Children's book award winners announced

Gemma Najem

Popular children's author Alison Lester says an "avalanche" of grandchildren in the past few years was the inspiration behind a book that has been crowned a winner at the 2019 Book of the Year awards.

The Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) announced its top picks in Melbourne on Friday, including Lester's book Tricky Bad Day within the Early Childhood category, which received the largest ever number of entries this year.

With seven grandchildren born in the past four years, Lester says she has enjoyed babysitting despite all the craziness that comes with looking after young children.

Spending time outdoors often turned the chaos to calm and Lester, who loves the outdoors, really witnessed the power of children connecting with nature.

"It really came from the heart," Lester told AAP about her winning story of a day when nothing seems to go right, until an outdoor adventure turns everything around.

"It started with some stupid rhyme that I thought I could turn into something, no bikkies for trickies, he's mad and he's bad and he's terribly grumpy and sad."

Judges at this year's awards applauded the variety of contemporary and "gritty" themes tackled by those who won and made the honours list.

Lester's book used humour to tackle health issues facing kids, while themes tackled by other books included consumerism and the environment (The All New Must Have Orange 430 by Michael Speechley), the plight of refugees (The Mediterranean by Armin Greder) and reconciliation (Sorry Day by Coral Vass).

"The authors recognised in this year's awards handle these themes unapologetically but with compassion and sensitivity through vibrant characters, compelling storylines and in the case of picture books, stunning illustrations in a range of artistic media and styles," CBCA National Chair Professor Margot Hillel said.

A record 488 books were entered, including more than 100 entries from first-time creators.

Tasmanian illustrator Daniel Gray-Barnett was one of the newcomers to receive a top gong, taking out the CBCA Award for New Illustrator for his book Grandma Z about a grandmother who rocks into a quiet town on a motorcycle, changing the life of a little boy called Albert.

"The book came out of some illustrations I did just for fun...based on two characters that popped into my head," Gray-Barnett told AAP.

Although the 38-year-old has been an illustrator for 10 years, creating his debut book has sparked a desire for a long career in children's stories, he said.

"It feels worthwhile, giving something back to kids through your work."

The awards mark the start of CBCA Book Week on August 17-23.

LIST OF WINNERS:

Book of the Year: Older Readers - Between Us by Claire Atkins

Book of the Year: Younger Readers - His Name Was Walter by Emily Rodda

Book of the Year: Early Childhood - Tricky's Bad Day by Alison Lester

Picture Book of the Year - Cicada by Shaun Tan

Eve Pownall Award - Sorry Day by Coral Vass

CBCA Award for New Illustrator - Grandma Z by Daniel Gray-Barnett