“The Aussie #Bookstagang Best Picture Books of 2020 List”
00:10 C Intro: Hello everyone this is Corrie from the Picturebookstagang Podcast in fact this is Future Coco the one who’s in charge of getting rid of all the mouth sounds. So. Let’s talk about where we are today I actually have for you the Aussie Bookstagang’s “Best of 2021” Episode and I would just like to extend my deepest thanks to all of their patience while we get our lives together December was pretty wild and we all know that January is just onboarding of the brand new year. A couple of things before we hop into this delightful conversation you may notice that Lucy’s instagram username is not a part of her intro and that’s because she’s actually changed her username since recording this episode she is now @lovefourreading four because she has four little kiddos.
1:10 C: I wanted to chat briefly about what the categories are so you’ll be able to follow along with the conversation. The categories for the Aussie Best of 2021 picture books are Best Board books, Best Picturebooks( which includes the best Picturebook for older readers), Best illustration, Best Biography, Best Non-Fiction, Best Graphic Novel, and Best Middle grade. They don’t talk too much about the best middle grade because we don’t talk too much about middle grade on this podcast but you should go check it out we’ll have links in the show notes below with links and all the slides and of course with all the usernames from the folks that are taking part in the conversation. So Lucy just gave me a couple points to mention with you, the main points of difference this year was that there were more members of their team and they had middle grade reviewing as long as knowledge under their belt because children were getting older and some folks in the group also teach middle grades. The other change from the list this year is the inclusion of the best picutrebook for older readers due to the trend for longer form picturebooks dealing with more complex picturebook subject matter in Australia this year. Some trends they found were staying at home and emotions, so many books about emotions that it caused them the Australian reviewers to have some strong emotions, some parenthesis and it’s delightful. Due to some parts of Australia having lengthy pandemic lock downs over the last two years, Melbourne having the strictest and longest stay at home orders in the year that could be why we’re seeing these trends. All right folks so that pretty much wraps up the future Coco segment of this episode, I hope you enjoy our Aussie contingent, and once again my deepest thanks to their flexibility and letting me just be a disaster for a little while before I got this episode out I hope you guys are having a great week and I can’t wait to bring you more stuff soon! Get ready for the next season of the PictureBookstagang Podcast! Bye!
3:18 L: Well thank you Corrie and Ale and Kelly for having us to chat all things Books in Australia and my name’s Lucy and my pronouns are She/Her and I’m speaking to you tonight from Wonnarua Wonnaruland
3:32 S: Hi I’m Shannon I’m coming to you from Darug Country you can find me over on Instagram at @ohcreativeday and my pronouns are (s/h).
K: And I’m Kristen from @artsplorers_au and my pronouns are (s/h) and I’m coming to you from Camareygal.
3:56 L: So I’m going to talk to you charming ladies about some of the books we’ve seen this year and we’ve certainly had a lot of books about emotions this year?
S: I absolutely agree and I think that probably reflects the current conditions that we’ve all been battling through over the last 18 months but we really felt as a group that there wasn’t a book on the topic of emotion or feelings that really stood out or dealt with the topic in an innovative way it’s almost like there’s been an overload of books on emotion,
4: 39 L: Yeah I agree I think that we’ve all been experiencing strong emotions too sometimes we don’t want to rehash that at night
S: Yeah it feels too soon.
K: we’re still processing.
L: I think one book that emerged from the current climate we’re in that’s about sticking home is “Down the Road little Bee” by Sara Jane Lightfoot I thought it was a really sweet picturebook about basically being told through the seasons and walking around local neighbourhood and seeing how the plants and wildlife change with each month throughout the year and we all though that was quite a nice one because it reflected the seasons in Australia, Australian flora, plants and Australian wildlife. So I felt like that one kind of took where we’re at as a country and community and many states having long lock downs and the pandemic without actually ever explicitly talking about pandemic and talking about being close to home and it was kind of like a little scavenger hunt throughout the book but also you could take that and look at things in your local community so I thought that was a nice way of capturing our current climate in a picturebook.
5:57 S: And I think a lot of the books on our list as well had those themes of sticking close to home and spending quality time with your family doing every day otherwise mundane things like “Rajah Street” was about a little boy infatuated with the Garbage truck coming every week, those everyday things that we can relate to and looking for the joy in those everyday events that really was, we were all stuck at home and we were all looking for the joy in the little things. And I also think that’s reflected in our winner for the younger picturebooks “Backyard Magic” . I think that was the first book I received this year.
L: Yeah it was for me too Shannon.
6: 39 S: Yeah right? At the start! We all said ‘oh hello this is a good start to the year’ but I think it almost hit the bar too high because it was a hard act to follow after that, umm, and it’s just an exquisitely illustrated book about a little girl who’s been watching too much tv and her mum tells her to go out in the yard and see what happens, and magic happens in the backyard and the images are amazing, so many opportunities for visual literacy and it’s all about staying at home and being imaginative. So that was a strong start to the year I thought.
