Australia Children's Literature Creators

By Christopher Cheng

Australia is blessed with a wealth of talented children’s literature creators from stunning picture book creators to the authors who create riveting novels for older readers and young adults. Many of these titles are also published internationally. In the following article I will be highlighting just a few of my *current* favourite creators of great Australian children’s books that you might find on your bookshelves and in your libraries in America. Included with the short information about each of the creators and some of their books I have listed their prime website (if they have one) so that you can dig further and sample more of these wonderful aussies!

  1. Bob Graham is well established as one of our great creators of picture books. They are always wonderfully written with illustrations that perfectly match the text. His most recent title How to heal a broken wing (winner of the 2009 Charlotte Zolotow Award for outstanding writing in a picture book) is just another example. In this book lives are soooo busy in the big city that people miss out on the seemingly small and insignificant things happening around them – like a pigeon with a broken wing which is only noticed, and then cared and nurtured for, by a small boy. Other wonderful treasures by Bob include out for Dimity Dumpty: The story of Humpty’s little sister,Oscar’s half birthday and Jethro Byrd, fairy child.
  2. Deborah Abella is the author of the great Max Remy series, a series of ten books about a feisty 11 year old school girl name Max, (and the secret to that name is revealed in the books and the website) who just happens to be an amazingly talented spy as well – although a tad clumsy. Teaming up with a farm boy they tackle the most notorious spies all over the world. Deb’s books are wonderful reads, with great adventures and believable characters that are loved and identified with by boys and girls.
  3. Emily Rodda is the internationally acclaimed author of the Deltora quest series that children, especially boys adore. These are great titles to help kids get hooked into reading with, not only the titles in the three Deltora adventures, but also the supporting quiz book and drawing titles. She is one of Australia’s most popular children’s authors and her books are often not available on the library shelves if not kept in multiples. The series has also been adapted into an anime TV series in Japan. Most recently her Rondo series of books The key to Rondo and The wizard of Rondo – there are currently two in the series – have been award winners. These titles venture once again into the fantasy realm where a music box is the portal into another fantastical world, which is revealed when the rules of this music box are broken. Emily was also the recipient of the Dromkeen medal – Australia’s highly prestigious award for a “significant contribution to the appreciation and development of children’s literature in Australia”.
  4. Freya Blackwood now lives in New Zealand but was born in Australia. She is an amazingly talented illustrator. As well as Half way across the world (see Gleeson below) her recent release is Her mother’s face, a heartfelt story about loss and grief and the continuation of life.
  5. Garth Nix is the creator of the three titles in the Old Kingdom series (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen) and more recently the Keys to the Kingdom series that begins with Minster Monday. This series also has a website with a ‘secret section’ requiring a password extracted from reading the books. Garth is a master of creating fantasy titles that are simply compelling reading and have readers aching for the next title. And he was also my agent for a while! A demonstration of Garth’s popularity is that he is appearing at the World Fantasy Convention in San Jose in late October 2009.
  6. Gregory Rogers creates amazingly intricate and evocative illustrations for his picture books. His delightful wordless picture books The boy, the bear, the barron, the bard and Midsummer night and recently The hero of little street are absolutely wonderful explorations of the power of the image. Kids everywhere have their own interpretations of each individual set of illustrations, where it is the full-page illustration or the comic strip styles. Classroom students’ love writing their own interpretations of these books and classic art and Shakespeare is fun. He was the first Australian illustrator to win the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal illustrating Libby Hathorn’s Way home. The Boy… was also one of 2004s ten best illustrated children’s books selected by the New York Times. … and I am so thrilled that it was Greg’s illustrations in my books 30 amazing Australian animals and60 classic aussie poems.
  7. Jackie French huge list of titles range from the immensely popular and awarded picture books that include The Diary of a wombat, to historical novels like They came in viking ships, and novels like Beyond the Boundaries. Jackie is one of our most prolific writers, crafting books that children just love to read. She also is the author of a number of gardening books. She regularly presented on one of our very first lifestyle shows and her website is a mine of information … check out her recipes, or information about wombats (she actually has these amazing aussie creatures roaming her property – I am soooo jealous), 
  8. Kate Forsyth creates riveting fantasy novels, from her stunning titles such as The gypsy crown (that was published as the 6 part hardcover series The chain of charms here in Australia) to her latest title researched in Scotland, The puzzle ring (which I hope becomes available in the US really soon). Kate uses the historical elements that she so thoroughly uncovers to blend with the fantasy that she crafts so well. Kate’s website says it best,“If you like books filled with magic and marvels, suspense and surprise, then you will love the many worlds of Kate Forsyth.” Kate is also a well established adult Fantasy writer.
  9. Libby Gleeson recently created the picture book Half a world away (titledAmy and Louis here in Australia). It is a gorgeous book about two children who spend lots of time together playing and sharing their lives – they are best friends but when one moves to the other side of the world they are separated and lost. This is a beautiful book about separation and friendship, which won Parents’ Choice Foundation Silver Honor. Other titles to look out are Where’s mom?, Mom goes to work and Cuddle time. Libby also wrote the novels Eleanor Elizabeth and I am Susannah with delightfully strong female characters.
  10. Margaret Wild creates some of Australia’s most iconic, adored and awarded picture books for younger and older children, many of which have been published internationally. Her stories are often funny and deeply meaningful and may take on simply loving scenes revealing stories of first steps and independence, like the newly released Puffling for younger children, or those for older readers that may be more confrontational like Woolvs in the sitee. Situations that are often difficult for younger children to grasp, like the death of an aged relative, are tenderly handled in Old pig and told in a loving and gently way making it easier for children to understand. Look for Piglet and Papa, a heart warming sequel to Piglet and Mama, Nighty night, or the delectable longer tale the Pocket dogs.
  11. Melina Marchetta has just recently returned home from America where she accepted the Michael L. Printz award for her most recent book, On the Jellico Road. Her previous title Finnikin of the rock has been shortlisted in this year’s CBC awards (to see if it won check on August 21). Finnikin also won the Aurelais Award for Young Adult Fiction. Melina writes gritting and sometimes confronting young adult fiction with characters that have authentic voices that readers can easily identify with. And also for the Printz award another Australian was shortlisted Margo Lanagan for her book Tender morsels.
  12. Shaun Tan creates books that make the readers THINK! His picture books and graphic novels are works of art that often have a focus of ‘belonging’. His multi award winning title and international bestseller, The arrival is well known. This graphic novel is the story of an immigrant in his new homeland. It is a book to be examined and then re-examined in close detail. Pixar’s movie Wall-E had some of the concept artwork originate from Shaun’s hands! More film and theatre production that is tied in with Shaun’s book can be found on his website. Most recently Shaun’s Tales from outer suburbia is a collection of short tales in an exploration of reality and fantasy. 
  13. Tina Burke is currently living in Canada but she is still one of ours. She is the creator of beautiful picture books that include It’s Christmas (winner of the 2008 Mom’s Choice Awards) and Fly, little bird (a 2007 Bank’s StreetBest Children’s Books of the Year list). Her most recent titleRuby makes a friend continues her strongly crafted storylines delightfully crafted for the very young, this time about friendship (both real and imagined). Tina creates very distinct soft illustrations that just want to be looked at again and again and her books are wonderful to share over and over again.
  14. Ursula Dubosarsky has crafted many loving fiction for younger and older readers and picture books. Her latest book The word snoop (published here as the Word spy) is a most wonderful exploration of language and words and it is a fountain of information about the English language. And don’t miss the riotous picture book The terrible plop!
  15. Wendy Orr writes books for younger and older readers. She is Canadian by birth but has lived here for ages – so she is ours too! She writes books that children love reading but not only can they read the book, they can also see the movie – and it must be good because Wendy worked on the script as well! Nim’s island is not only a book; it is the movie starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin. Check in at Wendy’s blog from her website for news on screen adaptations of her other titles. Wendy‘s young adult title Peeling the onion, can’t be missed. It is a story of self discovery after the character Anna has to put her life back together after a horrific car accident, has also been recognised by the American Libraries Association as a “best of the best List”.

