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Choose your own adventures: 2017 children’s and YA preview

Publishers tell Jackie Tang about their standout titles for kids and teens in 2017, from plucky new junior-fiction protagonists to YA genre hybrids.

Next year will see the launch of Affirm Press’ children’s list, starting with A Walk in the Bush (Gwyn Perkins, March), ‘a joyful story about enjoying nature and seeing the funny side of things’, says publishing director Martin Hughes. Affirm is also publishing the ‘Starring Olive Black’ series for kids aged nine to 12 ‘who love a bit of showbiz’. The adventures of schoolgirl Olive, who is also a famous movie star, will launch with Mammoth Mistake and The Robbery Riddle (April), and is written by Alex Miles, sister of part-time children’s author Andy Lee.

Allen & Unwin children’s and YA publishing director Eva Mills ‘couldn’t be more excited’ for basketball player Patty Mills and author Jared Thomas’ Game Day! (August), the first book in a new junior fiction series about a young Indigenous kid—loosely based on the NBA star—who dreams of playing basketball. ‘We’ve heard some great stories from Patty,’ says Mills, ‘so this series is shaping up to be both entertaining and inspirational.’

A&U will mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Australian referendum on Indigenous rights with Say Yes (Jennifer Castles, illus by Paul Seden, April), a picture book told through the eyes of two girls from the time. The introduction to one of Australia’s important historical moments reminds readers ‘that the issues still resonate today’.

Mills also recommends Garth Nix’s rollicking fantasy Frogkisser! (February)—‘an absolute hoot of a read and the most fun I’ve had reading all year’—and Ursula Dubosarsky’s The Blue Cat (April), a ‘haunting’ tale of one girl’s life in 1940s Sydney, the unsettling arrival of a boy who can’t or won’t speak and a malevolent, untamable cat.

Black Inc. publisher Aviva Tuffield’s first YA acquisition, playwright Katy Warner’s debut Regime (July), is the story of a girl trapped in the wrong place as borders go up across her city. Tuffield describes it as a ‘dystopian tale about the power of freedom, with many chilling contemporary echoes’.

EK Books’ forthcoming picture book Ollie’s Treasure (Lynn Jenkins, illus by Kirrili Lonergan, June) will help children address issues such as anxiety and perfectionism through mindfulness. Publisher Anouska Jones also recommends The Fix-it Man (March), a book about grief after the death of a parent that will be ‘a valuable resource for teachers and librarians’.

Niki Horin, publishing director at Bonnier’s Five Mile Press, is excited for kids to read Jedda Robaard’s ‘rambunctious’ new picture book Silly Lilly (August). She is also looking forward to the third book in Anna Pignataro’s ‘Agatha’ series Agatha and Marie Antoinette (October), which will feature Agatha’s ‘impossibly perfect’ cousin Marie Antoinette. Five Mile will also be managing new brands ABC Kids, Dinotrux and Octonauts in the coming year.

Sox may seem an old dog, but seen through the eyes of the young narrator in My Dog Sox (Robyn Osborne, illus by Sadami Konchi, August), he becomes ‘a chameleon who changes with his environment, from a terrible tiger prowling the forest to a contented farm cow’. It is one of Ford Street publisher Paul Collins’ top titles for 2017, along with Ready Steady Hatch! (Ben Long & D M Cornish, March), a ‘rollicking adventure’ about 10 chicks ready to explore the world, and the youngest chick, who is separated from the others.

Sally Murphy’s latest book for six- to ten-year-olds, Looking Up (May), is one of Fremantle Press children’s publisher Cate Sutherland’s picks for 2017. She describes the story of a young boy’s birthday wish for a telescope as ‘a beautiful tale of family and forgiveness’. Sutherland is also excited for Ezekiel Kwaymullina’s ‘fresh perspective on diversity’ in Colour Me (June). ‘Bold block prints and textured washes’ by illustrator Moira Court will accompany Kwaymullina’s text.

