Carly Nugent wins the 2019 Readings Children’s Book Prize

We’re thrilled to reveal that the winner of this year’s Readings Children’s Book Prize is The Peacock Detectives by Carly Nugent!

Established in 2014, the Readings Children’s Book Prize celebrates on-the-rise Australian authors and is awarded to the book that children will love best.

Carly Nugent’s quirky mystery about family and friendship is a fitting winner. This heartfelt depiction of family relationships and sophisticated exploration of mental health never talks down to its audience and is perfectly suited to curious, thoughtful readers and budding writers aged 9+.

When 11-year-old Cassie’s neighbours ask her to look for their missing peacocks, William Shakespeare and Virginia, she eagerly takes the case. But the search takes some unexpected turns, and leads her to deeper puzzles about her family and friends: Why is her father sad? Why has her mother moved out? Why is her sister becoming a Buddhist, and what is Buddhism anyway?

In the first ever heads-down, thumbs-up vote in the history of the prize, The Peacock Detectives was unanimously chosen as the winner by a panel of Readings children’s book specialists – including Leanne Hall, Pilgrim Hodgson and Bianca Looney (all Readings Kids) and myself (Readings St Kilda) – along with our 2019 guest judge, author Zana Fraillon.

The entire panel loved this tender portrayal of a family going through changes. In particular, we were moved by the sensitive and nuanced depiction of mental illness that offered cause for hope without promising easy resolutions. Cassie faces real challenges with quiet strength, and shows remarkable determination and compassion while helping her family, friends, and even the school bully. The narration is charming and insightful, rich with texture and well-observed details about the changing seasons in a rural Victorian town and the internal lives of its inhabitants.

Guest judge Fraillon described The Peacock Detectives as ‘one of those rare books that is almost hypnotic in its telling’. She says: ‘The Peacock Detectives truly is a heart-warming story that will be enjoyed by readers of all ages. The story touches on issues such as bullying, family break-ups, mental illness, child carers, adoption, death, friendship, trust and belonging, but in such a gentle, thoughtfully crafted way as to not once feel overwhelming, didactic or judgemental. The characters brim with personality and feel so true to life that I missed them when I had finished reading.’

As the 2019 winner, Nugent will receive $3,000 in prize money. She says: ‘I was beyond excited when I found out The Peacock Detectives had won the Readings Children’s Book Prize! (I may have made a sort of squealing noise in the school library!) I have always loved Readings – when I was a student at Melbourne Uni I spent a lot of time at the Lygon Street store, and I always visit (and add to my reading pile) whenever I’m in Melbourne. This prize is such an honour. Hugest of thanks to the wonderful Readings staff, and congratulations to all the shortlisted authors. Bookshops are the best!’

Congratulations to all the authors shortlisted alongside Nugent for this year’s prize: Amie Kaufman (Elementals: Ice Wolves); Mat Larkin (The Orchard Underground); Andrew McDonald and Ben Wood (Real Pigeons Fight Crime); Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler (Black Cockatoo); and Rhiannon Williams (Ottilie Colter and the Narroway Hunt). All six shortlisted books are available to purchase in a specially priced pack here.

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Fraillon praised this year’s shortlist, describing it as ‘a whirlwind tour of pure imagination and adventure’: ‘Each of the shortlisted books whisked the reader deftly into their world – and what fantastically fun worlds these were! From the quietly powerful heat of the Australian outback, to freezing cities where children twist into dragons and wolves; underground orchards full of danger and mystery, and city parks kept alive by a hard working team of pigeons; forests full of monsters pulled straight from the darkest nightmares; to the beautifully realised town in country Victoria that is brimming with mysteries and wonders of its own.’

For more information about the Readings Children’s Book Prize, click here.


Freya Howarth is a children’s specialist at Readings St Kilda and the chair of the 2019 Readings Children’s Book Prize judging panel.

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The Peacock Detectives

The Peacock Detectives

Carly Nugent

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