Wednesday 8 July 2020

Indigenous Picture Books

Lisa @ANZLitLover is hosting her annual Indigenous Literature Week. Normally this week is also NAIDOC week, but due to Covid it has been postponed until 8th -15th November. The 2020 theme is 
Always Was, Always Will Be. 
Always Was, Always Will Be. recognises that First Nations people have occupied and cared for this continent for over 65,000 years

The picture books below honour this theme with their focus on country, family, success past and present, dreaming, songlines and sharing language & culture. They share a pride in Aboriginal heritage, acknowledging the wrongs and the suffering but looking forward to a more hopeful, inclusive future.

Respect | Aunty Fay Muir & Sue Lawson | Magabala Books | 1st May 2020

You have to respect this book.

It's heart is in the right place. Every page reflects love of country and family.

Respect combines a deep concern for taking care of each other, with acknowledging cultural heritage and traditions. It generously shares a part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture with the wider community.

Magabala Books are planning a series of such books:
Respect is the first title in the ‘Our Place’ series of four children’s picture books which welcome and introduce children to important elements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.
Lisa Kennedy's illustrations are stunning. Full of warmth and colour and a pleasing simple design that engages and draws the reader in.

I can't wait to see the other three books in this series.

Aunty Fay Muir is a Boonwurrung Elder.
Lawson's first book with Aunty Fay was Nganga: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Words and Phrases.
Lisa Kennedy is a descendant of the coastal Trawlwoolway people of north-east Tasmania.

Family | Aunty Fay Muir & Sue Lawson | Magabala Books | 1st July 2020

Family is book two in the Our Place series of picture books from Magabala Books. It's an Indigenous picture book about heart and home.

These books are designed for a preschool aged audience. Simple, clear language is used to show how caring and sharing for country and mob is an integral philosophy of Aboriginal life. This book focuses on how daily rituals and traditions create belonging and connection.

The earthy tones and palate used by Seymour throughout the book, feature family groups interacting together with country.

Respect and Family are both gentle, positive introductions for younger readers to Indigenous family and culture.

Aunty Fay Muir is a Boonwurrung Elder.
This is the third book that Sue Lawson has written with Aunty Fay.
Jasmine Seymour a Darug writer and artist.

Cooee Mittigar | Jasmine Seymour | Magabala Books | 1st November 2019

The full title for this book is Cooee Mittigar: A Story of Darug Songlines.
Cooee mittigar means come here friend. Seymour & Watson, two Darug women, invite us inside to share their story and to pay respect to country.

Darug country encompasses the greater Sydney Basin and Hawkesbury River.

Seymour & Watson have created a story that celebrates the Darug language by embedding it naturally within the text.

A glossary at the back provides simple meanings for each new word, but each word is also explained on the page where it is used, separate to the main text.

Mulgo, Black Swan takes us on a history lesson through Dreamtime and songlines, before moving onto a seasonal journey through Darug country.
Cooee mittigar. Tread softly on our lands.

Know that this dreaming was here. Is still here.

Will be forever.

Beautifully illustrated with native animals and local plants.
This is my pick of the crop (so far) for Indigenous picture books published in the past year.

Shortlisted – 2020 CBCA Award for New Illustrator
Notable – 2020 CBCA Book of the Year Awards: Eve Pownall Award

Coming Home to Country | Bronwyn Bancroft | Little Hare Books | 1st February 2020

Bancroft's illustrations feel very personal. They feature the rivers of her childhood in northern NSW that flow from page to page. Love of country and nature jump off each page in bold colours as Bronwyn takes us on a journey through her home, past and present.

A sense of where her home is grounds her. Knowing where she belongs allows her to go out into the world to make her own way. 

Over the years, her way, has included time as a textile and fashion designer, artist, activist and children's picture book writer and illustrator.

In 2016 Bancroft was the Australian Finalist for the Hans Christian Andersen Award (Illustrator).

She is now a finalist for the 2020 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

Born in Tenterfield, in northern NSW, Bronwyn Bancroft is a descendant of the Djanbun clan of the Bundjalung nation.

Our Home, Our Heartbeat | Adam Briggs | Little Hare Books | 1st May 2020

Yorta Yorta rapper Adam Briggs' energetic, enthusiastic personality oozes from every page and lyric in this book.

