*Cultural warning to Indigenous readers: This post contains the names of people who have passed away.
First Nations Reading Week 2022 is an annual reading event hosted by Lisa @ANZ LitLovers to coinincide with NAIDOC Week. The 2022 theme is Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! One of their aims is to ‘amplify our voices’.
As an observor of children’s picture books for over thirty years, I can categorically state that this is one area that First Nations writers and artists have been very successful in amplifying their voices.
When I started my early childhood teaching career thirty years ago, there were not many picture books for children written and illustrated by First Nations people. In fact, Dick Roughsey’s The Rainbow Serpent is the only one I can think of right now.
Roughsey spent most his career working with Percy Trezise, whose books I discussed in a previous Picture Book post for Lisa here. Roughsey’s entry on the Indigenous Australia Biography website also describes how influential his friendship with Trezise was.
In the mid 1980’s, Pamela Lofts created the Aboriginal Dreaming stories series after spending time in the Kimberleys. The stories were told to her by George Mung Mung Lirrmiyarri, Daisy Utemorrah, David Mowaljarlai, Mary Albert and other Aboriginal storytellers, and Lofts’ illustrations were also adapted from their paintings of the stories. We have come a long way in forty years.
Each year, it is getter harder and harder to choose which picture books to include in this post. There is so much choice, that I now enjoy the luxury of selecting by theme. For 2022, like our new Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, in his acceptance speech, I have focused on the Uluru Statement of the Heart.
Culture is Life is an Aboriginal-led not-for-profit organisation that works to inspire change for young Aboriginal people through cultural activities, projects and programs. They support Aboriginal-led solutions that deepen connection to culture and country. Culture is Life aims to ‘build awareness and educate the broader community to reframe the relationships Non-Aboriginal people have with Australia’s First Peoples’.
Welcome to Our Country is a five-book series designed to connect young children, teachers, parents and carers with First Nations history and cultures. Below are the first two books in the series.
Adam Goodes is an Adnyamathanha & Narungga man, community leader and a former Australian Rules Footballer. He was Australian of the Year in 2014.
Ellie Laing lives on the lands of the Cammeraygal people on the northern beaches of Sydney.
David Hardy is a Barkindji man, author and artist.
ISBN: 9781760526726 Imprint A&U Children's Published: November 2021 Awards: Longlisted ABIA Children's Picture Book of the Year 2022 Shortlisted Indie Book Awards Children's Book of the Year 2022
Somebody’s Land explores the idea of Terra Nullius in a way that 3-6 years can understand. They invite all their readers to read the Uluru Statement from the Heart. It is a book written with ‘a great sense of hope’ to show all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that ‘their culture is a gift to this country’. They invite all Australians to ‘walk with us…for a better future’.
For thousands and thousands of years,
Aboriginal people lived in the land we call Australia.
The land was where people
built their homes,
played in the sun,
and sat together to tell stories.
When the white people came,
they called the land
They said it was nobody’s land.
But it was somebody’s land.
When this book was first published, there was some discussion around the art style, which some reviewers found too ‘Disneyfied’ for their liking. Hardy is upfront in saying that he has taken ‘creative licence’ in regard to ‘historical accuracy, and clothing; and other details’ in a non-specific setting. His background is in gaming illustration and animation; his approach to illustrating picture books reflects this. Hardy’s desire is to get kids away from the TV and into reading books. Given how popular this series has been at my work, it would seem that his wish as come true.
Joyful and full of fun, Ceremony invites you to celebrate the rich traditions of dance, family, community and caring for Country from the world’s oldest continuous culture.
Authors: Adam Goodes & Ellie Laing Illustrator: David Hardy ISBN: 9781761065064 Imprint A&U Children's Published: April 2022 Format; Hardcover Pages: 24
Book two in the series, Ceremony has end papers which include a visual glossary of images accompanied by their Adnyamathanha language name plus their English translation. The nangga/welcome page reminds us that there are over 350 Firat Nations groups and languages, before explaining some of the specifics about Adnyamathanha society. Ceremony also includes a QR code so that you can listen to the story and the glossary, which is a great addition to remove some concerns teachers may have about pronouncing Indigenous words correctly.
The ceremony depicted in the story is about a gathering of the extended family to dance, tell stories and feast together. It refers to separate men and women’s business ‘each group has business the other can’t see’ before they come back together to eat and share stories.
Nangga! Nangga! Yakarti!
Tonight will be our Ceremony.
Adam Goodes, Michael O’Loughlin and James Gallichan together created the GO Foundation with a focus on education for Indigenous children. They provide scholarships, mentoring, leadership and network support from school to employment.
Thomas Mayor is a Torres Strait Islander man born on Larrakia country in Darwin. After the 2017 Uluru Convention, Thomas carried the canvas of the Uluru Statement of the Heart around the country to rally support & to invite all Australians to ‘walk with us’.
Born Adam Douglas Hill to an Aboriginal father of the Dhungutti people and an Irish-Australian mother, Blak Douglas lives and works in the Sydney suburb of Redfern.
ISBN: 9781741177176 Imprint: Hardie Grant Published: 1st June 2020
Finding the Heart: A story about the Uluru Statement for young Australians uses a straight forward, practical approach to sharing information about what the statement is, why it was needed and how it came about. It includes the AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia which is much easier for these older eyes to read on the website link I’ve included!
It focuses on the positive and hopeful message of finding ‘our nation’s heart to make it better’. At the heart is truth-telling. We, the readers, are invited to listen, see and learn. At the end of the story, several pages of information on how we ‘help to find our heart’ is included. Some of the ways include finding out ‘what First Nation you live in and acknowledge the traditional owners often’, learning some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language, and learning about the different seasons across Australia. A great place to start is with the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney who include information about the seasons for schools. The CSIRO also provides more detailed information for older readers.
Melissa Greenwood was born on her Gumbaynggirr jagun (homelands) in Coffs Harbour and raised between both Gumbaynggirr & Bundjalung nations. Melissa’s mother is a Gumbaynggirr custodian with strong ties to Bundjalung & Dunghutti. Her father has English & Welsh heritage. Melissa was raised by her single Aboriginal mother so identifies strongly with her Aboriginal heritage. She is a miimi (mum) of two beautiful giibarrin (boys).
ISBN: 9780733341632 Imprint: ABC Books Australia Published: 4th May 2022 Awards: Shortlisted Speech Pathology Australia Book of the Year 2022
Miimi Marraal: Mother Earth is a change of pace away from the political issues to the joy of new life. Greenwood uses a gentle, nurturing tone to stress the deep and enduring connection that exists between First Nations people and Miimi Marraal/Mother Earth. She kindly reminds us of the need to take care of all the ‘trees, plants, animals and seas’, to only take what we need. From this grows an abiding sense of belonging and protection. Warmth, generosity and joy flows across every page, leaving the reader feel like they’ve just been given a great big loving and welcoming hug.
Miimi Marraal, she created us,
you and me …
Greenwood describes her art as being ‘contemporary with a cultural lens and deeply personal’. Her language is Gumbaynggirr. For more information about First Languages Australia, teachers, parents and students are encouraged to explore the Gambay interactive map.
This is just a tiny taste of the exciting array now available in First Nations picture books. I hope you found this excursion so rewarding and enlightening, that tomorrow you race out to your local Independent bookshop to stock up on Indigenous story books for your children, grandchildren and classrooms.
- This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.