Storytime with Shantelle: The delights of Indigenous picture book are endless…

Aboriginal Art - Benedikt
The thing I usually love the most about Indigenous picture books is the beautiful artlessness of the stories; a gentle building up of insights and observations. I always find the stories to be gentle and rather calming with almost Buddhist like observations in regards to time and the natural world. This makes sense when one considers that Indigenous stories ask the reader to connect with nature; not control or destroy it. I like that Indigenous picture books often celebrate the history and culture of Aboriginal people. I now know (thanks to Summer Rain by Ros Moriarty) that they had a wet and dry season and that there were six Australian seasons and these were linked to the plants and animals and their reactions to the environment around them. I also know (thank you to Trina Saffioti and Norma MacDonald for Stolen Girl) that to take an Aboriginal child and thrust them into an alien white world is both cruel and bewildering. I also learnt how a young dingo may feel when his home is destroyed by mining and how such destruction can impact on both the land and the community. (Dingo’s Tree by Gladys and Jill Milroy). Indigenous books EDUCATE but not in a prosy, insufferable way. They are a gentle nudge in the right direction and I often think this is how Indigenous children must have been taught in the outback, seated, faces lifted and ready to listen.

stloen girl
A stolen girl

summer rain
Summer rain 

Dingo’s tree

Other beautiful examples of this humane journey to understanding are the three following books. Caterpillar and Butterfly by Ambelin Kwaymullina is a sweet story of courage and change. The author uses simple yet lyrical language that creates a clear picture in the minds of young readers. A young caterpillar nervously refuses to accompany friends on their bush adventures and it is not until she emerges from her chrysalis that she realises that she is both brave and bold. The pictures are bright and startling with a distinctive Indigenous style. Readers will love both the story and the illustrations. This story is a lovely analogy of courage and perseverance and would help a parent explain to their child why sometimes one must be brave.

Caterpillar and butterfly

The Two Hearted Numbat is another lovely read by Ambelin Kwaymullina and also Ezekiel Kwaymullina. It was a notable book for the Children’s Book Council of Australia in 2009 and it shares with  Carterpillar and Butterfly a visual vibrancy where colours burst from the page. I loved the story about the confused numbat who has two hearts. One heart is like a feather and it allows numbat to always consider others and practice kindness. The other heart is a stone and with it numbat is brave and fearless. He can’t decide which heart is necessary and it is not until he must use both of them that he discovers that both hearts (kindness and strength) are necessary in life. There is always a strong emphasis on nature as teacher that I particularly enjoy in Indigenous picture books. A nice change from humans as the only tools for guidance.

The Two-hearted numbat

Sam’s Bush Journey by Sally Morgan and Ezekiel Kwaymullina is a brillant, eye catching feast.  The illustrations are bold and sharply defined by stark, black outlines and Indigenous dot paintings. The story is about Sam, a young Aboriginal boy who has not been brought up in the bush. His nanna tries to teach him the wonder of the outback but he merely complains that it gives him a headache. It is during a dream that Sam remembers his grandparent’s wise words. The bush can help him find shelter, water and food. If he pays attention, it is his faithful companion and will not abandon him to starvation and exposure. Again there is that connection to nature that all young readers can understand. I don’t believe the messages found in Indigenous picture books are reserved solely for Aboriginal youth; they are a learning tool for all children.

bush journeySam’s bush journey

A fantastic way to allow kids to experience Aboriginal art and their affinity to nature is to let them create their own Indigenous-inspired art.

You can take your inspiration from nature or some of our Junior Non-Fiction books on Indigenous Art.

They can study a graphic symbols chart and come up with a story about a young child’s journey through the outback. What would they see? What hardship would they have to face? What could they eat and drink? This story can then be transferred to butcher paper or other large sheets and work wonderfully with chalk and oil pastels.

Challenge your child to think up new symbols for certain animals or experiences. Maybe a symbol for :

  • bush fire
  • flood
  • lightning
  • cockatoo
  • wallaby

There are many beautiful Indigenous songs that are shared in English and also songs that celebrate being Indigenous and their homeland. This is one of them.

I’m going to keep on reading Indigenous picture books because I love their honesty and simplicity. I recommend them to parents who wish to convey to their young reader what is it to be part pf a greater world, a world that transcends their homes, neighbourhood and city.

The delightful books mentioned in this blog can be found at City of Cockburn Libraries. Visit our catalogue to see which library has them available.