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Inside the Australian book industry

Showcasing Australian children’s books following cancelled Bologna fair

With the Bologna Children’s Book Fair cancelled in the wake of the worldwide coronavirus outbreak, the focus for publishers will inevitably shift to online rights-selling and networking opportunities. After all, there are still plenty of new books being published that are looking for homes in overseas territories. When the Bologna fair organisers announced their news, they said their team was now ‘working to recreate online the atmosphere and the business and networking opportunities’. It will be interesting to see how fair organisers and publishers find new ways to connect digitally in these self-isolating times.

This issue of Think Australian was originally planned as a preview of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. In the wake of its cancellation the current issue will nonetheless focus on the latest Australian children’s and YA rights sales, acquisitions, award-winners and bestsellers, including a round-up of the standout children’s and YA titles that Australian publishers were intending to promote at the fair—and will now be pitching from Australia. (The newsletter also includes the latest adult fiction and nonfiction rights news too.)

Children’s nonfiction—in particular, books with an environmental focus—remains popular, but there is also a strong and varied offering across picture books, middle-grade and YA fiction, including a ‘charming graphic novel primer for reluctant readers about an aspiring superhero whose superpower is her kindness’ (Bunnygirl, Berbay) and a ‘smart, swoony LGBTQ YA novel about a teenage band on the way to the top’ (Stars Like Us, Hardie Grant Egmont). You can read about these titles and more in our children’s books preview—as well as this year’s Hello! from Australia catalogue.

Once again, we’ve teamed up with Publishers Weekly and BookBrunch to distribute this issue of Think Australian to over 75,000 subscribers. However, if you’re a Publishers Weekly or BookBrunch subscriber and want to receive monthly issues of the newsletter, please sign up here.

Andrea Hanke
Think Australian

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Lead children’s titles from Australian publishers & agents

Prior to the cancellation of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, Think Australian spoke with a number of Australian publishers and literary agents who were scheduled to attend the fair. Here are the standout children’s titles they will now be pitching digitally in the absence of face-to-face meetings.

‘Like many publishers, we have a very strong list of children’s nonfiction titles this year,’ says Penguin Random House Australia senior rights manager Nerrilee Weir. One of the publisher’s lead titles is HOPE: 50 Ways to Help Our Planet Every Day (June), a collection of ‘helpful tips and easy ways that even the youngest of our population can use to help save our planet’. The publisher’s standout titles also include a picture book companion to Saroo Brierley’s international bestselling memoir A Long Way Home (Little Lion: A Long Way Home, illus by Bruce Whatley, November) and a new middle-grade book from bestselling author A L Tait, ‘an exciting medieval mystery featuring two unlikely friends’ (The Fire Star, September).

Hardie Grant Egmont rights manager Joanna Anderson is looking forward to pitching a ‘highly original nonfiction guide to reducing household waste, presented in a picture-book format perfect for a young audience’. Your Planet Needs You! by Philip Bunting (May) ‘includes small, achievable steps that children and their families can take to reduce waste, helping kids realise that they can make a difference’, says Anderson. Rights have already sold in five territories (see rights sales). Another standout title from the publisher is the Ampersand Prize-winning YA novel Stars Like Us by Frances Chapman (July). ‘This is a beautifully written own-voice LGBTQ novel about 16-year-old Lily, whose band gets a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make it big—sending her on a rollercoaster ride through overnight fame, complicated friendships, and a compelling love triangle,’ says Anderson.

Hachette Australia rights and publishing manager Emma Dorph is particularly excited to be presenting two new children’s nonfiction titles. The Big Book of Festivals is ‘a brightly illustrated nonfiction picture book highlighting diverse festivals from around the world’, and Sami Bayly’s The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Dangerous Animals (October) is the follow-up to Bayly’s popular debut The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Ugly Animals, which Dorph says ‘did brilliantly with rights sales pre-publication in October 2019’.

Read the full article here.

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The History of Mischief

Following the death of their parents, Jessie and Kay move to an abandoned house where one night they discover The History of Mischief hidden beneath the floor: it is a book like no other.

