A few Australian children’s books to finish off AusReading Month 2022

Accidentally Kelly St illustrated by Briony Stewart with lyrics by Tim O’Connor from Frente!

For people of a certain age, or perhaps people who had young children in 1992/93, you will remember the bubbly, joyful, effervescent pop group Frente! bouncing around our screens in colourful clothes, hair rollers and pearls. Accidentally Kelly Street was the song you could not avoid – it was everywhere. It even turned up on The Late Show as a parody called Accidentally was Released. I was obviously far more cynical in my twenties than I am now as the parody tickled my fancy – a lot, while the song was far too sacchrine sweet for my usual tastes!

Accidentally Kelly Street
Where friends and strangers sometimes meet
Accidentally Kelly Street
I never thought life could be so sweet.
Accidentally Kelly St | Affirm Press

Thirty years later – let’s just stop a moment and let that sink in – THIRTY years later Briony Stewart has created a moving visual narrative to bring back all those warm fuzzy 1992 feels. Naturally, there is a little more to it though than a simple homage to a quirky pop band.

Kelly St is now home to a family new to Australia. A young family that have obviously fled a country that is no longer safe for them to live in.

Stewart shows us how this family adjust to their new home and how they are welcomed and accepted into the community by their new neighbours. The illustrations bubble over with optimism and joy, summer time with jacarandas in full bloom, cricket bats & street parties. Thirty years later, Frente!’s hopeful words of kindness are needed more than ever!

For those of you in WA, you might like to know that Stewart is one of yours. According to her bio at Affirm Press she “is re-examining the world through the eyes of her two young children. She works from a studio at the back of a children’s bookshop in her beloved port city of Fremantle, WA.”

Born to Fly written by Patrick Guest and illustrated by Jonathan Bentley was first published in 2017 by Little Hare as The Second Sky. At the time it was shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the year award the following year.

I’m not sure why they and/or Hardie Grant decided to reissue a new edition five years later, but it is lovely to revisit such a delightful picture book. Certainly the new title has more ‘pick me up’ appeal, but not a lot else appears to have changed, so I am rather curious.

Gilbert is a baby penguin that wants to fly like the albatross and other birds. But penguins do not fly. His family tell him to give up but Gilbert keeps trying, eventually launching himself off an iceberg. He tumbles and falls into the water beneath and discovers that he is flying, dipping and diving, through the water. Obviously courage, persistence, a sense of adventure and hopefulness are the qualities being promoted by Gilbert.

Bentley uses a lovely blue-white palette throughout to create a peaceful, almost magical visual narrative where the land, the sky and the sea merge together. Maybe we all need to be reminded how beautiful and magical our planet really is and that small acts of resolve can make a difference?

Finally, a quick word about Craig Silvey’s new foray into middle grade fiction land.

Runt is the delightful, heartwarming (it really is!) story about Annie and her dog Runt, who has some anxiety issues. They live in a small country town dominated by a greedy water baron. All the farms are drying up, facing financial difficulties, except his. When Annie & Runt unexpectedly win a dog competition they find themselves jetting off to England and the Royal Canine Exhibition Centre with the chance to win the large prize on offer.

This is the first time I get to say that a book has an Elizabethian setting. Once Annie and Runt arrive in London, many comments are made about the Queen living in Buckingham Palace. I’m sure when Silvey was writing this ‘timeless’ story he didn’t realise how quickly it would become date specific.

Although maybe he was hedging his bets after all, as one of the judges for the Dog Show is a woman named Camilla!

Runt | Allen & Unwin

For anyone who has watched the film Babe (1995) or read Charlotte’s Web (1952), you will know that none of these feats occurred easily or without many hurdles. Runt also shares with them such qualities as overcoming obstacles, working together, being yourself, and trust. A hopeful ending is guaranteed, but not without some surprises.

Runt is the perfect family read aloud book.

Silvey explains in this interview, that Runt came out of the exhaustion he felt after finishing Honeybee. He needed something lighthearted and enchanting to replenish his soul. Spending time with resourceful, optimistic Annie achieved this. She works the same magic on her readers.

There is, of course, a lot more to Runt (including the lovely illustrations by Sara Acton) than this brief summary provides, but it’s best for you to discover this for yourself. And I’m too tired to write anymore tonight!

  • 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.

9 thoughts on “A few Australian children’s books to finish off AusReading Month 2022

  1. All of these look lovely Brona, Runt especially and also Born to Fly. The only Australian children’s books I’ve read so far are the Seven Little Australians series and Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, but am keen to explore more.

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    1. Thanks Nancy.

      I’m halfway through one more Australian novel (Salonika Burning) which I ran out of time to finish reading on the weekend (as I had hoped to do), and I was too tired last night after work to finish my Voss review properly. Thankfully I had a kid’s post in the wings as my standby one for just such an emergency!

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  2. Pingback: 2022 | The Books

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