Tuesday 15 April 2014

Wildlife spotted in the CBCA shortlist...

So, last week, the shortlist was announced for the CBCA Book of the Year. I often find myself using the CBCA Book of the Year as a bit checklist to see how well I've kept my finger on the pulse when it comes to reading Australian YA. Others that I keep an eye on are the Printz Award, curated by YALSA, and the Inky Awards, where the winners are voted for by teenagers.

One of my favourites from the list is Wildlife by Fiona Wood. The story follows two characters: Sibylla and Lou. Sibylla is something of a wallflower at her school. That is, until she is featured on a prominent billboard ad, and enters the selective world of popularity.  However, before she is able to make sense of her new status, she is trundled off to a term of outdoor education camp, where there is no escape from her classmates - or the ongoing pressures of a new (and first!) relationship.

Lou, on the other hand, is the new girl. After a year of grieving the loss of a loved one, school camp is her chance to make new friends, and try to come out of her shell again. When tensions grow between Sibylla and Holly, her best friend, Lou is drawn into the drama and the associated risks that come with making enemies with those who are experts at catty schoolgirl politics.

The landscape of the school camp - and venturing into the wilderness - is a not-at-all uncommon theme in children's and young adult literature, particularly in fantasy and fairy tale where the heroes often venture "Into the Woods". In the case of Wildlife, both main characters are on the brink of unfamiliar territory. Sybilla is faced with the realities of sexuality and being responsible about it, as well as learning to stand up against a spiteful and jealous best friend. Lou is confronting the reality that she needs to accept her loss and move forward, even though it feels like letting go. Every student is required to spend a couple of days on a "solo hike", and for each character, this signifies a turning point, where they face their own personal challenges.

Ultimately, this is a coming-of-age story, typical of Young Adult fiction, but is also very funny, with plenty of attitude and quirkiness that teenagers will easily engage with. Whilst the stories themselves aren't hugely original, the landscape of the wilderness in which these teenagers inhabit give the book a compelling edge, and there is plenty of heart and kookiness in Wood's assortment of characters.

In reflection, I've learned that book award lists are an excellent indicator in assessing one's collection, and finding gaps when it comes to new fiction. Being able to review books, and assess their merits and audience is also an essential trait for children's and youth librarians.


The Children's Book Council of Australia (2014). Children's Book of the Year Awards 2014. Retrieved from http://cbca.org.au/awards.htm

Howell, S. (2013). Girl Defective. Sydney: Pan Macmillan.

State Library of Victoria (2014). The Inky Awards. Inside A Dog. Retrieved from http://www.insideadog.com.au/page/inky-awards

Wood, F. (2010). Six Impossible Things. Sydney: Pan Macmillan.

Wood, F. (2013). Wildlife. Sydney: Pan Macmillan.

YALSA (2014). The Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/yalsa/printz


  1. Hi Andrew, I was very interested in the way you identify a motif/archetype of “Into the Woods” in Wildlife. As you say, so many fairy tales use this motif of ‘venturing into the woods’. Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, Wind in the Willows and of course the forbidden forest in Harry Potter, spring to mind. It’s interesting that this book uses this motif in the context of realistic fiction and a school story. It seems a really good idea to write about school camps in this way, because camps for middle school students seem to be more and more common, and this book can help students approach them positively. This is a book I would like to get my hands on!
    Regarding readers’ choice book awards, what do you think of Teens Top Ten (TTT)? I like the fact that the nomination list is composed by teenagers themselves, from the teen advisory groups, whereas it seems the Inky awards involve a much smaller group of teens to arrive at their nominations. I think that the idea of groups of teenagers from around the country is a great way of getting the teens involved with the library.
    Cheers, Elli Klajn.

    1. Yes, the symbolism of venturing into the unknown is one that's explored in depth quite famously by Bruno Bettelheim in his seminal work "The Uses of Enchantment", where he explores fairy tales through the lens of Freudian psychoanalysis.