From Ancient Greece to war-torn China, from the Ethiopian Empire to Victorian England, the pages reveal a world of mischief and mystery, adventure and adversity—stolen bones and fiery dragons, feisty philosophers and tempestuous tyrants, shape-shifting trees and scorched scrolls.

But not everything is as it seems, in the book or in her life, and Jessie is determined to find the truth. The History has a history of its own.

The History of Mischief
Author: Rebecca Higgie
Publisher: Fremantle Press
Rights held: World
Catalogue available here.


Where is Claris in Paris!

A brand-new search-and-find series starring Claris, the chicest mouse in Paris!

With a quarter of a million Claris books in print, readers can’t get enough of this stylish little mouse! Now she’s back in a brand-new collection, ‘Where is Claris’—a search-and-find spin-off series that takes Claris through the famous landmarks of her favourite cities.

Her first stop is Paris, the city of lights! Can you find Claris and her fashionable animal friends in fabulous Parisian places such as the patisserie, the florist and the carousel? Young readers will be enchanted from beginning to end, with delightful surprises to seek out on every spread and beautiful homages to the French fashion capital woven throughout.

Where is Claris in Paris!
Author: Megan Hess
Publisher: Hardie Grant Egmont
Rights held: World, excluding US/Canada/UK


Mama Ocean

Mama Ocean had eyes that sparkled, like sunlight on the sea, and tresses which tumbled and trailed through the tides. But something is troubling Mama Ocean. Who will help her?

An imaginative and lyrical story which tackles the world-wide problem of plastics in the oceans.

Mama Ocean
Author: Jane Jolly
Illustrator: Sally Heinrich
Publisher: MidnightSun Publishing
Rights held: World


The Friendly Games

In 1956 Melbourne hosted the Summer Olympic Games. Student John Wing was so proud of his country, one of the friendliest places on earth. But when world tensions dominated the news, John wrote an urgent letter suggesting how to change the Closing Ceremony to bring all nations together as one.

Based on the incredible true story of how one child’s determination can change the way we see the world.

The Friendly Games
Author: Kaye Baillie
Illustrator: Fiona Burrows
Publisher: MidnightSun Publishing
Rights held: World


Anisa’s Alphabet

For many refugees, the alphabet represents the start of a new language and a new future, but Anisa’s Alphabet is different.

A poignant and highly imaginative telling of one girl’s story which will appeal to children and adults alike … Come with Anisa and see things through her eyes.

Anisa’s Alphabet
Author: Mike Dumbleton
Illustrator: Hannah Sommerville
Publisher: MidnightSun Publishing
Rights held: World


Educational picture books on ‘microbial worlds’ sold to Korea, China

Children’s/YA sales

Language rights to four titles in the ‘Small Friends Books’ series of educational picture books—co-published by art–science collaborative and micro-publisher Scale Free Network (SFN) and CSIRO Publishing—have been sold to China and Korea. Korean-language rights to The Squid, the Vibrio & the Moon (with Linda Blackall), Zobi and the Zoox: A story of coral bleaching, Nema and the Xenos: A story of soil cycles (with S Patricia Stock) and the forthcoming The Forest in the Tree: How fungi shape the earth (August) were sold to Wonderbox (Bulkwang Media Co.) in South Korea, and Chinese-language rights were sold to Beijing Land of Wisdom Books, with sales brokered by UK-based Marco Rodino Agency. Both publishers plan to release the four titles as an omnibus in 2021. SFN’s Gregory Crocetti said: ‘This was exactly the sort of outcome we were hoping for from our first experience in Frankfurt—a pathway to bring our exploration of microbial worlds and these positive stories about the fundamental role of microbes (which are true no matter where you are in the world) to international audiences, and to counter some of the fear about this invisible realm—especially at this time.’

Hardie Grant Egmont has sold rights in five territories to Philip Bunting’s forthcoming picture book Your Planet Needs You! (May), a ‘highly original nonfiction guide to reducing household waste’ for a young audience. German-language rights were sold following a ‘significant’ pre-empt offer from Verlagsgruppe Random House, alongside sales to Korea, Spain, Portugal and Taiwan. Anette Weiß, acquiring editor at Random House Germany, said Bunting ‘succeeds in finding a child-oriented and positive approach to the topic of environmental protection with vivid examples and a lot of humour’.

