Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Holiday Ideas to Stimulate Thinking, Creativity and Language


In Australia we're in the middle of the Easter/Autumn break for all school children and with COVID-19 still active across the world ideas to engage our children in some stimulating (& fun) creative and intellectually challenging activities is from and centre.

Many of these well known activities can also reduce screen time and boredom. All are fun, simple and can be done at home. Of course, while it's a post about holiday activities any of the ideas can also be used at other times. 

I've also written a number of posts in the past about things to do in the holidays with kids (here) and simple travel games to fill the time on trips with your children (here). There is also a post on Planning With Kids that offers '20 Great Holiday or Travel Activities for Kids (5-15)'. To maintain some balance you might also find my post on 'Boredom is still good for children!'

In this post I thought I'd offer my top 16 activities that can work inside and outside, in any type of weather. My criteria for choosing them are that the activities should:
  • Stimulate creativity
  • Encourage exploration and discovery
  • Involve using their hands as well as their minds
  • Encourage interaction between you and your children
  • Foster literacy development 
  • Increase their knowledge
  • Keep them interested

Encourage your children to make a film 


1. Use a simple animation app to get them started - This sounds a big deal but its not with the write app. I wrote a post about some wonderful apps for digital story telling a year or so ago (HERE). One of my favourites is 'Puppet Pals, for one thing, it's VERY easy to use. Your children will work it out in minutes. Puppet Pals is available as a free app for the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad. It is essentially a simple way to create an animated movie using 'cut-out' themed characters and a variety of backdrops and scenes to create an animated 'puppet' play.

There is a free version that comes with Wild West backgrounds and actors.  However, you can also purchase different themes for $US0.99 or the 'Director's Cut' in which you can access all the themes for $US2.99. These allow you to obtain a range of additional scenarios and characters based on themes such as monsters, space, pirates, arthropod armada, Christmas and so on. You can even make your backdrops and characters.

This is a very simple to use app that provides very easy storyboarding. You can record dialogue, move characters around, create some simple effects, change backdrops and settings and characters. Below is an example that my eight year old grandson produced with little instruction and next to no preparation at his second attempt using the app. While ideally, before creating the animation, the writer/producer prepares plot summaries and story ideas, Jacob made this excellent animation as a first take. He used the 'Arthropod Armada' theme from 'Director's Cut'. 

Puppet Pals is a wonderful resource for supporting story telling, writing, language development, creativity, and problem solving, while at the same time introducing them to film making and animation. I could see myself using a smartboard to collaboratively develop a story with my class before introducing individuals and groups to this smart little app.

Books with a difference

2. Pick some special books they haven't seen - try to borrow or buy at least 2 books for each child that you think they'll enjoy. Opportunity shops, book exchanges and libraries are the place to start. I have another post on book exchanges, op shops and web exchange sites here. Take your children with you to the op shop or library to choose them.

3. Books as a creative stimulus - While the shear joy of the book is usually enough, sometimes books can stimulate many wonderful creative activities. For example:

After reading Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things are" go outside and dramatise it. Let one child be Max and let others take turns at being the wild things. Make a boat out of bits of wood, or even have a go at making one out of a large cardboard box (or several).

After reading Jeannie Baker's book "Where the Forest Meets the Sea" (a book about the Daintree Rainforest in which all the pictures are collage) encourage them to make a collage out of natural materials (and maybe some wool, straws etc to supplement) in response to Baker's pictures. Or read a second book and have them use collage in response.

After reading Graeme Base's "The Waterhole" get them to paint the waterhole (they can draw the animals, cut them out and paste them around the waterhole).

4. Dramatisation - Dramatisation is an excellent way to respond to a book. If you have a dress-up box all the better. Let your children either re-tell the story through dramatisation or improvise. Get involved to help set the pattern for turn taking etc. I play a mean wolf, and an even better Grandma!

Writing

5. Diaries and journals - Introduce older children to diaries or holiday journals. Make this fun, not a school activity. If they just want to make it a scrapbook by pasting in tickets, leaves they collect, food wrappers etc, then let them. But you can also show them how to create a travel diary.

6. A holiday blog - Tech savvy mums and dads might encourage their children to write online. Why not set up a family blog that can be read by friends and relatives (even if only for two weeks). You could use this as part of a trip away, or just use it at home. Older children could set up the blog themselves and all family members could contribute. Let them have access to a digital camera and a scanner and the sky is the limit. See my post on 'Children as bloggers' (here).

7. Start a family joke or riddle book - give them some jokes as models ("Knock, knock", "Why did the centipede cross the road"....)

Craft

8. Structured Craft ideas - simple beadwork, noodle craft, mask making, making plaster moulds (and painting them), anything for young children that requires paper tearing, gluing, glitter, stickers.

9. Unstructured creative craft - Stock up when you go to the supermarket with simple materials like paper plates (good for masks), brown paper bags, sticky tape, glue, cotton balls, tooth picks, paper cupcake holders, straws (cutting up and threading), noodles (for threading).

Creative Play

I've written a number of previous posts on play (here) but planning for play is important. While you can say to your children go outside and 'play', doing some simple planning at times will lead to more stimulating play times.

