The Australia Post Australian Legends Award honours individuals who are leaders in their field of endeavour, having dedicated their adult lives to their chosen pursuit, shaping Australian society and culture in the process.

This year’s recipients are celebrated and award-winning authors – talented creators of narrative books and picture books for young people, from the youngest readers through to adolescents.

The Legends of Children’s Literature stamp issue, released today, honours Mem Fox AM, Morris Gleitzman, Leigh Hobbs, Alison Lester and Shaun Tan. Designed by Jo Muré of the Australia Post Design Studio, the stamps feature a portrait of each Legend together with a photograph of one of their iconic publications.

Mem Fox AM

Born in Melbourne in 1946 to missionary parents, Mem Fox AM (born Merrion Partridge) was raised in Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe) from her first year. There she got to experience not only the delight of being brought up with friends from different backgrounds, but also the racism that structured Rhodesian society, including the segregation of schools.

She left this adopted homeland for England in 1965, to attend drama school in London. When she eventually returned to Australia in 1970, Fox settled with her husband in Adelaide. It was in South Australia that her career shifted focus from performance to literacy, studying children’s literature at Flinders University. Fox became interested not only in children’s literature per se but also in the field of literacy – the science of how children best learn to read and write. As a literacy specialist, she began teaching at Flinders University School of Education from 1973, becoming an associate professor until her retirement from this position in 1996.

Fox’s first book, Possum Magic, was written during her own university studies. The children’s picture book was rejected nine times over a five year period before being picked up by Adelaide-based Omnibus Books and published in 1983. If those prospective publishers missed the story’s true appeal and value, her young readers did not: Possum Magic has become the highest selling children’s book in Australia, with close to five million sales worldwide over the 35 years that it has been in print.

Since that first success, Fox has gone on to write more than 40 books (including five non-fiction titles for adults), with the primary readership for her books aged up to seven years. She has worked with a range of talented illustrators and her work has been translated into 21 languages. With Judy Horacek she created Where is the Green Sheep?, the cover of which is shown in the stamp design. Published in 2004, this title was winner of the KANGA Children’s Choice Award, KOALA Children’s Choice Award and YABBA Children’s Choice Award, all in 2006.

Fox has received many other awards for her books and for her contribution to literacy. These include the NSW Premier’s Ethel Turner Prize (1984, Possum Magic), the Dromkeen Medal (1990), Alice Award (1984), Centenary Medal (2001), Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year (2005, Where is the Green Sheep?), Speech Pathology Australia Award (2005) and the Children’s Language and Literature Achievement Award (2007). She was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1993, South Australian of the Year in 2003, became a finalist for Australian of the Year in 2004, and has been awarded three honorary doctorates (Wollongong University, 1993; Flinders University, 2004; and University of Technology, Sydney, 2011).

Morris Gleitzman

Born in Sleaford, England, in 1953, Morris Gleitzman arrived in Australia with his family as a 16 year old. He studied professional writing at Canberra College of Advanced Education (now the University of Canberra) before spending 10 years writing for the screen, including for the Norman Gunston Show from 1978 to 1983, and for a young audience, with the television films The Other Facts of Life and Second Childhood. While Gleitzman is known as an author of fiction for children and young readers, he also wrote a regular column for the Good Weekend magazine in the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald for many years, with several collections of these columns published in book form.

Since the publication of his first children’s novel, The Other Facts of Life (1985), which started out as a screenplay, Gleitzman has written around 40 titles for young readers. His second book, Two Weeks with the Queen, was not only an international bestseller but also adapted into a successful stage play. His books appear in many languages, having been published in some 20 countries. The themes of his books are often serious, with his young protagonists facing some of life’s great challenges, but Gleitzman is a master at filling these stories with humour, optimism and irreverence. This talent makes him one Australia’s most read authors by 8 to 12 year olds. In his novel Once, shown in the stamp design, friendship is a driving theme, explored through the resilient young Jewish protagonist Felix and his encounters with others in the hostile setting of wartime Poland.

Gleitzman has won many awards for his books, including the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award for Soon (2016, Younger Readers), the YABBA Awards for various titles (Young Australians Best Book Awards, 1993, 1998, 1999, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2016), International Success Award in the Australian Book Industry Awards for Once (2011), and he has been nominated several times for the Astrid Lindgren Award, an international children’s literary award established by the Swedish government to recognise excellence in children’s literature. His book Now was shortlisted for the 2011 Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award for children’s fiction. In 2018, he was made the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2018–19, an appointment that recognises his contribution to literature for young people and his capacity to fire up the passion of young readers right around the country to embrace a deep love of reading, writing and learning.

Leigh Hobbs

Author and artist Leigh Hobbs was born in Melbourne in 1953 and raised in Bairnsdale, in East Gippsland. His talent for art was evident at a young age, so it was only natural that Hobbs undertook art studies once he finished secondary school, completing his studies at the Caulfield Technical Institute School of Art (now Monash University) in 1973. A

s well as writing and illustrating his children’s books, Hobbs has been a freelance cartoonist for the Age and has created paintings, drawings and ceramic sculptures as part of his studio practice. (His Flinders Street Station teapot is held in the National Gallery of Victoria collection). Leigh was also a secondary school teacher for 25 years.