    2. Hi Andrew,
      That looks really interesting, a great help in understanding fantasy archetypes!
      I really enjoyed Wildlife. Wood seems excellent with dialogue, her experience as a television script writer shows. I love the gap between what the characters say and their thoughts. Interesting to compare Wildlife with Lord of the Flies (Golding, 1954), which is referred to in Wildlife (p.317).Unlike ‘Flies’ the camp is an ‘artificial’ wilderness, the teachers’ authority is constantly felt in the background, but they don’t play much role in the story. The story is certainly more optimistic than ‘Flies’ but I found the end somehow an anticlimax.
      Golding, W.(1999). Lord of the Flies. Melbourne: Penguin.
      Wood, F.(2013). Wildlife. Sydney: Pan Macmillan.

  2. My links to Teens Top Ten and Inky Awards, got scrubbed off when I posted, so here they are as references.

    American Library Association (2012). ALA News. YALSA announces the new Teens Top Ten groups. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2012/11/yalsa-announces-new-teens-top-ten-groups

    State Library of Victoria., (n.d.). Guidelines, Inky awards. Retrieved from Inside a Dog. website: http://www.insideadog.com.au/page/guidelines

  3. Hi Andrew,
    I think you provided a really useful tip in your post: I hope to use the CBCA award shortlists to make sure I have kept up-to-date with the latest (and supposedly best) new children’s and youth fiction. I also wonder in the children’s/youth book awards of Australia what place the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards hope to occupy. I feel like the CBCA has a foothold in the ‘literary merit’ of Australian writers and that the state-based children’s awards, Inky Awards and Teens Top Ten (as mentioned by Elli) have the ‘teens/kid’s choice’, leaving the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards as…. I really don’t know! As to other awards, I do subscribe to Goodread's youth fiction updates and most popular lists and their yearly awards.

    Children’s Book Council of Australia – The CBCA Awards FAQ http://cbca.org.au/awardsfaq.htm

    PM’s Literary Awards. Retrieved from http://arts.gov.au/topics/pms-literary-awards

  4. In addition to the PM's literary award, I'd also mention the Victorian and NSW Premier's literary awards, the Western Australia Premier's Book Awards, and the Queensland Literary Awards. If a title makes most of those lists, you know it's probably a good one!


    NSW Premier's literary awards. Retrieved from http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/about/awards/premiers_awards/index.html

    Queensland Literary Awards. Retrieved from http://www.queenslandliteraryawards.com

    Victorian Premier's Literary Awards. Retrieved from http://wheelercentre.com/projects/victorian-premier-s-literary-awards-2014

    Western Australian Premier's Book Awards. Retrieved from http://pba.slwa.wa.gov.au

  5. Andrew, I also like to keep my eye on awards, including the Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Awards to make sure I am not missing new titles worth considering for the Library collection. Book awards and shortlists are a good guide to notable books for children and young people and the CBCA plays an important role in connecting the community with literature for children, highlighting books of literary merit and endorsing authors whose work contributes to Australian children's literature (CBCA, 2014). Public libraries and school libraries are guided by awards and shortlists when adding to their collections. Books recognised by the awards, if part of a series, can mean the whole series will be collected to meet the recreational reading needs of their borrowers. I reviewed book 6 of the Violet Mackerel series, having been alerted to the books by the short listing of book 5 in the series by the CBCA.
    Andrew, my favourites in the 2014 Children's Book Council of Australia shortlist include Violet Mackerel's Possible Friend by Anna Branford, Libby Gleeson's Banjo and Ruby Red, and Silver Buttons by Bob Graham. Other awards worth considering for guidance in purchases for collections are the Kid's Own Australian Literature Awards (KOALA) and the Inky Awards which recognise high quality young adult literature.

  6. Hi Andrew, I enjoyed Girl Defective, interesting characters and a tough realistic read! Seems the youth liked it better than the judges, as it is on the Inky Shortlist by not awarded by CBCA.

  7. References for the above comment
    Girl defective shortlisted 2013 for an Inky Award
    State Library of Victoria. (n.d.). Inky Awards. Short list 2013. Retrieved from Inside a Dog website: http://www.insideadog.com.au/inkys/2013-shortlist
    But did not receive any recognition from CBCA
    Children’s Book Council of Australia. (n.d.). Older reader notable books 2013. Retrieved from http://cbca.org.au/default.aspx?contentID=523