Shortlist 2014 - Focus on Years 7 to 9 list

What a fabulous list of books chosen by our junior secondary cohort! We would love to publish reviews of these books by students in Years 7 to 9. Go to our contact page to make your contribution, or comment below.

13 by James Phelan

Sam wakes from a nightmare to discover the terrifying reality. It will come true. Kidnapped from school and finding out his parents aren't who he thinks they are, Sam is suddenly running from danger at every turn. First Chapter | Author Video

HIT LIST by Jack Heath

When Ash and Benjamin are hired to rescue an imprisoned girl they realise they are in over their heads, with corrupt governments, ruthless corporations and rogue assassins. A gripping, fast paced story. Trailer | Synopsis | Review Excerpts

RED by Libby Gleeson

Red can't remember the cyclone. She doesn't remember her name, where she lived, who her family might be. What can she do to find out who she is and where she belongs? Is there anyone she can trust to help her? A gripping mystery. Synopsis | Author Bio | First Chapter

MY LIFE AS AN ALPHABET by Barry Jonsberg

Candice Phee wants to bring light and laughter to those around her, and somehow she succeeds despite the bizarre mix-ups and the confusion she effortlessly creates. An uplifting comedy-drama. Description | Author Info | Preview


The complexities of Georg's life in 1939 Nazi Germany are more than any child should know, but his experiences and the people he meets make for an inspiring coming of age story. Set in Germany, England and Australia. Preview | Description | Author Information


A witty and warm book about Dan, who has had to move house and school when his parents' marriage and business fail. His Dad has also come out as gay, just another thing to throw into the mix. Dan is struggling, but then there is this girl who lives next door, and it so happens they share an attic. Five Reasons To read Six Impossible Things


With a grieving father and a terrible secret of her own, Shelly takes shelter in a full blown obsession with AFL footy – the games, the players. But her friends don’t get it and she doesn’t know why. Book Description | Free Chapter


Alex Hudson is a good guy. He plays water polo. He has a part-time job. He's doing okay at school. Then the thing that anchors Alex is ripped away and his life seems pointless. How can he make anyone else understand how he feels, when he doesn't even know? Review

DOOMSDAY by Chris Morphew

PHOENIX FILES #6 With less than a day to go until the end of the world, there's nowhere left to hide. Luke and Jordan don't think they'll make it through the night, let alone save the day. "...the ultimate battle between good and evil [is] powerful and engaging. Not a read for the fainthearted, however!" (Jo Schenkel, Reading Time.) Review


Tuesday McGillycuddy loves stories - and her mother is a writer. A very famous writer, who has locked herself away in her writing room to finish the final book in her best-selling series for children. But when Tuesday knocks on her door, she discovers her mother is missing! Description | Author Info | Preview


Jackie French on Inspiration

The Australian Children’s Laureate: enriching the lives of young Australians through the power of story.

Since 2011, highly respected Australian children’s authors or illustrators have been awarded this prestigious honour for an outstanding contribution to children’s literature. They act as national and international ambassadors for reading.

Find out what the second Children’s Laureate, Jackie French is doing during her two year term (2014-15), from the Australian Children’s Laureate Page

Today Jackie shares with us her once and only experience of true inspiration as a writer - and also a favourite recipe!

Only Once

Sometimes, just sometimes, a book comes to you with almost no conscious thought. And yet for years I’ve denied this happens.

Kids’ favourite question is, ‘Where do you get your inspiration’. I tell them there is no such animal. Each book is made up of millions of ideas, observations, themes, all drawn together and built up over years. A book never spears down from the ether into your brain.  Instead there are years of work and thought and planning and rewriting.

And mostly that is true. It’s wrong to encourage a child – or any writer – to expect to wait for a book to come to you, ready made whispering ‘here I am, your inspiration.’

Except this year it happened.

The book is To Love a Sunburnt Country, about 200,000 words written in three weeks, and then revised a little after the editor had seen it. There’ll be other small changes along the editorial process till it comes out on December 1. But mostly, that book just came to me. And reading it – crying for both the beauty and the tragedy of the human race and the many, many wastes of love – I can’t believe I wrote it.

Yet, in another way I have been writing this book since I was three years old. I screamed at the sight of a friend’s father, bent over and scarred from torture and starvation in the prisoner of war camps. I thought that poor hunched man with his twisted face was a spider, and only years later realised the anguish a three year old’s horror must have meant to him. The children of the street played at other houses after that.

To Love a Sunburnt Country is about Australia, in all its diversity, and the many and diverse ways one can be connected to country. It is also about a girl called Nancy of the Overflow, and Australia’s war, from the day Japan attacked in December 1941 to January 1946 – the years we had to fight to keep our country.

