2022 Standout Picture Books (Australian Edition)

Picture books are just what the doctor ordered ~ a format that even the most exhausted, ADHD-frazzled, tail-end-of-the-pandemic-years child, parent, or teacher can respond to.

Condensed liquid sweetness mixed with something substantial to chew on.

Like bubble tea, but nutritious

It’s been a wonderful year for Australian picture books, but don’t just listen to me!

Let’s hear from the emerging authors and illustrators who regularly immerse themselves in the shelves of libraries and bookshops, researching the latest and greatest in this versatile format.

Like last year’s list, there were a few double-ups – MY DEADLY BOOTS and MY STRANGE SHRINKING PARENTS. And this year we’ve included a self-published book too, to reflect the diversity of Australian publishing.

2022 Standout Picture Books (Australian Edition)

Three people nominated MY DEADLY BOOTS by Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler, illustrated by Samantha Campbell (Lothian | Hachette).

Jemima Shafei-Ongu

Jemima Shafei-Ongu (@jemima.write_make_play) was a recipient of the Westwords Academy Scholarship and mentoring recipient in 2021 and current president of the CBCA’s Canterbury Bankstown Inner West sub-branch. Her first picture book, ASLAN AND BIG BAD BENNY is publishing with Penguin Random House in early 2024 and her second, A LEMON FOR SAFIYA, is publishing with Hachette in mid 2024. She says:

Deadly Boots masterfully uses casual diversity with a strong, passionate, and endearing voice to bring home the message of what it means to have self pride, joy, and a strong sense of identity.  When a young boy from regional Australia saves all his coins for a deadly pair of new boots, we are treated to a heartfelt exploration of his day-to-day ups and downs in them, (including an important, subtle, insight into the pervasiveness of racism experienced by First Nations Peoples). Bright, vibrant, joyful, and empowering, I absolutely LOVE everything about his book.  

Gemma Patience

Gemma Patience (@mypicturebookheart and @mychapterbookheart), longlistee for the CBCA NSW Aspiring Writers’ Mentorship Award, says:

With a glorious rhythm beating through its heart, this joyous, empowering story takes a look at confidence, self-worth and achieving goals, while drawing awareness to the prejudices that our First Nations’ people continue to experience. It’s a beautiful, thought-provoking read with relatable themes with which kids will easily connect.

Kirsten Ealand

And Kirsten Ealand (see below) says:

This is a joyous keeper of a story, about a boy and his new, long-saved-up-for ‘making me too deadly’ boots. He feels like they make him run faster, feel taller and dream bigger. They are some seriously cool boots, but this empowering story is about finding your confidence and being enough, boots or no boots. Told with a unique voice, it portrays this young boy’s world so well. 

Sandhya Parappukkaran

Sandhya Parappukkaran (@sandhya_librarybagbooks) is the author of CBCA-Winning THE BOY WHO TRIED TO SHRINK HIS NAME; AMMA’S SARI; and STAY FOR DINNER (forthcoming, 2023, available for pre-order now). She recommends WHITE SUNDAY, by Litea Fuata & Myo Kim (Bright Light | Hardie Grant):

WHITE SUNDAY is a heart-warming story of cute little Sina, who celebrates White Sunday with her family. She looks forward to the food, singing at church and playing with her cousins, until something happens, and she has to find courage to get back to the food and celebrations. Samoan words in the text are a highlight and the artwork is soft and gorgeous. A lovely addition for diverse bookshelves that showcases Samoan culture, faith and family. 

Rory H. Mather

Rory H. Mather (@roryhmatherauthor) is a picture book author based out of Toowoomba, Queensland. His most well known books are VLAD’S BAD BREATH, MONSTER SCHOOL RULES and GET BACK IN YOUR BOOKS! but with a few new titles out in 2023 he thinks that could well change.

There were many great new books by Australian picture book creators in 2022 which makes choosing a favourite incredibly difficult. That being said there is one book in particular which stood out for me. DANCING WITH DRAGONS written by Amy Dunjey and illustrated by Jesus Lopez is a stand out for any year not just 2022. It combines elements of the classic fairytale (small girl wandering alone through a deep dark forest and coming across something fearsome) with the lighthearted humour of the modern era (a dance off between a girl and two dragons). Written in delightful rhyme and combined with incredibly beautiful illustrations it truly stands out.

Kirsten Ealand

Kirsten Ealand (@kirstenealand) lives in a patch of rainforest in northern NSW, enjoying an alternative lifestyle with her family and Ralph — their rescue dog with gorilla eyes. In 2021 she won the Book Links mentorship and was runner up for the CBCA, NSW Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program, and her debut picture book is forthcoming. She recommends MY STRANGE SHRINKING PARENTS by Zeno Sworder (Thames and Hudson):

Hard to do justice to this remarkable, poignant book in a couple of sentences. It tells the story of a boy and his migrant parents (who travelled to this new country, far-away from what they knew, to provide better opportunities for their son)? Like many children, the boy feels the difference of his parents and wishes they would stop it. But because it’s their love and sacrifice for him that is responsible for their strange diminishing, it takes the boy and the reader through a whole range of emotions: sadness, shame, self-consciousness, anger, acceptance, hope, but mostly, so much love.

