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Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children's Literature Past Winners

Crow Country by Kate Constable

Year Winner Judges' comments

The Ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon by Aaron Blabey

The village of Twee, seven miles from the sea, had a problem more awful than most. That problem is the shabby and crabby Miss Annabel Spoon. The integration of a number of different elements makes this picture book near perfect. At its simplest it is a story about a lonely woman who makes a friend. On another level, this is a tale about why communities should not exclude or fear those who appear different in looks or behaviour: harmony is restored when there is understanding and a little compassion. Then there is the way the story is told, in wonderfully clever and often hilarious six-line rhyming stanzas. The haunting illustrations complement the text — at first they are sombre and somewhat grotesque, then develop a lonely sadness, and conclude with the colourful happiness of friendship. 

The text demands to be read aloud or acted out, and its language and rhymes savoured. There is wonderful balance and humour in the depictions of the frightened townsfolk, and marvellous suspense as the hero, young Herbert Kettle, walks through the woods to confront Miss Spoon. While this book can be shared with young children, it will be most appreciated by those in the middle and upper primary years.

A wonderful meld of image and text, The Ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon is an apparently “dark” story that is at the same time scary and funny. The unusual colour scheme suits the gothic nature of the illustrations and plot while the rhythm and consistent rhyming pattern of the text pull the story along at a pace. The introduction of Herbert Kettle, his common sense and courage change the tenor of the tale and introduce a more colourful palette to the pages. 


Crow Country by Kate Constable

It seems that war friends form lifetime bonds, except when class and/or race enter the equation.  Such is the basis for this compelling story set in a small Australian country town.  Manslaughter, cultural secrets and unrequited love give rise to the tensions and ill-feelings that linger into the second generation. When Sadie unwillingly moves with her mother to the little town of Boort, the thirteen-year-old finds herself in conversation with a crow who embroils her in a mystery from her family’s past. When she time-slips into the body of her namesake of two generations ago she is caught up in a class-race conflict. Constable has cleverly let Sadie participate in her past history without changing it, which allows her to be the keeper of an enormous and troubling secret in her own time. Constable’s characters are beautifully rounded and real, from the family in the past to old Auntie Lily, an Aboriginal elder.

This is a multi-layered story, beautifully told, with themes interwoven through three generations; the prejudices and mores of the 1970s persist into the twenty-first century with black-white friendships frowned upon in both parents and children. The Indigenous connection to the land is a major theme, with a sacred circle of stones being exposed when drought causes the dam water to recede and the old town to be revealed. As in life, sport becomes the common bond as truths win out and secrets are fought for and kept. At the start of each chapter a small black crow sits on the black number while the cover illustration signals the stark ravages of drought with a large crow demanding attention as it does throughout the book. 

Crow Country stands out for its compelling prose, the beautifully developed relationships and the power of its story. Kate Constable convincingly evokes many pairs of worlds in conflict: black and white, teen and parent, boss and underling, progress and ancient culture. It is no surprise that an Elder of the Dja Dja Wurrung Yung Balug Clan endorsed this book. This is the story of friendship, justice and reconciliation, and at the heart is Crow, his land, his story, his secret. Its brooding presence and the references to the land and the past and the sense of country, give the story a distinctive Australian flavour.