Fremantle Press has sold complex Chinese-language rights in Taiwan and Hong Kong to the forthcoming picture book Littlelight (Kelly Canby, July) to Wordfield Publishing. The story of a town whose bricks start to go missing, Littlelight explores themes of tolerance and acceptance, and is illustrated in ‘moody black and white with dynamic neon highlights’.

Adult fiction sales

Text Publishing has sold German-language rights to debut author Hugh Breakey’s forthcoming novel The Beautiful Fall (2021) in a six-figure deal to PRH Germany imprint Blanvalet. The Beautiful Fall—‘one of the most filmic romances to come across our desks,’ according to the publisher—follows the solitary and regimented life of Robbie, a man with recurring amnesia whose memory resets every 179 days. With just 12 days left before his next forgetting, he meets a woman called Julia.

Text Publishing has also sold North American and Dutch-language rights to Claire Christian’s forthcoming adult rom-com, It’s Been a Pleasure, Noni Blake (October), to Harlequin imprint Mira and De Fontein, respectively. The book is pitched as ‘a quirky, feel-good novel about life and learning to love yourself’. Christian’s debut YA novel Beautiful Mess won the Text Prize in 2016.

Alex Adsett Publishing Services agent Martin Shaw has sold US and Canadian rights to Sydney author Jen Craig’s novella Panthers and the Museum of Fire (Spineless Wonders) to Green Integer imprint Zerogram Press. Originally published in 2015 and longlisted for the Stella Prize, Panthers and the Museum of Fire follows the narrator as she walks across Sydney to return a manuscript by a recently-dead writer. Shaw said: ‘I only came to this book very late, but thereafter it became a particular passion project of mine to take it to overseas territories.’ US publication is planned for late 2020.

For the latest Australian rights sales and acquisitions news, click here.


Affirm acquires new picture book from Godwin, Lester

Children’s/YA acquisitions       

Affirm Press has acquired the rights to Sing Me the Summer (November), a new picture book from bestselling children’s book creators Jane Godwin and Alison Lester (pictured), which explores ‘the magic of summer and the unique wonders of all seasons’. Affirm said: ‘Celebrating family togetherness in the natural world and the small moments outside that often become our lasting memories of childhood, this book could well become an Australian classic.’

MidnightSun has acquired world rights to the picture book Ling Li’s Lantern, written by Steve Heron and illustrated by Benjamin Johnston, about a young girl and her two brothers who are entrusted with some money and sent on a quest by their father. MidnightSun founder and managing director Anna Solding said: ‘Ling Li’s Lantern reminds us that sharing what little we have is more important than accumulating material things. Heron’s story takes us to a specific place and time, but still tells a story about compassion that is universal.’ Heron is the author of the ‘Feel Safe Feel Right’ series (Nurture Works Foundation), which tackles social and emotional issues for children, as well as several nonfiction books for adults on working with children.

Adult fiction acquisitions

HarperCollins Australia has acquired ANZ rights to two new novels by Holly Ringland in a six-figure deal via Benython Oldfield at Zeitgeist Agency. The first book in Ringland’s new deal, The Seven Skins of Esther Wilding (2022), is ‘a haunting novel about exile and belonging’ and ‘about women reclaiming their bodies, resisting oppressive power, and marking themselves through choice’. Ringland’s 2018 debut The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart has been published in 29 territories with screen rights optioned by Bruna Papandrea’s Made Up Stories.

Scribe has acquired UK and Commonwealth rights to Laura Elizabeth Woollett’s third book, The Newcomer (May 2021), via Grace Heifetz at Left Bank Literary. Inspired by a real-life murder on Australia’s Norfolk Island, the novel examines the killing of a young woman and the devastating effect it has on her mother, with chapters that alternate between the perspectives of the two women. Associate publisher Marika Webb-Pullman said: ‘Unlike a lot of crime and true crime, the point of The Newcomer isn’t to explore a killer’s psychology or to try and understand his actions. Laura’s project in this book—as with all of her work—is to examine the myriad impacts of crime, to fully characterise the “victim”, in all her flawed humanity, and to look at the ways in which violence against women ripples out into the society that so often sanctions it.’ Woollett is the author of the novel Beautiful Revolutionary and short fiction collection The Love of a Bad Man (both Scribe).