Gecko Press publisher Julia Marshall is looking forward to Komako Sakai’s The Lost Kitten (March), a simple story about finding love by one of Japan’s leading illustrators, as well as Bruno: Some of the More Interesting Days in My Life So Far (Catharina Valckx, illus by Nicolas Hubesch, April)—‘the funniest book I have read for ages,’ says Marshall. On the Kiwi front, Gecko Press will publish Joy Cowley’s Helper and Helper (illus by Gavin Bishop, February), a collection of wry stories featuring Snake and Lizard, before unleashing ‘a big Joy Cowley treat close to Christmas’.

The experience of loving a book with your whole heart is at the centre of Natalie Jane Prior and Cheryl Orsini’s collaboration Lucy’s Book (March). It is one of Hachette joint MD Justin Ractliffe’s most anticipated titles, along with a new trilogy from ‘the queen of the YA psychological thriller’ Teri Terry. Dark Matter: Contagion (May) follows a group of teens on the run after they escape being infected by a countrywide epidemic, and it’s ‘edge-of-your-seat stuff’, says Ractliffe. Hachette is also launching a new junior fiction series in 2017 about Beatrice Zinker, the girl with ‘the personality of a tractor beam’ (Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker, Shelley Johannes, September). The publisher describes her as ‘the next Judy Moody—a thoroughly individual character whose topsy-turvy approach to life has the miraculous effect of somehow turning the world sunny-side up’.

A 12-year-old and his cranky granddad travel back in time to fix a terrible mistake in Peter Helliar’s Frankie Fish & the Worst Computer in the World (March), the first in a new junior fiction series by the comedian. Hardie Grant Egmont publisher Marisa Pintado has high praise for the book: ‘Working with Pete has been a career highlight. He’s every bit as hilarious and warm in person as he is on paper.’ Another highlight is Sally Rippin’s first new series in six years. Polly & Buster (June) explores the unlikely friendship between a young witch and a ‘feelings monster’.

On the #LoveOzYA front, Pintado describes Melissa Keil’s new novel as her ‘most ambitious and exciting project yet’. The Secret Science of Magic (May) is told from the perspectives of a former child prodigy and an amateur magician. Pintado also recommends Ampersand Prize winner Cally Black’s sci-fi thriller In the Dark Spaces—a ‘rollercoaster ride through deep space’ for fans of Illuminae and Battlestar Galactica.

Harlequin publisher Sue Brockhoff is excited to be publishing a local YA debut in 2017. She describes The Impossible Story of Olive in Love (Tonya Alexander, April) as a ‘break-out quirky contemporary novel that will appeal to readers of Rainbow Rowell’.

Inspired by the #LoveOzYA campaign, the anthology Begin, End, Begin (ed by Danielle Binks, May) will collect some of ‘Australia’s finest YA voices’, says HarperCollins and ABC Books publisher Chren Byng. New stories by authors such as Amie Kaufman, Melissa Keil, Will Kostakis, Ellie Marney, Lili Wilkinson and Alice Pung will make this a must-have for OzYA fans.

Byng is also ‘incredibly excited’ for former HarperCollins head designer Matt Stanton’s new middle-grade series, and says Stanton will once again have kids laughing out loud with Funny Kid for President (July).

Diary of a Wombat author Jackie French takes on more iconic Australian fauna in Round and Brown and Not a Bear (illus by Matt Shanks, October), publisher Lisa Berryman’s standout for 2017. The story of a koala who is sick of being called a bear pairs ‘one of Australia’s best-loved authors’ with the ‘charmingly humourous style’ of emerging illustrator Shanks, says Berryman.

Associate publisher Vanessa Williams won’t be the only one excited for Carve the Mark (January), book one in Veronica Roth’s new science-fiction series, but as one of the lucky few to have read it in advance, Williams is ‘pleased to say that it exceeds expectations’. ‘It’s got everything you want in a YA book—action, romance, an array of characters you’ll both love and hate, and a story that will leave you craving more.’

