The Readings Children’s Book Prize shortlist 2020

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 for readers aged 5 to 12.

The six shortlisted books are:

This year’s shortlist reflects the rich array of children’s publishing in Australia: there is a book for every child here. Beginner readers will delight in a highly appealing and hilarious graphic novel; more advanced readers will be captivated by a gripping, action-packed tale touching on climate crisis, and a moving novel that incorporates comics in its exploration of grief and immigration. Families will discover some great read-alouds: Indigenous fables, a timeless adventure, a single transformative year for a nine-year-old. Each book on this shortlist is of the highest quality and digs into themes relevant to young people; we predict these books will be adored by readers.

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


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Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai

Jingwen, his mother and his little brother, Yanghao, have just moved to Australia. Being in a different country is difficult and the boys really miss their dad, who had held dreams of opening his own cake shop. Together, the boys find comfort in epic, sneaky after-school baking attempts.

Pie in the Sky is a fresh, clever and moving story with moments of real heartbreak and humour. The characters are relatable, the family relationships are genuine, and Remy Lai’s depiction of grief is honest and accessible. Her use of an ‘alien language’ to convey how deeply foreign a new language can feel is startlingly effective, and a terrific representation of the difficulties of learning a new language. The innovative inclusion of cartoons enhances the charming narrative, making it a perfect choice for fans of graphic novels looking to branch out.

For ages 9+.


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The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble

Ella and her brother are desperate to survive in a hostile world. Food is scarce following an agricultural disaster and their parents' whereabouts are unknown. Aided by sled dogs, they set out away from the city to try to reconnect with their family and find food.

The Dog Runner is an action-packed adventure with a highly original premise. The narrative moves along at a breakneck pace, and highlights the importance of resilience and kindness in the face of extreme danger. It’s all too easy to envision the harsh landscape of the siblings' world, and the beautiful relationship between Ella and the courageous dogs is particularly well-crafted. This book is an excellent choice for sophisticated middle grade readers who want something meaty. It’s also a hopeful story for children thinking about climate crisis and what they might be able to do about it.

For ages 10+.


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Wombat, Mudlark & Other Stories by Helen Milroy

Wombat, Mudlark & Other Stories is a collection of eight stories from Indigenous professor and child psychiatrist Helen Milroy. Animals take the centre roles in these heart-warming fables, which are all set in a natural world that is truly alive.

Wombat, Mudlark & Other Stories is a book that engages readers from the very first page. Each of these bite-sized stories is imbued with a timeless quality, and feels as big as a continent. These are adventures that encourage optimism, and celebrate imagination, loyalty, courage and cooperation. Milroy’s characters all have something unique and important to contribute. Wombat, Mudlark & Other Stories makes for an absolutely fantastic read-aloud, sprinkled throughout with illustrations from Milroy herself. This is an enriching book we can all see ourselves recommending for years to come.

For ages 5+ as a family read-aloud, or for independent readers aged 7+.


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Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery by Renée Treml

Despite being narrated by a tawny frogmouth skeleton and a taxidermied parrot, Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery is filled with life and laughs. An extremely valuable blue diamond has gone missing at the museum and Sherlock Bones and his dead best friend have made it their business to find out who has stolen it!

Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery is a funny, quirky mystery. With lots of natural history facts scattered throughout, there’s plenty to learn within this graphic novel, but none of it gets in the way of fun. This is a book with broad appeal: excellent storytelling for new readers with terrific illustrations that ingeniously complement the narrative, and brim with personality. While this is a perfect pick for new readers, the offbeat humour, action and delicious intrigue will appeal to slightly older fans of graphic novels too.

For ages 7+.


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The Girl, the Cat & the Navigator by Matilda Woods & illustrated by Anuska Allepuz

Oona dreams of adventures, but as a girl in this world she must stay on land while her father, a ship’s captain, sails off to hunt whales. Oona is a smart and daring heroine though, and so she sets out toward the legendary, icy North in search of mythical creatures and knowledge.

