Youth Review Forum Countdown: Chat with Melissa Keil and Christine Bongers

It’s been almost a week since the CBCA winners announcement, and this year Claire Zorn’s ‘The Protected’ took away the coveted title of CBCA Older Reader Book of the Year. A win well deserved; the title was well-received by the students I have the pleasure of working with.

But although we’re heading towards the end of Book Week activities, there is one event a horde of year 9 students across several schools are holding their breath in anticipation for: YOUTH REVIEW FORUM!

What is Youth Review Forum, you ask? Well, each year, groups of avid year 9 readers from several schools across Sydney take part in an initiative designed to give students a voice regarding the six Older Reader titles short listed by the Children’s Book Council of Australia. The Youth Review Forum fosters discussion and debate about what has been deemed the crème de la crème of Australian Young Adult fiction. To read more about the Youth Review Forum go here.

This year’s Short List offered the following titles:

CBCA collage

With the date for the Youth Review Forum this upcoming Monday, most of my eager year 9 readers have finished all six titles. Their opinions on each of the texts are interesting to say the least, and I’ll unpack their thoughts on the Short List in a blog post to come at a later date. All I’ll say at this point is that, although the group enjoyed ‘The Protected’, it has named The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl and The Intruder as their stand-out favourites. I contacted Melissa Keil and Christine Bongers to line up a twitter chat with my students and the talented writers were happy to oblige.

Click on the images below, to read the storified chats. And keep your eye out for @tlkat’s tweets on Monday morning, August 31, where I’ll be madly tweeting the varied views and heated opinions of young adult readers as they discuss the CBCA Older Reader titles at the Youth Review Forum #yrforum

Christine Bongers Storify

Melissa Keil Storify

Kids, Reading and Shortlists

CBCA Shortlist 2014

Each year, the Children’s Book Council of Australia, a not-for-profit organization aiming to promote literature for young Australians, presents awards for books of high literary merit in several categories. One of these categories, Older Readers, is intended for books written for a young adult audience. Although the CBCA judges may take children’s opinions into account during the judging process, the Awards are ‘primarily for literary quality, and children do not take part in the formal judging process.’(Awards FAQs, 2014, Children’s Book Council of Australia, accessed 28 July 2014,
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this. However, I feel the intended reading audience should at least be given an avenue to voice their opinions. After all, these six texts were specifically written for this age group.
Enter the Youth Review Forum. Originally designed by Mrs Janelle Francis, then Head of Library at St Vincent’s, Potts Point, the Forum gives young adult readers a voice in regards to the shortlist. In preparation for the Forum, students read and discuss the six shortlisted Older Reader titles, and debate which of these they feel deserves the coveted Book of the Year for Older Readers award.
How It Works:

  1. Gather a group of four to five schools in your local area to be involved.
  2. Within your school, promote Youth Review Forum across a suitable grade (we invite year 9 students to take part) and sign up a group of interested students (10-15), willing to read the six titles over the coming three months.
  3. As soon as the CBCA shortlist is announced (usually sometime early April) purchase four to five copies of the shortlisted titles for your library collection and get your group of students reading.
  4. Meet weekly with your group to discuss the books in book-club fashion
  5. As Book Week approaches, nominate 2 students to sit as your school’s representatives on the Youth Review Forum Panel.
  6. During Book Week, meet with other involved schools for the actual Youth Review Forum to discuss the books. By now, the winner will have been announced and, more often than not, the judges’ decision will be hotly disputed by most Youth Review Forum panelists.

A good moderator is essential for the smooth running of the Forum and in recent years, we have been very lucky to procure Mr. Paul MacDonald, owner of the Children’s Bookshop in Beecroft. Paul’s close ties to the children’s publishing industry, and years of lecturing English at university, make him an ideal Forum moderator.

It is always interesting to note that the panel rarely comes to a consensus as to which book should have won. This is an indication of the broad literature palette of young adult readers; it’s hard to meet everyone’s tastes. This year’s Older Readers shortlist includes:

The Incredible Here and Now – Felicity Castagna
Life in Outer Space – Melissa Keil
Wildlife – Fiona Wood
Fairytales for Wilde Girls – Allyse Near
The First Third – Will Kostakis
The Sky So Heavy – Claire Zorn

So far, the discussion in this year’s group has been lively and contenders for Book of the Year are fast emerging. But that’s a whole other blog post 

How do you encourage your students to read nominated titles on various shortlists? What works? What doesn’t? I’d love to hear about your approaches.