07:16 L: Yeah I agree and I think pretty much everyone was unanimous about that one too.
K: that’s a beautiful one.
S: You have a standout Kristen?
7:22 K: Well, we are, we also most of us equally loved The Curiosities as well, just such a beautiful book both in terms of it’s storytelling which is quite unique and it’s beautiful imagery that’s based on the illustrators Filipino folklore folk heritage and so it’s written from the perspective by the author’s child has Tourette’s syndrome so it kind of doesn’t deal with that directly but deals with the idea that any sort of thing that makes you feel different makes you feel that you stand out makes your brain work differently whether that’s a neurodiversity or any kind of difference and the way that that’s both a benefit in the world and a challenge in the world and so these little curiosities carry with him throughout his life and how he grows with them and learns to live with them and um it’s just a really it’s just a really stunning book both visually and with it’s storytelling I think it struck everybody in the group.
8:40 S: Now dear listeners you may detect that Kristen has a slight accent that’s not Australian, she was born in America. How did you find as someone who hasn’t grown up in Australia but is raising kids in Australia just the kinds of books you’re getting used to introduce to your kids, or books where you feel the Australian voice stands out of the kind of books different from the books you would read if you were raising your kids back in the states.
9:05 K: Well I have to tell you that I feel like I’m one of those people who comes into a new situation and then becomes like completely reverent about the situation and just wants to shout from the rooftops about all the great things that we have here and everybody should be looking at Australian books! I’m that person. It is really important to me to share Australian perspectives with my kids because they’re Australian and they’re Australian more than they are, I’m American, my husband is Serbian but they feel like they’re Australian and they need to have Australian stories they need to see their reality reflected. So I think that sharing Australian books with them is really important to me so we look at almost exclusively Australian books, haha, we get a few Yank as we say here Yank books sneak in but yeah, but mostly we look at Australian books and on that I was gonna mention one thing I was noticing about a lot of the books we picked for the Picturebooks this year in particular is there is a sort of a big focus on stories of people from overseas whether they’re immigrants or refugees or sort of first generation in Australian and Australia does have a really large population of people born overseas or who are first generation living in Australia so we have things like the boy who tried to shrink his name which is about a boy with a very long name which he feels is very hard for everyone to pronounce and how he deals with that and that’ wonderful.
10:52 L: I think that that one, there’s other books that exist in America and North America like “Your name is a Song” and “The Name Jar” but to have an Australian version The Boy Who Tried to Shrink His Name which parallels and the little girl and his friend is a skateboarder and he’s trying to teach his friend who is a little girl a skateboard trick, and they have to break it down into component parts. And they realize they have to break his name into component parts and they boy achieve their goals together. What I loved about it was the little Australian touches, the classroom had the Australian flag, there was a kookaburra out the window, so even though there are other books with that theme, for Australian migrant children to see that these sorts of stories exist here is a really nice touch.
11:54 K: Yeah we also had THE KATHI CHEST. Talking about stories from immigrant perspective of the little girl going through her grandmother’s chest of all the old saris and the beautiful prints, and they’re all woven together and you see these images of these absolutely gorgeous women in her family in her heritage and each one of them is representative in the cloth and it’s all woven together and it’s such a particular story and it’s just so so beautiful to see that story and to see that represented so beautifully visuall.
12:47 S: I taught a unit on families in kindergarten this year and I used that book and it was truly a transcendent experience because I had so many little people in the class that were like “yeah that’s like my Nani’s she wears these, we have this chest” and it was almost like I could hand the lesson over to them because it was their story that they could share and that’s what we want more of in publishing. We want stories that connect with different stories so we all learn about this.
I know that was my contender so beautiful.
13:28 L: That was so beautiful, beautifully understated and I know my four children each one of them when they’re all born my mum made a quilt for them and pieced together fabrics that she had and some of the fabric told stories and some were cut out clothing and so yeah I think that really you’re right it transcended a lot of cultures.
S: Yeah exactly it connects everyone. For babies we had a wordless picturebook take our illustration “The Boy and the Elephant” by the illustrious Freya Blackwood.
K: I love wordless picturebooks so that one, yeah, and her illustrations are just so so gorgeous.
14:09 L: Yeah I’m on that team too, I think wordless picturebooks are amazing, and I think that one really conveyed a story so well.
S: She is a master storyteller isn’t’ she just the way she uses line to create movement and motion is just, masterful. She is a national living treasure.
K: Yes, she is and the imagination in there it’s so lovely.
S: And again that was a strong category the best illustration category we had a wordless picturebook take out first place and then second place was “Rajah Street” which I was very enamoured with I was very happy to see that get up there. Which uses this amazing collage scape to connect the neighbour hood.
