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A boom in Australian children’s picture books kicked off in the late 1960s and lasted well into the 1990s.
As many, if not more, titles were published during this time as in the previous 130 years.
Beginning with the appointment of Joyce Saxby at Angus & Robertson in 1965, publishing houses in Australia were hiring dedicated children’s editors.
Authors and illustrators no longer had to rely on international book fairs and overseas companies for access to publishing deals, while courses on children’s literature began appearing at universities and teachers’ colleges.
This was a time of rapid social change in Australia. The established order was being questioned, and awareness of causes such as conservation, multiculturalism and Aboriginal rights was gathering momentum. Children’s books were one way to bring these themes to a broad audience of young readers and their families.
Technology was also in flux. Printing had progressed from three-colour line drawings to full-colour reproductions of a glorious array of artworks. Australian publishers enjoyed relatively easy access to these advances through high-quality colour printing in Singapore and Hong Kong.
Children’s picture books were becoming recognisably ‘Australian’ in their themes and characters. The trend for popularising (and personifying) the country’s native animals saw the creation of such classics as Kerry Argent and Rod Trinca’s One Woolly Wombat (1982), Mem Fox and Julie Vivas’ Possum Magic (1983), and Sheena Knowles and Rod Clement’s Edward the Emu (1988).
Life in Australian cities and the outback provided familiar visual references for children growing up under southern skies. In Jonah and the Manly Ferry (1983), Peter Gouldthorpe’s crisp linocuts capture a day at the beach that begins with a ferry trip on a shimmering Sydney Harbour. Julie Vivas conveys the nostalgia of 1930s Bondi through her delicate watercolours in Libby Hathorn’s The Tram to Bondi Beach (1981). In David Cox’s Bossyboots (1985), young Abigail takes on Flash Fred the bushranger on her way home via mailcoach to Narrabri, while Phoebe impresses the rural town of Mumblegum with her music and dancing in Quentin Hole’s 1987 story.