Matilda Woods has crafted an enchanting fairytale about finding family and friendship in unlikely places. Reminiscent of a classic folktale, The Girl, the Cat & the Navigator feels as if it has always been in our consciousness. Woods’s writing is highly skilled and imaginative, and she paints wonderful emotional and geographic landscapes. This is a beautifully packaged book – every page made vibrant by Anuska Allepuz’s lovely illustrations – and an ideal family read-aloud. This is also the second time Woods has been shortlisted for this prize. Her first book, The Boy, the Bird & the Coffin Maker, was shortlisted in 2018.

For ages 7+ as a family read-aloud, or for independent readers aged 9+.


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The Secrets of Magnolia Moon by Edwina Wyatt & illustrated by Katherine Quinn

Join Magnolia Moon for a year of her life. In each self-contained chapter of this book, she shares new experiences in her world, including farewelling a best friend and becoming a big sister. There are surprises and changes, upsets and joys. There are goodbyes, hellos, and everything in between. But Magnolia always manages to get along in unexpected and clever ways.

The Secrets of Magnolia Moon is for the whimsical child in your life. A curious and irrepressible nine-year-old, Magnolia is fascinated by mythology and approaches the world with a sense of wonder that’s infectious. The challenges she encounters throughout a single year will be deeply relatable to children, and Edwina Wyatt’s serious and generous depiction of them will be appreciated. Rich storytelling and lovely illustrations from New Zealand-based illustrator Katherine Quinn make this a sweet and charming read-aloud to share together.

For ages 6+ as a family read-aloud, or for independent readers aged 7+.


This year’s judging panel is made up of four children’s book specialists: Athina Clarke (children’s book buyer at Readings Malvern), Fiona Hardy (bookseller at Readings Doncaster and author of How to Make a Movie in 12 Days), Daniella Robertson (children’s book specialist at Readings Malvern) and me. We’re so delighted that much-loved children’s and young adult writer Nova Weetman will be joining the panel as a guest judge to help select the winner from the shortlist. The prize is awarded to the book which we believe children will love best.

Look out for the announcement of the winner online in July.


Kim Gruschow is the children’s book buyer at Readings St Kilda.

 Read review
Pie in the Sky

Pie in the Sky

Remy Lai

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 Read reviewPie in the Sky

Pie in the Sky

Remy Lai

El Deafo meets Inside Out and Back Again in this funny, emotional illustrated middle-grade debut about immigrating to Australia, being upstaged by an annoying little brother, baking cakes and overcoming loss.

$18.99Buy now

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 Read reviewThe Dog Runner

The Dog Runner

Bren MacDibble

Ella and her brother Emery are alone in a city that's starving to death. If they are going to survive, they must get away, upcountry, to find Emery's mum. But how can two kids travel such big distances across a dry, barren, and...

$16.99Buy now

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 Read reviewWombat, Mudlark & Other Stories

Wombat, Mudlark & Other Stories

Helen Milroy

From a falling star to a lonely whale, an entertaining lizard to an enterprising penguin, these Indigenous stories are full of wonder, adventure and enduring friendships.

$14.99Buy now

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 Read reviewSherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery

Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery

Renee Treml

A hilariously funny, action-packed mystery, starring the intrepid Sherlock Bones. 

$14.99Buy now

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 Read reviewThe Girl, the Cat & the Navigator

The Girl, the Cat & the Navigator

Matilda Woods

Curious, pin-bright Oona Britt dreams of setting sail with her ship's captain father for a life of excitement on the wild waves. She has read stories of a magical creaturethe Nardoowho swims through the stars at night, and stows...

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 Read reviewThe Secrets of Magnolia Moon

The Secrets of Magnolia Moon

Edwina Wyatt, Katherine Quinn

CBCA award-winning picture book author Edwina Wyatt makes her fiction debut with a whimsical tale of a curious little girl who shares more than just her surname with the moon: They're both excellent secret keepers.

$19.99Buy now

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