'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Monday 29 May 2023

Guest Post: Lisa Berryman on the ABIA 2023 Pixie O'Harris Award

KBR is thrilled to welcome long time ally of children's publishing, Lisa Berryman  following her recent recognition by ABIA (Australian Book Industry Awards) with the prestigious Pixie O'Harris Award for her outstanding contribution to children's literature. Join Lisa as she shares her thoughts about the industry that means so much to her.

What do you feel makes for a successful Australian children’s book?
As with all children’s books it needs to be well-written and engaging for the age group with characters the audience can relate to, and a richness that often be determined by the central moral compass of the book. A problem to be considered, a conundrum that can lead to discussion.

As for the Australian aspect, that can be determined by sense of place, or reflecting on our history or politics. Recognising and acknowledging who we are and where we have come from. And who we can be. That we are a multi-cultural and complex society that we need to, and deserves to be explored.

Have the themes been addressed in children books changed over the years?
There is now far more openness and acceptance of exploring the world as it is. Which means tolerance for stories that might contain, for example, characters who are neurodivergent, or are hearing impaired or struggling with allergies, or have been diagnosed with diabetes. Or children who are questioning their sexuality, dealing with grief, or being bullied. There is a myriad of social concerns that would have once been considered ‘inappropriate’ to be included in a book for young people. As always though, it is important that the book is led by the story and not ‘the issue’.

Why is children’ literature such a passion for you?
I was the classic bookwormy kid who absolutely adored reading (and indeed it is still the case that life is what happens around reading for me) and I know that a big part of me is still about ten years of age and bewitched by the power and beauty of language and story.

I believe that every child should have access to literacy and to the joy and magic that books and reading can bring. The opportunity to explore other worlds, walk in other people’s shoes, go on wild adventures, indulge imaginations, laugh out loud and realise the power of language and its ability to transform us. Make us think.

I also love the splendour of art and the wonder of what illustrators and artists can bring to a story; the way in which visual narrative can make a story ‘whole’ and often quite perfect.

You are the caretaker of some of Australia’s most beloved classics such as The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay, The Muddleheaded Wombat by Ruth Park, and The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall. What does it mean to you and why is it so important?
I grew up with these books and so for me the honour of caretaking them is, I guess, a bit sentimental. I also know that this sentiment is felt by many Australians who also remember these books from their childhood. Possibly the memory is these books being read by a parent or grandparent and that is very powerful.

Norman Lindsay, Ruth Park and Dorothy Wall were some of our earliest children’s book creators and the fact that their books have stayed in print since publication speaks to the books themselves. I marvel particularly that The Magic Pudding, which was published in 1918, was published at the end of WW1 and stayed in print during WW2, when there were drastic paper shortages.

When I published new editions of these books, I wanted to honour the creators and so included biographies. To be able to spend as much time as I did in the Mitchell Library at the State Library of NSW reading and researching the manuscripts and letters and seeing original artwork is, to this day, one of the highlights of my career.

How does it feel to have your body of work recognised with the Pixie O’Harris Award?

A huge honour and deeply humbling.

It is quite extraordinary to be recognised for something that you love doing so much, but I know that I share this award with the many brilliant authors and illustrators who I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with for many years. Without them, I wouldn’t be a publisher.

And without my colleagues I wouldn’t be able to create my books. I work with so many talented editors, designers and production people who help me shape and make the books. And then there are colleagues in MarComms and sales, and teacher-librarians and booksellers, all of whom do the most outstanding job of getting books into children’s hands. What we do in publishing is so interconnected and there is no way I could do my job alone.

As a publishing industry what can we do better and where would you like to see happening more?

We need to publish in more of a diverse and inclusive way and also employ those who can bring a more diverse voice and point of view to the table. This is definitely happening, but as with any need or desire for social change, it sometimes feels as though it is happening a bit too slowly.

Lisa Berryman (HarperCollins Publisher) is one of Australia's most renowned publishers of children books from picture books to young adult titles. With a career spanning over 40 years, she is an enthusiastic and motivating champion for children's literature and has been instrumental in bringing the voices of numerous successful Australian children's book authors into the public eye as well as caretaking beloved Australian classics such as The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay, The Muddleheaded Wombat by Ruth Park and The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall. Her faith in the transformative power of words, stories, and books is at the core of her achievement.