50 favourite Australian children's books from the past 50 years

As part of PETAA's 50th birthday celebrations - with the theme 'Looking back, moving forward' - we asked PETAA Staff, Board, and expert contributors to share some of their favourite children's books published over the past half a century - from 1972 today.   See the list below! 





1973: The Bunyip at Berkeley's Creek

by Jenny Wagner and Ron Brooks

One night something very large and muddy heaved itself on to the bank of Berkeley's Creek. 'What am I ?' it murmured. 'What do I look like ?'

A platypus told him he was a bunyip. But what is a bunyip? Although everyone had an opinion, no one really knew. So the bunyip set off to find out for himself.

One of the most enduring classics of Australian children's literature.



 1973: The Nargun and the Stars

by Patricia Wrightson

Steeped in mythology, The Nargun and the Stars evokes an image of the land and its people, and carries an environmental message.

This children's fantasy novel follows a boy named Simon, who moves with his family to a farm and discovers a plot to clear the land with machines.

The book was one of the first Australian texts for children to incorporate First Nations beliefs and culture into its story.



1977: John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat

by Jenny Wagner and Ron Brooks

Rose lived with her dog, John Brown. `Just the two of us,' said Rose, until the mysterious midnight cat came along.

Then, things began to change.

An award-winning classic tale from two artistic greats. 




1980: Playing Beatie Bow

by Ruth Park

Playing Beatie Bow follows a young girl named Abigail who lives in the Rocks.

Unexpectedly, while playing a game, she is swept back to the Sydney of a hundred years ago.

This timeslip novel is an adventurous read for children and adults alike.



1983: Possum Magic

by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas

This classic Australian picture book follows a young female possum named Hush.

Grandma Poss uses her best bush magic to turn Hush invisible. 

She has a number of adventures.



1984: Hating Alison Ashley

By Robin Klein

Erica Yurken knew she was destined for great things.

Never in any doubt about her own genius, she felt superior to everyone at notorious Barringa East... that is, until the beautiful and perfect Alison Ashley turned up.

A vibrant story about the inner lives of Australian girls, told with sincerity and wit.



1984: The House that was Eureka

by Nadia Wheatley

As Evie and Noel strike up a friendship in 1981 the past is set back in motion: the events of the 1930s Depression era begin to play out in the high-unemployment times of the early 1980s. 

Plus, Evie and Noel's terrace houses are at the centre of the Sydney anti-eviction campaign of 1931.

Based on historical fact, meticulously researched, this is a critically acclaimed novel about a history we all share.




1986: Farmer Schulz's Ducks

By Colin Thiele and Mary Milton

The growing traffic from the nearby city has turned the road next to Farmer Schulz's Australian farm into a dangerous highway.

Luckily, Farmer Schulz's youngest daughter Anna solves the problem of how to get her family's ducks safely across the road every day.

This is a beautiful story from one of our most poignant storytellers for children.




1987: My Place

by Donna Rawlins and Nadia Wheatley

This classic picture book is a ‘time machine’ which takes the reader back into the past. 

It depicts the history of one particular piece of land in Sydney from 1788 to 1988 through the stories of the various children who have lived there. 

This book looks at the true histories of Australia: how communities are built and unbuilt, and how they land we live on is never truly just ours. 

Each child’s story covers a decade in time, showing their particular dress, customs and family life. 



1988: The Rainbow Serpent

By Oodgeroo Noonuccal

This is an adaptation of a Dreamtime story from the Northern Territory by one of Australia's greatest poets and writers.

It tells the story of an all-powerful rainbow serpent that travelled across the flat land in search of his own people.

As he travelled from the south to the north of the country, he made formations in the land.





1991: Round the Twist

by Paul Jennings

The popular ABC Television show 'Round the Twist' was based on a series of short stories written by beloved comic children's author Paul Jennings.

Some of the show's most popular episodes came from stories in Jennings' short story collections Unbelievable, Unreal, and Uncanny. 



1992: The Bamboo Flute

by Garry Disher

Set during the Depression, Disher's first novel for children tells the story of a boy named Paul who is taught by a Swagman to make and play a bamboo flute.

Paul's mother encourages his musical interests, but Paul knows that he can't tell his father what he is doing. Meanwhile, the Swagman is viewed suspiciously by the town.

