Hi everyone and welcome to my fifth book review. Since I have just been on holiday in Australia, I decided that reviewing an Australian author would be a cool thing to do. Not knowing which book to review, I rocked up to the counter at a local bookshop and asked the assistant for a favourite picture book by an Australian author. She duly presented one to me. The front cover held lots of promise, including a gold sticker proclaiming it as a short-listed book in the Australian Children’s Book of the Year award a few years ago, so I purchased it with some excitement and without opening it.
My philosophy is to always give an honest review. Unfortunately, while I love the quirky illustrations in the book I purchased, I can’t ignore the two very bad examples of forced rhyme and the cliché around which I suspect the whole book was built.
So, I have abandoned that review and have decided to review instead Playground, a collection of indigenous stories from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compiled by Nadia Wheatley, an Australian writer with an extensive publishing background in picture books, novels, biography and history.
Playground isn’t a picture book, it’s a book with pictures. The pictures are illustrations or photographs interspersed throughout the text. The text is dense but engaging. The title refers to the notion that playing and learning are one: “As kids journeyed with their families from place to place, it was often impossible to tell the difference between playing and learning” (from the Introduction). And from the section The right way of learning: “Older kids also pass on knowledge to the younger ones, especially in the playground of the bush.”
The book is divided into sections that roughly follow a child’s learning journey. Nadia’s introduction to each section and each storyteller is in a rust colour to differentiate it from the actual stories. The stories themselves are written in the voices of the storytellers. There are stories from elders who remember the old ways, stories from the stolen generation and stories from young people growing up in the twenty-first century; some of them don’t make for easy reading. The connection to land, family and tradition is a strong thread throughout the book. In the introduction Nadia writes, “The culture that underlies these narratives is holistic: everything connects no matter which way you come at it.”
While the suggested audience for this book is upper primary, secondary and adults, the stories are accessible for younger children, especially if read aloud by a parent or caregiver.
I appreciate that this blog has a primarily US audience and this book may seem far removed from America. However, I believe that books like this are crucial for all of us who live in a land first occupied by indigenous people. Nadia Wheatley, while not Aboriginal nor a Torres Strait Islander, has compiled these stories with care and empathy, allowing the voices and emotions of the storytellers to shine.
Footnote: Except for the cover, the images on this page are general images from Australia intended to give a feel for the book but they are not from the book itself.