So, what are the YABBAs? The acronym stands for Young Australians’ Best Book Awards. Each state has its own version - this one is Victoria’s, though the nominees don’t have to be from Victoria. Children up to Year 9 can nominate and vote for their favourite books of the last ten years. There is a shortlist and then the winners are announced at a ceremony at this time of year. You don’t have to be on the shortlist to attend as a writer, though. You turn up, get fussed over, enjoy the ceremony, then sit at a signing table.
Each year a different school hosts it. I did once ask if my school could be considered. “Sure!” I was told. “Do you have room for 300 kids?” Alas, I didn’t. My library was quite big, but 200 was the most we could cram into the space, not counting signing tables and the bookseller stall, and only if they all sat on the floor. We had no school hall either, so that was that.
In fact, most of the host schools over the years have been private ones. Not only that, but they were hard to reach by public transport, although I did once take a group of older book club kids from my school because we could meet in the city and catch the tram.
This year’s host was a state P-12 school in Mernda, an outer suburb of Melbourne - in fact, a very outer suburb! The train journey took an hour from the city. But it was impressive, a school that has only been around for two years and looks as new as it is. The oldest kids are in Year 8, next year will go up to Year 9, etc. They had chosen polite, pleasant bookloving kids to show the guests to the places they needed to be.
We were taken to the large, pleasant library, where coffee and cake were served before the ceremony began. I was pleasantly surprised to see some of my author friends there and others whom I admire. I had a lovely chat with Felice Arena, whom I’ve met once before and communicated with by email when he kindly answered some questions from my students on this blog. Felice is best known to the kids as the author of the Specky McGee series of novels about a young football player. Recently, he has started writing children’s historical fiction novels, one of which was on this year’s shortlist. Specky McGee couldn’t go on forever, after all, and the historical fiction is a delight. And he is loving the writing and research he is doing for those books. Interesting, I’ve only recently discovered that he was once an actor! Now he delights children with his fiction instead.
I also had a talk with the librarian, Joy, who had come there from the western suburbs, where I have spent most of my working life. She is lucky enough to have a supportive principal, and got to choose how to set her library up. Once a librarian always a librarian, and I asked her to show me her catalogue. There wasn’t a catalogue computer in the library for the kids to look up stuff, because they have a Bring Your Own Device program, so the kids can use their own computers or tablet devices to look up books. I can only assume they’re from families which have a bit more money than the families of my students, many of whom couldn’t afford their own devices.
The library was beautiful, very comfortable, and had lots of rooms off the main library, and a giant chess set, although not many books for such a large space, to be honest. They may be building up the collection, of course, probably are, though I’m not sure where the new books will go, especially when they finally have students up to Year 12. Still - nice to see a brand new school that is so enthusiastic about having a library! I wish Joy much happiness there.
I also saw Carole Wilkinson, the author of the wonderful Dragonkeeper series, mother of YA author Lili Wilkinson, whose rom com novels I have reviewed on this blog, and she very kindly offered me a lift to her local railway station.
Carole Wilkinson and me!
Meredith Costain, whom I interviewed on this blog about a few months ago, was there. Meredith is the partner of my lovely publisher Paul Collins, and has edited my stuff before, so I know her well, and was on this year’s shortlist, but there was another much more exciting reason why she was there, as I discovered when we were escorted into the hall for the ceremony.
Goodness, it was a spectacular event! It was held in what I assume was the gym, but a huge one. I’ve never seen one that size before. When we walked in, the kids were thrilled to see their favourite authors, and showed it, but they were happy to see the rest of us as well. I found myself offered several hands to high-five, which I did.
There was a bunch of totally adorable primary kids singing their hearts out. We applauded, of course, and I also cheered, whereupon one cheeky little miss in the choir took a bow, bless her! A group of four older girls danced.
The MC was David Linke, head of the YABBA committee, and he was very entertaining in his own right. There was a bit of comedy with two of the artists supposedly bringing in bags of votes to be counted(the voting was on line, of course) and dropping them, with bits of paper flying.
Next there was a “Mr Squiggle” event, which they do every year, like the show that was on TV here for many years. What happened was that an artist from among the guests was invited up to meet the challenge of turning a child’s scribble into a drawing. One of them actually altered his drawing as he went to respond to the children’s guesses as to what it was. It ended up as a cartoon cockatoo.
Then there was the event that had brought Meredith to the YABBAs. Until a few years ago, the head of YABBA was an amazing man called Graham Davey, whose day job was as a storyteller. He died very suddenly and now there is an award in his name presented each year to someone who has made a great contribution to Australian children’s literature. This year it was Meredith, who is a quiet achiever who never brags or does the “look at me!” thing. She told me afterwards she had only got the good news on Saturday - and the event was on Tuesday! Of course, we all clapped and cheered.
Then it was time for the awards. That didn’t go for long. I’ll let you check the YABBA web site for the winners, just google it.
After morning tea, we went to the signing tables. I’d done two things: brought book marks and mini-posters to sign and brought a few copies of Crime Time from my stash, which I asked the booksellers to put on their table. The kids did have autograph cards, so the queues were long. Eve; if they hadn’t heard of you, they were happy to get your autograph, and one even asked to have her photo taken with me! And that was fine, but I also wanted to promote my books, so I handed out the bookmarks and mini posters. The mini posters are great because kids stick them to their school books and that means more promotion, as their friends will ask about the book. Two kids went and bought Crime Time and came back to their books signed. In the end, I really only got back what I’d paid for those books, because the booksellers wanted 50%, so I had to charge the full price, something I don’t usually do. But that book is there for kids to read, not to sit in my cupboard. I’m glad two more kids will be curling up with it!
This time, poor Andy Griffiths finally got to have lunch. Last time I went, he was stuck at the signing table while the rest of us were being fed. This time, there was finally an announcement that while those in the current queue could stay, there would be no more signatures. Ironically, I think
I was signing longer than he was this time! But not after the deadline.
My friend George Ivanoff also left his signing table early, to do some activities which
I kept hearing about from the other side of the hall, not sure what they were, as I was still facing long queues of children.
Afterwards, we were fed and thanked with a little plastic tag which I promised to add to my key chain. Carole drove me to Clifton Hill station and we had a great chat along the way. She had written a new time slip novel, Inheritance(see my review) and gave me a copy from the back seat. So, guess what I was doing al, the way home on the train?
A great day - and thanks to everyone who helped to make it that way!