The Children’s Book Council of Australia grants Best of the Year awards in five categories: Older Readers (secondary school-age), Younger Readers (independent elementary readers), Early Childhood (pre-reading to early reader), Picture Book and the Eve Pownall Award for Information Book. The latter two awards are for any age up to 18. I choose two of the 2011 winners to read in April.
The Picture Book award very deservedly went to Jeannie Baker’s Mirror. Mirror opens to two nearly-wordless stories, one of an urban Australian family and the other, a rural Moroccan family. This is a book that can be looked at again and again searching for similarities and differences in the boys’ days. The detailed collage illustrations give a lot to peer at and ponder. Inspired by her own experiences travelling in Morocco. Where words are used, they are in English for the Australian story and Arabic for the Moroccan and the Moroccan story reads right to left.
The Older Reader award went to Sonya Hartnett’s The Midnight Zoo. Clearly a Hartnett book was unavoidable to truly check Australian book awards off my challenge list. Hartnett won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for her body of work as well recognition from the CBC of Australia for The Ghost’s Child (2008), The Silver Donkey (2005, Younger Children), Forest (2002), an Honor in 1996 for Sleeping Dogs and has been shortlisted for just about everything else she’s ever written.
After two Roma brothers and their infant sister stumble upon an abandoned zoo, the zoo animals and the brothers share their tragic stories with each other. The tragedy of World War II affects them all, but the animals make it clear to the boys that they have suffered at human hands long before the war. The courage and determination of Andrej is inspiring, but overall the story is not an uplifting one. The Midnight Zoo is a quiet and moving story which will remain with me long after the reading. While it is worthy of critical acclaim for its sparse yet emotional writing I am not surprised that it has not been flying off the library shelves. Hopefully it will find a home within World War II units, particularly due to its Roma main characters, not often found in World War II young adult fiction.