10. Dress-up box - If you don't have one take the kids to an Op shop to start one. You might even pick up some gems like old helmets, hats, belts (you can cut them down), handbags etc.

11. Water play - This is hard in cold weather, but maybe you could make bath-time special for littlies with extra bubbles, different stuff to take into it . In warmer weather give them a bucket of water and some things to scoop, sieve etc - obviously only UNDER SUPERVISION.

12. Play dough - You can buy cheap coloured modelling clay but home-made playdough works well. My wife 'Carmen's can't fail' recipe is 1 tablespoon of oil, 1 cup of plain flour, 0.5 cup of cooking salt, 2 tablespoons Cream of Tartar, 1 cup of water, colouring. Mix together and put in a saucepan on medium heat until it binds together, stirring all the time. Fold together by hand. If you keep it in a sealed plastic bag it will last for ages in or  outside the fridge.

There are endless things to do with play dough. Try to move beyond just cutting out shapes (which kids still love). Encourage them to make a house, a farmyard, a bed, and an aquarium. Use some plastic animals with the play dough or small plastic people. If you don't mind tossing the play dough out you can let them use sticks, plants etc to make simple dioramas. Kids will create complex stories as they manipulate the play dough.

The blanket cubby!
13. Build a cubby house - No not with wood, just use a table, some chairs, wardrobes (hitch the blankets into the top of the doors, some pegs and sheets and blankets. By draping them over other objects you should be able to create a special space (about 2x2 metres is enough for three small kids). Try to get at least 1.5 metres of height. Have the kids 'help' and then get them to collect some special things to have in the cubby. Use a toy box for a table, some cushions to sit on. I always let my grandchildren have my cheap transistor radio from my shed (lots of fun). Girls might like a tea set; boys will collect animals and toys, both will like books. If you're up to it, climb in as well and read some stories. They'll like the edges tucked in to cut out light so you might need a torch. I've seen a cubby of this kind amuse kids for half a day. Then of course for the adventurous you can share some snack food as well. You can even build a cubby inside! See my post on cubbies (here).

Above: A 'house' one of my grandchildren made (with help) from a box we saved

Indoor and back yard fun

14. Treasure hunts - Write the clues on paper using words and pictures depending on ages and make the treasure worthwhile (chocolate, a coupon for an ice cream in the kitchen etc). For something a little more challenging why not try a map with grid references (see picture opposite).

15. Cooking - Kids love cooking with their mothers or fathers. Do simple stuff. Nicole (Planning With Kids) has lots of great ideas for cooking with kids on her site. Don't forget to make it a language activity as well by getting them to follow the recipes.

16. Insect scavenger hunt - Try an insect scavenger hunt (one of my grandchildren's favourite activities). You'll be surprised just how many you can find. You'll to be careful turning rocks over and digging around, but even in Australia it's low risk if you supervise. Place a pile of bricks in a damp place and then let the kids help you to uncover them a few days later - watch the critters scurry. We always enjoy a good snail race afterwards!

A few basics hints
  • Have a strategy for the holidays - map out a timetable (post it on the wall) and try to plan a few significant events and think through the general structure of each day.
  • If you have younger children still at home, being joined by school kids on holidays, try to think about how you will cope with all their interests and think about varying daily routines a little.
  • Pace yourself - don't use all your best ideas in the first few days (you'll wear them and yourself out and you'll struggle to keep up the variation later).
  • Expect bad weather - think about some ideas that will work in rainy weather as well. It's called the "Law of Holidays" - expect lots of wet weather and a day or two of sick kids.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Three Great New Children's Books About Animals

1. 'Maybe...' by Chris Haughton

This brand-new picture book from Chris Haughton is bright, quirky, and oh so engaging. The book is a real page turner. With its bold use of red as the background wash on almost every page, simple brightly coloured images of the three central characters (three inquisitive monkeys), and stripped back language, it will engage any reader.

The plot is simple. The monkeys are left by their parent and told as they them alone, "Whatever you do, do NOT go down to the mango tree." But the for these inquisitive and hungry monkeys, who can see some sweet mangos in the forest, it is oh so tempting. Surely it will be okay. "Any tigers here? No!" Down, down, down, to the trees below. And LOOK

Seems there is no tiger. I wonder? Will they stop at one? Will they risk another descent to get more mangoes? You'll have to get the book and enjoy it with children aged 2-4 years to find out.

Chris Haughton is an Irish designer and illustrator. His debut picture book, 'A Bit Lost', is published into 21 different languages and has won 13 awards in nine countries. His second title, Oh No, George! won the Junior Design Award and was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Award.

2. 'Rajah Street' by Myo Yim

Junya likes being by the window and watching the happenings in Rajah Street. He delights at the comings and goings each day. The people, cars, the ever-changing sky - and best of all - on Wednesdays - its garbage day! He hangs out for the arrival of the garbage truck. But as he does so, his imagination runs wild. Why has the cement truck driver taken a nap out the front? He'd just love to wake the man up with a cup of tea (if he could).

As a school bus passes, Junya is certain it is on its way to the zoo. He wishes he could go too. What might he see? Lions? Gorillas? And where might that skate board rider end up? Might he bring back the surf and the waves on his travels?

