Book List: Resilient Families and Young People

We were fascinated to discover recently that the Australian Association of Family Therapy announces its own Family Book Awards. Thalia Kehoe Rowden finds out more from Margaret Hodge, one of the therapists who chose this year’s winners.

It’s probably not news to you that books can be great medicine. Last year, child psychologist Amy Wilson-Hughes wrote this excellent guide to books that can be helpful for children struggling with anxiety and it remains one of our most popular articles.

In Australia there seems to be something of a tradition for professional bodies to release book lists and awards relevant to their profession. The one that came to our attention recently was the Family Book Award, a $1500 prize for children’s literature funded by the Australian Association of Family Therapy.

The award, 30 years old this year, is for a children’s book that:

  • successfully depicts a healthy functioning family
  • within a story which stands up to scrutiny for literary criteria,
  • and is both readable and appealing to children.

Winning books ‘should show a family coping creatively and constructively with some credible obstacle to the full development of one or more of its members.’

‘The prize was seen as a way of encouraging a focus on believable good models of functioning families,’ says Margaret Hodge, a member of the Committee that made the most recent awards. ‘The Awards recognise books that convey a prosocial message in a highly readable manner. After thirty years the Australian Family Therapists’ Award is now well known among publishers and writers and is mentioned on the blurbs on winners’ books. Our criteria place strong emphasis on whether the actors in the story solve their problems in a way that Family Therapists would accept as appropriate and believable.

‘Over the years most States have representatives who have joined the Award, gradually making it almost representative of the whole country. In 2017, there were 19 books for older readers and 54 picture books and books for younger readers submitted for the Award, a total of 73 in all. The books were reviewed by five Family Therapy affiliates throughout Australia. Once assessed, books are donated to schools and/or organisations throughout States where representatives reside and sometimes even overseas.’

The Winners

Here are the books that won this year’s prizes, for books published in 2016, accompanied by judging notes from the Committee.

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Saving Jazz

By Kate McCaffrey

Freemantle Press

The annual prize of $1,500 in the Older Readers category went to Saving Jazz by Kate McCaffrey.

A house party spins out of control and Jazz discovers what can happen when your mistakes go viral. Alcohol and peer pressure lead to life-changing consequences and family breakdown for Jazz. Extended family provide support to get her life back on track when her own parents abandoned her.

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By Angela May George, illustrated by Owen Swan


A little girl flees her homeland, making a long and treacherous boat journey with her mother to seek asylum in Australia. Starting a new life is challenging, but they work hard to create a new home. Told from the little girl’s point of view, the story is both heartbreaking and triumphant, allowing timely and sensitive discussion of what drives people to become refugees and the challenges they face.

Out won the $1500 prize for books for younger readers, as a positive depiction of maternal strength and resilience, whilst acknowledging the grief and loss of what was left behind.

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Books Useful for Therapists

As well as the two main prizes, the Awards recognise other books that might be useful in therapists’ practice.

In 2017, the following books were recommended:

One Step

By Andrew Daddo

Penguin Random House Australia

A realistic depiction of adolescent bullying and exclusion of one young man.

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The Pain, My Mother, Sir Tiffy, Cyber Boy & Me

By Michael Gerard Bauer

Omnibus Books

A book about adjusting to change in families where parents re-partner, and accepting that life changes, and that positive relationships can take time to develop.

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When Michael Met Mina

By Randa Abedel-Fattah

Pan Macmillan Australia

A novel for everyone who wants to fight for love and against injustice.

A key theme of the novel is that if people don’t understand other cultures well, there can be misunderstandings.

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Agatha and the Dark

By Anna Pignataro

Five Mile Press

Agatha is scared of the dark, and George is just making things worse. When Agatha is accidentally locked in a dark room at kindergarten, her body trembles like jelly. How will she ever sleep in her own bed tonight?

A story about learning to face your fears.

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My Brother

By Dee Huxley

Illustrated by Oliver Huxley

Working Title Press

A depiction of transitioning through a grieving process. When a gentle creature sets out to find a lost brother, the quest follows an ethereal journey across lands and seas to strange, beautiful and faraway places.

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Space Alien at Planet Dad

By Lucinda Gifford

Scholastic Australia

A child’s perspective of re-partnering and readjustment to a new ‘alien’ adult figure.

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The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee

By Deborah Abela

Random House Australia

A heart-warming story about a girl who has anxiety associated with public speaking, and the family who support her to work through it.

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Welcome to Country

By Aunty Joy Murphy

Illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

Black Dog Books

A beautifully illustrated portrayal of the Wurundjeri People and their connection to Country.

Thalia Kehoe Rowden
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Thalia Kehoe Rowden is a former co-editor of The Sapling, and a Wellington writer and human rights worker. She is passing on a family inheritance of book dependency to her two small children, and is delighted to be part of The Sapling, as it gives her even more excuses to read excellent children's books. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and ​at ​her parenting, spirituality and social justice website, Sacraparental.