L: Yeah I felt visually and the illustration style of that was quite different to what we’ve seen before so I really enjoyed that one.
K: Yes so rich in a sort of internal story of what’s going on in this little boy’s mind but it’s so rich and reminds us of how rich our kids’ internal lives are and how big the world is just looking out the window it’s just so much for them it just reminds you of that it’s lovely.
15:25 L: moving onto nonfiction we had a lot of, for want of a better word, meaty nonfiction texts this year I felt it really delved into children who really wanted to know facts and it’s not watered down in any way it reminds me of my teaching days when I had children who just wanted that level of detail and they were thirsty for it. I felt that the nonfiction contenders gave us that. And in the picture biography section I felt that we had some really beautiful first nation voices being heard that are integral to our nation being heard and told.
16:09 K: Yeah I think they’re all first nation stories in the biography category but they’re quite different stories and unique and interesting
16:17 L: And I think that’s so rewarding as a parent and as a teacher to be able to share indigenous perspectives by using the voice of the original creator and not having to, like I think it’s a really fine line to having to interpret things or to just present the stories as this and let it be told in an own voice. I think we’re so lucky with the huge proliferation of books coming out of places like Magabala who are promoting these First Nations voices with just amazing books.
S: Absolutely and Hardy Grant to are coming to the forefront, yes, of Indigenous voice.
K: Yes they’re so important to us to what we do and what we show our kids.
L: Absolutely and we had a lot of independent or smaller publishers on our long list and our short list so I think that was quite interesting too to see just the amount of the, the small publishing choices being our favourites and yeah.
S: It’s exciting to see isnt’ it the rise of the small boutique publisher who are mindfully creating their catalogues and aren’t just pumping out a catalogue every month they’re really curating their collection and that’s so exciting.
17:54 K: Yeah there’s real art coming out of a lot of those houses it’s really nice to see.
17:55 L: Yeah there sure is Affirm Press and Scribbled Kids they’re doing an amazing job.
18:03 S: And shall we move into Middle Grade? Lucy this is your zone, your zone of genius here.
18: 07 L: Well I dont know if they actually talk about that much on this podcast. But I could talk about it.
L: I know I know.
K: Yeah we should talk about it.
18:24 S: Taking out the first place in our board book category it was “Rhyme Hungry” which was the follow up to “Rhyme Cordial” by Antonia Pesenti coming out of the Scribble Publishing house and I think this book is awesome because it plays with paper engineering those lift out flaps and it’s the kind of book that you can read again and again and again and again to your toddler and it’s still amusing and entertaining and the word play in it is super clever and I think it’s just a very hard bar for the kind of books that you can create for the 0-5 age bracket there. I mean my eldest ist eight and she still loves Run Cordial.
L: I was just about to say that yeah Rhyme Hungry was so anticipated by my five year olds as a follow up to Rhyme Cordial and they were so excited when it arrived and they’ve memorised it and teaching preschoolers and kids that are going off to school teaching them concepts of rhyme it’s got humour in it you know cheese toasty cheese ghosty. It’s a lot of fun so yeah that was first place.
19:37 K: And it was so beautifully published, so beautifully put together, so nice to hold in your hand it’s just beautifully made.
19:50 S: I think that’s what I love about Scribble as well, they respect their young readers, it doesn’t matter how young they are they know that they’re discerning they deserve amazing illsutrations, good print quality and they deliver I think they’re setting a really high standard here in australia for what we should be giving our young readers.
20:12 K: Lucky us too.
20:15 L: The other two on the board book list were “I Can Play with Anything” and “I Can Wear Anything” and I think that was just a really positive message about taking the gender away and through the trees and the clothes and let’s just leave it at that shall we and I thiought it was just, yeah, that was again great design, going against the stereotypes that often exist for our little people and brightly coloured simply message lost of repetition and yeah my preschoolers really loved those two as well.
20:56 S: And then padding out that category as well was “Welcome Child” by Sally Morgan from Magabala and “How to say Hello” which is part of a great series by Sophie Beer and again all the great illustrations engaging text.
L: I felt like how to say hello was such a clever way to talk about consent with really little kids I thought it was really cleverly done and yeah…and even the inclusion of the elbow bump I thought that was a cute nod with everything they’ve been going through that there’s many different ways to say hello and with young children and indeed all humans there’s just lots of way that people like to say hello and that should be embraced and we should check in with what children feel comfortable with I thought that was a great message I’ve always loved Sophie Beer books but that was a particularly strong contender.
Well thanks ladies for having us on the podcast and chatting all things Australian books.
K: Yeah it’s been fun.
S: Here’s to a 2022 filled with more amazing books, what an amazing year it’s been.