On the evening of 21 August, after the announcement of the 2015 CBCA Book of the Year Awards in Melbourne, Elizabeth (Libby) Gleeson was presented with the CBCA Nan Chauncy Award, created to honour individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the field of Australian Children’s literature.
Originally conferred every five years, this award is named after the renowned award-winning Tasmanian writer, Nan Chauncy. Established in 1983, it was first presented to Marcie Muir. In 2000 it became biennial.
As was experienced by those in attendance for Libby’s gracious acceptance speech, Libby is an exceptional communicator. She remarked, “I love being a writer and being active in the world of books and writing- especially in that world for children.”
Libby continues in a distinguished career in literature that has spanned over forty years. She has worked as a teacher, lecturer, picture book author, children’s novelist, non-fiction writer, literacy ambassador, a writer-in-residence, mentor, and Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Sydney where she carries out guest lectures and seminars for pre-service teachers. In addition, she conducts professional learning workshops in schools for fully-qualified teachers and is both a sought-after presenter and keynote speaker on the importance of children’s literature at writing festivals, as well as at national and international conferences.
Libby’s literary endeavours, both fiction and non-fiction, are noted as being extensive and meritorious. With more than thirty titles to her name, Libby has been included in all the leading Australian literary awards. In 1984, her debut novel, Eleanor, Elizabeth, won the Angus & Robertson New Writers for the Young Fellowship and was Highly Commended in the CBCA Book of the Year Awards (Older Readers Category). Moreover, it was shortlisted in the South Australian Literary Awards and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. Libby’s titles have appeared in the CBCA Book of the Year Awards on numerous occasions.
Libby’s books have been shortlisted in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, Victorian Premier’s Awards, and South Australian Literary Awards. Big Dog was winner in the Picture Book Category in the Prime Minister’s Multicultural Awards in 1992. In the following year, Mum Goes to Work, was shortlisted in the same category. Dodger won the Children’s Literature Peace Prize in 1992, and was included on the IBBY (International Board of Books for Young People) Honour List. In 2002 Dear Writer won the Young Australian Readers Award (YARA). 2013 saw Red take out Children’s Fiction Winner in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards.
In 2000 The Great Bear, illustrated by Armin Greder, received the coveted Bologna Ragazzi Award, considered the world’s most influential award for children’s picture books. This was a huge honour for an Australian picture book.
Libby has authored three non-fiction works which all focus on the craft of writing. Writing Hannah: On Writing for Children gives an intimate and honest insight into how she worked on a particular novel. Making Picture Books offers teenagers and adult readers a thorough understanding of the creation of picture books that informs and fosters a finer appreciation of any picture book they may read in the future. Writing Like a Writer is a proven, invaluable resource to assist primary teachers develop the art of narrative writing in students.
In addition to receiving awards for her craft, Libby has received numerous accolades for her exceptional service to literature. In 1997, the CBCA NSW Branch awarded Libby the Lady Cutler Award and in 2011, Libby received the Dromkeen Medal, awarded annually by the Courtney Oldmeadow Children’s Literature Foundation to those who have advanced children’s literature in Australia. Additionally, Libby won a Special Award in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards in 2011 ‘for her numerous contributions to the children’s book industry’. In 2014, Libby was inducted as a KOALA Legend, an award recognising ‘. . . authors and illustrators who have made a significant contribution to KOALA (Kids Own Australian Literature Awards Inc) and children’s choice awards and/or their writing’.
In 2007 the highest recognition in Australia for outstanding achievement and service was conferred on Libby. She received an Order of Australia (AM) in recognition for her service to literature as an author, and also as an advocate for the development of literacy and learning in schools, as a mentor to young writers, and through a range of executive roles with professional literary organisations.
Libby has contributed by her membership and leadership on a number of Boards and Councils. She has served as a member (since 1984) and part of the Management Committee (1996-2008) of the Australian Society of Authors (ASA), where she has held the office of Chair, Deputy Chair and Treasurer. In 2000, during her period as Chair, the efforts of the ASA were rewarded when Educational Lending Rights (ELR) were included as part of the Government’s GST compensation package to the book industry. The ASA assisted in setting up the Copyright Agency Limited (now CA) on whose board Libby served from August 2005 to November 2014. The monetary compensation given to children’s book creators from both ELR and CA is testament to Libby’s commitment, alongside others, to achieving due recompense for all Australian authors and illustrators. For this, authors and illustrators, past, present and future salute her!
Libby is known to have championed many projects designed to build a love of books in children. In 2007 Libby became Chair of the Advisory Committee for WestWords (Western Sydney Young People’s Literature Development Project), a project of Blacktown Council, to develop programs to engage children and young people with books and reading, as well as promoting and encouraging a reading and writing culture in that region. WestWords is now an independent company with the same aims and with Libby as its Chair.
Through this manifest dedication to youth from a disadvantaged background, Libby has showed herself to be committed to social justice and social inclusion issues as they affect children. Further, her 2008 novel, Mahtab’s Story, one girl’s journey fleeing Afghanistan to Australia, is still used today as a ‘focus text exploring human experience and resilience’ in upper primary schools.
Her legacy includes Reading Australia, an initiative of the Copyright Agency where she not only helped build the children’s list of works, she also led discussions for development of teaching resources with the top literacy educators and librarians in Australia.
Always an ardent supporter of libraries, teacher librarians and public education, Libby was one of the founding members on the committee establishing the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge booklist in 2002. In 2003, she was Chair of the Judging Panel of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards. From 2005-2008, she was a Member of the NSW Department of Education panel to make awards for Excellence in Teaching. In 2005, Libby was recipient of the Meritorious Service to Public Education Award by the New South Wales government. She has been a voluntary director of the NSW Public Education Foundation since 2007, and Chair of the Literature and History Committee, NSW Ministry for the Arts, Sport and Recreation (2006-2008).
In 2012 Libby served as an Ambassador for the National Year of Reading, as well as a Literacy Ambassador for National Literacy and Numeracy Week. In 2014 she participated in Sydney Writers’ Festival’s inaugural Children’s Author Roadshow delivering free talks and workshops for Western Sydney school children.
Libby is both an enduring member and staunch supporter of the CBCA. In fact, her commitment to the CBCA NSW Branch is best demonstrated through her conception of the Maurice Saxby Lecture. This initiative, honouring the first National President of the Children’s Book Council of Australia (and 2002 Nan Chauncy Award recipient), is now a biennial event in the CBCA NSW Branch calendar. It was particularly fitting that Libby agreed to deliver the 2015 Maurice Saxby Lecture in which she addressed something close to Maurice’s heart: STORY. “Story leads us to explore who we are and the whole world of possibilities out there. What I do – in the writing and in the activities is, I believe, in the service of story.”