CBCA Awards 2020

With a delayed and adjusted awards ceremony this year, the CBCA Awards have finally been announced!


View the award ceremony today (October 16) below:


This year, I didn’t read all the shortlisted Older Readers books, but two of those I reviewed here were awarded the Honour Book status – The Boy Who Steals Houses and Ghost Bird. (I was disappointed When the Ground is Hard wasn’t also among the winners, as it was my pick.)


That said, how many people regularly pick the winner?

This year the winner in the Older Readers category was ‘This is How We Change the Ending’ – a tough book for the author, dealing with tough issues. Author Vikki Wakefield even expressed how writing this book made her feel uncomfortable.

It is inhabited by kids who are tough and prickly and aimless. Kids trying to figure out who they are and what they stand for. Kids who feel they have limited choices.

Hopefully, it is a book that kids, like this, will read with hope; and also one read by others better off, to develop empathy.


When the passionate Eddie Woo introduced the Younger Readers award category, he aimed to remind everyone about the power of books – including the power to help us inhabit other people’s thoughts, to embrace other people’s emotions, and thus, develop empathy for others.

Winner Pip Harry accepted her award and then showed viewers around the area of Singapore (where she now lives). However, her book, ‘the Little Wave’,  was inspired on the shores of Manly Beach, which she misses. She spoke about reading as a friend, as well as a place to learn empathy. She said she loves to write for kids “because they are the best readers”, and read the following poem which was sent to her by an avid reader:

“Writing a fiction story is like creating a world

Piece by piece

And your head forgets who you really are.” – Amelia, Grade 3


Empathy and understanding of people in different situations seem to be key elements in many of the books involved in this year’s awards. This is also reflected in the comments of readers interviewed in the video clips, as well as many of the books. Accepting the award for Eve Pownall Award this year, Bruce Pascoe for ‘Young Dark Emu’ expressed his desire for the younger generation to develop an understanding and appreciation of Australian heritage – another book where kids can stand in the shoes of others.

What inspired you the most from this year’s awards?

Ghost Bird

It’s a mystery – Laney is missing and Stacey doesn’t believe the story told by Laney’s boyfriend, Troy.

The police don’t seem to be doing much about looking for her, though her family mob are searching where they can. The divide between black and white in the outback community is pretty clear:

“Everyone knows that some parts of the town are ‘white’ territory and others are ‘black’. Even the pub has a whitefulla and a blackfulla side.”

As Laney’s twin, Stacey feels it is up to her to follow her own instincts to find her, despite repeated commands from her mother to stay put. Her nightmares continue and though respectful of her family, she must do something – including speaking with Mad May Miller.

There are many tensions within the community – between black and white, poor and wealthy, current and past landowners.  Thus, Lisa Fuller brings together elements of racism, family loyalty, past conflicts and tradition into this intriguing debut novel.

While covering only a week in a divided community, there are many questions to be answered along the way:

  • What really happened to Laney? Can she be found alive?
  • What was/is it like to live in a divided community?
  • Should Stacey follow her instincts?
  • When is it time to get over old grievances?
  • Can the solution come from the past?

The characters of Stacey and her cousin Rhi are real and relatable, as are her family members and Mad May Miller. This would be a great class novel, but read it before it becomes one to enjoy the language and situations it introduces. A worthy nomination for this year’s CBCA shortlist!

# In this interview, Lisa Fuller responds to the comment: ‘One of the loveliest aspects of Ghost Bird is the infusion of your culture with a strong emphasis on family.’ and more.

EDIT: Ghost Bird is an Honour Book in this year’s CBCA Awards. Congrats!

Our Chemical Hearts

Henry – at 17 has never had a real girlfriend. Lola – had a fling with Henry, but then moved on to a relationship with Georgie. Murray – comical crazy over-the-top Aussie friend is thrown into the mix. (Maybe he’s a good drawcard for Australian YA readers?)

Then, the elusive Grace turns up in their senior years of high school. Lola thinks Grace is competition for Henry. Muz (Murray) thinks she may be a zombie, werewolf or worse. But Henry is enamoured – he thinks.

When they are teamed as editors of the school newspaper, Henry and Grace have to spend more time together and things evolve. But Grace has an unexplained past – one she seems unwilling to reveal to Henry.

