Australian children's books
Australia has a strong tradition of children's books. A growing number of writers and illustrators are adding to the rich reserve of high quality stories that accompany babies, toddlers, children and teenagers through their growing years. Reading adventures can also be shared with friends, sisters, brothers, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers and librarians.
Australian children's literature rests on the enthusiasm and talents of many individuals, including a great many more Australian writers, illustrators and books than can be listed in this article. A selected few are mentioned as a starting point to this rich and vibrant subject.
Once upon a time
May Gibb's gumnut babies. Postcard, c. 1905. Image courtesy of State Library of Victoria: H42549/47.
The earliest books published for children were mostly instructive tales - stories to teach children how to behave. Australia's earliest known children's book, A mother's offering to her children by Charlotte Barton (1841), fitted this category.
By the late 19th century, Australian writers began to focus on stories showing real life experiences and everyday adventures, such as settling in Australia and family life. Ethel Turner is a well-known writer of that time - her highly successful book, Seven Little Australians , was published in 1894.
Writing into the 20th century
Some children's books created early in the 20th century are now thought of as Australian classics. Norman Lindsay's The Magic Pudding and May Gibbs' Snugglepot and Cuddlepie were both first published in 1918 and are still available in bookshops today. These were followed by a growth in fantasy through fairy stories such as the finely illustrated books of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite and Annie Rentoul. Mary Grant Bruce published her popular Billabong series between 1910 and 1942.
May Moore (1881-1931), Portrait of Ethel Turner, 1927, photograph: sepia. Image courtesy of National Library of Australia: an3084746.
Writers from other genres have also ventured into children's literature, for example well-known poet A B (Banjo) Paterson with The Animals Noah Forgot (1933). Paterson's verse Waltzing Matilda , illustrated by Desmond Digby, won the 1971 Children's Book Council Picture Book of The Year Award. Antarctic and World War II photographer Frank Hurley won the 1948 Children's Book Council Book of The Year for Shackleton's Argonauts.
Australian children's books gathered force and inspiration through the work of later 20th century writers such as Nan Chauncy and Ivan Southall. Publisher Walter McVitty describes the 'special hold the land itself has had on Australian writers and illustrators' and highlights the work of Hesba Brinsmead, Mavis Thorpe Clark, Mary Elwyn Patchett and Colin Thiele.
Changes in technology and society brought changes to children's literature in the 1960s, with stories beginning to tackle serious and sometimes controversial issues. Teenage fiction gained popularity, and Australian writers including Ruth Park, Eleanor Spence, Simon French, Victor Kelleher, Gillian Rubinstein and Frank Willmott have created books for this age group.
Australian children's books today
Bedtime reading for younger Australians includes many adventures through the pages of picture books written by authors such as Jenny Wagner, Margaret Wild and Mem Fox. Stories are brought to life through the illustrations of many talented artists such as Ron Brooks, Armin Greder, Ann James and Julie Vivas.
Creating the pictures and the words
Books for older children
Jackie French. Image courtesy of Jackie French.
Older readers can feast on a vast array of Australian books exploring themes of home, school and fantasy worlds. From the serious and gripping stories of John Marsden and Sonya Hartnett to the humorous tales of Paul Jennings and Andy Griffiths, there are books for all tastes and moods. Robin Klein, Gary Crew, Jackie French, Isobel Carmody and Catherine Jinks are among the other many names to look for. New books are being added to bookshops and library shelves all the time.
Markus Zusak's The Messenger was acclaimed in the 2003 Children's Book Council Awards. Image courtesy of Pan Macmillan Australia.
For writers and illustrators, the honour and excitement of being recognised with an award can also bring publicity and a wonderful boost in book sales. The Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Awards were established in 1946 to recognise excellence and quality in Australian children's books. The Aurealis Awards, The Dromkeen Medal, The Ethel Turner Prize, The Pixie O'Harris Award and categories of the Premier's Literary Awards in Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia are among the other awards that recognise achievements in Australian children's literature.
Children in each Australian state and territory can also vote for their favourite books through separate awards. Queensland has the Books I Love Best Yearly (BILBY) award, Victoria has the Young Australians Best Book Award (YABBA) and Canberra has Canberra's Own Outstanding List (COOL). In New South Wales there is the Kids' Own Australian Literature Award (KOALA), the Northern Territory has the Kids Reading OZ Choice (KROC) Award and in Western Australia there is the West Australian Young Readers' Book Award (WAYBRA).
Celebrating books and writing for children
Children's Book Week is held in August each year. The Children's Book Council of Australia encourages schools and local libraries to hold activities for children to celebrate the books, writers and illustrators they love.
Australia has a number of centres that focus on children's literature, including Books Illustrated, The Centre For Youth Literature, Dromkeen, The Lu Rees Archives and The Fremantle Children's Literature Centre. Each offers varied activities and programs for children and adults such as talks by writers and illustrators, seminars and workshops, exhibitions, historic collections of children's books and research materials.
- Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA)
- Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Awards
- Books Illustrated
- Maurice Saxby, 'Researching Australian children's literature' - Australian Library Journal
- AustLit - Australian Literature Gateway
Children's literature collections
- Children's Literature Research Collection - State Library South Australia
- Children's Literature Research Collection - State Library of Victoria
- Dromkeen Children's Literature Collection
- Guide to the Childrens Literature Collection - State Library of Western Australia
- Lu Rees Archives of Australian Children's Literature - University of Canberra
- Australian authors websites - Children's Book Council of Australia
- Authors and illustrators - WA Department of Education Links
- Australian Author & Illustrators Visits
- Ruth Park: a Celebration (PDF 3MB)
- Hazel Edwards
- Morris Gleitzman
- Mem Fox
- Paul Jennings
- Krista Bell
- Michael Salmon
- Andy Griffiths
- Christopher Cheng
- Jackie French
- Suzanne Eberle and Noelle Williamson, The fiction gateway : enriching the curriculum with children's literature .
- Collins, P , Book People: Meet Australia's Children's Authors and Illustrators, MacMillan Education Australia, 2002.
- Dunkle, M (ed.), The Story Makers, Oxford University Press, Sydney, Australia, 1987.
- McVitty, W, Authors and Illustrators of Children's Books, Hodder & Stoughton, Australia, 1989.
Last updated: 23rd November 2007