KOALA - Interview (September 2019)
How did KOALA get started?
The Kids Own Australian Literature (KOALA) Awards, a volunteer association that supports children’s reading choice, was founded over 30 years ago in 1986. It came to life from a very keen group of librarians who wanted to inspire children’s reading and give children the opportunity to have a voice and choice in the children’s book industry. It was the second children’s choice award started in Australia following Western Australia. The first awards ceremony, hosted by Richard Morecroft, was held at Taronga Zoo in 1987 and the awards have run continuously ever since.
What are KOALA’s goals?
KOALA aims to promote the enjoyment and critical appreciation of Australian literature by involving young readers from NSW schools and libraries in the process of selecting their favourite books through nominating and voting processes. The KOALA Awards also helps students achieve positive reading outcomes because the nomination and voting processes promote and encourage an active engagement in, discussion of, as well as a love of reading for pleasure. The awards also endeavour to give recognition to Australian authors and illustrators.
What are the KOALA Awards?
Every year, young readers from all over New South Wales judge their very own literary awards. By voting in the KOALA awards they can reward the Australian children's books that have most inspired, amused, surprised, enlightened and engaged them. KOALA is an entirely student nominated and voted awards program for Australian children’s literature.
The KOALA Awards seek to provide children a voice within the Australian children’s book industry in partnership with YABBA (VIC) and KROC (NT) under the umbrella of the annual REAL Awards (Reading and Enjoying Australian Literature).
How are books selected for the awards?
In Term 1, students nominate their favourite Australian books. These books must have been published within the last ten years and not have been a previous winner. In Term 2, a shortlist of ten books in each of four categories (Picture Storybooks, Fiction for Younger Readers, Fiction for Older Readers and Fiction for Readers in Years 7 to 9) is announced. During Terms 2 and 3, students are encouraged to read and enjoy books on nominated shortlists before participating in the voting process at the end of Term 3.
KOALA provides lots of resources on its website to encourage voting. There is an online voting portal through SurveyMonkey. Other resources include downloadable voting slips, advice on promoting reading and voting strategies, and results spreadsheets. The official REAL (Reading and Enjoying Australian Literature) shortlist poster features artwork by the previous year’s winning picture book illustrator.
In Term 4, the KOALA Awards Day is held at a school venue. It is a very special day when students meet authors and illustrators who write the books they adore, and when authors and illustrators meet their fans. All the attending authors and illustrators give a short speech and, every year, a feature illustrator creates an image live on stage during the awards ceremony so students can watch the process from start to end. A lucky school is given the artwork to take home. The ceremony is followed by book signings and an opportunity to purchase shortlisted books. Students report that the KOALA Awards Day is one of their favourite events of the year.
How can people get involved with KOALA?
Joining KOALA is easy. Schools, public libraries, organisations and individuals can become friends of KOALA.
The membership form can be mailed to KOALA at:PO Box 279
Annandale NSW 2038
We also warmly welcome new committee members at any time.
Tell us a little about the KOALA Awards team.
The KOALA Awards committee is comprised of a small dedicated group of people from schools, libraries, universities and bookshops. Members of the committee meet each school term to oversee the various tasks involved in the running of the organisation such as processing yearly memberships, collating nominations and shortlist resources, counting votes and planning the KOALA Awards Day. These volunteers ensure that the mission of the original KOALA team continues for new audiences of young Australian readers.
What’s next from KOALA?
In Term 3, we are eagerly awaiting the votes from students in NSW for their favourite books from the four shortlists. In Term 4 this year, the Awards Day will be held on Wednesday 13 November at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Primary School in North Strathfield, Sydney. If you would like to be part of Awards Day, please email the KOALA team to express your interest in attending.
Another exciting project that KOALA is currently working on is an agreement with the NSW State Library to archive artefacts and records relating to KOALA activities over the last 30+ years. This is to ensure that a public record of the history of the KOALA organisation is preserved and maintained for years to come.