Monday musings on Australian literature: Canberra’s children’s picture book creators

Who would have thought that my little capital city of Canberra would have such a rich children’s picture book community, but over recent years I’ve been discovering just how much is going on here. So much so that I thought it might be a worthwhile topic for Brona’s AusReadingMonth.

There’s no way I can be comprehensive, so I’m going to briefly introduce ten children’s picture book creators to give a flavour. How to do this though, given picture books comprise both words and pictures, usually created by different people. We rarely know which came first, but mostly, I believe, it’s the story. So, my list here focuses on Canberra’s authors, but I will reference illustrators they have worked with. The books mentioned range from those for toddlers to primary school-aged children.

I draw heavily on Marion, the newly rebadged ACT Writers Centre, for background info on the authors.

Emma Allen

Allen was a trained early childhood speech pathologist before turning to literature. Her book The terrible suitcase, illustrated by Freya Blackwood, won the 2013 CBCA Book of the Year: Early Childhood award. It has been translated into several languages, including Japanese and Korean. Since then she has written several picture books, with her last, The great book-swapping machine, illustrated, cartoon-style, by Melbourne-based Lisa Coutts.

Nicole Godwin

Godwin is “an award-winning author with a passion for the environment, animal rights and social justice”. Her two books, Jelly-Boy and Swoop, have different illustrators. Jelly-Boy, a cautionary tale about plastic featuring a jellyfish who falls in love with a plastic bag, was illustrated by Sydney-based Christopher Nielsen. In 2020, it won the Conservation Awareness for Children Category in the Whitley Awards. Swoop was illustrated by Canberra illustrator Susannah Crispe. It speaks closely to Canberrans who, every year, brace for swooping magpie season, that is, spring! Like some other picture books I’ve read, it includes information at the end, here on magpies, which adults can share with children.

Godwin has also collaborated with Wiradjuri man Duncan Smith on We are Australians, with illustrator Jandamarra Cadd, a Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Warung descendent.

Irma Gold

Gold is no stranger to this blog, as I’ve reviewed a wide range of her works including two of her three children’s picture books, Megumi and the bear (my review), Where the heart Is (my review) and Seree’s story. The illustrators are, respectively, New Zealand-based Craig Phillips, Susannah Crispe (again) and Sydney-born Wayne Harris. She is “passionate about childhood literacy” and is an Ambassador for the ACT Chief Minister’s Reading Challenge.

Tania McCartney

Tania McCartney and Christina Booth, The Gum Family finds home

McCartney is described as “a book creator” because she has covered the whole gamut of creation from writing and illustrating to editing and design. She has won many awards, and her books have “reached the hands of children in more than 20 countries”. She is also Ambassador for the ACT Chief Minister’s Reading Challenge, and founded Kids’ Book Review and The Happy Book podcast. She has created too many books for me to list, but I did review her The Gum Family finds home, which was illustrated by Tasmanian-based Christina Booth. She is also the author/illustrator of the Plume travel series and I Heart the World.

Amelia McInerney

McInerney is a “humorous picture book author”. Her books have won various awards Her titles include The book chook, My bird, Bertie, and the internationally published Bad crab, illustrated respectively by Connah Brecon, Shane McG and Philip Bunting. Her fourth book, Who fed Zed?, is about food allergy and intolerance and is illustrated by Queensland-based graphic designer and animator, Adam Nickel.

Stephanie Owen Reeder

Reeder is the award-winning author of over 20 books for children, “ranging from picture books to historical novels”. She writes, illustrates, edits and reviews books. She received the Laurie Coping Award for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature in the ACT in 2019 and is also an Ambassador for the ACT Chief Minister’s Reading Challenge. Again, she has written too many for me to list them all, but two of her latest books, Australia’s wild, weird, wonderful weather and Ghostie were illustrated, respectively by Tania McCartney and New Zealander Mel Armstrong.

Barbie Robinson

Robinson is an “arts journalist, photographer, writer, designer, arts marketing/events manager” who has published two children’s picture books, Grandma’s knicker tree and Charles the gallery dog, both published by For Pity Sake Publishing and illustrated by the now Shoalhaven-based Ian Robertson. Robinson and husband Richard Scherer run the not-for-profit website and internet radio station Living Arts Canberra.

Krys Saclier

Saclier “believes children’s literature has the power to shape the future” and among other things is the creator of the Kids Only podcast. She has published three picture books, Vote 4 me (2020) and Camp Canberra, both illustrated by Cathy Wilcox who is also an award-winning political cartoonist, and Super Nova, illustrated by Rebecca Timmis. Vote 4 me explains preferential voting to children. Love it.

Samantha Tidy

Tidy is an award-winning author of adult, young adult and children’s fiction. Her picture books include The blue polar bear and The flying dream, with her most recent being Our bush capital, illustrated by Canberran Juliett Dudley. Marion’s website says it “offers a beautifully illustrated narration of a child’s funfilled life in Canberra”. Tidy has a new book coming out in 2023, Cloudspotting, illustrated by the clearly busy Susannah Crispe!

