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Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children's Literature

Winners and Shortlist

Joint Winners

Crossing

Catherine Norton (Omnibus/Scholastic Australia)

[Crossing]

Cara has grown up in the shadow of the Wall, in a closed world of food shortages and high security. Her parents are dedicated to their secret work for the government, and it’s only a matter of time before her gifted younger sister follows in their footsteps.

It’s all Cara has ever known, until the summer she meets Ava and Leon. Ava doesn’t care about rules. Nothing will ever be the same.

Judges' comments

With haunting echoes of the Berlin Wall, Crossing portrays a community living under the constraining shadow of a massive wall. An understated first-person narrative evokes the world 11-year-old Cara shares with her parents, who dedicate themselves to secret government work. They leave Cara to look after her little sister, queue for food and attend school. Using sharp, clean language, Catherine Norton creates a poignant portrait of Cara’s evolving dilemmas once she befriends some neighbours and begins to think a bit differently about the supposed safety ‘the Wall’ provides.

Not set in a particular time or place, Crossing could easily take place in many settings; the issues it grapples with so skilfully are universal ones. The nonlinear structure of the dystopian story, with its frequent flashbacks, adds to the power of the prose. The reader, along with Cara, slowly puts the pieces together and begins to understand the impact of unfolding events. The characters are convincing in this compelling novel, with its spare, taut text and simple yet graphic setting. The mesmerising story raises many questions about families and values, rules and ethics, and, especially, about trust and freedom.

Norton’s first novel for children resounds with many substantial issues as she deftly takes readers back and forth in time. Under the shadow of that massive wall she has created an alarming scenario that will draw readers in even as they recoil. Despite the complexity of the plot, it remains accessible — and, indeed, admirably suited — to an upper primary audience, who will have plenty to consider as they become enveloped in the narrative. The author is a master of control and her brilliantly restrained prose will reverberate with readers long after they read the last sentence of this exceptional piece of writing.


Figgy in the World

Tamsin Janu (Omnibus/Scholastic Australia)

[Figgy in the World]

Figgy has two problems. One is her name. Nobody in Ghana has that name. The other is that her grandmother is ill and needs special medicine. Figgy cant do much about her name, but she can do something for Grandma Ama. She will go to America and bring back the medicine, and Kwame, her special goat, will go with her. Out in the wide world she will meet some bad people, but she will also find good friends.

Judges' comments

Figgy, the intrepid and ingenuous young Ghanaian narrator of Figgy in the World, takes readers on a grand adventure. In Figgy’s little village, Grandma Ama has become ill, and the eight-year-old orphaned girl resolves to help, setting off with her goat for America, where she expects to find medicine to save Grandma Ama. This drama-filled and humour-touched tale weaves its way around Ghana, following Figgy into and out of a variety of mishaps involving the wide cast of distinctive characters she meets on her way.

The first-person narration is utterly childlike and convincing. A well-developed, character with her own genuine voice, Figgy is intrepid and tenacious, but also believable in her naïveté and innocence. Her wonderful relationship with her new friend Nana evolves in a realistic and moving way, and the two children shine through in this well-paced story that twists and turns its way to a most satisfying conclusion. Many cultural insights and sensory details of Ghanaian culture come alive in the telling. And while the hardship suffered in Ghana is clear, the values of friendship and love are at the heart of this delightful, memorable work of junior fiction.

Tamsin Janu came to write her debut children’s novel, Figgy, after spending three months working at a Ghanaian school and orphanage. Her firsthand experience has clearly infused her with an inspired understanding of a country where poverty and danger abound but where goodness and joy nevertheless course through the people. To be able to portray this world so vividly and engagingly is exemplary. To create so many distinctive well-realised characters--including even Kwame the goat –is also remarkable. But to accomplish both with the impeccable clarity of expression necessary for appreciation by a young audience is truly a literary feat.


Shortlist

The First Voyage 

Allan Baillie (Puffin Books)

[The first voyage]

30,000 years ago, before the pyramids are built, before the Ice Age comes and goes, and before Neanderthals become extinct, the Yam tribe live in peace on Bird Island. But the Crocodile tribe have other ideas . . .

The ferocious Crocodile warriors have already killed Bent Beak's pa, and now they seem determined to take out his whole tribe. The only way to survive is to flee the island. But where will they go?

As the Yam tribe brave the perils of the sea, will they survive the voyage into the unknown, and what awaits them just over the horizon?

An enthralling story about the plight of the very first boat people, of their desperation, bravery and hope.

Judges' comments

Prehistory comes vividly to life in this telling of some of the first peoples to arrive on Australian shores. The Yam tribe coexist on Bird Island with two other tribes: the peaceable Crab and the warmongering Crocodiles, aggressive warriors who are determined to destroy the Yam and take over their territory. Eventually the Yam tribe, in fear for their lives, make the terrifying decision to leave their island and set off in search of a new home. The voyage is perilous and the tribe are utterly at the mercy of the ocean. The inevitable deaths are handled by the author with delicate poignancy.

