The Readings Children’s Book Prize shortlist 2021

The Readings Children’s Book Prize celebrates exciting new voices in Australian children’s literature. This year’s six shortlisted titles are for readers aged 5 to 12.

The 2021 shortlist is:

This year’s shortlist reflects the best that Australian children’s publishing has on offer. There is a book for every child here: stories that are funny and adventurous; fantastical and enchanting; sporty and inspiring; and kind and compassionate. Each book addresses themes and topics relevant to young people today, whether that’s climate change; refugee policies; growing up and making new friends; self-acceptance; changes in families; living with disability; or taking care of each other. Through these stories of compassion and resilience, we judges journeyed to a magical bookshop, prepared for the Olympics and engaged in environmental activism. Told through beautiful and accessible writing, these stories represent the diversity of experiences for today’s young people.

This year’s judging panel includes four children’s book specialists: Angela Crocombe (manager of Readings Kids), Sam Kelly (bookseller at Readings Doncaster and host of Doncaster’s middle fiction book club), Tye Cattanach (bookseller at Readings Kids), and me. We’re thrilled to have celebrated children’s and YA writer Emily Gale joining the panel as a guest judge to help select the winner from the shortlist. Emily has more than 20 years’ experience in children’s publishing and has previously worked at Readings as a children’s book buyer and was instrumental in establishing this prize. We can’t wait to have her back to discuss these incredible books.

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

The Power of Positive Pranking by Nat Amoore

Casey and her friends Cookie and Zeke are the Green Peas, a top-secret positive pranking club who are trying to get their teachers’ and classmates’ attention about environmental issues. When they learn of the Mayor’s plan to demolish parts of the town and destroy the environment, the stakes get higher.

This funny and fast-paced story shows how every individual can make a difference, no matter how young – in fact, often it is the adults who need to listen to children. Casey’s ‘positive pranking’ is a fantastic concept and we loved her grand intentions, even if she sometimes has to face consequences for her schemes. The family dynamic was also engaging – Casey’s mother died when she was very little, and she lives with her dad and grandfather, both of whom are Deaf/Hard of Hearing. Casey is inspired by stories of her mother’s resistance and her care for the environment and for others.

For ages 8+.

The Year the Maps Changed by Danielle Binks

Sorrento, Victoria, 1999: Winifred/Fred’s life is complicated. Her mother died when she was only six, and she now lives with her adoptive father, Luca, and her Pop. Luca’s girlfriend Anika has moved in, along with Sam, Fred’s new stepbrother. And there’s a baby on the way.

The Year the Maps Changed has all the hallmarks of great historical fiction for young people, even though it’s set not that long ago. Danielle Binks has conducted an incredible amount of research into John Howard’s refugee policies at the time, and the arrival of Kosovar-Albanian refugees at the ‘safe haven’ near Sorrento. This precipitates Fred’s compassion and increasing awareness of the injustices in the world. With some heavy topics, this is a heartbreaking read about blended families, dealing with loss, and changing how you see the world.

For ages 10+.

Aussie Kids: Meet Taj at the Lighthouse by Maxine Beneba Clarke & illustrated by Nicki Greenberg

Aussie Kids is a new junior fiction series that reflects the diversity of children living in all sorts of places in Australia. In Meet Taj, we learn that Taj and his family have recently arrived in Australia. He feels a bit lonely and confused about life in a new place with a new language, but he has his special lightning shirt, and now he lives in a cool lighthouse.

We already love Maxine Beneba Clarke’s adult books and picture books – her foray into junior fiction is no exception. This is a beautiful story about belonging and making new friends who accept you for who you are. We were charmed by Taj’s positive attitude, and the message of kindness and acceptance of others. Greenberg’s bright illustrations will help along early readers, as will the accessible vocabulary.

For ages 5+.

The Grandest Bookshop in the World by Amelia Mellor

Set in 1893 in the heyday of Cole’s Book Arcade in Melbourne, this is the perfect booklover’s adventure. Pearl and Vally live in a bookshop full of magic with talking parrots, enchanted lollies and the power of stories all around them. But their father has made a terrible deal with the Obscurosmith, and it is up to the Cole children to outsmart the Obscurosmith’s surreal challenges.

Well-researched and captivating, this middle-grade novel seamlessly weaves in historical detail of the real Cole family and 1800s Melbourne around a fast-paced series of challenges to defeat the Obscurosmith. Amelia Mellor’s writing is imaginative and beautiful, and she captures the motivations of each Cole family member as they consider just how much they have to lose. This is an entrancing read that makes bookshops feel even more magical than they already are!

For ages 9+.

Bindi by Kirli Saunders & illustrated by Dub Leffler

Eleven-year-old Bindi loves art class, playing hockey, her friends and her horse Nell. She’s learning all about herself and being part of her community on Gundungurra Country. But life changes drastically with a drought, a bushfire and a broken wrist, all of which leave Bindi confused about the future.

In 2019 Kirli Saunders won the inaugural Daisy Utemorrah Award for an unpublished book of children’s or YA fiction for this work, and we could immediately see why. This is a children’s verse novel and the story is told through short individual poems, all of which are immediately accessible, not just as a story but also as an introduction to how captivating poetry can be. Although there is a glossary at the back, the Gundungurra words are seamlessly blended into story. Through Bindi’s eyes, young readers will appreciate the importance of taking care of this country.

For ages 9+.

As Fast as I Can by Penny Tangey

Ten-year-old Vivian has her life sorted already – she’s determined to go the Olympics. She just doesn’t know in which sport! She’s tried nearly everything, but now she’s found her love of cross country running. Everything changes, however, when a family illness is discovered, and Vivian has to learn to adjust.

We loved everything about this book – it’s funny, heartfelt and warm with compassion and the love of family and friends. Vivian’s determination was inspiring, as was the way she navigates the changing world of friendships in upper primary school. The changes the family must face when confronted with health issues are handled sensitively, highlighting Vivian’s understandable frustration but eventual resilience. This is a sporty read that all kinds of readers will enjoy.

For ages 8+.

We are pleased to offer all six books on the 2021 shortlist in a specially priced pack. You can buy this pack in-store and online for the special price of $79.99 (was $99.94).

Clare Millar is from Readings online.

Cover image for Bindi


Kirli Saunders

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