In ‘Our Chemical Hearts’ Henry is a somewhat gentle teenager – up till now, not too worried about what others think of him – until he meets Grace. Then, as he tries to understand a little bit about her, he finds himself in the throes of his ‘first love’. Grace, hurt by recent losses, is hot and cold in the relationship which confuses him and he digs deeper.

“I fell asleep… thinking of Grace Town and how, if people really were assembled from pieces of the universe, her soul was made of stardust and chaos.” (Is this Henry experiencing true love?)

Krystal Sutherland has a great story in this debut novel. There are moments of laughter and tears (I did both) as Henry and Grace search to understand each other, find their hearts and ultimately, themselves. Cute vignettes are exchanged between Henry and Grace (in texts, notes and letters) and funny (maybe over-the-top) quips from Murray and Lola add a friendly flavour to this touching and relatable tale.

# ‘Our Chemical Hearts’ is due for movie release sometime in 2020 – why not get to know the characters and read it before then?

## Why are there fish on the cover? (Maybe Ricky Martin Knupps II knows?)

Waste Not Everyday

As the COVID-19 virus eats into our grocery and other supplies, perhaps it’s time, while we cool our heels at home, to reconsider our consumption.

In ‘Waste Not Everyday: Simple Zero-Waste Inspiration 365 Days a Year’ Erin Rhoads provides tips for every day of the year of ways towards making simple lifestyle changes so that our impact on the world is less about waste and more about meaning.

Today, as we are encouraged to stay at home, and perhaps ration our consumption a whole lot more, it is worth looking at the framework she proposes in her book, including the tenents we all know:

              • reduce
              • reuse
              • refuse
              • recycle

There are several others she proposes (her list includes 11 steps) but it is the order of her framework that matters.

You’ll note that recycling is towards the end. This is because the act of recycling is not the way to fix the problem: instead it simply delays items … from ending up in landfill. (From the introduction of Waste Not Everyday.)

There are lots of simple ideas in this book like, buying your fruit and vegetables loose – and then making sure you display them to ensure you eat them, supporting local growers markets and choosing seasonal foods. There are many tips and recipes for things like cleaners, shampoos and weedkiller – all better for the environment than most commercial varieties.

However, much of the book is to make us pause and think. Do we need more? Is there a better way? Can I repurpose something? Use it longer? Repair it?

A timely page I opened to today said:

# 162 Don’t let scary statistics weigh you down: channel energy into changes you can make in your home or community.

At this time of change in our world, it certainly can’t hurt to look at some of the 365 options Rhoads has gathered together in this book – and start to make a difference – a genuine impact on the future of our planet.

# This is also available as an ebook from many sources – an even better option?

Reading – from a social distance

Better than toilet paper…

As COVID-19 now demands a greater degree of social distancing in Australia, it is likely that public libraries will be closed in most locations this week.

Already practising the required hygiene demands of sanitiser and distancing, our local library faced a steady flow of residents getting book piles ready for home isolation recently, before closure.

Then, it is likely that with closures, we will have to rely on what we have at home and virtual spaces to fulfil our reading needs (though some bookshops are offering free local deliveries). Here are a few ideas – some free others at individual cost):

With library membership – examples:

Borrowbox – Borrow eBooks and eAudiobooks free from your library using our BorrowBox app.

RBDigital – offers eMagazines and eAudiobooks for download. To borrow, you will need a valid local library membership card and password. Register with RBDigital.

Storybox Library – created for children to view stories by Australian authors and illustrators

Free access:

Loyal Books – free public domain audio and ebooks.

Audiobooks on Spotify – search at spotify.com for audiobooks/playlist. This post explains the finer details of doing this search to get what you want.

Paid subscriptions:

Audible / Amazon – Your first Audible book is free, then a choice of subscription applies. Some ebooks available free on Amazon – time to try the classic selection? (maybe start with a trial / limited period?)

# Another alternative may simply be to tackle your own TBR pile?

## Can you suggest any other sources?

### Don’t forget to check out your public or school library’s eResources too.

Indie Awards 2020 Announced

Indie Awards 2020 Winners

The winners for the Indie Awards (a unique award recognising and rewarding the best Australian writing as chosen by Australian Independent Booksellers) was announced today.