Allan Baillie creates the world and the people of the Yam tribe with depth and realism. The descriptions of the land, the sea, the sky and storms complement the well-paced action of the story. Recognisable human personalities, relationships and foibles abound. The ingenuity of the Yam tribe’s men and women in preparing for and enduring their voyage is remarkably detailed. Bent Beak, aged about 12, narrates the story, in the present tense, and the reader can readily inhabit his world. The dialogue between characters sounds authentic, and moments of wry humour balance others of great drama.


Rivertime

Trace Balla (Allen & Unwin)

[Rivertime]

A tender, illustrated tale of a boy and his bird-watching uncle, on a paddling trip on Australia's Glenelg River. A story about slowing down, growing up, and connecting with the land and its creatures.

Judges' comments

A journey by canoe from the upper reaches of a river to where it meets the ocean is the simple, yet elegantly related story of this book, presented as a graphic novel for younger readers. Clancy, a likeable 10 and a half year old, is initially aghast at the thought of being so far from civilisation, from his computer games, toys and home comforts. Yet in the capable care of Uncle Egg — an admirably kind and empathic male father-figure — Clancy’s eyes are gradually opened to the unfolding adventure and the wonders of nature, particularly birdwatching, about which Uncle Egg is so knowledgeable.

Along the way, electronic games and devices quite forgotten, Clancy sets and achieves his own minor challenge to get from the river onto a wooden wharf without help. Rivertime works at a number of levels — as an information book, as a ‘road (canoe) trip’, and, with Clancy’s growing engagement with the natural world, as a coming-of-age story. Trace Balla’s illustrations work in great harmony with the text she has created, and the book is captivating throughout. The final illustrations are a heartwarming conclusion to this thoroughly enjoyable, informative and beautifully realised work.


The Duck and the Darklings

Glenda Millard & Stephen Michael King (Allen & Unwin)

[The duck and the darklings]

Grandpapa's eyes shine when he remembers the beauty of the world, long-ago. Peterboy wants to find something wonderful to bring the light to Grandpapa's eyes and keep it there. What he finds is a duck, wounded and broken, and Grandpapa mends her from top to tail; quack, waddle and wing!

The Duck and the Darklings is a story, for children and adults, about the coming of hope in dark days, the warmth of friendship and the splendour of a new dawn.

Judges' comments

This lovely picture book depicts the poignant story of little Peterboy’s subterranean childhood. He lives in a world ruined by undefined human damage, where he is safely moored by the shelter and love of his grandfather. Early in the story, Peterboy brings optimistic splashes of colour to his cavern home. However, it is the arrival of the little duck (‘Idaduck’) — a symbol not only of nurture, but of the natural world regaining a foothold — that spurs Grandpapa to describe for Peterboy a previous world drenched in the colours of nature.

Whilst Idaduck’s inevitable release into the wild could be a moment of overwhelming sadness, her flight takes the pages from darkness to light. The story’s final sentence is elegantly and quietly optimistic. Glenda Millard’s text is beautifully shaped and has a style all its own; her charming invented words are always immediately understood. The artwork is a crowning achievement for Stephen Michael King — his familiar gentle, quirky style is wonderfully rendered, even on the darkest of pages, and when colour blossoms at the story’s conclusion, it does so with great power.


The Adventures of Sir Roderick the Not-Very Brave

James O’Loghlin (Pan Macmillan Australia)

[The adventures of sir roderick the not very brave]

In a land where peace is threatened by assassins, invading armies and unhappy peasants, one knight must be brave enough to journey forth on a great quest.

'But that can't be me,' thought Sir Roderick. 'I'm the most junior knight in the kingdom. And definitely the most hopeless. They wouldn't pick me to go somewhere so dangerous...

Would they?'

Judges' comments

In this imaginative, fresh and entertaining medieval fantasy romp, young teenage Sir Roderick finds himself on a quest to locate Banfor, the one person who Queen Emily has declared will save Baronia from invasion by the neighbouring Nareeans. No knight-errant, Roderick’s lack of bravery tested many times. But he learns through his adventures about the difference between fear and cowardice, and what it means to show real courage. James O’Loghlin makes witty asides to the reader through a third-person narrator, who relates Roderick’s episodic adventures.

The tone darkens in the final third of the story, when revelations of political intrigue and family secrets cause Roderick, and the reader, to reconsider what is truth and what is not, and what is morally right or wrong. All the dilemmas Roderick encounters are vividly filmic. The plot is complicated and multi-layered, but the action is nicely paced. A diverse cast of well-drawn characters adds to the overall excitement and lightheartedness; the feisty Ruby and the frustrated giant flying cockroach are standouts. Roderick is especially realistic, and the reader comes to know and care about him intensely. Of particular note is Chester the bear, whose wonderful speech patterns bring many laughs.