Magabala Books’ ‘Young Art’ board book series aims to showcase young, emerging Indigenous artists. What I See at … the Zoo (Joshua Button & Robyn Wells, February) and What I See at … the Beach (Kamsani Bin Salleh, August) will introduce the very young to some exciting Indigenous illustrators. Publisher Rachel Bin Salleh is also looking forward to Two Snakes (September), a traditional story from the Kimberley by acclaimed Goonyiandi artist Mervyn Street and June Williams, as well as picture books on: the contributions of Indigenous soldiers (The Remembered, April); pearling’s first divers (Freediving, Lorrae Coffin, July); and ‘the big fella rain that is coming over the horizon’ (Big Fella Rain, Beryl Webber, October).

MidnightSun publishing director Anna Solding is ‘extremely proud’ of next year’s expanded children’s list. Two of her highlights include Olivia’s Voice (Mike Lucas, illus by Jennifer Harrison, March), a ‘feel-good’ picture book about how a deaf girl communicates, illustrated with ‘striking and unusual’ realism; and a nonfiction picture book that follows Sidney Kidman’s life from ‘a young runaway on a one-eyed horse to owning the largest cattle station in the world’ (King of the Outback, Kirstin Weidenbach & Timothy Ide, April). CBCA Honour Book One Step at a Time authors Jane Jolly and Sally Heinrich will also release their next book Papa Sky in the second half of 2017.

Pan Macmillan children’s publisher Claire Craig is excited for a new ‘apocalyptic and deadly riveting YA trilogy’ by James Bradley in April. The new, still untitled series is set in 2027 when the human race is dying and 16-year-old Callie must rise to her potential and become the leader and saviour of humanity.

Penguin young readers publisher Lisa Riley has several highlights for 2017. Anna Walker’s picture book Florette (March) is about a little girl who is determined to bring something of her old country house and garden to her new life in the city. Known for her delicate and evocative illustrations, Walker’s work in her latest ‘is no less than magical’, says Riley.

Robert Newton’s new novel Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky (March) is populated with characters ‘so whole and authentic that you can practically hear their heartbeats’. This middle-grade novel about a 13-year-old who lives in a housing commission estate and befriends her troubled elderly neighbour is ‘heartfelt, evocative and compelling’.

Debut YA author Jodi McAlister’s Valentine (February) mixes folklore with modern teen life to create a ‘witty contemporary YA for fans of Holly Black and Maggie Stiefvater’, and Morris Gleitzman returns to the story of Jewish boy Felix in Maybe (mid-2017), the sixth instalment in the series that began with Once. ‘Felix remained such a strong character in Morris’ mind and in the hearts of his readers, that he had no choice but to complete the telling of his life,’ says Riley.

Random House young readers publisher Zoe Walton is looking forward to Tristan Bancks’ ‘fast-paced and action-packed’ middle-grade novel The Fall (June), about a boy whose life becomes complicated after witnessing a crime, and Nicole Hayes’ YA novel A Shadow’s Breath (February). Alternating between ‘Now’ and ‘Then’, Hayes gradually reveals how Tessa is stranded in the wilderness and why she doesn’t want to be found.

Senior editor Cristina Briones is ‘having so much fun’ working on Charlotte Rose Hamlyn’s graphic novel Opposite Land (May). Hamlyn incorporates absurd and hilarious logical and biological opposites to create a land where ‘left is right and right is wrong, where socks wear feet and broccoli is meat, behind is ahead and people poop from their head’. How that will be illustrated is anyone’s guess!

Random House will partner with Guide Dogs Australia in 2017 to release the first four books in the ‘Little Paws’ series (April) about puppies going through guide dog training and the families who raise them. Perhaps the series should be titled ‘Little Awws’ instead!

A new picture book ‘celebrating Australia’s multicultural heritage’ from Mem Fox tops Scholastic’s highlights for early 2017, says publicity manager Sarah Hatton. I’m Australia Too (March) celebrates Australia’s history of migration and inclusion with ‘distinctive and joyful pictures’ but Ronojoy Ghosh.

