Meet Denise Ryan, George Robertson Award recipient


Denise Ryan has over 36 years of influence in the educational publishing industry and is a 2022 George Robertson Award recipient. Originally a primary school teacher, Denise then followed her interests in literacy and literature to begin a career in publishing in 1985 as a commissioning editor for Methuen, before eventually opening her own company Denise Ryan & Associates in 2006.  

‘Being able to introduce children to the wide world in which they live has kept me in publishing. I’m pleased that kids can now discover and consider all sorts of amazing things and are not restricted to bridges, castles and pond life in England like I was in country Victoria!’

Throughout her career in the educational publishing sector, Denise has been heavily focussed on improving reading outcomes for children in Australia and all over the world. 

'Publishing for young learners has required me to consider how curriculum demands could be translated into engaging materials that kids want to read, talk about and share. Our contemporary literacy materials, in particular, are well designed and colourful and when I hear children say "Hey, did you know…?" or "Hey, look at this." to their friends I know we've been successful.'

Perhaps this is why, when asked about the highlights of her career, Denise mentions the Celebrate Canada book collection. Commissioned for the 150th celebration of Canada’s federation, the collection consisted of 30 children's books that explored the diversity and richness of geography, peoples and perspectives. 

‘I believe that the whimsy, variety and beauty of Canada came alive in the Celebrate Canada books thanks to a team of Canadian authors and the splendid work done here by Helen Moore, Anita Adams and Susannah Low.'

Although she has since retired, Denise says ‘if a project like Celebrate Canada was considered for Australia, I’d leap at it!’.

While travel has always been an important part of Denise’s career due to her various roles within multinational publishing houses, Methuen, Rigby and Pearson, she has a fondness for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair where she has promoted many products to the world. Denise says, ‘These export opportunities showcased Australia’s high-quality design and editorial standards; our books always glowed at various trade shows’.

Performance at the book fairs have been one of the larger ways in which the industry has changed throughout her career, ‘The gradual recognition that Australian classroom resources which reflected contemporary views of how children learn provided an export opportunity for literacy materials to the US, Canada and to some degree the UK was a big step forward’, Denise says.

When asked to share some advice, Denise passes on that careful consideration of these two questions is vital ‘Why are these books being considered? Who are they for?’. They were at the forefront of the production of book collections such as Four Corners, Celebrate Canada and Leap! Little Books with Attitude, a collection which remains in publication today and was awarded Learning magazines 2016 Teacher’s Choice Award as the best classroom program in the US.

Learn more about the other George Robertson Award winners for 2022 here.