The Readings Children’s Book Prize shortlist 2017

We’re delighted to reveal this year’s shortlist for the Readings Children’s Book Prize. This Prize recognises and celebrates Australian books that children love to read, and raises the profile of debut and on-the-rise Australian children’s book authors.

The six shortlisted titles are:

You can read judges’ comments for each shortlisted title below.

The Readings Children’s Book Prize manager Angela Crocombe says: ‘For the younger readers we have an animal adventure and a mystery story, both the first in a series. We also have a swashbuckling, seafaring adventure; the story of a haunted house; and a magical fight between good and evil. There’s something for every child to delight in and be transported by.’

This year’s judging panel included children’s specialists Athina Clarke (Readings Malvern), Alexa Dretzke (Readings Hawthorn), Dani Solomon (Readings Kids) and Holly Harper (Readings Kids). The panel will be joined by special guest judge, children’s book author Elizabeth Honey, to decide the winner.

We’re also pleased to be offering the ENTIRE shortlist in a specially priced bundle. This bundle is available online and from Readings Kids.

Escape to Moon Islands by Mardi McConnochie

(Book 1 of the Quest for Sunfish series)

‘In a future world that has been shaped by a cataclysmic flood, a powerful admiralty rules the oceans and, subsequently, the land. Whole communities were wiped out by the deluge and slums have been created in the habitable, low-lying areas. The contrast between haves and have-nots is marked. Will and Annalie live with their father in such a slum, albeit as ‘legals’, and maintain a reasonable lifestyle as their father has employment. Yet within the first few pages he goes missing, pursued by government officials who claim he has stolen top-secret information. His children have really no knowledge of his past but they are convinced of his innocence and set out in their boat to find him.

Vivid and action-packed from the start, how they survive the fickle sea, treacherous admiralty and their own sibling rivalry makes for compulsive reading. They have the ability of James Bond to escape dangerous situations, but that doesn’t lessen the pleasure. Compelling and immensely readable, this story will appeal to boys and girls aged 9–12 who like a strong adventure.’

Alexa Dretzke, Readings Hawthorn

A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee

‘An ideal read-aloud adventure for the whole family, A Most Magical Girl is also perfect for independent readers aged 9 years or over, especially for all those readers who loved Karen Foxlee’s other book, the bestselling Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy.

Set in Victorian London, this exciting exploration of identity, family and friendship pits the city’s ageing witches and wizards against a malevolent villain in a quintessential battle of good and evil.

The ‘magical girl’, the reluctant and apprehensive Annabel, believes she is an ordinary girl thrown into extraordinary circumstances. But Annabel and the ‘wild girl’, Kitty, a magical girl in her own right, must overcome their fears and apprehensions in order to save the world.

The juxtaposition between prim and proper Annabel and the tough and gritty Kitty is wonderful, and their fractious friendship, borne of necessity, becomes a bond of mutual respect. Once again, Karen Foxlee draws us into a deliciously tense storyline injected with a deft touch of wry humour and wonderfully appealing characters. Highly recommended for readers aged 9 and up.’

Athina Clarke, Readings Malvern

Squishy Taylor and the Bonus Sisters by Ailsa Wild

(Book 1 of the Squishy Taylor series)

‘Any novel for younger independent readers needs to strike a tricky balance between story and language; the story must be rich and entertaining yet told within a limited palate of words, a balance that Squishy Taylor and the Bonus Sisters achieves perfectly!

I was pleasantly surprised that such a humorous mystery adventure could also explore the challenges and opportunities of discovering and maintaining new friendships and the nuanced complexities of modern family life. Simple and accessible for younger readers, this book takes real-life situations and adds a delightful twist of mystery and adventure.

A feisty and forthright protagonist, Squishy’s impulsive, inventive nature lands her and her new sisters into the sorts of scrapes children love; and there’s plenty more Squishy to enjoy with another six mystery adventures in the series! Highly recommended for younger independent readers aged 6 and up.’

Athina Clarke, Readings Malvern

The Secrets We Keep by Nova Weetman

The Secrets We Keep explores secrets, lies and half-truths and their repercussions. However, in this story the genesis of all the above is in mental illness. Clem and her dad have to move into a bare and miserable flat after a fire engulfs their family home. She has to change schools and leave her best friend; all in all, it’s a devastating situation. When a new friendship begins at her new school, Clem is worried that it is based on sick and absent mothers; a scenario that is troubling and traps all in a web of lies.

The Secrets We Keep is an engrossing, tightly told story and although many issues are explored it never feels heavy handed. The relationship between Clem and her dad is sympathetically realised and all the characters feel authentic. As we follow Clem navigating the grief, anger and confusion that comes with her displaced life, we care for her every step of the way. A great one for class book clubs and kids aged 9 and up.’

Alexa Dretzke, Readings Hawthorn

Elizabeth and Zenobia by Jessica Miller

‘Elizabeth is a quiet, timid girl scared of everything from boiled eggs to gloves without hands in them. Her friend Zenobia is the complete opposite – obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe, collecting animal skulls, and the macabre in general. Zenobia is a sort of imaginary friend – no-one can see her except for Elizabeth, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t real. When Elizabeth’s dad moves them to his childhood manor, Witheringe House, Zenobia is excited because surely a dusty old manor is full of ghosts to commune with! Elizabeth is apprehensive at first, especially after a trip to the forbidden wing of the manor reveals a secret about her father’s past. But as the unexplainable phenomenon of the manor and gardens become more dangerous, Elizabeth surprises the reluctant Zenobia by insisting they solve the mystery of Witheringe House.

Elizabeth and Zenobia brought back all the excitement I experienced when I first read The Secret Garden, but with a little extra fear! I loved reading it and it’s perfect for all brave souls aged 9 and up.’

Dani Solomon, Readings Kids

Grover finds a Home by Claire Garth

(Book 1 of the Grover McBane, Rescue Dog series)

‘Poor Grover – he’s a good dog, but his owner certainly doesn’t treat him that way. The Man with Big Boots leaves Grover out in the yard in the howling rain, and often forgets to feed him. One stormy night, Grover decides to run away but he doesn’t get far before he’s picked up and taken to the pound. At first Grover is afraid, but when he meets some new friends he wonders if he’s escaped to a better life.

This is a heart-warming tale that’ll bring smiles to the faces of all the animal lovers out there, especially since it’s based on a true story. It’s particularly good for all the budding young vets and animal carers, since there’s a fair bit of detail about what happens to rescue pets. This first book in the Grover McBane: Rescue Dog series is a feel-good chapter book for beginner readers age 7 and up, or a read-aloud for ages 5 and up.’

Holly Harper, Readings Kids

The 2017 winner of the Readings Children’s Book Prize will be announced in late April and will receive prize money of $3000. Find out more about the Prize here.

Cover image for Squishy Taylor and the Bonus Sisters (Book 1)

Squishy Taylor and the Bonus Sisters (Book 1)

Ailsa Wild

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