Nance Donkin, AM, (1915–2008) was a pioneer and leading light in the world of Australian literature for children, especially historical fiction. Many people will fondly remember reading The Maidens of Pefka, Patchwork Grandmother, Johnny Neptune and Yellow Gum Gil; her retelling of We of the Never, Never for children; and the series of books about life in Australia, including Sheep and Sugar. While some of her books seem dated now, having been published over sixty years ago, Nance’s legacy endures.
Nance began her writing career at the age of sixteen as the Maitland Daily Mercury’s first female journalist. She moved to the Newcastle Herald and later, having married and settled in Melbourne, continued her career in journalism on ABC radio and television.
Alongside journalism, Nance was a prolific writer of children’s books and she was actively involved in a number of organisations. As president of the Victorian branch of the Children’s Book Council from 1967–1975, she initiated a period of development, pushing for travel grants to enable authors to visit country schools, and to the Society of Women Writers Victoria she was greatly valued as a long-term member, supporter and benefactor.
Nance was a reader and a writer who held strong feminist and political views. She opened her mind to current issues and was not afraid to challenge those she did not agree with. Through her series of CAE lectures of women in Australia history, Nance was able to bring to light previously overlooked and unrecognised women. These lectures resulted in two books about the roles of women.
In 1986, Nance was made a Member of the Order of Australia for service to the community in the fields of children’s literature and adult education and in 1990, she was awarded the Society’s prestigious Alice Award.
With the support of Nance’s family after her death, the Society of Women Writers Victoria established the biennial Nance Donkin Award for Children’s Literature, a fitting memorial to her contribution to the children of Australia and validation of the importance of writing for children.
The Award itself is a statuette of a child sitting beneath a tree and reading a book, imagined, designed and crafted by sculptor Lisa Herbert. It was first awarded to Dr Ruth Starke in 2009, and since then, has been awarded to Isobelle Carmody, Cassandra Golds, Roseanne Hawke, Anna Walker and Dianne Wolfer.
This year, the recipient of the Award will be announced at an online event Celebrating Australian Children’s Literature on Thursday 4th November 2021 at 6.30pm. Davina Bell (author and publisher), Susannah Fullerton (author and lecturer), Hazel Edwards, OAM (author) and Caz Goodwin (author) will be speaking about children’s books old and new, and the current status of children’s book publishing in Australia. All are welcome to join.
By Dr Caroline Webber, President, Society of Women Writers Victoria
The Nance Donkin Award nominees for 2021 are:
Her first book accepted for publication was a picture book, Take Me Back, published in 1988. This book took the reader back in time to show how people lived in Australia in the past. She continued to write and illustrate non-fiction books, concentrating on bringing history to life for children. In 2002, Allen and Unwin published her first historical fantasy, Runestone.
In 2016 award-winning The Family with Two Front Doors was published by Allen and Unwin. It is based on interviews with the author’s grandmother Nomi Rabinovitch, and tells the story of Nomi’s childhood as the daughter of a rabbi in 1920’s Lublin, Poland.
Anna’s book, 52 Mondays, published by Allen and Unwin in 2019, is a fictionalised account of her childhood, filled with memories of Melbourne in the 1960s.
Anna’s most recent book is The Boy Who Stepped Through Time, published by Allen and Unwin in 2021. It was long listed for the ARA Historical Novel Prize.
Visit her website for all of Anna’s publications.
Jan is an author, wildlife photographer and self-publisher of 22 True to Life Books, educating children about endangered animals. For 25 years she has followed wild animals in Borneo, India, Sri Lanka, Uganda, China, Costa Rica and eleven time to Africa.It was important to photograph the animals in their natural habitats to make the books ‘real’. Each True to Life Book has a free educational video she filmed in the wild. Teachers can read one of Jan’s books, then show students a video of that animal in action. Great for reluctant readers. They get so excited watching the videos they want to read the books.Sometimes it was very dangerous being close to a wild animal, but children love to hear Jan’s adventure stories during school talks. For 18 years she has been a speaker at schools and festivals in Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and China for both children and adults. Jan says it’s important to talk about rhino horn and elephant tusks during her presentations.
Jan’s journey creating her books and videos has been so rewarding educating children about endangered animals and inspiring them to read.
Jan’s 22 titles can be found here.
A graduate of the University of Sydney’s Master of Creative Writing program, Julie’s two collections of tanka poetry, Rick Rack (2006) and Carving Granite (2011) were published by Ginninderra Press.Editor of Eucalypt: a tanka journal since 2017, Julie is a prolific published writer of tanka in journals including GUSTS (Canada), Ribbons (USA), Presence (UK), Blithe Spirit (UK), Skylark (UK), Kokako (NZ), Red Lights (USA) and the International Tanka Journal (Japan). Julie has participated in and presented at collaborative poetry workshops and led tanka critique groups.Julie’s fiction books for adults include Mrs Rickaby’s Lullaby (adult novel, shortlisted in the SWWNSW Member Book Awards 2020) and Divertimento, a collection of short stories (2021) both with Ginninderra Press.
Julie’s picture books for children Waiting for the Night (2018) and Watching through the Day (2020) were published by IPKidz. She recently signed a contract for a third picture book, Alice’s Shoe, with MidnightSun Publishing. Her children’s stories and poems have appeared in The NSW School Magazine and many other journals and anthologies. In 2020 she co-edited Splash, Slither, Squawk! anniversary anthology for SWW NSW.
Visit her website for all of Julie’s publications.
Sharon has been a creative Visual Merchandiser and Window Dresser for forty years and as a Primary Teacher Assistant she enjoys sharing her love of learning and exploring ideas with the students. Her aim is to inspire students to gain confidence, and try their best and hopes that from class visits and daily interactions, many will continue to enjoy reading and literacy and find wonder in the world around them.Sharon markets and distributes her books, with assistance from the publisher, and her books are available in many local book and giftshops statewide. She also enjoys sharing them at selected markets where she can connect with the purchaser and share the stories behind the books and her experiences with writing and illustrating.The published books are – Dunstan and Theodore, Theodore Swims in the Sea, Dunstan and Theodore Set Sail, Dunstan and Theodore Hide and Seek and the photographic book of imagination, Sea Monsters. On the web page www.sharonjyaxley.com, Teachers Notes and visuals for Sea Monsters can be downloaded and there are samples of students work from class visits. There are also 2 pieces of music, composed by Claire Farrell, for Dunstan and Theodore. Sharon has also recorded readings of some of her books for children to enjoy and read along with her.
Visit her website for all of Sharon’s publications.