Wombat Books Blog

Wombat Books blog is the place to keep up to date with all the goings-on in the world of Aussie kid's books.

The Thing about Oliver is Shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Awards

The Thing about Oliver is Shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Awards

Congratulations to Deborah Kelly for The Thing about Oliver being shortlised in the Speech Pathologist Awards.

From the Speech Pathologist website:

Books are awarded for “Best Book for Language and Literacy Development”.

Each book is judged on its appeal to children, interactive quality and ability to assist speech pathologists and parents in communication and literacy development.

Congratulations to all the book shortlisted. Find out more here.

The Thing About Oliver has a strong narrative format. From the beginning the reader is drawn into Tilly's life - how will she overcome the challenges of having a sibling with a severe disability? Will she find a way to learn to swim so she can have a chance of achieving her dream of becoming a marine biologist? Will her brother adjust to the major change in their lives? Will he improve? How will her relationships with her mother, brother and aunt continue to grow and develop? The journey is fascinating, even gripping, and the resolution provides a good conclusion to the story.

The main character is identifiable: she reacts in realistic ways and has a strong character. The reader can identify with her feelings, although only a few will have experienced the precise nature of her challenges. As a child from a single parent family, with a sibling with a disability, Tilly certainly represents an important element in Australia's diverse social context: the 'glass children' as the author, Deborah Kelly, identifies them. Those children who feel invisible as society focuses on the more obvious needs of their disabled siblings. Through this story, hopefully readers will be able to empathise more easily with the 'glass children' and their disabled siblings.

This is definitely a book that explores new ideas and concepts. Children are forced to contemplate a life very different from the norm; they will wonder how they would cope, or react, if presented with the same challenges. The child reading this book may have many questions about disability, and autism in particular, after reading this relatable account.

The language used will be familiar to the 8-10 year olds who are the intended audience, and the voice of the pre-teen narrator rings true. It is a book that will appeal to adults and children alike as they look at the world through the eyes of the young narrator, reacting with honesty to all that she experiences.

The length and font size of this book make it an achievable read for most children in the target audience.

It is not surprising that this unusual book has been shortlisted for the Speech Pathology Book of the Year Awards in 2020.

The Thing About Oliver grabs you from the first page. The stark reality of life as a sibling of a child with a disability is depicted with sensitivity by Deborah Kelly. The main character, Tilly, is both a typical preteen and an amazing human being who has adjusted to this unusual life, accepting her brother and all of his challenges. 

Highly recommended as a must-read for anyone who wants to gain greater insight into life in a family that has a person with a disability.

Frances Prentice, B SpPath, B Ed (Early Childhood)

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The Thing about Oliver - CBCA Shortlist

The Thing about Oliver - CBCA Shortlist


Huge congratulations to Deborah Kelly for her middle fiction title, The Thing about Oliver, being included in this year's CBCA shortlist. As Wombat Books first shortlisted book we couldn't be more proud of this amazing title.

Find out more here.

Read an interview with Deborah Kelly here.

Watch the full shortlist announcement here.


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Chatting to Deborah Kelly about Oliver and things

DKellyBWWith an increasing number of children being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) every year, it is more important than ever to have these children and their families represented in mainstream media, including books. Portraying children like Oliver and Tilly not only provides kids in similar situations with literature they can relate to, but it also helps to foster tolerance and acceptance of difference and diversity in all readers.

1. Did you draw on personal experience when writing The Thing About Oliver?

I have the privilege of knowing several children on the autism spectrum and their families. There is a lot of support out there now for kids on the spectrum, which is fantastic. But often the siblings of these children are overlooked. They are sometimes called glass children, because it can feel as though their overstretched parents look right through them. They have to grow up quickly, are often expected to take on far more responsibility than other kids their age and can feel guilty about their own problems and worries in comparison to that of their siblings. They can also struggle with feelings of resentment and guilt towards their parents and the sibling with special needs.

2. The story centres around the move to Townsville, which is described quite vividly. Do you have a history with the area?

I spent several years living in Townsville while I attended university. thing about oliver 9781925563818 large72Because moving there coincided with leaving home (and the whole world opening up), Townsville will always have a special place in my heart. When I visited a couple of years ago for some writing workshops, a lot had changed since I left and most of the people I knew there had moved on. However, I felt that the sights and smells, plants and animals, and the humidity that had hit me all those years ago was the same.

3. Is marine biology an interest of yours? What’s your favourite fish?

I loved marine biology in high school due to an enthusiastic teacher and went on to study it at university so I could help protect the reef for future generations. Like Tilly, colourful nudibranches are high up on my list. So is the goofy-looking parrotfish, which chomps so noisily on coral that you can actually hear it underwater. I’ll never forget the time I came face-to-face with a baby tiger shark! And I love the magic of a night dive. There are tiny creatures in the water that glow at night and if you turn off your torch, it’s like floating in a night sky, surrounded by stars.

The Thing About Oliver is available now.

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