Joy Lawn

Books of the Year is always one our most popular features. Find out what our 41 contributors liked most this year – and why.

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Fog a Dox by Bruce Pascoe & Figaro and Rumba and the Crocodile Cafe by Anna Fienberg

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May 2013, no. 351

Animals and friends are a perennial subject in children’s literature, and the junior novels and series books reviewed here highlight those interests. Most of these titles, however, are also notable because they are told with humour, even whilst exposing the anxieties of children.

Fog a Dox (Magabala Books, $19.95 pb, 111 pp, 9781921248559) is a new novel for primary-aged children by esteemed Indigenous writer Bruce Pascoe. The intriguing title springs from fox cub Fog, one of three pups rescued by ‘tree feller’ Albert Cutts and reared by his dingo-cross dog, Brim. Fog’s vixen sisters leave when they are old enough to survive on their own, but Fog stays, balancing his fox instincts with learned dog behaviour; Albert describes him as a ‘dox’.

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Tohby Riddle’s Unforgotten (Allen & Unwin, $35 hb, 123 pp, 9781742379722) will be appreciated by aficionados of Shaun Tan’s sophisticated illustrated works and Riddle’s impressive books. This atmospheric book is allegorical and metaphorical, and the structure is cyclic. It begins and ends in the heavens; and gradually revea ...

Dead Heat by Bronwyn Parry

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May 2012, no. 341

Proudly popular fiction, Dead Heat is a romantic thriller set in a north-western New South Wales National Park. Organised crime in fiction generally operates in a large city or on the coastline, but author Bronwyn Parry sets her plot in the bush. The inclusion of bushland and animals creates unique plot obstacles and possibilities for both the criminals and the authorities, and it is affirming to read of places often overlooked in fiction: Gloucester and Barrington Tops, Coffs Harbour, Tamworth, Inverell, and Newcastle.

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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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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 premise of Jam Dreaming is worthwhile; three cultures and generations meet over food. Eileen is an Aboriginal girl who lives in a squat. She is grieving for her mother, who died of alcoholism. Trying to find warmth beside a restaurant at night, she stumbles into the life of Mama Jocsdi, who cooks traditional European food. Mama’s sister, Nellie, with whom she escaped the Nazis, remains an elusive character. Eileen also makes friends with two other elderly women; Aboriginal matriarch Aunty Lois, and her sister. Eileen begins to learn skills and identity from these women.

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