The imaginative illustrations from Myo Yim invite the reader to engage with the text and to wonder what might be, and what could be possible as he gazes out the window and imagines a bigger world with diversity and excitement everywhere. 

What I love most about this book, is that the author manages to take the reader into the mind of the little boy and capture something of his inner voice and quiet dreaming, as an ordinary day can become very special.

Myo Yim is an author/illustrator based in the Northern Rivers of NSW Australia, originally from Seoul, Korea. She works across many mediums, 2d, 3d, digital and analogue and pencil drawing. In 2019 she published her debut illustrated book, The Forest of The Night, in Seoul, South Korea. It was nominated for the Little Hakka International Picture Book Award 2019.

3. 'North & South: A Tale of Two Hemispheres', by Sandra Morris

This is a wonderful factual picture book for readers aged 6-99 years! It explores the world's diverse and varied species of animals, birds, reptiles, insects, fungi... All framed within habitats. But there's more! On each double page spread the reader is given an insight into what is happening in both the north and south hemispheres, month by month, and season by season. And yet, in spite of this simplicity, Sandra Morris has created a wonderful factual 'page turning' book that you won't want to put down.  Here's a sample of the text from the January double page:

"In winter, the Scottish ptarmigan's all-white plumage matches the snow and in spring, it moults to black, grey and brown feathers that blend with the rocky landscape." 

Meanwhile, in the Northern Australian summer:

"The green tree python mother guards her eggs, keeping them warm by coiling her body around them in her nest in a hollow tree. January marks the end of the mating season."

Throughout the book readers can see on open pages what is happening in both hemispheres and in different seasons.

Sandra Morris’s wonderful text and beautiful illustrations guide readers on a global exploration, offering insights on how various species adapt to the changing seasons. The extensive end matter offers many more facts about the many featured creatures.



Friday, January 29, 2021

Stories for Children by Aboriginal Australians - In Recognition of the Traditional Owners of Our Land

In Australia we recognize the 26th January as Australia Day. This was of course the date on which British arrived to colonise the land on behalf of England. However, the British ignored the fact that Australia's Indigenous people, that we know as the 'Aborigines' were the traditional owners of this great land. We now know that they are in fact the oldest continuous civilization in the world, having been here for at least 60,000 years and perhaps more. Indigenous Australians see the 26th January as in fact Invasion Day. The day that the British First Fleet seized Australia as part of their empire.

To show my respect to the traditional owners of our vast and beautiful land, I thought I'd offer a collection of posts of Aboriginal dreamtime stories and literature. While our Aboriginal Australians had passed down their stories through spoken words, paintings and songs, my posts (originally over a period of 10+ years) offer a collection of wonderful works from Aboriginal storytellers and artists recorded for us in children's books. Some are collaborations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous authors and illustrators, but most are authored and illustrated by Indigenous teams. I hope that they inspire you to explore the history, story and art of this ancient people on whose land Australians live. Some of the earliest books below are retellings of the Aboriginal story, but many are based on their dreamtime stories passed down across man y generations.

1. 'Young Dark Emu: A Truer History' by Bruce Pascoe

Bruce Pascoe has collected a swathe of literary awards for 'Dark Emu' and now he has brought together the research and compelling first person accounts in a book for younger readers. Using the accounts of early European explorers, colonists and farmers, Bruce Pascoe compellingly argues for a reconsideration of the hunter-gatherer label for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians. He allows the reader to see Australia as it was before Europeans arrived – a land of cultivated farming areas, productive fisheries, permanent homes, and an understanding of the environment and its natural resources that supported thriving villages across the continent. Young Dark Emu - A Truer History asks young readers to consider a different version of Australia's history pre-European colonisation.


This book has won many awards. One of the judges from one of the many awards described Bruce Pascoe's work this way: "Visual and textual information is produced on a traditional palette of ochre yellow, red and oranges and charcoal black. Full-page illustrations magnify and enhance detail in the historical photographs, documents, engravings, diary entries and sketches."

In this book, Bruce seeks to debunk... "terra nullius that positions Aboriginal people as nomadic hunter gatherers through an engaging discussion accessible to primary school and young adult readers." Instead we continue to learn how sophisticated Indigenous culture was (and is) across a period of at least 60,000 years.

2. 'Maralinga', was written and illustrated by the Yalata and Oak communities of South Australia with Christobel Mattingley. This is one of our darkest stories. It is the story of the British atomic testing of the 1950s in Central Australia. It is told by Indigenous Australians who are the traditional owners of Maralinga (a region used for atomic testing in the 1950s?).  In words and pictures community members, describe what happened in the Maralinga Tjarutja lands of South Australia before the bombs and after. This is an important and tragic account of human folly and its consequence for a people who were there first, but whose needs counted for little. We have no idea how many Indigenous Australians were killed in these tests.

The traditional owners of the land were never asked is these tests could be held on their land, nor were they warned of the dangers. Mind you, the Australian government wasn't told very much about the tests. The Australian government of the time simply allowed the British to do it. As a colony and part of the British Empire, there was little choice.