I fell in love with Clancy of the Overflow when I was twelve years old. But why is there no Nancy of the Overflow in those ballads and bush stories, no strong women of the bush, just the desperate wives and lonely sweethearts? They were there, pioneering women managing properties, teaching their children, droving mobs of cattle thousands of miles. But they didn’t fit the clichés of the day.

And so it’s written. And it is far better than anything else I have written, even if it still doesn’t feel as if I am the writer. Luckily I had time and emotional space space to write it in early January. Since then I’ve been ‘laureating’, talking, writing, talking, talking, talking, forgetting the banner twice and losing it once (hopefully it’ll turn up again, and there is a spare) and juggling events for the next two years and wishing there was a way to stretch each day to three times its length, or at least invent faster-than-light travel across Australia.

I’ve also been asking kids what they’d like to see at schools, and receiving gems as replies like ‘more time for inventions’ from Sam, five and three quarters, who is working on a machine to mine steroids but hasn’t quite got it right yet; and a fourteen-year old in Queensland who is developing an app that he hopes will make him a millionaire by the time he is eighteen, and would love a panel of teachers to call on for advice in the second half of every lunch hour.

Humanity’s capacity for invention is perhaps our greatest gift and mover of society. But where is it in the syllabus, except as small parts of courses in the last two years of school.  We accept the need for creativity in writing and in the arts. But- in the words of one of the respondents- when you  prefer ‘things and stuff’ to art and books, there’s little room for you to invent.

Other kids – most kids – long for classes held out of doors, and to be able to talk in class – not gossip, but about lessons, to explain a problem to their best friend or ask them for help or just to say, ‘Cool’. (A cheap microphone, ear sets and amplifier, total cost about $40 a year, would make this possible.)

A kid in the NT wants school to begin at 4 pm, because his brothers keep him up late and he gets into trouble if he can’t get to school till 10 am and, anyway, by 4 pm you have done all the fun stuff. He’d really like to sit down and learn stuff, he says, if it was in mid-afternoon and you got afternoon tea too.

Plus another project that I’ll write about next time, because this is already too long, and there are 36 kids waiting for a phone link, Q and A session, and two more laureate blogs to write after this one, and the pumpkin vine to haul out from among the winter veg and send on its proper course down the path before it smothers the silver beet, and clothes to choose for tomorrow’s visit to Sydney to the Jewish Museum – ‘work’ clothes, most respectable, unlike the too-big jeans and sloppy jumper with flour smudges I’m wearing as I write this…

Which reminds me. Must take biscuits out of the oven. And very good biscuits they are too. It’s good to create things. Biscuits, a garden, a book and, most of all, the slow and joyous guiding of children’s minds.

Flat Out Biscuits

Quickly made, quickly cooked, good to keep husbands happy when you are jaunting off to Sydney. Keep two weeks in a sealed container.

125 gm butter

2 tbsp golden syrup

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup plain flour

½ cup SR flour

1 cup white choc bits.

Melt sugar, butter and syrup. Mix in all but chocolate. Cool. Mix in chocolate.

Use your hands to make small balls then pat them flattish. Place on a baking tray covered in baking paper. Bake at 200º C for about 10 minutes till gold on top. Cool before removing from the tray as they crisp up as they cool. Keep in a sealed container.

They are very good indeed.  


Chris Morphew reporting from America

Chris Morphew is an author very popular with kids in NSW. His books, Phoenix Files #1: Arrival and #2 Contact have blitzed the Year 7 to 9 category of the KOALA Awards, winning in 2012 and 2013. Chris was at both awards ceremonys, where he was mobbed by adoring fans!

In January 2014 Chris was pretty busy with an author tour of America, but he did keep up a video diary of the high points, presented here with compliments of the author. (Thanks Mr Morphew!)



Q & A with Belinda Murrell

Get to know Belinda Murrell, author of 21 books including The Sun Sword Trilogy, The Locket of Dreams, The Ruby Talisman, The Forgotten Pearl, The Ivory Rose, The River Charm, and the new Lulu Bell series.

1. What has been the highlight of the last year for you? 

Last year was such a wonderful year for me with lots of highlights. One of the most exciting things was firstly to be shortlisted for the KOALA awards for the third time, and then even more exciting was to go to the award ceremony and discover that my book The Forgotten Pearl was an Honour Book in the Fiction for Older Readers. I was so surprised that I actually screamed out loud, which made everyone laugh!! I love the KOALA awards because they are nominated and voted for by children. It is such a thrill for me that kids love reading my books. I also had five lovely new books that came out last year (my busiest year yet) including my new book for Older readers – The River Charm, plus a new series for younger readers called Lulu Bell.

