The Readings Children’s Book Prize shortlist 2019

We’re very excited to reveal this year’s shortlist for the Readings Children’s Book Prize.

This prize celebrates exciting new voices in Australian children’s literature. This year’s six shortlisted titles will appeal to a wide range of ages, and features thrilling exploits, as well as quiet stories that sensitively tackle themes of mental health, bullying, family dynamics, growing up, and facing the future.

The six shortlisted titles for 2019 are:

This year’s wide-ranging shortlist is brimming with action-packed adventure, compelling mysteries, zany humour, and complex human drama. Many of these stories are about characters who speak out in the face of forces that seem beyond their control, proving that with curiosity and bravery, it is possible to meet the challenges of a complex world and change it for the better. Kids and their families will adore these entertaining, thought-provoking stories that reflect the rich diversity of Australian children’s book publishing.

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

This year’s judging panel is made up of four children’s book specialists: Leanne Hall, Pilgrim Lee and Bianca Looney (all from Readings Kids) and myself. We’re delighted that children’s writer Zana Fraillon will be joining the panel as a guest judge to help select the winner from the shortlist.


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Elementals: Ice Wolves (Book 1) by Amie Kaufman

Orphaned during the last great battle between the warring Ice Wolves and Scorch Dragons, 12-year-old twins Anders and Rayna grew up on the streets of Holbard, a lively harbour town in the icy country of Vallen. They are used to looking after themselves and each other, but they are separated when Rayna is recruited by the destructive Scorch Dragons. Anders enlists at the foreboding Ulfar Academy, a school for young wolves that demands loyalty to the pack, as he tries to find a way to rescue Rayna.

From the opening pages, Holbard’s bustling, smoke-filled streets come to life and set the scene for gripping action sequences, family tension, emotional turmoil and embarrassing mishaps. Set in a diverse and inclusive fantasy world, Anders, Rayna and their friends are poised on the scary knife-edge of high stakes, divided loyalties and great responsibility. Readers will be desperate for the next instalment in the trilogy.

For ages 9+

Continue the adventure: Elementals: Scorch Dragons (Book 2) will be published in March.


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The Orchard Underground by Mat Larkin

Pri Kohli is ‘The Face’ of the overly planned town of Dunn’s Orchard, appearing on billboards, TV ads and at events lauding the benefits of its manicured and controlled lifestyle. When precocious new girl Attica shows up, she asks one very important question: If the town is called Dunn’s Orchard, where are all the trees? This leads them on a madcap adventure with the town’s future at stake.

As Pri and Attica delve into Dunn’s Orchard’s many secrets, expect political scheming, strange inventions, a Bogeyman, disappearing doors and lamps, a sloth train, a robot caterpillar, and much more weirdness. Alongside all this zaniness is a sweet, whimsical story of friendship that delicately touches on themes of mental illness and environmental degradation. It’s a moving portrait of a family, which includes a gentle reminder that even in the busiest of adventures, we all need a quiet moment with a cup of chai.

For ages 8+

Continue the adventure… A second book is in the works, but no release date is yet available.


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Real Pigeons Fight Crime (Book 1) by Andrew McDonald, illustrated by Ben Wood

Real Pigeons Fight Crime introduces a dynamic crime-fighting team: Grandpouter is the patriarch in charge of superstrong Frillback, extra-bendy Tumbler, navigational expert Homey and the newest recruit, Rock, a master of disguise. Together they solve mysteries and defend the city against threats both great and small. In a trio of adventures, the team search for the missing breadcrumbs, investigate bat-nappings from the park, and rescue an imperilled food-truck fair. Each adventure tests the courage, ingenuity and teamwork of the Real Pigeons.

These fun, accessible and entertaining stories are packed with lively illustrations, clever wordplay, hilarious sight-gags and loads of pigeon personality. This is the first book in an exciting series that newly independent readers will adore.

For ages 6+

Continue the adventure… Real Pigeons Eat Danger (Book 2) is available now. Real Pigeons Nest Hard (Book 3) will be published in May.


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Black Cockatoo by Carl Merrison & Hakea Hustler

Mia, a 13-year-old Jaru girl, cares for a dirrarn (black cockatoo) injured by her older brother Jy. As the cockatoo slowly regains its strength, Mia’s confidence grows. Mia is a sensitive observer of her world, feeling the undercurrents of tension within her family and community, particularly as Jy makes choices that distance him from their culture and traditions. Although Mia is apprehensive about leaving her home in a remote community in the Kimberley to continue her education, her connection to her culture helps her face the future with courage.

This deceptively simple tale has a quiet power, and is illustrated with moody, impressionistic images that capture the wild beauty and vitality of the black cockatoo. It is a reminder that gentleness is a form of strength.

For ages 10+


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The Peacock Detectives by Carly Nugent

When 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?

Cassie knows and understands far more of what’s going on around her than the older people in her life are prepared to tell her. Because of this, she has to piece together the interconnected stories of her family, friends and even the school bully from the clues she picks up along the way. Cassie’s 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.

For ages 9+


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Ottilie Colter and the Narroway Hunt (Book 1) by Rhiannon Williams

When Ottilie’s younger brother is taken by the Pickers, she disguises herself as a boy to rescue him. She soon finds herself at an elite training school for hunters, in the mysterious in-between world of the Narroway – a dangerous place that doesn’t appear on any maps and is overrun with terrifying creatures called dredretches. Not only does Ottilie face great peril, she also risks being found out to be a girl in this highly gendered, segregated world, where girls are confined to servant roles. Ottilie soon realises she has far more to fight for – and against – in this twisted, shadowy world of conspiracy, political intrigue and discrimination.

This fresh fantasy with high stakes introduces a rain-soaked, squelchy world to explore and a complex web of mysteries to be unravelled.

For ages 9+

Continue the adventure: Ottilie Colter and the Master of Monsters (Book 2) will be published in April.


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Buy all six books on the shortlist and save $17.95

Perhaps you’re finding it difficult to just pick one book from this amazing shortlist… We sympathise! And that’s why we’re so happy to offer the entire 2019 shortlist in a specially priced pack for $79.99 (was $97.94).

This prize pack is available online and in all of our shops, and would make a great gift for the book-devouring youngsters in your family.


Look out for the winner announcement online in late April and in the May edition of the Readings Monthly. The 2019 winner will receive prize money of $3,000.


Freya Howarth is a children’s specialist at Readings St Kilda.

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The Orchard Underground

The Orchard Underground

Mat Larkin

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