Other creators to watch out for on your shelves include: Graeme Base, Colin Thompson and look for the Max character in every picture book; Graeme Base is known worldwide for his intricate artwork created for the internationally award winning animal-filled alphabet title Animalia (just try NOT following the clues in the book) John Flannagan the creator of the NY Times Best-Selling series, Rangers Apprentice; John Marsden author of the ground breaking young adult 7 book series that begins with Tomorrow when the world began which is currently being developed into a film; Julie Vivas (X) created the exquisite illustrations for Possum magic – Australia’s adored picture book. Look out for Cuddle time, The nativity and Let’s go visiting! Julie’s artwork is amazing! Libby Hathorn wrote the award winning Way home (see Rogers above) and also Thunderwith (which was made into a telemovie called The Echo of Thunder starring Judy Davis); Natalie Jane Prior has many creations including The Lilly Quench series of books, the newly published Minivers, and The paw series of books); and Stephen Michael King another illustrator/author whose recent title Leaf is a delightful exploration of a nearly wordless picture book with a child, a mom, and a tree growing in the most unusual of places!

And lastly, because I was told to, there is me Christopher Cheng. I write, non fiction, historical fiction and picture books including One child which was illustrated by Steven Woolman. But I have also ventured into the world of children’s musicals (score by S. Beth May, a professor of music at a Texas college) with Pa’s Christmas star – a Christmas musical (website coming really soon – watch my website for links)!

So that is a brief encounter of some (we have many, many more) of our great Australian children’s book creators that you might find on your bookshelves. If you can’t buy the books, then borrow them, snaffle them, chase them, cry out for them … but what ever you do make sure you READ them. You will love the experience and want more!!!! 

Christopher Cheng