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Inside the Australian book industry

Self-published picture book series wins global pitching competition

Australian children’s book creators Yves Stening and Nigel Buchanan have won a pitching competition at the world’s biggest children’s entertainment industry event MIPJunior for their self-published picture book series ‘Dinner Detectives’ (distributed by Peribo).

The pair intends to develop a TV series based on the series, which seeks to ‘inspire healthy eating habits in children by feeding their curiosity, making discovering new foods an adventure, not a chore’. The books follow two characters as they travel back in time and around the world to uncover stories about the food we eat. (You can read a review of one of the titles here.)

Stening said their success at the pitching competition has opened the doors for further development and partnerships, and that they have ‘all kinds of spin-off ideas—a game and an app and a YouTube program’. ‘But what we really want to make is a TV series,’ he said.

In other children’s rights news, a new literary agency specialising in Australian children’s and YA books has recently launched. The Mayfair Literary Agency, run by lawyer and writer Justine Barker, will represent authors writing picture books, junior fiction, middle-grade and YA titles.

Andrea Hanke
Think Australian

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Australian fashion designer to create two picture books for Berbay

Berbay Publishing has acquired world rights to two picture books by one of Australia’s most celebrated fashion designers Collette Dinnigan. Berbay publishing director Alexandra Yatomi-Clarke said Dinnigan’s ‘fashion collections have always had strong unique narratives and this ability to tell stories will translate beautifully into a children’s picture book’.

Affirm Press has acquired middle-grade novel Hattie Maxwell and the Library of Lost Words by debut author and librarian Julianne Negri. The story follows almost-10-year-old Hattie Maxwell as she deals with her parents’ separation, her little sister’s imaginary pet eagle, a mystery yarn-bomber and an old house full of secrets and magic.

Allen & Unwin has sold North American rights to You’re One! and You’re Two! by Shelly Unwin and Katherine Battersby—the first two titles in a series of board books that celebrate early childhood—to Penguin Random House’s Doubleday division. The publisher has also sold simplified Chinese language rights to Trace Balla’s picture books Rivertime and Rockhopping—which encourage kids to slow down and explore nature—to CITIC.

Walker Books has sold North American and Polish rights to Allison Rushby’s middle-grade mystery The Mulberry Tree to Candlewick Press and Wydawnictwo Zielona Sowa, respectively. The publisher has also sold Romanian rights to four books in the Chook Doolan series for emerging readers, written by James Roy and illustrated by Lucinda Gifford, to Aramis Print SRL.

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


Lester wins Melbourne Prize for Literature

Children’s author and illustrator Alison Lester has won the Melbourne Prize for Literature, presented every three years to a Victorian author ‘whose body of published work has made an outstanding contribution to Australian literature, as well as to cultural and intellectual life’. Among the author’s best-known works are Are We There Yet?, Kissed by the Moon (Penguin Random House Australia), Imagine, Magic Beach, Noni the Pony (Allen & Unwin) and The Very Noisy Baby (Affirm Press).

The Australian Wilderness Society has announced the winners of its Environment Award for Children’s Literature. Florette by Anna Walker (Penguin Random House Australia) won in the picture fiction category (it was also recently named one of the New York Times/New York Public Library’s best illustrated children’s books for 2018); Wombat Warriors (Samatha Wheeler, University of Queensland Press) won in the fiction category; and Rock Pool Secrets (Narelle Oliver, Walker Books Australia) and Coral Sea Dreaming: The Picture Book (Kim Michelle Toft, Silkim Books) tied in the nonfiction category.

The Australian Family Therapists’ Award for children’s literature has been presented to two YA books: Megan Jacobson’s novel The Build-up Season (Penguin Random House Australia), which explores family and identity against the backdrop of Darwin’s wet season; and Nevo Zisin’s autobiography about gender ‘and everything that comes with it’ Finding Nevo (Black Dog Books).

The winners of the Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year awards have been announced. They are: birth to three years—Heads and Tails (John Canty, Berbay Publishing); three to five years—Rodney Loses It (Michael Gerard Bauer, illus by Chrissie Krebs, Scholastic Australia); five to eight years—Danny Blue’s Really Excellent Dream (Max Landrak, Hachette Australia); eight to 10 years—The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler (Lisa Shanahan, A&U); and Indigenous children—Sorry Day (Coral Vass, illus by Dub Leffler, NLA Publishing).

At the Queensland Literary Awards, Cally Black’s hostage drama In the Dark Spaces (Hardie Grant Egmont) won in the YA category and Peter Carnavas’ novel for younger readers The Elephant (University of Queensland Press)—about a young girl who imagines her dad’s sadness as a large grey elephant—won in the children’s category.

Several Australian children’s book authors and illustrators have also been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals; and shortlisted for Japan’s Sakura Medal.


Introducing the picture book ‘Little Bird’s Day’

Little Bird’s Day is the first picture book to be published through Magabala Books’ Kestin Indigenous Illustrator Award, teaming artist Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr with renowned author and illustrator Sally Morgan. This ‘beautiful, distinctive publication with global appeal’ tells ‘a simple, universal story of a day in the life of Little Bird’, says Magabala Books publisher Rachel Bin Salleh. Little Bird’s Day will be published in Australia in April 2019.

What is your pitch for Little Bird’s Day?

A simple, universal story of a day in the life of Little Bird as she sings the world alive, flies with Cloud, travels with Wind, nestles with Moon and dreams of flying among the stars.

Sally Morgan’s beautiful words and Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr’s sensitive artwork combine to make this a beautiful, distinctive publication with global appeal. Johnny infuses his illustrations with his fine-art aesthetic, his traditional motifs and a quirky sense of humour.

