Tom Taylor and Jon Sommariva’s Neverlanders has become the first graphic novel ever to win an Australian children’s book award. Neverlanders, a new take on the Lost Boys from Peter Pan, received the 2023 Book of the Year for Older Readers (ages 13 to 18) from the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) – the first graphic novel to do so in the prestigious award’s 77-year history.

The CBCA said about the book:

“A beautifully presented work, with dark, funny, insightful writing supported by dynamic and powerful images. The story is well-paced, chronicling the journey of a contemporary “found family” tale embedded within the metatextuality of a fantastical Peter Pan narrative. Readers of all ages will appreciate the clever, action-oriented storyline and gloriously rich illustrations, while discerning readers will unpack the hints of the adults’ destruction of the world, parental failure, gun violence and domestic violence to add a more serious dimension to the fantasy plot. The characters are believable, and thematic elements of belonging and forgiveness are presented authentically and skillfully. A stunning book with a potent message wrapped up in a ripping good yarn package.”

On Facebook, Tom Taylor posted:

“For the first time in its 77 year history, a graphic novel has won the prestigious Children’s Book of the Year Award for Older Readers… and we’re a bit stunned. 

“HUGE thanks to the judges and everyone at the Children’s Book Council of Australia. Jon Sommariva and I are so honored and grateful for this acknowledgement.

“To me, comics are the greatest storytelling medium on the planet, and potentially the most powerful educational tool available for reluctant readers. For Jon Sommariva and I, knowing that our graphic novel will be in more libraries and schools, and in the hands of more people across the country, makes us very happy.

Neverlanders is a story for now. It feels like the exact right time for an epic tale of young people fighting for their future, their environment, and standing against short-sighted, greedy adults.”

Neverlanders is published in Australia by Penguin Random House Australia and published in US by Penguin Young Readers imprint Razorbill. Both the book’s main authors are Australian – with Tom Taylor based in Melbourne, and Jon Sommariva in Canberra.

This first time graphic novel win was not missed by the Australian press either. The Sydney Morning Herald went with the headline:

“Think comics aren’t books? This graphic novel just won book of the year”

The article’s author Kerrie O’Brien said:

“Tom Taylor writes a comic a week and is the name behind the Netflix animated series The Deep. Now, the Melbourne-born and bred author can add a Children’s Book Council of Australia award to his achievements.”

Megan Doherty at The Canberra Times meanwhile championed the local hero:

“Canberra comic book illustrator Jon Sommariva is celebrating after a graphic novel he created “from the ground up” with writer and friend Tom Taylor on Friday won the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year for Older Readers.”

Neverlanders wasn’t the only graphic novel in this year’s CBCA shortlists – Sarah Winifred Searle’s graphic novel The Greatest Thing (Allen & Unwin, Australia; First Second, US) was also in the Older Readers Book of the Year category.

The CBCA said about The Greatest Thing:

“This gorgeous graphic novel depicts a semi-biographical retelling of the creator’s own journey in high school, dealing with sexuality, gender, eating disorders and body image, mental health and self-harm. While it sounds overwhelming and dark, it somehow maintains a sense of joy throughout, with the engaging art style leavening the themes that underpin the story.

“The characters leap off the page and the book somehow manages to be both entirely realistic while still dealing with big issues with sensitivity and hope.”

A non-profit organisation, the Children’s Book Council of Australia has been in existence since 1945 to promote the authors of children’s literature at a time “when Australian children’s books were few, and Australian authors and illustrators were virtually unknown”. Since 1946 annual Book of the Year Awards have taken place “to promote books of high literary and artistic quality”. Being extremely visible (notable titles get special promotional stickers), they have become, according to their website, “ the most influential and highly respected in Australia”. The 2023 Book of the Year Awards covered six categories: Older Readers, Younger Readers, Early Childhood, Picture Books, Eve Pownall Award for Documentary Material (for ages 0-18 years), New Illustrator.