3. 'Dry to Dry - The Seasons of Kakadu' by Pamela Freeman and illustrated by Liz Anelli

Indigenous Australians have a deep connection to their land. This wonderfully illustrated factual picture book introduced young readers to one of Australia's most beautiful and ancient places. It is a follow-up to the award winning 'Desert Lake'. It tells of the yearly weather cycle across this ancient and beautiful land.  
 
 
In the tropical wetlands and escarpments of Kakadu National Park, seasons move predictably from dry to wet and back to dry again. Most of Australia has four seasons like other nations, but Kakadu has two! And these two seasons are marked by extraordinary change and diversity in plants, animals, birds, insects and the incredible migratory birds that come during the 'Wet' season. But there's more! There is a movement of insects, lizards, and water dwelling creatures (like fish, turtles and crocodiles), not to mention fruit bats and the changes in flowers and grasses. What I like this book and the 'Desert Lake' is that they offer two texts on each two-page spread. One to be read by or to the children, and a second short smaller font text at the bottom of each page, with more technical language for the teacher and older readers. There is also an excellent more detailed description of Kakadu at the end of the book with some Indigenous words translated. Finally, there's a wonderful map of Kakadu that children will love, as well as a detailed index.

 4. 'My Place' (Nadia Wheatley & Donna Rawlins) -

First published in 1987 for distribution in Australia’s bicentennial year  (1988) and makes a strong statement about the fact that Indigenous Australians were here for thousands of years before white settlement (there isn't space to unpack this). It is a very clever book that takes one suburban block (and the surrounding area) and tells the story of this place in reverse chronological sequence, decade by decade, from 1988 back to 1788 when the first British Fleet landed at Botany Bay. The overall meaning of the book is shaped by multiple narrative recounts of the families who have lived in this spot, 'my Place' and the changing nature of the physical landscape and built environment. See me previous post on visiting the 'real' My Place (here). 

5. 'In the Bush I see' by Kiara Honeychurch

This is one of a number of reviews from Magabala Books, the Indigenous publishers located in the remote North Western Australian town of Broome. You can find more information on this publisher at the end of the post. 

'In the Bush I see' is one of many books for children being written by Indigenous authors and artists with the support of Magabala. It is a delightful little board book for toddlers aged 1-4 years. A wonderful first book that children will flip through again and again. They will also learn the simple text descriptions of each wonderful creature. Like "a screeching cockatoo", "a waddling echidna" and a "watchful bandicoot". Kiara is inspired by the bush creatures she encounters in her rural home near Hobart. With a bold and sophisticated colour palette, Kiara unleashes the beauty and character of each creature. Well done Kiara, I hope there will be more books. 



6. 'Little Bird's Day' by Sally Morgan & illustrated by Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr

A simple, universal story of a day in the life of Little Bird as she sings the world alive, flies with Cloud, travels with Wind, nestles with Moon and dreams of flying among the stars.

This is a gorgeous book! From the deep earth colours of the cover, the inside covers with stunning images of the night sky, to the wonderful more traditional images of the creatures that punctuate Little Bird's day, it is beautiful. And, as you'd expect Sally Morgan's beautifully crafted text makes for a memorable picture book. Is there any wonder it was the winner of the Kestin Indigenous Illustrator Award? 

As with many Magabala books some excellent Teacher's notes can be found on the Magabala Books website.


7. 'Wilam: A Birrarung Story' by Aunty Joy Murphy & Andrew Kelly, illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

This is another stunning Indigenous picture book, this time from Black Dog books. Talented Indigenous artist Lisa Kennedy, respected Elder Aunty Joy Murphy and Yarra River keeper Andrew Kelly combine to create a special book. It tells the Indigenous and geographical story of Melbourne’s beautiful Yarra river, from its source to its mouth, and from its pre-history to the present day.


Lisa Kennedy is a descendant of the Trawlwoolway People on the north-east coast of Tasmania. She was born in Melbourne and as a child lived close to the Maribyrnong River. Here she experienced the gradual restoration of the natural river environment alongside cultural regeneration and reclamation. The experience of loss and reclamation is embedded in her work. The illustrations are richly coloured with a bright palette of green, red, blue, yellow and brown. Many of the plates would be stunning works of art on their own. But in combination with the text from Aunty Joy and Andrew Kelly, we have a special book to share with children aged 3-8 years of age.

8. 'Clever Crow' by Nina Lawrence and illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft


This brand new picture book from Indigenous publisher Magabala Books is wonderful debut book by author Nina Lawrence (a descendant of the Yidinji people of Far North Queensland), and illustrator Bronwyn Bancroft (a clan member of the Bundjalun Nation). Like other Indigenous authors and illustrators they are sharing their people's stories but also seeking to preserve their languages. And hence, this gorgeous picture book is bilingual, with both English and Djambarrpuynu language used.   

It is the story of a hungry crow. A very hungry crow! He was desperate for food but couldn't find any. Then he saw some people at a special ceremony cooking a turtle egg. He looked at the egg and thought "Yummy, food for me!" And he steals it. A resting kookaburra laughs as he watches. The crow doesn't like this and calls out.... the egg is lost. Where does it end up next and where will it ultimately end up?

Bronwyn Bancroft is a highly awarded illustrator with many awards, including being a finalist in the Hans Christian Andersen Award (2016) and the honour of the award of the Dromkeen Medal (2010). This is Nina Lawrence's first children's book. And what an impressive start to her career as an author and champion for her land, people and language. 

