The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek won the CBCA award for Best Picture Book in 1974 for Jenny Wagner and illustrator Ron Brooks.
When I first saw this book as a young child in our school library, the cover scared me so much I never opened the book.
It wasn’t until I started my teaching career, that I finally succumbed to all the rave reviews and the “OMG you’ve never read TBOBC?” comments from my colleagues.
And yes, the first few pages can be quite gloomy, scary and dark.
As the bunyip emerges from the swamp covered in mud, pondering “what am I?” you’re not quite sure if this is going to be worth your while. But as you get to know the bunyip and go with him on his existential journey to discover who he is, you come to care about him.
We understand the bunyip’s need in seeking such approval and validation. Pathos is the predominant emotion as the bunyip asks the other animals in turn, “am I handsome?” and “what do bunyips look like?“.
Until frightening Mr Big Head Scientist tells him that a bunyip looks like nothing, for the very simple reason that bunyip’s don’t exist!
By now, even the most hard-hearted reader wants to wrap the shattered bunyip up in a great big warm-fuzzy bear hug.
We are, therefore, all delighted, when he eventually stumbles across another swamp and another creature emerging from the mud mumbling, “what am I?”
In the guise of a bunyip, Wagner explores the perennially popular CBCA theme of belonging.
Over the years I have had to be cautious about which classes I read this story to. The first few pages in particular have been known to cause nightmares in many four year olds.
But for many, many more, the fate of the bunyip has become a very personal call to find someone who believes in them and accepts them for who they really are.