Funny junior fiction is also a focus for Scholastic, with a new picture book from Aaron Blabey, author of Pig the Pug and ‘The Bad Guys’ series, publishing in March. Busting is the story of Lou, a hamster who is stuck in a queue for the loo, told ‘in the spirit of Dr Seuss’. February sees the release of Snow Man and the Seven Ninjas (Matt Cosgrove, February), the first book in a new series called ‘Epic Tales’, which offers funny twists on classic fairytales including ‘ninjas, evil super dudes, flying cats, hair dryer sales ladies, vampires, zombie guinea pigs, mini golf and more’.

Scribble will publish Penguin senior editor Katrina Lehman’s debut picture book Wren (illus by Sophie Blackhall-Cain) in July. Commissioning editor Miriam Rosenbloom describes it as a ‘bright and beautiful’ book about a sensitive little boy discovering the things he wants may lie in surprising places. Next year also sees the return of Doodle Cat in Doodle Cat is Bored (Kat Patrick, illus by Lauren Marriott, April). Any young reader who knows the feeling of being stuck with nothing to do but twiddle their thumbs will find a kindred spirit in Patrick and Marriott’s joyful creation.

Big-name international authors will be the headline attractions at Simon & Schuster, with a new ‘Dark Artifices’ book by Cassandra Clare (June), new ‘Dork Diaries’ (October) and ‘Max Crumbly’ (June) adventures from Rachel Renee Russell, and more memoirs by YouTube celebrities Tyler Oakley (October) and Connor Franta (April).

Text, already a favourite with the #LoveOzYA crowd, is bringing out new titles from Paula Weston, author of the ‘Rephaim’ series, and Vikki Wakefield. Publisher Michael Heyward calls Weston’s The Undercurrent (August) a ‘page-turning blockbuster’ about ‘a girl with a terrifying talent’, while Ballad for a Mad Girl (March) will see Wakefield apply her formidable characterisation talents to the suspense genre in a ‘ghost story with a difference’.

Upstart Press director Kevin Chapman is looking forward to four new board books in the ‘Freddy Bear’ series by Joy Cowley, while Donovan Bixley will continue his ‘Flying Furballs’ junior fiction series. Bixley’s series is set in an alternate 1916, where anthropomorphic cats Claude D’Bonair and Syd Fishus are members of the Cat Allied Troops (CATs) Air Corp, and fly bi-planes in the war against the Dog Obedience Governed Zone (DOGZ). Hilarious adventures ensue.

After tackling ninja nannas, pirate grandpops and superhero sisters, Damon Young and Peter Carnavas are teaming up again on the picture book My Brother is a Beast (March). UQP publisher Kristina Schulz says it will ‘show brothers at their beastly best’.

Supernatural phenomena and thwarting secret Nazi plots in Blitz-torn 1940s London all feature in Walker Books publisher Liz Bicknell’s 2017 highlight The Turnkey (Allison Rushby, March). The result feels like a combination of Neil Gaiman and Judith Rossell’s ‘Stella Montgomery’ series, says Bicknell. She is also looking forward to Frané Lessac’s A is for Australian Animals (August), the companion title to Lessac’s CBCA Award-winning picture book A is for Australia.

Next year will mark the conclusion of Carole Wilkinson’s ‘Dragonkeeper’ series with the release of Bronze Bird Tower in March. Black Dog Books publishing director Maryann Ballantyne is excited for ‘children all over the world’ to see how Wilkinson’s fantasy epic ends. Her second pick, Finding Nevo (Nevo Zisin, May), adds to a small but growing list of books centred on transgender teens. Zisin’s autobiography ‘will challenge what it means to be male or female’, says Ballantyne.

2017 is the year of the dog for Working Title Press publisher Jane Covernton, who nominates two books featuring canines. Gus Dog Goes to Work (Rachel Flynn, illus by Craig Smith, February) follows a ‘not-so-usual day in the life of a sheep dog’. The funny, quintessentially Aussie story ‘just makes me laugh every time I read it,’ says Covernton. ‘And Craig does fabulous dogs.’ The Brown Dog (Gina Inverarity, illus by Greg Holfeld), on the other hand, ‘couldn’t be more different in both mood and presentation’. With evocative text and ‘deceptively simple monochromatic illustrations’, this story of a dog who prefers to be alone encourages young readers to explore their emotions.


Category: Features Junior Title round-up feature