#LoveOzYA Spotlight: ABA Kids' Reading Guide
#LoveOzYA Spotlight is a monthly series of blog posts highlighting bookish initiatives that promote Australian youth literature.
In May, the #LoveOzYA team talked to Robyn Huppert about the Kids’ Reading Guide.
Q: Congratulations on the latest edition of the Kids’ Reading Guide, Robyn! For those in the #LoveOzYA community who may not be familiar with it, can you please tell us a bit about it?
A: The Kids’ Reading Guide (KRG) is an annual publication coordinated by the Australian Booksellers Association (ABA) featuring around 100 of the best children’s books, from books for babies and toddlers through to YA. It also has sections for non-fiction and “stuff to do”. The KRG celebrated its 16th birthday last year and has doubled in size and reach since its inception.
Q: The KRG is a particularly helpful resource for bookshops and parents who may not know much about kids’ books and YA. We’re sure the ABA must select each book in the Guide very carefully. How and why are certain books chosen?
A: All the books in the guide are chosen by booksellers and we have quite a rigorous (and sometimes boisterous!) selection process. We have a panel of booksellers who meet in June for two days of publisher presentations. They are all then tasked with reading a selection of titles before we meet again a few weeks later for what has affectionately been dubbed “The Choosing” – which sounds like a good name for a dystopian YA title – where we make our final selections. No one is allowed to leave the room until we have ticked off every section in the guide. (I really think there is a book in that somewhere!) There’s lots of debate over titles, discussions about trends in kids’ books in general, and possibly too much sugar consumption. The first criteria for selection is that the book is well written. To ensure this, every book being considered has to be read by a few of the booksellers so we can get a good cross-section of feedback. The other aspect of the guide that makes it such a helpful resource is that all the reviews are written by the booksellers and we are particularly fond of our reviews written by children. The end result is that we have a carefully curated selection of books that both booksellers and parents can feel confident to use as a resource when it comes to recommending and purchasing children’s books.
Q: The latest KRG tries to balance books by local authors and international authors in each section. However, we noticed the Teen section has only a few #LoveOzYA books, and is one of the smallest sections. Do your future plans for the Guide include adding more #LoveOzYA and/or expanding the Teen section?
A: As you can imagine, we do try to balance quite a lot of things across the guide – local and international authors, books for all types of reading interests and abilities – and we are mindful that we are recommending books to children and their carers right around the country. We do consider the YA section an integral part of the guide and there is often animated discussion about how we can make it more of a focus, especially as several of our booksellers are staunch #LoveOzYA supporters. (By the way, my personal favourite book this year was Cath Crowley’s Words in Deep Blue. How could you go wrong with a book set in a bookshop?) One of the ways we addressed that with the current issue was making sure the cover and internal design reflected this and would still be picked up by people looking for more than just picture books. And we will keep working on ways to improve and expand.
Q: We imagine there is more to the KRG than just a catalogue. How else does the ABA and the Guide interact with the bookish and #LoveOzYA communities?
A: We have now developed a life for the KRG beyond the annual print guide with a year-round annual presence on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. This means we can engage with a wider readership and share book reviews, articles on reading and literacy, and have a bit of fun. Over time, we also hope to use these platforms to review more books that don’t make it into the guide, especially in the Teen section where space is at a premium. It also allows us to shine a spotlight on our local bookshops and share their stories, which includes their in-store events and promotions. We want to remind people that there is this great resource called a bookseller, who is always more than happy to help them find just the right book that will turn their child into a passionate reader. We actually have a function on the ABA website where people can use Find A Bookshop to search for their local bookshop by area and/or specialisation. We are trying to encourage anyone that directs people to where they can purchase books to link to this in preference to directing them to overseas online retailers. And of course there is the KRG website, where the guide can be viewed. We hope to expand the site in future so we can run our own blog!
Q: The Kids’ Reading Guide is a great way to spread love of youth literature to the wider public. How can the #LoveOzYA community lend their support?
A: I think one of the things that we get right in the children’s book community in Australia is our ability to work together and support each other’s endeavours. I love that our KRG is such a collaborative effort, and that goes for both the booksellers and publishers involved and the offer of support from the #LoveOzYA community is another example of that. I suppose just letting as many people as possible know that they have access to two great resources – the Kid’s Reading Guide and their local bookseller – to help them find what they are looking for. The KRG is a great starting point and the bookseller is well worth developing an ongoing relationship with. And keep an eye out for the new guide, which will be in bookshops from November!
Thanks for taking the time to speak to us, Robyn!