Pixie O’Harris Award recipient 2021 – Maryann Ballantyne

4 May 2021

Jane Covernton who is a former publisher and was the Pixie O’Harris Award recipient in 2018, nominated this year’s Hall of Fame inductee, publisher Maryann Ballantyne from Wild Dog Books. Jane writes about Maryann’s career below.

The Pixie O’Harris Award recognises book industry representatives who have worked consistently in the field of children’s literature, demonstrated commitment beyond the call of duty, and who have developed a reputation for their contribution. It is named in honour of children’s book author and illustrator, Pixie O’Harris (1903 – 1991), who had a longstanding career in publishing and painted many murals for children in hospital wards, health centres and schools.

Maryann Ballantyne has worked in the Australian publishing industry as an editor, packager, publisher, and mentor to writers, illustrators and members of the book industry for more than 35 years. 

She began her career in Australian publishing in 1983 as a work experience intern with Penguin Books Australia while studying for a degree in Communications at RMIT, Melbourne. Soon after she joined the company as a full-time editor working for the dynamic publishing director, Brian Johns, and associate publisher, Jacqui Yowell.

In 1989 after a brief move to Five Mile Press, Ballantyne took up a role as managing editor at the nascent Reed Books, where she worked on Lindy Chamberlain’s book Through My Eyes and the story of John Friedrich – Code Name Iago, ghost written by then unknown author, Richard Flanagan. 

In 1991 Maryann was appointed the inaugural Children’s Publisher at Reed, going on to publish many notable books, such as The Blue Dress edited by Libby Hathorn, and a host of authors including David McRobbie, Gary Crew, Brian Caswell, Libby Gleeson, Sophie Masson, Nadia Wheatley and John Marsden. 

In the early ’90s Ballantyne joined her husband, Andrew Kelly in his book packaging business, Black Dog Books. In 2000, after building up a very successful series of primary readers, Black Dog stepped into trade publishing, thus beginning Black Dog’s steady transition from a packager to an independent children’s publisher of note. 

Between 2000 and 2010 the company published multiple award winning and short-list nominee titles – including When Mum Was Little by Mini Goss winner of the Crichton Award for Children’s Book Illustration in 2002 and Carole Wilkinson’s fantasy novel Dragon Keeper, winner of more than five awards, including the Children’s Book of the Year Award: Younger Readers.

In 2011 Black Dog Books was sold to Walker Books, with Maryann appointed as publisher to look after the Black Dog imprint. During this time Maryann focussed on the works of Indigenous Australians, with a particular emphasis on those living in urban areas. The book she is most of proud of publishing while at Walker is Welcome to Country, written by senior Wurundjeri elder Aunty Joy Murphy and beautifully illustrated by Trawawool woman Lisa Kennedy. 

Seven years later Ballantyne left Walker Books to take up the role of publisher of children’s non-fiction and picture book imprint Wild Dog Books, and to pursue her interest in fostering the work of Indigenous writers and illustrators with the WA based independent publisher Magabala Books. 

In 2019 as part of an editorial team with illustrator and designer Donna Rawlins she was responsible for producing the childrens’ book adaptation of Magabala’s best-selling title Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe, Young Dark Emu.

Maryann has always been passionate about publishing new authors and illustrators and stories that ‘tell us something about ourselves’ and reflect upon ‘where Australia has come from and who we are now’. 

She is known for her fierce intellect and curiosity, her innate sense of style, taste and judgement, her unswerving loyalty to her authors and illustrators and her great respect and commitment to the Australian publishing industry. In her 30 or so years of publishing she has given several generations of young readers books and stories that explore what it means to be part of a dynamic, and ever-changing Australian culture and society and provided them with a valuable sense of community.

Congratulations Maryann Ballantyne.