9. 'Welcome to Country' by Aunty Joy Murphy and illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

'Welcome to country' is now a well-accepted way to acknowledge that Aboriginal Australians were not only the first people of Australia, they have been the traditional owners of the land for over 40,000 years. This picture book offers an expansive and generous 'Welcome to Country' from a highly respected Elder, Aunty Joy Murphy. The wonderful words are complemented by the remarkable art of Indigenous artist Lisa Kennedy. The combination of the authentic and wonderful words of Aunty Joy, in combination with Lisa's incredible images, make you want to visit the remarkable places she pictures. It is a special book and will serve as an excellent introduction to the topic of Indigenous ownership of the land that Australians all call home.

Welcome to the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri People. We are part of this land and the land is part of us. This is where we come from. Wominjeka Wurundjeri balluk yearmenn koondee bik. Welcome to Country.



10. 'Tjarany Roughtail' by Gracie Greene and Joe Tramacchi and illustrated by Lucille Gill

Tjarany Roughtail contains eight dreamtime stories from the Kukatja people of Western Australia’s remote Kimberley Region. Each story is complemented by beautiful artworks painted by Aboriginal artist Lucille Gill that visually explain each story using traditional dot paintings. Told in English and Kukatja. 

This wonderful book offers mysteries of the Dreamtime centred on the cultural history of the Kukatja people of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Told in English and Kukatja, the book includes magnificent paintings, maps, kinship diagrams, exercises and language notes. Children aged 7-12 will love this book and gain a greater appreciation of the richness of Aboriginal culture and story.

The book was the winner of the Australian Children's Book Council (CBCA) Eve Pownall Award for Information Books (1993), and was also shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Literary Awards.

11. 'Two Mates' by Melanie Prewett and illustrated by Maggie Prewett

The true story of the special mateship between two boys who have grown up together in Broome; Jack is Indigenous and Raf is non-Indigenous. The boys share their daily life as they search for hermit crabs, go hunting for barni, fish for salmon, explore the markets, eat satays and dress up as superheros. At the end of the book it is revealed that Raf is in a wheelchair due to spina bifida. The book offers some additional information on this condition at the end of the book.  

This is a lovely story that shows that true friendship sees no barriers in race or disability.  This would be a wonderful book to share with children aged 5-8 years. There are also some teaching notes on the Magabala site HERE.


12. 'Joshua and the Two Crabs' by Joshua Button


Joshua Button is a young Indigenous author with a keen interest in the saltwater country he has grown up in. His observations of his family’s fishing trip to Crab Creek give us a unique opportunity to see this  adventure through his eyes. Joshua’s illustrations evoke the beauty of Crab Creek—a tidal creek that lies in the mangroves of Roebuck Bay near Broome in Australia’s north west.

I had the pleasure of spending some time at Roebuck Bay just last week. This is an exquisite place where I spent hours looking at the sheer beauty and the rich marine life. Some of the stars of the wildlife are definitely the crabs. Watching them scurry (at great speed), eating, digging and leaving their intriguing marks on the red sand was a great joy. My photos below show a little of this beauty. 



13. 'Our World Bardi Jaawi, Life at Ardiyooloon' written and illustrated by the students of One Arm Point Remote Community School 

Ardiyooloon is home to the Bardi Jaawi people and sits at the end of a red dirt road at the top of the Dampier Peninsula, 200km north of Broome in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. This vibrant book is bursting with life and activity and takes readers inside the lives of the children of a remote Indigenous community.

This wonderful book is inspired by the stories of the elders and the beautiful beauty of the land and culture of Ardiyooloon. The many chapters in the richly illustrated book consider the history, language, food and cultural practices of the Bardi Jaawi people. The children's illustrations enrich the many factual texts that consider fishing, bush food, special events, language and the wildlife of this wonderful place. For example, on one double page the children describe and draw 23 different saltwater creatures that are found in their world. The authenticity of the waters and the richness and colour of the illustrations, make you want to dip again and again into this beautiful book.

The book was the winner of the Speech Pathology Australia's Indigenous Book of the Year 2011 and was also shortlisted in the Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) awards in the same year.

Comprehensive teacher notes for the book can be downloaded here

14. 'Do Not Go Around the Edges' by Daisy Utemorrah and illustrated by Pat Torres

This remarkable book weaves together the story of Daisy Utemorrah’s life with a collection of playful parables and poems. It explores themes such as Creation, tradition, memories, family and most importantly, country. 'Do Not Go Around the Edges'  imbues a simple autobiographical story with humour and depth, and will appeal to adults and children alike. Retold with love and honour, be transported to a place where time stands still...

Daisy Utemorrah was an elder of the Wunambal people from the Mitchell Plateau area in the far north Kimberley. She was born in 1922 at Kunmunya Mission and her family background gave her fluency in three Aboriginal languages. Daisy was recognised for her work as a poet and a teacher. This was her first book and of course was published by Magabala in 1991. It won the Australian Multicultural Children’'s Book Award the following year, and was also shortlisted for the Children’'s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) award for Younger Readers. As well, Pat Torres won the prestigious international IBBY award for illustration for her work on this book in 1994.