Included in the shortlist announced in January were many fabulous books, including one reviewed here – Dumplings anyone? – a winner in 2020.

If you need inspiration or suggestions for book purchases, then these are lists to consider.

It is also interesting to read the responses of award winners and how these awards affect/inspire their writing journeys.

“Winning the Indie Book Awards in the Young Adult Category is such an incredible honour. The book industry is so indebted to the brilliance and passion of independent booksellers, so to be recognised by these the cornerstones of the industry, it’s really a dream come true. Thank you so much to all the booksellers from the bottom of my heart for championing THE SURPRISING POWER A GOOD DUMPLING.” —The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim (Allen and Unwin Children’s)

# With some bookshops offering (free) delivery to homes at this time of social distancing, why not get a few of these titles in at home?

Are you prepared?

How tall is your TBR pile?

What do you have ready in case you have to stay at home for a period of time? Aside from the pile of TBRs beside your bed, have you thought about access to:

1. Local/state/national libraries

2. Ebooks

3. Audiobooks

4. Bookshop deliveries

These are some of the options I am pondering. Unfortunately, some local libraries (or their branches) are closing or limiting their services. It’s a good idea to get in and borrow physical books NOW.

Be sure you have some membership of a local library – you will need to present physically for this, so do it NOW. This will enable access to ONLINE RESOURCES (ebooks and audiobooks) when libraries shutdown.

(Just don’t stay too long and be socially aware of your distance.)

Membership to State and National libraries enable access to databases and resources you may need for school/research purposes. And local library membership enables this too. [All HS students should access these options.]

Then, as things tighten down and you have to stay close to home, many bookshops are offering free local deliveries. Just ask your local bookshop what they are offering.

Dumplings, anyone?

When I first began reading ‘the Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling’ it made me recall ‘Front Desk’ by Kelly Yang (reviewed here). Both stories deal with families of Asian heritage, and their struggles to assimilate in a Western culture and daughters battling with their parents’ expectations of their school achievements. However, as a novel for an older reader, SPOAGD has more layers and detail.

As the eldest sibling, Anna has a lot of responsibility – especially since there are times when her mother won’t get out of bed for weeks on end. Her father seems more focussed on the operation of the family restaurant, and even spends overnights there since it is some distance from home. Thus, Anna, Lily (her younger, smart sister) and Michael (her kindergarten brother) are left to cope as best they can.

Though they recognise that their mother’s behaviour is not ‘normal’, the children are unable, or unwilling to seek help – family pride – and their father appears too weak to act.

Family struggles arise. Michael’s teacher wishes to see his mother. Anna’s teachers push her to lift her game, as she nears the senior years of school. Previously-loyal employees leave the restaurant for better opportunities. Their father spends even more time away from home, seemingly ignoring his wife’s health issues and their impact on the family.

When she goes to help out at the restaurant in the school holidays, Anna meets Rory, who begins work as their delivery boy. Slowly, a vital friendship grows, and Anna is confronted by the struggles that others around her also face.

Dealing with mental illness, SPOAGD highlights how hard it is to take action and get help. In the layers of the story, bullying, suicide, stress and depression are carefully exposed. As a reader, you anticipate some of the key characters opening up to each other, as they identify with similar problems.

But, credit to author, Wai Chim, there is no easy path for Anna, Rory, or others like school acquaintance, Wei. However new friendships and old loyalties form a comforting base for Anna and Rory, as they work through their individual struggles.

The story subtly points out some of the tiny ways in which different cultures critique and antagonise one another – sometimes without even understanding their impact. At the same time, it shows that the nuances of each family’s cultural background is important.

As Wai Chim states, the power of own voice stories is important, and books like ‘the Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling’ provide some interesting insights into different cultures, without lecturing. It’s a coming of age story, with lots of ups and downs to keep you emotionally connected to the very end.

Recommended 13+

# Other books by Wai Chim include ‘Freedom Swimmer’, ‘Shaozhen’ (a CBCA Notable book for Younger Readers for 2018, set in China) and a number of picture books in the Chook Chook series.

# How important is it that authors represent or write about their own culture?

## As someone who now lives in Australia, born in the USA, does Wai have the credentials to write Chinese ‘own voice stories?