Who are the creators?

Sally Morgan is one of Australia’s best-known Aboriginal artists and writers. Sally’s widely acclaimed first book My Place has sold over half a million copies in Australia, and she is the author of numerous children’s books.

Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr is the winner of Magabala’s inaugural Kestin Indigenous Illustrator Award. Johnny is a Yolŋu man who lives in the remote community of Gapuwiyak in North East Arnhem Land. A fine artist, his work is steeped in his knowledge of culture and country. He is the Chairperson of Gapuwiak Culture and Arts. 

The award mentors Australia Indigenous artists and emerging illustrators in the art of children’s picture book illustration.

Have any international rights been sold?

Not yet.

Why do you think this picture book will appeal to international readers?

It is a whimsical, universal tale that children everywhere will identify with. It also has a fresh and unique aesthetic—Australian Indigenous visual artists are acclaimed worldwide and Little Bird’s Day brings the beauty of this work to an early childhood audience.

When asked by the Australian newspaper why he decided to try illustration, Johnny said, ‘I always knew how to paint about my totem; my father taught me, and it’s my mother’s tribal painting, I can do that. But when I did this painting, I feel [that the reason for painting is] so kids will be happy, they can see the pictures and read clearly.’

Has Magabala had any rights success with other titles?

One of the most recent international rights successes we have had for our picture books was Steve goes to Carnival by Joshua Button and Robyn Wells to Candlewick Press/Walker Books in the US.

Magabala Books is Australia’s leading Indigenous publisher. For rights enquiries contact Rachel Bin Salleh .


Introducing children’s book creator Aaron Blabey

Aaron Blabey is the creator of the bestselling children’s book series ‘Pig the Pug’ and ‘The Bad Guys’ (Scholastic Australia), which have been sold into numerous territories around the world. The two series have taken off in the US and a DreamWorks film adaptation of ‘The Bad Guys’ is on the way. Think Australian spoke to the author.

You’re known for your prolific output, which is ‘never less than’ five books per year, according to Booktopia. Is this how you keep the popularity of your books from waning?

The output is driven by a desire to not become Gollum. When I work on a single project, it can all too quickly become ‘my precious’. I’ve found that I’m much more playful when working on multiple projects. Designer Bob Gill said it best (I’m paraphrasing): ‘Working on one project is like facing down a rhinoceros. However, working on thirteen projects is like playing ping pong.’

If this approach happens to help buoy popularity, that is merely a wonderful side-effect.

How did ‘Pig the Pug’ and ‘The Bad Guys’ gain popularity among young readers in both the Australian and US markets?

It’s not really for me to say. That said, I’m very proud of both. It’s a giant privilege to go to work in the morning and make books that children are actually waiting for. That development is undoubtedly the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. Additionally, a lot of the credit goes to my publisher, Scholastic, because they are peerless when it comes to getting books into the hands of children.

DreamWorks recently announced a film adaptation of ‘The Bad Guys’. Do you think that came about off the back of the series’ Australian success or US success, or both?

The team at DreamWorks were fans of the series right from the beginning. They were aware of its success in Australia but our first meeting in LA happened to coincide with ‘The Bad Guys’ suddenly exploding in the US school market. Since then, it’s snowballed into the trade and has gone on to spend a large portion of 2018 on the New York Times bestseller list.

You’re serving as executive producer on the film. How far along in development is it and when can we expect to see it in Australia?

The screenplay by Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder, Men in Black 3, Madagascar 2, Holmes & Watson) is in wonderful shape and the project is galloping along faster than I’d ever expected. I’m not able to say much more at this point, but everyone is very excited with current progress. Stay tuned.

Are there plans for a ‘Pig the Pug’ movie?

There are indeed plans being developed for Pig’s screen transition, as we speak.

On your recent tour ‘The Bad Guys: Mission to America’, what things told you it would be successful in terms of drumming up interest in the series?

No matter where I was (Dallas, San Francisco, Boston, Phoenix, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Toronto) the response was identical—kids just went bananas.

How important is comedy in making a successful junior fiction book? How do you know what makes kids laugh and is laughter necessary for getting kids to engage with reading?

It certainly doesn’t hurt. When it comes to early junior fiction, I think if you can get kids to associate books with fun, you’re probably on the right track.


‘I Had Such Friends’ tops Australian YA bestsellers chart

Australian YA bestsellers: October

Debut author and high school teacher Meg Gatland-Veness is at the top of the Australian YA bestsellers chart for October with her novel I Had Such Friends, which explores the death of a high school student and the ‘complicated lives of the people left behind’. Elsewhere, the YA chart continues to be dominated by YA fantasy author Lynette Noni, who occupies six spots in the chart with her ‘Medoran Chronicles’ and ‘Whisper’ series.

  1. I Had Such Friends (Meg Gatland-Veness, Pantera Press)
  2. Whisper (Lynette Noni, Pantera Press)
  3. We Three Heroes (Lynette Noni, Pantera Press)
  4. Impostors (Scott Westerfeld, Allen & Unwin)
  5. Akarnae (Lynette Noni, Pantera Press)
  6. Just Breathe (Andrew Daddo, Penguin Random House)
  7. Raelia (Lynette Noni, Pantera Press)
  8. Draekora (Lynette Noni, Pantera Press)
  9. Graevale (Lynette Noni, Pantera Press)
  10. Palace of Fires (Bill Bennett, Penguin Random House)

© Nielsen BookScan 2018
Period covered: 16 September to 13 October
Data supplied by Nielsen BookScan’s book sales monitoring system from 1000 retailers nationwide




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