The University of Queensland Press has acquired world rights to Adam Thompson’s debut short story collection Born into This (2021). Set in Tasmania, the collection explores Aboriginal identity and culture, sovereignty, environmental destruction, preservation of culture, and Indigenous–coloniser relations. ‘I am so excited and honoured to be bringing Adam’s powerful and accomplished writing to readers,’ said publisher Aviva Tuffield. ‘His always clever and challenging stories shed light on a distinctive world of cultural practice and perspective, with humour, insight and heart.’

Affirm Press has acquired world rights (excluding screen rights) to poet and writer Omar Sakr’s debut novel, a work of literary speculative fiction entitled White Flu. Publishing director Martin Hughes said the acquisition felt like a ‘huge win’ for the company’s publishing list. ‘I have no doubt that Omar’s exceptional writing will excite readers while his challenging and insightful perspective will provide a view of Australia from outside the established mainstream,’ said Hughes.

Adult nonfiction acquisitions

Scribe has acquired world English-language rights to the million-copy German bestseller The Diet Compass: The 12-step guide to science-based nutrition for a healthier and longer life by science journalist Bas Kast—the result of a multi-year investigation into ageing and nutrition following the author’s own health scare at the age of 40. Scribe acquired the rights to the book—which has already been sold into 20 other territories—from Penguin Random House Germany, and will publish the translation in Australia and New Zealand in July 2020, and in the UK and North America in January 2021.

Pantera Press has acquired ANZ rights to journalist Gary Nunn’s debut The Psychic Test: An investigation into the supernatural industry (2021) via Benython Oldfield at Zeitgeist Agency. A work of narrative nonfiction, The Psychic Test investigates why people in need turn to psychics for guidance in all areas of life, and how the people working as psychics have come to possess such unchecked power.


Internationally published refugee memoir to be adapted for film

Behrouz Boochani’s multi-award-winning memoir No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison (trans by Omid Tofighian, Picador)—an account of the Iranian refugee’s incarceration on Manus Island by the Australian government—will be adapted into a feature film by Australian production companies Sweetshop & Green, Aurora Films and Hoodlum Entertainment. Aurora Film’s Antony Waddington said: ‘Mountains is a defining tale for our time: not just of Australia, but how the world deals with refugees. Funny at times, it’s overwhelmingly a story of triumph over despair.’ International rights to the book have now sold to 19 countries.

TV adaptions of two Australian short story collections by local production companies have received funding from Screen Australia. Melanie Cheng’s Australia Day (Text), which is being produced by Revlover Films, follows a group of strangers who experience a connection after coming to the aid of a stabbing victim; and Maxine Beneba Clarke’s Foreign Soil (Hachette Australia), produced by Film Camp, explores six thematically linked stories ‘in which the marginalised and othered collide with their environment, as they search for empowerment and belonging’.

Newly established Australian production company Wooden Horse has announced screen adaptations of two Australian novels: J P Pomare’s thriller In the Clearing (Hachette Australia) and Emily Maguire’s literary crime novel An Isolated Incident (Picador).


Magical middle-grade novel wins major prize

Jessica Townsend’s 2017 debut children’s novel Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Hachette Australia)—the first in a magical series for younger readers—has won the overall award at the biennial Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature. Other winners included Small Spaces (Sarah Epstein, Walker Books) for YA; The Death of Noah Glass (Gail Jones, Text) for fiction; The Bible in Australia: A Cultural History (Meredith Lake, NewSouth) for nonfiction; and Archival-Poetics (Natalie Harkin, Vagabond Press) for poetry.

Sienna Brown has won the MUD Literary Prize for debut novelists for her historical novel Master of My Fate (Vintage), based on the true story of one man’s journey from slavery in Jamaica to freedom in colonial New South Wales.