It is a remarkable book for various reasons. It integrates Daisy's unique autobiographical story with a variety of traditional Aboriginal Dreamtime themes, focussing on memories, family, creation and country, the important relationship between a people and their land. It is beautifully told with simplicity and economy of words, and it weaves Daisy's traditional languages with her stories and the wonderful illustrations of Broome-based Djugan artist Pat Torres. Here is a sample:

I am the native cat, I dance everywhere. 
I hop, skip and jump.
I jump on the flat stone 
and dance and wobble my bum and hold my hips 
And then I dance again.


15. 'The Mark of the Wagarl' by Lorna Little and illustrated by Janice Lyndon

Maadjit Walken is the Sacred Rainbow Serpent. She is the mother spirit and creator of Nyoongar Country in the south west of Western Australia. She formed the landscape and the waterways, and made her first child Maadjit Wagarl, the Sacred Water Snake, the guardian spirit of all the rivers and fresh waters. The Mark of the Wagarl is the story of how a little boy dared to question the wisdom of his elders and why he received the Sacred Water Snake for his totem. Janice Lyndon’s pastel illustrations resonate with the cultural power of the Maadjit Wagarl and the landscape of the south west. This is a revised edition.

This is a traditional Aboriginal Dreamtime story featuring a well-known character - the Rainbow Serpent - who appears in other books for children, most notably 'The Rainbow Serpent' by Dick Roughsey. The slightly more contemporary illustrations are designed to appeal to a new generation who should love this book.

Comprehensive teacher notes for the book can be downloaded here from the Magabala website.

16. 'The Burnt Stick' (1995) by Anthony Hill & Mark Sofilas (illustrator)

This novel for younger readers (8-10 years) is set in Australia prior to the 1960s.  It is the story of a young Australian aboriginal boy named John Jagamarra, who had been taken (like thousands of other Indigenous children) from his family. John was taken from his mother by the Welfare Department of the day, and sent to live with his white Father at the Pearl Bay Mission for Aboriginal Children. He grew up in this beautiful place, but he knew it was not like being home with his mother and his people.  He remembers how the 'Big Man from Welfare' had come and taken him away. His story illustrates how well intentioned government policy at the time failed to deal with the problems of Indigenous communities and failed to understand the full needs of people 'other' than themselves. While the story positions us as reader to see the tragedy of the 'Stolen Generation' through John's eyes, at the same time it offers child and adult readers the chance to consider the issues of racial difference and how we understand, live with and when necessary, reach out to people other than ourselves. 

Mark Sofilas' wonderful charcoal images add a haunting and powerful additional dimension to the story. The Children's Book Council of Australia named it Book of the Year for Younger Readers in 1995.

17. 'Ngay janijirr ngank. This is my word', by Magdalene Williams, illustrated by Pat Torres and with photos by Maria Mann. 

A beautifully illustrated account of the life of Magdalene Williams of the Nyulnyul people. Raised in the confines of Beagle Bay mission in the Kimberley, she was nevertheless exposed to her traditional culture through her Elders. Magdalene's account of the coming of the missionaries, and the destruction of law and culture is interwoven with the richness and diversity of her Nyulnyul stories.

I love this book for the beauty of the language and the power of the stories that Magdalene Williams tells. The work is also well illustrated by Pat Torres and has wonderful photos from Maria Mann. The opening line gives a sense of what is to come as she tells the story of the Nyulnyul people of Beagle Bay:

"A long time ago in Ngarlan, the place where Beagle Bay now stands, a very strange and frightening thing happened."

The book also contains several wordlists. Helpfully, these include Nyulnyul to English and English to Nyulnyul, selected phrases, traditional names of the family members mentioned, and also a pronunciation guide. This is a book that works at many levels, it has an engaging story, it raises cultural awareness, offers language study and more.  Children aged 7-12 will enjoy this excellent book.

Further reading

Other previous posts on Indigenous literature HERE.
Other reviews on children's literature HERE.

An Introduction for non-Australians

Emily Gap N.T.
Aboriginal Australians were the original inhabitants of the continent we know today as Australia. They include Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders. Together they make up 2.5% of Australia's population today.  It is believed that they are amongst the oldest races on earth with estimates suggesting that they first arrived on this continent between 50,000 and 125,000 years ago. They are an ancient people with a rich and unique culture. There is enormous diversity across the many nations and clans, with an estimated 250-300 spoken languages with 600 dialects. Sadly fewer than 200 of these languages remain and most are in danger of being lost.  Like many non-Aboriginal Australians I see the preservation of Aboriginal languages and their stories as of critical importance. Recently, while travelling in Central Australia this was brought into sharp focus for me. 

An encounter with the 'The Three Caterpillars'

Mparntwe or Alice Springs is home to the Arrernte people, Aboriginal Australians who have called this beautiful place home for at least 45,000 years.  It is at the geographical centre of Australia. The photo opposite is of a place called 'Emily Gap' that I visited in July while exploring Central Australia. At this place you will find Aboriginal rock art that tells the story of how three caterpillars named Yeperenye, Ntyarlke and Utnerrengatye created the MacDonnell Ranges.