2. Tell us about your latest book for older readers?

The River Charm
is a very special book to me, because it is based on the true life adventures of my great-great-great grandmother, Charlotte Elizabeth Atkinson. Set in Australia, during the 1840s, it is the story of a family who lost everything but fought against almost insurmountable odds to regain their independence and their right to be together as a family. Charlotte was born into a wealthy family at Oldbury, a grand estate in the bush. But after her father dies, her mother is left to raise four young children on her own. A young widow was a tempting target – from murderous convicts, violent bushrangers and worst of all, a cruel new stepfather. Fearing for their lives, the family flees on horseback to a remote hut in the wilderness. The Atkinson family must fight to save everything they hold dear.

3. And Lulu Bell?

I have had so much fun working with very talented illustrator Serena Geddes on the series. Lulu Bell is an eight year old girl, growing up in a vet hospital just like I did as a child. She is the eldest child, so she is creative but practical, sometimes a little bossy, but usually warm and caring and great at solving problems.

The first four books were released last year - Lulu Bell and the Birthday Unicorn, Lulu Bell and the Fairy Penguin, Lulu Bell and the Cubby Fort and Lulu Bell and the Moon Dragon. The series is about family, friends and animal adventures.

I have had such an overwhelming response to the series from kids, teachers, librarians and booksellers so it is all very exciting!

4. How did you get started as a writer?

When I was about eight, I started writing poems, plays, stories and novels in hand illustrated exercise books just because it was fun!! I kept writing all through school and university, then when I left uni I worked as a technical writer, journalist and freelance travel writer, but all the time I had a dream to write books. When my own children were young I started writing books for them, and then one day was brave enough to send a manuscript off to Random House – the first book in The Sun Sword Trilogy. They loved it and I’ve been writing kids books full-time ever since. I’m now working on my twenty-first book!

5. What is a typical day for you?

I try to write every day, unless I am out visiting schools and festivals. I usually get my kids off to school early in the morning, then I walk my dog Asha along the beach to get lots of fresh air and exercise, which helps get my brain working well. Back at my desk I make a coffee, read over what I have written the day before, check my notebook or plan to see where I’m going, then start writing. I write most of the day, until my kids get home from school at about 4.30pm., then I stop work and focus on the family – homework, sport, ballet, cooking and housework. The only time it gets tricky is when I am getting close to a deadline and then I become totally obsessed with the book. At that point dinners get burned and no-one has any clean washing!

6. Where do you write?

I work in my beautiful office, which is lined with hundreds of books, has a fireplace and looks out over my gorgeous garden. My dog Asha keeps me company, sleeping in front of the fire. It is a gorgeous place to work.

7. What advice can you give to young readers and writers?

Here are my top writing tips for aspiring authors:


  • The important thing is to write lots! Get an exercise book and keep a journal writing down ideas, observations, poems and stories.  Writing is like anything – you need to practice lots to get better! Write lots of stories and publish them on the computer – they make nice presents for parents, friends, grandparents.
  • Don’t forget to read lots too because most good writers read lots and lots of books.
  • Have fun and write what you love. I mean write stories which are just like the stories you love to read!!
  • Lastly don’t forget to edit your work. Most writers don’t write fantastic first drafts. That comes from polishing and rewriting your work.


8. What are you working on now?

This year is a huge year for me as I have six new books being released. Firstly I have my new time slip book for older readers, The Sequin Star coming out in May. This book was so much fun to research and write because it is set in a circus during the 1930s. Here is a sneak peek:

After her grandmother falls ill, Claire finds a sequin star in an old jewellery box. Why does Claire’s wealthy grandmother own such a cheap piece? The mystery deepens when the brooch hurtles Claire back in time to 1932.

Claire finds herself stranded in the camp of the Sterling Brothers Circus. Rescued by Princess Rosina, a beautiful trick rider, Claire is allowed to stay – if she promises to work hard. The Great Depression has made life difficult for everyone, but Claire makes friends with Rosina and Jem, and a boy called Kit who comes to the circus night after night to watch Rosina perform.

When Kit is kidnapped, it’s up to Claire, Rosina and Jem to save him. But Claire is starting to wonder just who Kit and Rosina really are. One is escaping poverty and the other is escaping wealth – can the two find happiness together?


As well as that I have five books in my new Lulu Bell series – written for younger kids (6 to 9) years old. Two new books have just been released - Lulu Bell and the Circus Cub and Lulu Bell and the Sea Turtle. I’m now editing two to come out in June -  Lulu Bell and the Pyjama Party and Lulu Bell and the Tiger Cub. And if that wasn’t enough I’m in the middle of writing book 9 in the series Lulu Bell and The Christmas Elf. No prizes for guessing when that one comes out! 