A finely-constructed novella.



1993: The Collectors

By Robert Carter

 An unlikely bunch of Collectors set out on an impossible quest to save their society.

A cynic singer, a Kitchen-war veteran, a criminal, an innocent and a coward all seek a way to save their souls - a journey into the drains, glasshouses, libraries and sanctuaries of the world.

An allegorical, ambitious tale.




1993: Tomorrow, When the War Began

by John Marsden

The first book in a series that has been adapted for film and television, it follows a group of young Australians who go away camping for a weekend in regional Victoria bushland.

When they come back into town, they discover that their town - and the country - has been invaded.

A gripping drama with a strong, local voice. 



1995: Crusoe Boys

By Vincent Serventy

Matt and Tom were off on the adventure of their lives. Sailing to an island of their own, exploring unknown territory, setting up house, living off the land, having adventures and, for a time, all by themselves.

They would be Crusoe boys, with no school, no clocks, no rules...

But it almost turned into a chilling nightmare.



1995: Old Pig

by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks

Old Pig and Granddaughter have lived together for a long, long time.

They share everything, including the chores, until the day when Old Pig does not get up as usual for breakfast.

Calmly she puts her affairs in order, then she takes Granddaughter on a last long walk - looking and listening, smelling and tasting.

A tender story about how to say goodbye.




By Tim Winton

Abel Jackson's boyhood belongs to a vanishing world. On an idyllic stretch of coast whose waters teem with fish, he lives a simple, tough existence.

As the years pass, things change, but one thing seems to remain constant: the greed of humans.

When the modern world comes to his patch of sea, Abel wonders what can stand in its way. A story about loving, and protecting, the environment.




1998: Henry and Amy: Right-way-round and Upside Down

by Stephen Michael King

Everything Henry did seemed to be wrong-way-round and upside down...

Until he met Amy, who is good at everything. But there are still some things Henry can teach Amy.

A charming book about friendship.



1998:The Lake at the End of the World

By Caroline Macdonald 

The year is 2025.

The country has been devastated by a chemical disaster, and Hector and Diana must act together to protect their fragile world.

A highly acclaimed novel from a popular writer.



1998: Samantha Seagull's Sandals

by Gordon Winch and Tony Oliver

Samantha wants to be different from the other silver gulls in the colony, and invents a daring and original way of doing it.

After some early difficulties, all goes well until...you'll have to read it to find out!

A book about standing out, being yourself, and the magic of silver gulls. 





2000: Deltora Quest

by Emily Rodda

Deltora Quest is the collective title for three distinct series of children's fantasy books written by Australian author Emily Rodda.

It follows the adventures of three companions as they journey across the fictitious land of Deltora, endeavouring to recover the seven gems stolen from the magical Belt of Deltora and defeat allies of the evil Shadow Lord. 

These popular books captured the imagination of a generation of young Australians.



2000: Fox

by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks

Dog and Magpie are friends, but when Fox comes into the bush, everything changes.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest children's picture books ever written, a classic in Australia and around the world

Fox is a story of love and belonging, community and betrayal. 



2000: I am Jack

By Susanne Gervay

Life is good for Jack. He's a great photographer, he wins at handball, and time at home with his family is never boring.

But when big George Hamel starts calling Jack 'Butt Head,' school becomes a little less great. And when everyone starts calling him 'Butt Head,' it gets outright dangerous.

A story about the dangers of bullying - and the power of love and community to heal it. 



2000: Nips X1

by Ruth Stark

If white boys can't jump, can Asian kids play cricket? Lan's fed up with being bullied for his race and his culture. He wants to be seen as a true-blue Aussie.

What better way than by playing the greatest Anglo game of them all? He gets a team together to challenge the best players in the district.

A funny and empowering novel. 



2000: Rain Dance

By Cathy Applegate and Dee Huxley

It hasn't rained for two whole years. The farm is parched, the cattle thirsty. A sign Farm for Sale stands at the gate.

Suddenly, the sky fills with dark clouds... this is a book about the joy of rain after drought.

It conjures up the giddy sensory experiences of a happy downpour: the sounds, the smells, the feeling. 





