Thursday, May 15, 2008

Right Book, Right Time by Agnes Nieuwenhuizen

For many years, before her retirement, the name of Agnes Nieuwenhuizen was synonymous with with children’s and YA literature in Australia. Nobody else did so much to promote writing for young people. She arranged traveling writers’ gigs, “Booktalker” sessions aimed at teenagers during the day and interested adults in the evening. In these, writers and illustrators talked about their work and answered questions and new books were promoted. All of these continue after her retirement, through the Melbourne-based Centre for Youth Literature, as do the biennial Reading Matters conferences, which are writers’ festivals centered around books for children and young adults.

What Agnes Nieuwenhuizen doesn’t know about books for young people is probably not worth knowing and some years ago she produced a good books guide to the field. Now, she has produced a new guide, Right Book, Right Time: 500 Great Reads for Teenagers (Allen & Unwin) which includes books in many different genres and has a handy index at the end if you want to look up something specific.

Not all of Right Book, Right Time was written by Agnes Nieuwenhuizen. The section on translation is by her husband, John, who has himself translated several books from the Dutch. Allen and Unwin publisher Erica Wagner wrote the section on graphic novels. Other sections are written by specialists in the particular genre and one each were written by Lili Wilkinson and Mike Shuttleworth, who have continued the program at the Centre for Youth Literature.

This is not a book to read from cover to cover, but good to browse if you love books for young people, to see which of your favorites is represented. It’s also a handy selection tool if you work in a school or local library; I found quite a few books I hadn’t encountered and this will be going on my workroom shelf.

To be honest, not all the books included are ones I would have chosen and there were some choices with which I disagreed, but each to their own, and it’s a good spread. Whether you’re a parent looking for ideas, a teacher-librarian or just someone who likes kids’ books, this one is well worth having.

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