The shortlist for the Stella Prize for Australian women’s writing has been announced. In the running are three novels, There was Still Love (Favel Parrett, Hachette), The Yield (Tara June Winch, Hamish Hamilton) and The Weekend (Charlotte Wood, A&U); a collection of short stories, Here until August (Josephine Rowe, Black Inc.); and two nonfiction titles, memoir Diving into Glass (Caro Llewellyn, Hamish Hamilton) and investigation into domestic abuse, See What You Made Me Do (Jess Hill, Black Inc.).

The longlists for the Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIAs) have been announced. The awards, which are chosen by a panel of Australian book industry representatives, include multiple categories across adult fiction, nonfiction and children’s books.

The Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) has announced its list of Notable Books, which act as the longlist for the CBCA Book of the Year Awards. The categories include older readers, younger readers, early childhood, picture books and information books.

Australian children’s author Margaret Wild has received the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature. Wild is the author of over 70 children’s books, including recent titles The Feather (illus by Freya Blackwood, Little Hare), The Sloth Who Came to Stay (illus by Vivienne To, Allen & Unwin) and Bogtrotter (illus by Judith Rossell, Walker Books).

Children’s author Ursula Dubosarsky has been chosen as the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2020–21, succeeding 2018–19 laureate Morris Gleitzman. Dubosarsky is the author of over 60 books for children and young adults, and her work has been translated into 14 languages.

In international awards news, Australian illustrator Shaun Tan has been shortlisted for the UK’s Kate Greenaway medal for his short story collection Tales from the Inner City (Allen & Unwin), for which fellow Australian Rovina Cai was also nominated. Cai was longlisted for her illustrations in Patrick Ness’ novel And the Ocean Was Our Sky (Walker Books), while author Karen Foxlee was longlisted for the Carnegie Medal for her middle-grade novel Lenny’s Book of Everything (Allen & Unwin).

Iranian-Australian writer Shokoofeh Azar has been longlisted for the International Booker Prize for her novel The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree (trans from Farsi by Anonymous, Wild Dingo Press), which tells the story—narrated by a 13-year-old ghost—of a family compelled to flee their home in Tehran following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Azar is the first Australian writer to be longlisted for the prize since it restructured as an annual translation award in 2015. US and UK rights were previously sold to Europa Editions.

Jane Rawson’s novel From the Wreck (Transit Lounge) has been shortlisted in the UK’s Kitschies awards, presented to ‘progressive, intelligent, and entertaining literature with a speculative element’. World English-language rights (ex-ANZ) were sold to Picador UK in 2018.


‘The 117-Storey Treehouse’ tops 2019 Australian children’s chart

The 117-Storey Treehouse, the ninth book in Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton’s internationally published junior fiction series, was the bestselling Australian children’s book in 2019. It managed to hold off the new ‘Bluey’ books—tie-ins to the popular Australian children’s TV series about the adventures of a young blue heeler dog—which took the next three spots on the chart. Other popular kids’ book series in the chart included Anh Do’s Hopping Weird! WeirDo Book 12 and Aaron Blabey’s Pig the Tourist and The Big Bad Wolf: The Bad Guys Episode 9. Bestselling adult thriller author Matthew Reilly’s YA debut, The Secret Runners of New York, also made it into the top 10.

Australian children’s and YA bestsellers 2019

  1. The 117-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton, Pan)
  2. Bluey: The Beach (Puffin)
  3. Bluey: Fruit Bat Bluey (Puffin)
  4. Bluey: Time to Play! (Puffin)
  5. Hopping Weird! WeirDo Book 12 (Anh Do, Scholastic)
  6. Pig the Tourist (Aaron Blabey, Scholastic)
  7. The Secret Runners of New York (Matthew Reilly, Macmillan)
  8. The Big Bad Wolf: The Bad Guys Episode 9 (Aaron Blabey, Scholastic)
  9. The Baddest Day Ever: The Bad Guys Episode 10 (Aaron Blabey, Scholastic)
  10. The 13-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton, Pan)

© Nielsen BookScan 2020
Period covered: 30 December 2018 to 28 December 2019
Data supplied by Nielsen BookScan’s book sales monitoring system from 1000 retailers nationwide




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