2002: Boy Overboard

by Morris Gleitzman

Jamal and Bibi have a dream: to lead Australia to soccer glory in the next World Cup.

But first they must face landmines, pirates, storms and assassins. Can Jamal and his family survive their incredible journey and get to Australia?

Sometimes, to save the people you love, you have to go overboard. A story of adventure, challenge, and hope.



2003: Dragonkeeper

By Carole Wilkinson

The first book in a popular series. 

In the time of the Han Dynasty in ancient China, the last remaining dragon is in danger of being killed by the cruel Emperor.
A nameless orphan with no past and an uncertain future becomes his unlikely ally, and soon discovers that it is her destiny to protect the aging dragon and his mysterious purple stone. 



2003: Mister Monday: The Keys to the Kingdom

by Garth Nix

The first in another fantasy adventure series. 

It follows Arthur Penhaligon, a twelve-year-old boy who discovers that he is the heir to an otherworldly House.                                                                      

He  must fulfil a mysterious Will in order to claim it from seven antagonistic Trustees.



2007:The Peasant Prince

By Li Cunxin and Anne Spudvilas

In a poor village in northern China, a small boy is about to be taken away from everything he’s ever known.

He is so afraid, but his mother urges him to follow his dreams. For soon he will become a dancer, one of the finest dancers in the world.

This is the true story of Li Cunxin’s extraordinary life, based upon his internationally best-selling memoir, Mao’s Last Dancer.




2008: How to Heal a Broken Wing

by Bob Graham 

When Will helps an injured bird, he learns that a little kindness can go a long way.

This is deceptively simple story that is enhanced by the illustrations by Graham, a multi-award winning illustrator.

The visual elements, along with the important core message of the book, make it a modern classic. 



2009: A Ghost in my Suitcase

By Gabrielle Wang

When thirteen-year-old Celeste travels to China to visit her grandmother, she uncovers an incredible family secret.

And with this secret comes danger and adventure. If Celeste is to save her family and friends, she must learn to harness her rare and powerful gift...

An engrossing story of magic realism, selfhood, and Chinese mythology. 




2009: Pearl Versus the World

by Sally Murphy and Heather Potter

At school, Pearl feels as though she is in a group of one. Her teacher wants her to write poems that rhyme but Pearl’s poems don’t.

At home, however, Pearl feels safe and loved, but her grandmother is slowly fading, and so are Mum and Pearl...

A moving illustrated novella. 






2010: The Midnight Zoo

By Sonya Hartnett

Under cover of darkness, two brothers cross a war-ravaged countryside carrying a secret bundle.

One night they stumble across a deserted town reduced to smouldering ruins. But at the end of a blackened street they find a small green miracle: a zoo filled with animals in need of hope.

A moving and ageless fable about war, and freedom.




2021: Mirror

by Jeannie Baker

This innovative picture book comprises two stories designed to be read simultaneously – one from the left, the other from the right.

Page by page, we experience a day in the lives of two boys and their families.

As we read we discover the simple truth that despite these differences we are all the same. We are the mirror of each other.



2011: Flood

By Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

RInspired by the Queensland floods.

This is a moving and sensitive story of a natural disaster as seen through the eyes of a cattle dog that has been separated from his family.

The floodwater mercilessly rips through the towns, and finally recedes, leaving a devastating widespread path of destruction.




2012: The Perfect Flower Girl

by Taghred Chandab and Binny Talib

Amani is going to be a flower girl, leading the bride and groom, stepping exactly, one, two, three!

She's counting the days, and there's so much to do: cooking with Tayta, visiting the dressmaker, dancing at the party with all the bride's friends. 

A joyous celebration of a Lebanese Muslim wedding in Australia.



2012: Pookie Aleera is not my Boyfriend

By Steven Herrick

In a country town, in a school just like yours, the kids in Class 6A tell their stories.

For new teacher Ms Arthur, it’s another world, but for Mr Korsky, the school groundskeeper, he’s seen it all before.

A heart-warming tale about friendship, grief and the importance of baked goods.



2013: The Grace Stories

by Sofie Laguna 

Meet Grace and join her on a historical adventure about a convict girl who is given a second chance.

