Who understands the CBCA?

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This post is written by Cathie Tasker, expert picture book editor and presenter of the course Writing Picture Books at the Australian Writers’ Centre.

The Children’s Book Council of Australia is a voluntary-run, non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting books, authors and illustrators.

Their mission is “to engage the community with literature for young Australians” and their vision is “to be the premier voice on literature for young Australians and to inform, promote critical debate, foster creative responses and engage with and encourage Australian authors and illustrators to produce quality literature”. Noble goals, but they actually deliver on their promises through their national bi-annual conference and events throughout the year.

One of the CBCA’s major roles is to run the Book of the Year Award in five categories of children’s book each year, but some of the categories and terms they use can be a bit confusing for the uninitiated.

The CBCA’s Book of the Year Award is for the authors and illustrators of the best books published that year, in each of five categories:

  • The Early Childhood category (that’s where most picture books belong!)
  • The Younger Readers category
  • The Older Readers category
  • The Picture Book category
  • The Eve Pownall Award (for information books or non-fiction).

the cleo stories coverMost people are confused by the Early Childhood Book of the Year Award vs the Picture Book of the Year Award, thinking that the submissions are all conventional picture books … but that’s not quite true. The Early Childhood books are what most people consider picture books and are suitable for children of about 0-7 years. But the Picture Book of the Year Award is given to a book which is of high literary merit, and it can be for any age level.

And other terms relating to the fiction categories are confusing too…

Younger Readers refers to those children who are moving from reading picture books to reading full novels. So this category may be regarded as containing books which are suitable for about 7-12 years. But the diversity here is enormous, even wider than that found in picture books. I see this as falling into three levels within this age range —

  • The younger end — the newly-independent readers — and this is where “chapter books” belong and chapter books are often highly illustrated. Examples are:
    • The Cleo Stories series by Libby Gleeson & Freya Blackwood (Allen & Unwin)
    • The series written by Sally Morgan, Ezekiel Kwaymullina, Craig Smith (Illustrator), the best of which is Going Bush With Grandpa (Scholastic Australia)
    • Ark in the Park by Wendy Orr and Kerry Millard.
  • The middle — usually illustrated fiction of about 15,000-40,000 words with slightly fewer illustrations than in a chapter book. They may also contain different text types. Examples are:
    • The Stuff Happens series by various authors (Penguin Australia)
    • The Violet Mackerel series by Anna Branford & Sarah Davis (Walker Books Australia).
  • The upper end — fiction, often challenging. Examples are:
    • The City of Orphans trilogy by Catherine JinksVery-Unusual-Pursuit cover
    • The Mapmaker Chronicles by A.L. Tait
    • The Ratcatcher’s Daughter by Pamela Rushby
    • The Adventures of Stunt Boy and the Amazing Wonder Dog Blindfold by Lollie Barr.

    And Older Readers simply means YA fiction — that’s Young Adult fiction.

    Haven’t the awards come a long way? When the awards were first given in 1945 women got a camellia and men got a handshake. But today, thanks to the tireless work from the Awards Foundation, the authors and illustrators get real money.

    The Awards give national recognition and instant promotion for the book and its creators. Often a shortlisting can mean an instant reprint for that book too.

    Cathie Tasker is also a CBCA Book of the Year Awards fiction judge.


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