Sally Morgan: The River

Illustrated by Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr

Published by Magabala Books, WA, 2021

Sally Morgan is a descendant of the Palyku people from the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr is an award-winning artist who has collaborated with Sally on a previous picture book, Little Bird’s Day. Johnny, a Yolŋu man, lives in East Arnhem Land with other members of the Ganalbingu clan, and strives to use painting, song, and dance as mediums for others to learn more about Aboriginal culture.

In this picture book, we are invited to wander along the riverbank and use our eyes to look and our ears to listen as we encounter the animals living there. We see green ants crawling, goannas running, turtles peeping, kangaroos jumping and snakes sliding. We hear frogs croaking, fish splashing, emus calling, and crocodiles chomping. The rhythm of the text reminds me of Bill Martin and Eric Carle’s picture book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?  In a similar way, the repetition of the questions and the answering prose in The River makes this an easy story to remember and read, even for the very young.

The illustrations use a limited colour palette of cerulean blue, dusty browns, and muted oranges and reds, giving the reader a sense of being under the wide-open Australian sky and standing near the muddy riverbank, watching and listening to the sights and sounds of that unique environment.

The River  is a wonderful introduction to Australian wildlife and an invitation for young readers to use their eyes and ears when they are immersed in their own neighbourhoods, backyards, and parkland environments. There are sights and sounds all around us, birds calling, crickets chirping, owls hooting, kookaburras laughing, and magpies singing. So, take a moment today, go outside and look and listen!

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 3-6 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which focus on Australian wildlife:

Australian Baby Animals
by Frane Lessac

My Big Book of Australian Animals
by Roger Priddy

An A to Z Story of Australian Animals
by Sally Morgan
Illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft

A is for Australian Animals
by Frane Lessac

A – Z of Australian Animals by Jennifer Cossins

An Australian ABC of Animals by Bronwyn Bancroft

Little Bird’s Day
by Sally Morgan
Illustrated by Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr

Hello, Australia!
by Megan McKean

Rod Campbell’s Aussie Animals by Rod Campbell

Koalas eat gum leaves.
by Laura & Philip Bunting

Emu by Claire Saxby
Illustrated by Graham Byrne

Kookaburras love to laugh.
by Laura & Philip Bunting

Dingo by Claire Saxby Illustrated by Tannya Harricks

Edwina the Emu
by Sheena Knowles
Illustrated by Rod Clement

Olga the Brolga by Rod Clement

Possum Magic by Mem Fox Illustrated by Julie Vivas

Diary of a Wombat
by Jackie French
Illustrated by Bruce Whatley

Pouch! by David Ezra Stein

Miss Lily’s Fabulous Pink Feather Boa by Margaret Wild Illustrated by Kerry Argent

Bilby by Edel Wignell
Illustrated by Mark Jackson

Hop Up! Wriggle Over!
by Elizabeth Honey

When We Go Walkabout by Rhoda & Alfred Lalara

Can You Find Me?
by Gordon Winch
Illustrated by
Patrick Shirvington

Wombat Stew
by Marcia K. Vaughan Illustrated by Pamela Lofts

Snuggle Pot and Cuddlepie
by May Gibbs

The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall

One Potoroo by Penny Jaye Illustrated by Alicia Rogerson

Jumping Joeys by Sarah Allen

Helen Milroy: Backyard Bugs

Illustrated by the author

Published by Fremantle Press, WA, 2021

Helen Milroy is a First Nations artist and illustrator, born in Perth and a descendant of the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Helen has dedicated this picture book to her brother David, in remembrance of all those times when they were children, finding bugs together in the wide outdoors.

I don’t remember looking for insects and bugs in my childhood, but I do remember being stung by bees many times and my mother using toothpaste to soothe the painful wound. We saw lots of bull ants in the red soil of my grandfather’s farm in Monbulk and heavy, iridescent beetles winging their way to shade under the chestnut trees.

When I am out in the garden today, I’m happy to find a ladybug. They are feather light, small and delicate, unique in colour and the number of dots they carry on their backs. Sometimes I see praying mantises too, swaying hypnotically, until they pounce, faster than you can imagine, upon an unsuspecting fly. Some spider webs are engineering marvels, and make you think of strands of pearls on dewy mornings.

This picture book is a wonderful introduction to the world of insects and bugs for very young children. You could walk out the back door and discover all of them in your backyard. Ants marching, dragonflies flitting, worms wriggling, spiders hanging, snails slipping and sliding, crickets chirping and ladybirds landing upon your sleeve. Each insect has its own double page spread, simple rhyme, and is illustrated using bright and vibrant colours nestled within stunning indigenous designs.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 2-4 years and below are more suggestions for picture books which feature insects and bugs:

Some Bugs by Angela DiTerlizzi Illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

Bugs Everywhere by Lily Murray Illustrated by Britta Teckentrup

Bug Bear by Patricia Hegarty Illustrated by Carmen Saldana

Peep Inside Bug Homes
by Anna Milbourne
Illustrated by Simona Dimitri

Beehive by Jorey Hurley

The Spider and the Fly
by Mary Botham Howitt
Illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi

Caterpillar and Bean
by Martin Jenkins
Illustrated by Hannah Tolson

Flutter by, Butterfly
by Petr Horacek

I Love Bugs by Emma Dodd

What the Ladybird Heard
by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Lydia Monks

Superworm by Julia Donaldson Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The Woolly Bear Caterpillar
by Julian Donaldson
Illustrated by Yuval Zommer