In 2014 Briggs released a song during Naidoc week called The Children Came Back. The song celebrates successful, well-known Indigenous athletes and artists, past and present. It was written on the 25th anniversary of Archie Roach's song Took the Children Away to continue the conversation originally started by Roach. His aim is to normalise Indigenous success.

Briggs claims his song is a "history lesson, a monologue, a celebration and an education." 

I've included the lyrics from the song below but urge you to search out the various youtube videos of the song, including the live versions done with Paul Kelly and Dan Sultan.

I'm Fitzroy where the stars be
I'm Wanganeen in '93
I'm Mundine, I'm Cathy Free-
Man, that fire inside a me
I'm Adam Goodes, and Adam should
Be applauded when he stand up
You can look to us when that time stop
I'm Patty Mills with the last shot

I'm Gurrumul, I'm Archie
I'm everything that you ask me
I'm everything that you can't be
I'm the dead hearts, heart beat

The children came back
The children came back
Back where their hearts grow strong
Back where they all belong
The children came back

I'm Doug Nicholls, I'm jimmy little
With a royal telephone
I'm the world champ in '68
Boy I'm Lionel Rose
I'm William Cooper, I take a stand
When no one even knows
I'm the walk off, I'm the sound of
The children coming home

I'm Gurrumul, I'm Archie
I'm everything you ask me
I'm everything you can't be
I'm the dead hearts, heart beat

The children came back
The children came back
Back where their hearts grow strong
Back where they all belong
The children came back

Let me take it home, I'm Rumba
I'm the sand hills on Cummera
I'm Les Briggs, I'm Paul Briggs
I'm Uncle Ringo with all them kids
I'm Uncle Buddy - everybody love me
Ain't none below, ain't none above me
I'm the carvings outta every scar tree
I'm those flats that birthed Archie

Now Mr abbott, think about it - me and you we feel the same
That might sound strange, I'm just saying,
We both unsettled when the boats came

I'm Gurrumul, I'm Archie
I'm everything you ask me
I'm everything you can’t be
I'm the dead hearts, heart beat

The children came back
The children came back
Back where their hearts grow strong
Back where they all belong
The children came back.

Our Home, Our Heartbeat is a younger readers version of this song. Briggs then made a very deliberate decision to have non-traditional illustrations, choosing a contemporary, almost cartoon style with bold, bright colours and lots of action.

From Lunch Lady interview |  21st May 2020
the Dreamtime stories, which are all fantastic, and all the artwork is amazing and fantastic. But cool, we have that. Let’s not do that, because people who are really good at that are already doing it. Here’s my contribution. It’s not here to take away. It’s here to add....I wanted it to be really super vibrant. I wanted everything to be bright and colourful and not like earthy ochre tones. I wanted it to really pop.

Kate Moon is a Melbourne based designer and 3D artist.
Rachael Sarra is a contemporary Aboriginal artist from Goreng Goreng country.


  1. I do so love Bronwyn Bancroft's work. She did a book called Why I Love Australia, and honestly, I wanted to tear it and frame the paintings for my house! The kids loved it too, and of course it was perfect for the children to do their own version of why they love it too.

    1. Big Rain Coming was one of my favourite picture books back in my teaching days in country NSW. The theme of waiting for rain and a drought breaking was something all my classes were very familiar with.

  2. I love these and how wonderful they are available - thank you for sharing them!

  3. Probably just me, but I don't see a way to comment on Shelf Life. In any case, I say let go of all of them.

    1. It wasn’t you Deb, it was me! I keep forgetting to enable comments with the new editing template in blogger.
      And yes, this time it was easy to let all of them go.

  4. What a remarkable assortment. I like that you chose to focus on illustrated works this year: we could all do with a little more colour in our stacks!

    1. As a former preschool teacher, & now children’s specialist in an independent bookshop, I don’t spend anywhere near enough time reading & reviewing children’s books! I often make quick notes on goodreads, planning to turn them into something more long form later, but I rarely do. So posts like this a treat for me.

  5. Hi Brona

    Including this in the monthly wrap up for kids and YA - Ashleigh


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