 The Arrernte people, believe the ranges were formed by giant caterpillars that entered this world through one of the gaps in the escarpment of the area. In traditional stories the caterpillar ancestors, Yeperenye, Utnerrengatye and Ntyarlke are the major creation forces of the Alice Springs area. These stories tell how they arrived from all directions, first stopping at Mparntwe, a particularly sacred site in Alice Springs, where they battled with the Irlperenye (green stink bug). 

'Three Caterpillars' - Emily Gap
The Caterpillars fled when the Irlperenye (stink bug) started to kill them. The ranges around Alice Springs are the seen as the remains of the many caterpillars. The gaps in the ranges like Emily Gap indicate where the stink bugs tore the heads from the bodies of the caterpillars. The rock formations around the area are and the few surviving Yeperenye went on to sculpt the rivers and trees along the tops of the ranges.

'The Three Caterpillars' were painted on the cliff face at some point in  time. The dark red and light orange stripes were created by red ochre and white lime blended with animals fats and applied to the rock surface.

Aboriginal Dreamtime stories are associated with specific Aboriginal clans and nations and their lands (countries). These stories are passed on to younger generations by elders and storytellers. They have survived for thousands of years, but the loss of traditional languages and the separation of many Aboriginal people from their traditional land is a threat to their survival. While some of these stories are secret, or are seen as of such a sacred nature that they are only told by specific people to certain people (e.g. told by men to men, or by women to women), in the last 40 years many Aboriginal Dreamtime stories have been shared through children's books.

As a non-Aboriginal Australian (I should add that I might well have at least one Aboriginal ancestor), I love these stories and would like to see more of them written down by the people who own them for others to enjoy. Thankfully, many are being recorded but just as many aren't. For example, to date I haven't come across a written version of 'The Three Caterpillars' that I learned of when exploring Alice Springs.

Some traditional Dreamtime stories (these are older books but are well loved and were ground breaking in the 1970s and 1980s)

Some of my favourite Aboriginal Dreamtime stories have been passed down to all Australian children through the storytelling and wonderful art of Dick Roughsey (1924-1985) or Goobalathaldin to use his tribal name. He was from the island of Langu-narnji in the Gulf of Carpentaria in northern Australia. His first picture book 'The Giant Devil Dingo' received wide acclaim for the richness of the storytelling, the distinctiveness of his painted illustrations, with their vibrant colours, fascinating detail, and the integration of art and word. It tells of Old Eelgin, the grasshopper woman who was evil and had taught her giant dingo Gaiya to kill men for food. But one day Gaiya meets his match in the Chooku-Chooku (butcher-bird) brothers.

Another of my favourite works by Roughsey is 'The Rainbow Serpent' first published in 1975 and still available. It won the Children's Book Council of Australia award for best picture book in 1976. Goorialla (the Rainbow Serpent) travelled across Australia to find his tribe. As he travelled his tracks formed the mountains, the creeks, lagoons and rivers. The Bil-bil brothers plot to kill him. When Goorialla's anger is spent and he disappears into the sea the world is changed.

Dick Roughsey and Percy Trezise (1923-2005) formed a strong partnership to produce many wonderful books together. While Trezise was not Aboriginal he became Roughsey's brother in a traditional Aboriginal ceremony and was given the name 'Warrenby'. Roughsey lived with his wife and their six children on Mornington Island, but often spent half the year on the North Queensland mainland. He and Percy Trezise discovered and studied the art of Aboriginal cave galleries in the Laura region of Cape York. The Quinkin gallery inspired the award-winning books 'The Quinkins' and 'Turramulli' the 'Giant Quinkin'.

'The Quinkins' is a wonderful story that tells of the Yalanji tribe of Cape York and their encounters with the Quinkins, spirit people of the land with two tribes: Imjim and the Timara. Imjim were small fat-bellied fellows who stole children while Timara were funny and whimsical spirits who like to play tricks. They were tall and very thin and lived in the cracks of the rocks, and they didn't like the Imjim. This is the story of two children, Boonbalbee and Leealin.  This book was an IBBY Honour book in 1980, and was the Children's Book Council Book of Australia Picture Book of the Year in 1979.  As I travelled through northern Australia and looked at the crevices in the rocks the echoes of this story made me think, "could these be Quinkin rocks?" 

There are so many of their titles that I love and have enjoyed sharing with children. These include 'The Cave Painters' by Percy Trezise (1988) which tells of the experiences of two Bullanji children Nonda and Mayli as they travel to visit their mother's people, the Yalanji who live in 'Quinkin Country'. 'The Magic Firesticks' (Trezise & Roughsey) is another story of the Yalanji people in Cape York and tells how the people discovered the way to light fires, not simply sustain fires once they were alight. After monsoonal fires quenched all their fires two young men (Bandicoot and Curlew) travel to a far off Fire Mountain where it was said Didmunja (a wise man) had magic sticks which could produce fire when you wanted it.

'Banana Bird and the Snake Man' (Trezise & Roughsey) tells of a time when people who were later to become birds, animals, plants and reptiles were still in human form. The snake men of Cape York were cannibals who would kill people and hang them in trees to be collected later when they were hungry. This story tells of the triumph of Coucal the brother of Banana Bird man who avenges his brother's death and destroys the Snake men.  

