Visions and values : the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s prizing of picture books in the twenty-first century

Hateley, Erica (2014) Visions and values : the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s prizing of picture books in the twenty-first century. In Canon Constitution and Canon Change in Children's Literature, 11-13 September 2014, University of Tübingen, Germany. (Unpublished)

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The Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) administers the oldest national prize for children’s literature in Australia. Each year, the CBCA confers “Book of the Year” awards to literature for young people in five categories. In 2001, the establishment of an “Early Childhood” category opened up the venerable “Picture Book” category (first awarded in 1955) to books with an implied readership up to 18 years of age. As a result, this category has emerged in recent years as a highly visible space within which the CBCA can contest discourses of cultural marginalisation insofar as Australian (“colonial”) literature is constructed as inferior or adjunct to the major Anglophone literary traditions, and the consistent identification of children’s literature (and, indeed, of children) as lesser than its ‘adult’ counterparts.

The CBCA is engaged in defining, evaluating, and legitimising a tradition of Australian children’s literature which is underpinned by a canonical impulse, and is a reflexive practice of self-definition, self-evaluation and self-legitimisation for the CBCA itself.

While it is obviously problematic to identify award winners as a canon, it is equally obvious that literary prizing is a cultural practice derived from the logic of canonicity. In his discussion of the United States’s Newbery Medal, Kenneth Kidd notes that “Medal books are instant classics, the selection process an ostensible simulation of the test of time” (169) and that “the Medal is part of the canonical architecture of children's literature” (169). Thus, it is instructive to consider the visions and values of the national, of the social, and of the literary-aesthetic, in the picture books chosen by the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) as the “best” of the early twenty-first century. These books not only constitute a kind of canon for contemporary Australian children’s literature, but may well come to define what contemporary Australian children’s literature means in the wider literary field.

The Book of the Year: Picture Book awards given by the CBCA since 2001 demonstrate that it is not only true of the Booker Prize that, “The choices of winning books reflect not only on the books themselves, then, but also back on the Prize, affecting its reputation and creating journalistic capital which is vital for the Prize to achieve its prominence and impact.” (81). Many of the twenty-first century CBCA award-winning picture books complicate traditional or comfortable understanding of Australianness, children’s literature, or “appropriate” modes of form and content, reminding us that “moments when texts resist or complicate recuperation into national discourses offer fruitful points for exploring the relationships between text and celebratory context” (Roberts 6). The CBCA has taken the opportunities offered by the liberation of the Picture Book category from an implied readership to challenge dominant constructions of children’s literature in Australia, and in so doing, are engaged in overt practices of canonicity with potentially long-lasting effects.

Works Cited:

Kidd, Kenneth. “Prizing Children’s Literature: The Case of Newbery Gold.” Children's Literature 35 (2007): 166-190. Roberts, Gillian. Prizing Literature: The Celebration and Circulation of National Culture. Toronto: U Toronto P, 2011. Squires, Claire. “Book Marketing and the Booker Prize.” Judging a Book by Its Cover: Fans, Publishers, Designers, and the Marketing of Fiction. Eds. Nicole Matthews and Nickianne Moody. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007. 71-82.

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ID Code: 76359
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Additional URLs:
Keywords: book awards, children's literature, picture books
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > LITERARY STUDIES (200500) > Australian Literature (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Literature) (200502)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > LANGUAGES COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE (200000) > LITERARY STUDIES (200500) > Literary Studies not elsewhere classified (200599)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Children & Youth Research Centre
Current > Schools > School of Cultural & Professional Learning
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2014 Please consult the author
Deposited On: 25 Sep 2014 02:43
Last Modified: 28 Sep 2014 06:10

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