A Butterfly is Patient
by Dianna Hutts Aston
Illustrated by Sylvia Long

Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni

Be Nice to Spiders
by Margaret Bloy Graham

Ten Little Caterpillars
by Bill Martin Jr.
Illustrated by Lois Ehlert

Caterpillar Butterfly
by Vivian French
Illustrated by Charlotte Voake

Yucky Worms by Vivian French Illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg

Arabella Miller’s Tiny Caterpillar
by Clare Jarrett

Alpha Bugs by David A. Carter

How Many Bugs in a Box?
by David A. Carter

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
by Eric Carle

The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle

The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle

The Very Clumsy Click Beetle
by Eric Carle

The Very Lonely Firefly by Eric Carle

Amy McQuire: Day Break

Illustrated by Matt Chun

Published by Little Hare Books, Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing, 2021

I remember sitting at the kitchen table the day before Australia Day this year and asking my daughter how she would be spending that annual holiday. Her response was to go to work as usual and take the holiday any other day but that one. It made me pause for a moment and think again about what I had gained at the expense of what others had lost. When we reflect upon Australia Day from the perspective of those whose land this has belonged to for so many tens of thousands of years, then our response to it must also be challenged.

Day Break confronts this uncomfortable truth and tells the story of how one family from three different generations approaches Australia Day.

At school, a young girl learns that January 26 marks the day “that white men discovered our country.” At home, her father tells her that his ancestors were already here for many thousands of years. And Nan says that they will not be celebrating the day by sleeping in or eating fish and chips or going to the beach, instead they will be going back to Country and remembering those who died and lost everything when British settlers came to this land.  

Amy McQuire is a Darumbal and South Sea Islander mother and journalist from Rockhampton in Queensland and in this picture book she has written a narrative not only for her two young children, but for all Aboriginal children so that they can see themselves and their place in Australian history.

The story is a gentle but forceful reminder of what happened more than 200 years ago, the survival of the Indigenous people and their continuing fight for recognition as custodians and owners of this land in the past, present and future.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4 years and above, and below are more suggestions for picture books which help us to understand Country and what it means to be an Indigenous person in Australia:

My Culture and Me
by Gregg Dreise

I Saw, We Saw
by Yolnu Students of
Nhulunbuy Primary School,
with Ann James and Ann Haddon

Took the Children Away
by Archie Roach
Illustrations by Ruby Hunter

Welcome to Country
by Aunty Joy Murphy
Illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

Sea Country
by Aunty Patsy Cameron
Illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

by Aunty Fay Muir and Sue Lawson Illustrated by Jasmine Seymour

My People by Eddie Betts

Coming Home to Country
by Bronwyn Bancroft

Wilam: a Birrarung Story
by Aunty Joy Murphy
and Andrew Kelly
Illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

Walking in Gagudju Country: exploring the Monsoon Forest
by Diane Lucas and Ben Tyler Illustrated by Emma Long

Baby Business by Jasmine Seymour

Finding Our Heart: a story about the Uluru Statement
for young Australians
by Thomas Mayor
Illustrated by Blak Douglas

Cooee Mittigar:
a story of Darug Songlines
by Jasmine Seymour
Illustrated by
Leanne Mulgo Watson

Sorry Day by Coral Vass
Illustrated by Dub Leffler

My Story by Shirley Purdie

Main Abija: My Grandad
by Karen Rogers

Aunty Fay Muir and Sue Lawson: Respect

Illustrated by Lisa Kennedy

Published by Magabala Books, WA, 2020

A few days ago I was encouraged by my daughter to listen to an On Being podcast hosted by Krista Tippett. In early July, Krista had interviewed Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, and Resmaa Menakem, trauma specialist, not many weeks after George Floyd had been killed. Whilst I had difficulty grasping some of the concepts discussed, I was left with one kernel of truth: the colour of my skin has given me many more advantages and benefits in my own life than I have hitherto been unaware of and, sadly, have failed to recognise and acknowledge.

At the end of her huband’s presidency, Michelle Obama released her book Becoming, and she also does not shy away from the fact that being a person of colour has had an impact upon everything she has achieved and not achieved in her remarkable and inspirational life.

In the light of this, I came across this very special picture book written by Fay Muir and Sue Lawson and illustrated by Lisa Kennedy. Fay is a Boonwurrung Elder and Lisa Kennedy is a descendant of coastal Trawlwoolway people of north-east Tasmania. Sue grew up on a farm in Western Victoria.

Respect is the theme and it encompasses everything: respect for the stories we share, songs we sing, elders from whom we gain insight, ancestors who inform our history, the earth we inhabit, our family, each other and ourselves. The illustrations complement the text and evoke the colours of Australia, as well as showcasing the unique wonder of Aboriginal art and culture. The idea I take away with me from this picture book is that no matter who you are, where you have come from, whatever colour your skin is, whether you are animal or human, respect is the cornerstone of society and harmonious life.

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years old and encourage you to look for more titles by Aboriginal authors and illustrators. I have also included Bruce Pascoe’s Young Dark Emu in the list below and recommend it for children 10 years old and above.

Backyard Birds by
Helen Milroy
Little Bird’s Day by
Sally Morgan
Illustrated by
Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr
Why I Love Australia by
Bronwyn Bancroft
Colours of Australia by
Bronwyn Bancroft
Clever Crow by
Nina Lawrence
Illustrated by
Bronwyn Bancroft
By the children of Gununa
with Alison Lester and
Elizabeth Honey
Found by
Bruce Pascoe
Illustrated by
Charmaine Ledden-Lewis
Young Dark Emu:
A Truer History
by Bruce Pascoe
Family by Aunty Fay Muir
and Sue Lawson
Illustrated by
Jasmine Seymour

Sea Country
by Aunty Patsy Cameron Illustrated by Lisa Kennedy