Shelly Unwin

Unwin is the author of the age-focused You’re… series, the non-fiction picture book Blast Off!, and There’s a baddie running through this book, illustrated, respectively, by Katherine Battersby, Ben Wood, and Vivienne To. Some of Unwin’s books are being published in the USA. Her latest book, Hello Baby, published in 2021 and geared to the very young, was illustrated by Victorian-based Jedda Robaard.

These ten authors – all women, interestingly – are just some of those working in the children’s literature field in Canberra. Their illustrators – which include some men – are more widely located, but they include Canberra-based ones like Susannah Crispe, Juliet Dudley and Cathy Wilcox. The subject-matter is wonderfully diverse – from books dealing with children’s lives (like You’re one and Hello baby) and life in Canberra (like Our bush capital) through informative books (like Blast off!) to issues-based ones (like Jelly-boy addressing environmental concerns). There’s something for everyone. I already have a few of them, and I’ll be buying more.

14 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Canberra’s children’s picture book creators

  1. Have I complained before my local indy bookshop, Crow Books, doesn’t separate out Australian from international authors. At least with kids you can (usually) tell by the pictures. But with two grandsons under two and you no what in less than 5 weeks, I’ll look out for some of these (I wonder how Mr 1 will go with preferential voting).

  2. Pingback: AusReading Month – Week One

  3. I know some if these books & authors but not all. The voting book was very good but more for school aged children from memory. As you say though, never too young to try!

    I would love to separate Aust books from the rest but we don’t have enough space in our shop. I hope when we get our website finally finished, I can create Aust pages there at least.

    We have heard that if you befriend a magpie it won’t swoop you. We have been putting it into practice in our mountains home. One magpie has been following mr books every time he whippersnips this past year. Following behind & grabbing the insects revealed. Mr books talks to him the whole time. Now when we arrive, he pops by on the balcony railing to say hi. The last whippersnip session he brought his whole family along for the fed – mum & 2 little ones. It was so funny seeing them following along behind like ducks!

    • Thanks Brona. Yes, I think Vote 4 Me is marked at 7-12 year olds. I was a bit tongue in cheek with Bill.

      Re Magpies. I’m not sure you even have to befriend them. If you share a territory with them they get to know you. We have some that regularly visit us. They love to potter around the garden and will do it while we are there quite happily, exactly for the reason you give – gardening can expose food for them. I always say hello and share (one way!) some observations. It’s so lovely that unlike other birds they do happily hang around, isn’t it?

      Oh, and far point re Aussie books and space. Aussie pages on a website would help

  4. Ha! I predict that children’s literature will interest you more and more in coming years, grandma!
    Australian children’s literature has been internationally notable ever since I was at teachers’ college, when we were told that it was very highly thought of, especially in Britain. And prolific too, in most years I spent all my library budget on Australian pictures books and junior fiction and it was always popular with the children. Parents persisted in buying cheap supermarket editions of Blyton, but apart from the Magic Faraway Tree the kids weren’t interested, and I lost track of the ones that were ‘donated’ (offloaded) to the library and ended up in the skip.

    Marion?? What possessed them to change from a name that everyone recognised and could find with Google and made its purpose plain to ‘Marion’? I took a quick look at their website and couldn’t find the reason why. If they were going to do it, why not choose an Indigenous name rather than one that made me think of Irish Marion nuns? Marion Halligan? Surely not… I mean, I love her writing, but why her and not some other notable ACT writer?

    • Exactly Lisa… I am reintroducing myself to children’s literature now. Those cheap Blytons etc are a blight but I was thrilled to find a cheap Possum Magic the other day-not because it was cheap but because it was a small but not too small edition that I could post easily overseas.

      As for Marion, I was invited to the launch but the week was just too big and I knew it was just one thing too many. However, it is partly in recognition of Marion Halligan (their patron) and partly Marion Mahony Griffin. An interesting decision in terms of not being descriptive, I agree.

      • I love Possum Magic. FWIW the post office usually has inexpensive paperbacks that are good for sending overseas, but really, the cheapest way to do it is via The Book Depository. I got sick of paying the exorbitant postage that cost more than the book for birthday and Christmas gifts and thereafter used the BD.

  5. When I was a child, it seemed that all the famous picture books of the day were both written and illustrated by the same person. The stories tended to rely heavily on image, so maybe that’s the key.

    • Interesting Melanie .. I don’t really recollect that being predominant with the books I read to my kids (around your age) but of course Sendak wrote and illustrated his didn’t he. And I think Dr Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel ) did too? And I do know some Aussie author-illustrators, but I can think of as many duos too. One of Australia’s best-loved contemporary classics is duo-created, Possum Magic by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas.

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