9. If you were not a children’s author what would you be?

When I was young I wanted to be a vet like my dad, so I could have lots of animals to heal and look after. The only problem was I was really good at English but completely hopeless at maths and chemistry so I became a writer instead – and what a good move that was!

10. What do you love about writing?

Immersing myself in a different place and time. Discovering the stories of my characters. Experiencing the almost magical evolution from the first spark of an idea, to the outline of a story, to a complete book.

I also love the feedback from my readers. One of my greatest joys is getting hundreds of emails and letters from kids, telling me how much they love my books.

11. How much of yourself or people you know is in your books?

I often base my characters on real people, but usually I mix them up. For example in my new Lulu Bell series – Lulu is partly based on me, because when I was eight years old I lived in a vet hospital. Like me, Lulu is creative but practical, caring and warm, but sometimes bossy. She is also a bit like my daughter Emily, a bit of a tom boy and very artistic. Likewise the little brother Gus is cheeky, mischievous and adorable, so he is a mixture of my son Lachie, my nephew Gus and my brother when he was young.

12. What are your favourite children's books set in Australia? 

There are so many fantastic Australian children’s books, so it is very hard to choose.


  • Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner. One of my all time favourite books!
  • Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs. I loved this as a young child.
  • Are We There Yet? by Alison Lester. We travelled all around Australia for 18 months and took this book with us the whole way as an inspiration.
  • A Mother’s Offering to Her Children – the first children’s book published in Australia back in 1841, and written by my great-great-great-great grandmother Charlotte Waring Atkinson.*
  • The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell. This was definitely one of my favourites as a child.

 * Find out more about this intriguing book on Kate Forsyth's blog - A Mother's Offering: Australia's first children's book (Kate is Belinda's sister sister. What a talented family!)

Belinda Murrell is an internationally published, bestselling children’s author. Her 21 books include The Sun Sword Trilogy, a fantasy-adventure series for boys and girls aged 8 to 12. Her time-slip books - The Locket of Dreams, The Ruby Talisman, The Forgotten Pearl, and The Ivory Rose – have been shortlisted for various awards, including KOALAs (2013, 2012 and 2011), CBCA Notable List and highly commended in the PM’s Literary Awards. Her new book, The River Charm, is based on the thrilling adventures of her ancestors. For younger readers (aged 6 to 9) Belinda has a new Lulu Bell series, about friends, family, animals and adventures growing up in a vet hospital.


Literature & Literacy Activities at Mt Keira

Author & Illustrator Gus GordonTeacher Librarian, Angela Hay, presides over a range of inspiring and engaging events across the Mount Keira Public School community. Links are made between Education Week, Literacy and Numeracy Week, Children’s Book Week and The KOALA Awards. On top of this the whole school participates in a Rich Task Program based on the CBCA shortlisted books. In a small school where staff have multiple roles everyone gets involved in reading, listening, talking, performing and participating in events both at school and in the wider community.

Here are some of the events this year:

  • Author/illustrator Gus Gordon, CBCA 2013 award nominee for Herman and Rosie, visited the school and addressed students. His funny illustrated stories have animals as the principle characters, something Gus attributes to his lifelong love for Kenneth Grahame’s classic, The Wind in the Willows.
  • The Book Week theme Read Across the Universe became a reality when students visited Wollongong Library to hear a special guest. Graham Morphett, from Minnamurra Rotary, talked about a program where books are donated to support literacy in developing countries. Both students and staff have supported this program with donations, a relationship they plan to continue.
  • Invited students and Mrs Hay were given the chance to meet many of their favourite authors at a Literary Lunch.
  • Earlier in the year students reviewed the KOALA Awards shortlisted books.
  • Book Speed Dating sessions with the CBCA shortlist books kick started student work on the whole school Rich Task: Sell that book!
  • Activities from dramatization to digital activities in the Rich Task culminate in choosing favourite books from the CBCA shortlist to nominate for the KOALA Awards 2014.
  • And just by the way, 100% of students have completed The NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge 2013.

The Mount Keira Demonstration School community is doing exciting work making reading, books and authors fun and rewarding for kids, and also supporting Australian authors and illustrators, who keep on producing such stimulating works.

And supporting KOALA of course! Thanks, Mount Keira.

Mount Keira Demonstration School is a K to 6 public school in the Illawarra region of NSW. Visit their Library Page to find out more.

We would love to share your story about student reading activities, particularly ideas for incorporating the KOALA Awards or any other promotion of Australian literature. See the contact page for our details.