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Open Right

Lisa Shanahan

Author, Inspirational Speaker, Storyteller/Performer

Lisa is an award-winning writer of picture books, and novels for younger and older readers. Some of her funny, heartfelt books include The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler, which received the 2017 Queensland Literary Award for Children’s Fiction, the 2018 Speech Pathology Book of the Year for 8–12-year-olds and was also shortlisted in the 2018 CBCA Book of the Year Award for Younger Readers. Her picture book, Hark, It’s Me, Ruby Lee! (ill. Binny Talib) was a 2018 CBCA Honour Book of the Year for Early Childhood and was also shortlisted in the 2018 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for Children’s Fiction. Her novel for teenagers My Big Birkett was published to critical acclaim in Australia, where it was shortlisted for the 2007 CBCA Book of the Year for Older Readers and in the United States, where it was a 2008 New York Public Library Best Book for the Teen Age. Her most recent picture book for babies, the delightful Hello World (ill. Leila Rudge) won the 2022 Speech Pathology Book of the Year for Birth-3-year-olds.

Trained as an actor, Lisa is a witty, dynamic, and entertaining presenter, who loves to inspire young people to look at stories, and the world, with a vivid, new freshness.

Hello World
Hark, It’s Me, Ruby Lee!
Laugh Your Head Off 4 Ever
Big Pet Day
Bear & Chook
Bear & Chook by the Sea
The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler
My Big Birkett
The Lisa Shanahan Story Collection (Read by Claudia Karvan)

Where were you born?

I was born in Sydney, and I grew up in a small suburb with a country town feel, near the Georges River, with my younger brother and sister, and a small tribe of lost and found cats. When I wasn’t patting cats or reading books in trees, I was making up stories. I could often be found imagining a Spanish galleon sailing up the river on a windswept Saturday afternoon. I’d stand on our back balcony, waiting for the moment when the ship would dock, so I could sweep up my crinoline skirt and run away with a bunch of crazy, doubloon-loving pirates.

What other jobs have you had?

I’ve had lots of hilarious jobs over the year. I’ve been a fairy princess (notoriously crashing my VW car on my way to a birthday party, while wearing glitter wings) a mermaid, a one-eyed pirate, and a wilting sunflower at the NSW Art Gallery. I’ve also had the great joy of being a drama teacher, and a teacher of writing books for children.

What themes are recurring in your work?

Most of my picture books and novels contain quirky, imperfect characters learning what it means to be courageous and true, in a world that is by turns hilarious, baffling, and glorious. Some of the recurrent themes I explore in my books include,
Love & belonging,
Identity & self-discovery.
Family, school, friendship, empathy & loyalty.
Anxiety, failure, compassion, forgiveness & resilience.
The challenge and comforts of true community.
The unstinting power of imagination, creativity & delight.

What have been the highlights of your career?

Some lovely highlights of my career include winning the CBCA Book of the Year for Early Childhood, alongside the illustrator Emma Quay for our picture book, Bear & Chook by the Sea in 2010. It was a dream come true for a book-devoted kid that spent so many years making posters for Book Week competitions at Oatley Library. Another highlight was travelling to the United States for a five-city book tour, for my teenage novel My Big Birkett and writing my first novel for middle-graders The Grand Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler and tasting the joy of summer, all through winter.

One of my favourite moments though occurred on a school visit out in western Sydney, when a teacher-librarian shared she had been reading my picture book, Hark, It’s Me, Ruby Lee, to a Year Two class, when a little girl piped up, saying, ‘That’s me! That’s ME!’ There’s nothing sweeter than knowing that an exuberant, never-sit-still kid suddenly felt so profoundly seen and celebrated.

Where have your works been published?

My books have been published in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Argentina, China, South Korea, Cambodia, Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

What are you passionate about?

I’m passionate about writing funny, joyful books that also speak to the tender, heartfelt hopes, fears, and questions that whisper (often unspoken) in the hearts of kids, and to the great beauty of the world.

When I visit schools, I’m passionate about students having fun. I love to see kids laugh out loud, as they learn, almost surreptitiously, about the immense power of stories; the way even the simplest one can transform how we feel, think, believe, and act. The thing I am most keen about though is that students will come away from our time together, discovering the wonder and the worth of their own stories; the unique joy to be found in paying attention to the smallest, messiest, most ordinary moment in their own lives.

Haven’t I seen you before?

You may well have! I’ve travelled all over Australia, visiting hundreds of schools across the years. But perhaps you once spotted me prancing and pontificating as a giant Liquorice All Thought down at the Rocks Markets in Sydney, one hot summer?

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

I’m a lover of moon-gazing, mock orange blossom, mint slices, black cockatoos, hot cups of Melbourne tea, shouts of unexpected laughter, and a scruffy spoodle named Ruby. I am also very fond of making up words, which is how ‘snookie,’ ‘spockled frockle-wockle,’ ‘shlurgle,’ and ‘birkett’ came into the world!


I can’t speak highly enough of Lisa. She was absolutely wonderful. She was entertaining, insightful and extremely engaging. The students as well as the teachers couldn’t stop raving about her and I can’t wait for this lot of students to move on so I can book for her to come back. She was amazing!

—Maria T, Condell Park Public School (2023)

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