It's 1808, and Grace's world is about to change - from her tough life as a mudlark on the River Thames in London, to the adventures and challenges she faces in a new country.

There are four stories about Grace in total, painting a dreamy and engaging portrait of historical girlhood. 


2014: In your Dreams

By Sally Morgan and Bronwyn Bancroft

Susie is supposed to write about what she wants to be when she grows up. But she doesn’t have a clue!

When she has a series of puzzling dreams, Gran encourages her to think about their deeper meaning and Susie soon finds she knows what to write after all.

Bestselling author Sally Morgan teams up with Bronwyn Bancroft on a beautiful picture book about the importance of following your dreams.




2015: Mr Huff

by Anna Walker

Bill is having a bad day. Mr Huff is following him around and making everything seem difficult. 

Bill tries to get rid of him, but Mr Huff just gets bigger and bigger!

Award-winning and much-loved author and illustrator Anna Walker gives us a gentle, poignant, affirming and wise picture book.



2017: The Rainbow Hijab

By Amran Abdi

This warm and affirming book follows the tale of a young girl who, upon losing her favourite hijab uncovers the value it holds. 

Will things ever be the same without her colourful companion?

Discover what the hijab is, and what value it holds, first-hand from a Muslim woman. 




2017: Boy

by Phil Cummins and Shane DeVries

The kings battles with the dragon were always mighty and loud... CLING CLANG CLONG! ROAR!

Boy lived in a silent world and couldn't hear the fighting. But he could see the fear around him... and how everyone would be much happier.

A story of adventure and saving the day starring a fantastic protagonist, a young Deaf boy with valuable perspective.  



2018: Cicada

By Shaun Tan

Cicada works in an office, dutifully toiling day after day for unappreciative bosses and being bullied by his coworkers.

But one day, cicada goes to the roof of the building, and something truly extraordinary happens ...

A stunning story for anyone - adult and child alike - who has ever felt overlooked or unappreciated. 



2018: Drought

by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley

'I remember when rain stopped, When day by day the water dropped/

All across a sun-bleached land / Drought spread its withered, deadly hand.'

This is a moving story about the devastating effects drought has on many Australians and their farms.



2018: Tales from the Inner City

By Shaun Tan

World-renowned artist Shaun Tan applies his unique imagination to a reflection on the nature of humans and animals, and our urban coexistence.

From crocodile to frog, tiger to bee, this is a dark and surreal exploration of the perennial love and destruction we feel and inflict. 

These stories capture the way that animals and humans save themselves, and each other. 




2018: The Art of Taxidermy

by Sharon Kernot

Lottie is fascinated with death. She collects birds, lizards and other small dead animals she finds, trying to preserve them.

Her aunt tries to put a stop to this worrying obsession, but her father can see a scientist’s mind at work, and he introduces her to the art of taxidermy.

This is an exquisitely imagined verse novel about sadness and loss, and the way art and beauty can help us make sense of it all.


2020s and today



2020: Your Birthday was the Best!

By Maggie Hutchings and Felicita Sala

This is the story of a plucky young cockroach who gate-crashes a birthday party – with hilarious results!

Funny, silly and surprisingly cute, this is an ideal blend of downright gross and delightfully entertaining, with plenty of delights hidden in the illustrations.




2021: Aunty's Wedding

by Miranda Tapsell and Joshua Tyler

'Everyone on the island is getting ready for Aunty's wedding. Maningawu puts on her best hat and I can wear a wurrijinga in my hair. Lucky!

We all dress up, but I still don't understand. Why do people have a wedding?'

A warm family story that celebrates love and Tiwi Islands culture. 



2021: Common Wealth

By Gregg Dreise

A heartfelt exploration of Australian history and an examination of our national anthem in the highly readable style of slam poetry verse.

Passionate, yet peaceful, it is a compelling plea for a future of truth, togetherness and respect for our nation's deep history.




2021: The Katha Chest

by Radhiah Chowdhury and Lavanya Naidu

Six-year-old Asiya loves to go to Nanu's house to see big chest filled with quilts that tell the stories of the women in Asyia's family.

This book features illustrations inspired by Bangladeshi katha quilts and traditional West Bengali pattachitra panel illustratios.

Through the story of the quilts, we are told a story of family, history, and connection.