The immigrant experience

Mia’s family has immigrated from China to the US for a better life – which is fine, until the reality of finding work hits. With little more than $200, the family takes on a job running a motel for Mr Yao, the wealthy owner. They soon realise life isn’t going to be as rosy as they first thought, as Mr Yao takes advantage of their desperate situation.

‘Front Desk’ reflects a lot of the personal experiences of the author, Kelly Yang, as she too helped her parents manage several motels in California from a young age. Just as Mia finds school difficult (hiding her poverty and facing racist taunts), so too did Kelly.

The exploitation of immigrant workers and racist attitudes facing people of non-white appearances is strongly portrayed, as Mia’s family struggles to get ahead. They find some comfort and support from the ‘weeklies’ who live in the Calivista Motel – though initially puzzled by the warning one gives them about the nature of their employer:

[Hank] “Everyone hates Mr Yao… Trust me, he’s anything but all right.”

Mia strives to get off the hopeless roller coaster of her situation. She  has ambitions to become a writer, even though her mother constantly directs her to devote her studies to maths. Is this an unrealistic ambition for a Chinese daughter of immigrants? Why is her mother so insistent on maths?

While Front Desk is fairly easy to read, many of the events and issues it raises are not. The ways Mia has to employ to cope with her family’s impoverished situation – both at school and at home, could make you sad. However, the other disempowered people she meets who spur her on and support the family provide hope.

It is HOPE that has to be continually reignited in this story, as Mia’s roller coaster takes her and her family on a rough, and sometimes dangerous, ride.

Kelly Yang wrote this story with purpose:

Finally, I hope that through this book, more people will understand the importance of tolerance and diversity…

This book is about what happens when you include, when, despite all your suffering and heartache, you still wake up every morning and look out at the world with fresh, curious eyes.

In this video, Kelly introduces Front Desk:

A recommended read for middle schoolers, and those who would like to see the immigrant experience through authentic eyes.

# The copy previewed has a different (newer) cover – why do you think the publishers have done this?

## Which of the things which happens to Mia and her family do you find most surprising? or most shocking?

Author, Actor and Audience

Late in the day of our BookWeek celebrations, there was anticipation as years 5 and 6 waited to hear from this year’s invited author. Anticipation too, for the author – for Tim Harris had taught at this school for 10 years before embarking on his writing career.

No-one was disappointed – students, staff and author all delighted in the events of the day – especially the stories and ideas Tim presented, at different levels, to our Junior School students. He captivated the audience, inviting their response; he also told true tales, sometimes revealing real school or family connections.

Lots of stories and ideas were shared. Tim skilfully combined the two to outline some of the tricks of the (writing) trade. This included when he shared tales of situations which inspired an idea (the mosquito that caught fire – his son’s perception of a laser pointer; classroom situations – escalated by thinking ‘what if’). Our students were totoally enthralled and engaged.

Other author hints included:

  • writers look for ideas & join them together
  • take ideas from a photo
  • use things from strong memories
  • then use those memories & EXAGGERATE!
  • trust your editor
  • read, read, read.

Tim Harris now has a great list of titles which are selling globally. His new series, Toffle Towers, is also bound to be a new success.

However, Tim reflects that elements of success to him also includes:

  • returning to a school he loved, but in a different role
  • hearing from an ex-student, now reading his books to her students
  • connecting to young readers as he performs his works
  • recognising the authors he began to introduce to his students
  • engaging with the wider community of fellow authors, booksellers, publishers, and of course, teacher librarians and their students – promoting and loving his work.

To future writers, Tim says:

“Ideas are everywhere. Consider the ‘what if’.”

To readers, Tim says:

“Toffle Towers: Fully Booked is the first in the new series – more to come!”.

And Tim has even hinted that he may yet have some non-fiction tales to tell – stayed tuned, stay alert for more!

Till then, you can find Tim introducing his new characters on social media, and investigate reviews of  his current works at: https://www.betterreading.com.au/kids-ya/fawlty-towers-meets-treehouse-extract-of-toffle-towers-fully-booked/

Tim Harris currently writes for a slightly younger age group than YA (young adult) – his inspiration follows on from reading Paul Jennings stories to his classes. Which writers currently inspire you? Are there others you have read in your younger years which you remember fondly?