Another wonderfully simple book is 'When the snake bites the sun' told by David (Bungal) Mowaljarlai, which was retold and illustrated by Pamela Lofts. This delightful story of the Ngarinyin tribe of Western Australia, tells the story of the sun and why it is as it is today. This was one of a series of simple picture books for preschool children produced in the 1980s some of which are still available. Other books in the series included 'Dunbi the owl', 'Echidna and the shade tree' and 'How the birds got their colours'. We owe Pamela Lofts (who lives in Alice Springs) a great debt for recording and illustrating many Aboriginal stories. You can find a full list here.

Tiddalik Rock (Wollombi NSW)
'What made Tiddalik Laugh' has been produced in various versions of varied authenticity. It is based on the 'Cylorana platycephala' (or Water-holding Frog) that swells as it swallows water. It is sometimes referred to as 'Molok' as well as 'Tiddalik'. The version I first read was Joanna Troughton's beautifully (and amusingly) illustrated version, although this might not be the most authentic traditional version of the story. Tiddalik woke up one morning with an unquenchable thirst. He began to drink all the fresh water he could find till he was satisfied and every creek and billabong was dry. All the creatures and plant life began to die, so the other animals decided to do something about it. But how could they get the water back? Wombat had the answer, make him laugh? But how? The amusing solution involved Platypus in Troughton's version of the story. The story is said to have originated in South Gippsland Victoria but is common along the Eastern seaboard of Australia, so this is unclear. The photo of this rock (opposite) known as Tiddalik rock is located near Wollombi in NSW. 

'Enora and the Black Crane', by Arone Raymond Meeks is another fine example of a traditional story being turned into a picture book. Arone Meeks is a member of the Kokoimudji tribe from the Laura area of far North Queensland. This story tells of Enora and how his killing of a crane led to birds acquiring their colours and him becoming the black crane. Winner of Australian IBBY Award for Children's Literature (1994), CBCA picture book of the year (1992) and UNICEF Ezra Jack Keats International Award Silver medal (1992). Arone Meeks also illustrated Catherine Berndt's wonderful book 'Pheasant and Kingfisher' (1987) that was shortlisted by the CBCA in 1988 and won the Crichton Award for Meeks in the same year.


A more recent book which I love is the 'Papunya School Book of Country and History' (2001). This isn't really a Dreamtime story, it is the story of the Anagu people of Central Australia. It offers a balanced telling of the people, their place, their culture and history. It does a good job in speaking of some of the difficult issues arising from the impact of white settlers. It is a wonderful collaboration between well-known non-Aboriginal advocate Nadia Wheatley and Aboriginal writers, storytellers and artists from the staff and students of Papunya School.

Another more recent community collaboration is 'Our World: Bardi Jaawi: Life At Ardiyooloon' (2011) by One Arm Point Remote Community School.  Ardiyooloon is home to the Bardi-Jaawi people and sits at the end of a red dirt road at the top of the Dampier Peninsula, 200km north of Broome in the north-west of Western Australia. 'Our World: Bardi-Jaawi Life at Ardiyooloon' takes readers inside the lives of the children of a remote Aboriginal community; lives that are very different to those experienced by most Australians. Worthy Honour book in the CBCA awards for 2011 in the 'Eve Pownall Award' for Information Books.

Yet another wonderful collaborative book is 'Playground' (2011) compiled by Nadia Wheatley with illustrations and design by Ken Searle, has been short-listed for the 2011 Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Awards. This is an unusual book isn't quite a graphic novel, but then again, it isn't simply a reference book.  Drawing on the stories of 80 Aboriginal Australian Elders, 20 Aboriginal secondary students and with Aboriginal Historian Dr Jackie Huggins as adviser and critical friend, Nadia Wheatley has created a unique collaborative work.  The book offers a wonderful insight into experiences of childhood for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from 1900 to the present. 

With stunning photographs and illustrations, it takes us into the daily life of Aboriginal children (past and present) who are connected with their land from birth. The stories and drawings help the reader to understand Aboriginal life in all its facets - learning, playing, understanding and respecting the earth, the first days of life, relationships in families, what 'home' was, languages, daily food gathering and hunting, the place of song, dance, art and ceremony.  With the arrival of European people there have been adaptations, but Aboriginal children remain embedded in their culture. Daily life is different, but Aboriginal children are still learning from country and community. This book would be a good introduction for readers who want to know more about Aboriginal people not simply read their stories.

Magabala Books

Magabala Books is Australia's leading Indigenous publisher. Based in the pearling town of Broome in the far north of Western Australia, it is one of the most remote publishing houses in the world. Since its incorporation in 1990, Magabala has been recognised as a producer of quality Indigenous Australian literature. Its books can be found on its own website or through other online stores and search engines. This will be very helpful for teachers.

Magabala is a not-for-profit organisation that preserves, develops and promotes Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language and cultures. It has released more than one hundred and fifty titles from a range of genres, many of which are still in print.

While I've enjoyed Magabala's books for some time, recently I had the chance to visit the publisher and consider all of their titles in 2018. As well, I was able to buy some for myself and as gifts for children in my family.