) endangered language.

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Alaska by Sue Saliba & Clara in Washington by Penny Tangey

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December 2011–January 2012, no. 337

Since the publication of Frank Moorhouse’s The Americans, Baby (1972), Australian literature has maintained a tense awareness of its powerful neighbour’s cultural sway over younger generations. Even the ‘Oz as’ Young Adult titles (think of Tim Winton’s Lockie Leonard series) concede, by studious omission, the impact of American cultural hegemony on the teenage imagination in Australia.

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Diverse memories of childhood, ranging from Indigenous and migrant experiences to the Great Depression, permeate these evocative Australian picture books. Admired illustrator Bruce Whatley displays his range of styles in a pair of them; two others are set in Western Australia and Queensland. The potential danger of water is a disconcerting theme.

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The Dead I Know  by Scot Gardner & The Comet Box by Adrian Stirling

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September 2011, no. 334

The way nostalgia works, according to theorists, is that we pine for the era just before our own. This may be why the twenty-something musicians of today mine the sounds of the 1980s. But does this pattern succeed in Young Adult fiction? What does an author gain by setting his or her story in the ‘nostalgia zone’ of potential readers?

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Richard Harland’s Liberator begins three months after its predecessor, Worldshaker (2009), left off. The optimism and exuberance that marked the success of the revolution has dimmed as the inhabitants of the newly renamed Liberator struggle with the realities of running the mobile juggernaut. A saboteur breeds havoc and mistrust between the governing council of Filthies and the remaining Upper Decks folk (the Swanks), and conflicting factions vie for control. Meanwhile, the Liberator is running out of coal, and the only place where the revolutionaries can replenish their stock exposes them to direct conflict with the remaining Imperialist juggernauts.

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To make Ernest Giles’s trek across the scrub and desert of southern Australia interesting to younger readers, relate it through the eyes of a young protagonist. It was an inspired choice to invent Taj, twelve-year-old son of the historical figure Saleh Mohamed, Afghan cameleer, and an equally inspired choice to invent Taj’s beloved young camel, Mustara. The love and respect between camel and boy lie at the heart of the novel, and symbolise the expedition’s ultimate success.

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