In 2008, Matt Ottley’s Requiem for a Beast: A Work for Image, Word and Music was awarded the Book of the Year: Picture Book by the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA). Ottley’s book is challenging in its form and content: it uses words, illustrations, and music to tell a sustained, multi-layered narrative about one young man’s attempts to reconcile his family’s and his nation’s shameful history of violence against Aboriginal Australians, while also coming to terms with his own attempts to commit suicide.
Given the ways in which the CBCA’s annual book awards are used by teachers, librarians, and parents to select the “best” books for young readers, it is unsurprising that the prizing of Requiem for a Beast stirred up controversy.
Responses to the book proliferated across professional and popular outlets—it even received coverage on an Australian tabloid television program—and initiated a variety of conversations about what constitutes appropriate reading for young people. Perhaps more significantly, the controversy over Requiem winning picture book of the year forced the CBCA, teacher librarians, and caregivers to examine (and, often, defend) their roles and responsibilities in the circulation and promotion of children’s literature.
This paper reads the Requiem controversies as a case study for understanding the complementary and contradictory roles of institutions and individuals in the ethical circulation of children’s literature in contemporary Australia and beyond.
Erica Hateley, Queensland University of Technology, Australia
This paper is part of the LibrAsia2014 Conference Proceedings (View)
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