In his stories, Hobbs uses words and pictures in an idiosyncratic fashion, with the words saying one thing and the pictures something else. His first book, Old Tom, was published in 1994 and crotchety Old Tom has gone on to star in seven more books and a popular animated television cartoon series. Other recurring characters who populate Hobbs’s more than 20 books are are Horrible Harriet, Fiona the Pig, Mr Badger, the Freaks of 4F and the globetrotting Mr Chicken. The latter, enjoying a Parisian getaway, appears in the stamp design.

Hobbs has won many of Australia’s children’s choice awards for his books and has been shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Awards (2002, 2003, 2010 and 2017) and the Prime Minister’s Literary Award (2010). He was appointed the Australian Children’s Laureate for 2016–17, an honour conferred by the Australian Children’s Literature Alliance. As Laureate, he traversed the whole country, from one side to the other, to enthusiastically spread the word of literature’s value and pleasure to a diverse school audience of thousands of children.

Alison Lester

Alison Lester was born and raised in Foster, in southern Victoria, in 1952, and continues to live in Gippsland. Her upbringing in this rural idyll – free to ride horses and to explore her environment – has shaped her sharp observational powers and her ability to bring imaginative and everyday worlds together. Alison Lester’s stories encourage children to believe in themselves and to celebrate the differences that make them special. An author and illustrator, Lester has created more than 25 picture books for a young audience, and is the author of two popular novels for young adult readers, The Quicksand Pony and The Snow Pony, the former becoming a bestseller. Family and nature are the most important themes in her work – loving and caring for the world and its people. Her books have been published in many languages and are loved by children around the world.

Before turning her hand to children’s literature, Lester trained as a secondary teacher at Melbourne Teachers College during 1971–75, specialising in arts and crafts. As well as teaching for a period, she applied her hand to illustrating books for other authors from 1979, and then wrote her first children’s book, Clive Eats Alligators, published in 1985. The artworks that accompany Lester’s stories are wonderful graphic evocations created largely in pencil and watercolour.

Lester has been the recipient of many prestigious awards for both individual book titles and for her broader contribution to children’s literature and literacy. Her several awards include Children’s Book Council of Australia awards for Are We There Yet? (Winner, 2005), Running with the Horses (Honour Book, 2010), Sophie Scott Goes South (2013, Honour Book), Noni the Pony Goes to the Beach (2015, Honour Book), The Very Noisy Baby (Honour Book, 2018) and, with Coral Tulloch, Small Island: The Story of Macquarie Island (2012, Eve Pownall Award for an information book).

Lester was appointed the inaugural Australian Children’s Laureate in 2011, which allowed her to take her passion for stories and storytelling to young audiences across the country, helping kindle their love of literature and learning. She is involved in many community art projects and spends part of every year travelling to remote Indigenous communities, using her books to help children and adults write and draw about their lives. She was awarded the Dromkeen Medal in 2016 for her significant contribution to advancing children’s literature, and has been twice nominated for Sweden’s prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

Shaun Tan

Born in Fremantle in 1974, author and artist Shaun Tan was brought up in the northern suburbs of Perth, where his talent for observation and drawing was first expressed through illustrating poems and stories. With an interest in art and storytelling evident, it was perhaps inevitable that he would study fine arts and English literature, graduating from the University of Western Australia in 1995. Since then, he has refined his distinctive authorial voice through his combination of incisive words and often fantastical illustrations.

Tan is not easy to categorise as a children’s author, as his readership ranges over children, young adults and older adults, with the deceptive complexity of his “picture books” guaranteeing their broad appeal. While at first glance his narratives appear straightforward and their language simple, they soon reveal multiple dimensions and an understated profoundness. The stamp design includes the 2001 book The Lost Thing, which is a good example of this, being a meditation on isolation, empathy and belonging, and one that accommodates visual references to renowned artworks.

Many of Tan’s books have been published in several languages for international markets. He has won industry accolades for his literary endeavours, including Children’s Book Council of Australia awards for The Rabbits (1999, Picture Book of the Year), Memorial (2000, Honour Book), The Lost Thing (2001, Honour Book), The Red Tree (2002, Honour Book), The Arrival (2007, Picture Book of the Year), Tales from Outer Suburbia (2009, Older Readers Book of the Year) and Rules of Summer (2014, Picture Book of the Year); the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards for The Arrival (2007, Book of the Year); the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards for The Arrival (2006, Premier’s Prize and Children’s category) and Tales from Outer Suburbia (2008, Young Adults category); and the South Australian Premier’s Book Awards for Tales from Outer Suburbia (2010, Premier’s Award and Children’s Literature category).

In 2010, Tan was awarded the Dromkeen Medal for his role in Australian children’s literature, and in 2011 he received the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (Sweden) for his contribution to international children’s literature. Being a creator of imaginative works that cross into fantasy, he has also received Aurealis, Hugo and World Fantasy awards, as well as a major international gong with an Oscar for the film adaptation of The Lost Thing.

The Australian Legends of Children’s Literature stamp issue is available now, online, at participating Post Offices and via mail order on 1800 331 794, while stocks last.

View the gallery and technical details from this issue

Articles on the the Australia Post Australian Legends Award:
History of the Australian Legends stamp series
The Australia Post Legends Award
The Australia Post Legends 2017: Indigenous leaders
Legends 2018: Legends of TV Entertainment

Previous Australia Post Australian Legends Award stamp issues:
Australian Legends of Cooking 2014
Australian Legends: The Victoria Cross (2015)
Australian Legends of Singles Tennis 2016
Legends 2017: Indigenous leaders
Legends of TV Entertainment 2018

This article was produced at the time of publication and will not be updated.

Philatelic Team