Brent Wilson

Brent Wilson (@brentdraws), illustrator of 2021 ABDA Award finalist KOALAS LIKE TO …GET ME OUT OF HERE! FOOLISH AND FEARLESS CONVICT ESCAPES and forthcoming 2023 title MR IMPOPPABLE recommends THE RABBIT’S MAGICIAN by Shae Millward and Andy Fackrell:

THE RABBIT’S MAGICIAN is a beautifully written book that deals with grief and loss in a way that is accessible for young readers. Andy’s illustrations provide an almost dreamlike atmosphere to Shae’s touching tale of Ziggy the rabbit and The Amazing Albertino.

Inda Ahmad Zahri

Inda Ahmad Zahri‘s (@inda_binda) latest picture book TWICE THE LOVE is a celebration of the magic of twins, while her upcoming title THE MONTH THAT MAKES THE YEAR is her first as both author and illustrator, and recounts the joyful practice of Ramadan. She recommends IT’S TIME ALL POSSUMS WENT TO BED by Jacqui Halpin & Gavin Scott (Affirm Press):

I’m only too familiar with the child who tries to put off sleep for as long as possible, so I found this rhyming book a sweet ode to that tricky time of night, and a gorgeous play on Australian animals. Jacqui’s enticing rhyme and Gavin’s adorable illustrations are sure to make this bedtime book a modern Australian classic.

Cassy Polimeni

Cassy Polimeni (@cassy_polimeni) is a former travel writer and magazine editor, 2022 winner of the ASA/Copyright Australia mentorship, and author of THE GARDEN AT THE END OF THE WORLD (illustrated by Briony Stewart, published by UQP, April 2023). She recommends ACCIDENTALLY KELLY STREET by Briony Stewart (with lyrics by Tim O’Connor from Frente):

I’m a 90s kid so this irrepressible ode to domestic bliss and appreciating the little things is implanted in my brain – guaranteed to make you at least 15% happier every time you hear it. In this gorgeous book, Briony Stewart has reimagined the original lyrics as the story of a refugee family being welcomed to a new neighbourhood, with illustrations so rich, detailed and complementary that it’s like the perfect pop song was always meant to be this perfect picture book. Kids and grown ups will love this one.

Amy Dunjey

Amy Dunjey (@amydunjeywrites), author of DANCING WITH DRAGONS and an upcoming picture book title in 2023, recommends TWICE THE LOVE by Inda Ahmad Zahri and Nabila Adani (Affirm Press):

TWICE THE LOVE is a sweet ode to the joy of raising twins. The bouncy rhyming text beautifully captures the unique moments experienced by families with twins – both the challenges and wonders. Paired perfectly with Adani’s vibrant illustrations, portraying diverse family combinations and many cheeky babies! Reading this book as a parent of twins, has me tearing up with every read. A must-read for every twin family.

Lauren Hackney

Lauren Hackney (@lbe.hackney), author of THE LOLLY SHOP recommends THE CHRISTMAS DOOR by Penny Macoun and Paul Nash:

My boys, aged 10 and 9, read this at Christmas and loved the message of how giving is the real gift at Christmas. We also loved how a magic door appeared – loved the magic.

Zewlan Moor

Zewlan Moor‘s (@byronbiblio) debut picture books, NOTHING ALIKE (Bright Light | Hardie Grant) and THE BILL DUP (Windy Hollow) are coming out in 2023. She recommends BE CAREFUL, XIAO XING by Alice Pung and Sher Rill Ng (HarperCollins):

BE CAREFUL, XIAO XING is a picture book that looks like a comic, with the use of panels and a superhero/monster overlay. It’s the first bilingual Mandarin/English picture book I’ve seen published in Australia, and the bilingual aspect isn’t only for expanding the audience or for children learning either language. It also contributes to the story, for example the Mandarin words for “Be Careful” are the same as for Xiao Xin’s name. So every time we see the boy’s name being called, it could also be read as “Be careful!” This accentuates the constant anxiety and worry of the boy’s helicopter family and, along with the rich illustrations, helps to convey how smothered the boy feels. Many second-generation migrants will relate to this. The gradual unveiling of layers of the story, including reasons for the family members’ actions, will appeal to a broader audience.

I hope you enjoyed this 2022 wrap-up of picture books that might ease your transition into the rest of your post-pandemic life.

If you’d like to support the Australian book industry, look out for these books as you buy gifts throughout the year. Try to support independent bookstores if you can.

Keep an eye out for the published and forthcoming titles from our curators as well. Many of them are rising stars! 

And remember, if you don’t see their book at your local public or school library, request a library purchase. Librarians are keen to buy books patrons want. And authors and illustrators are paid a stipend for books held in libraries as well. Win-win!