Philip Bunting: Who Am I?

Illustrated by the author

Published by Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia, 2020

I wish someone had given me this book to read when my children were young and wondering about concepts that were difficult to explain. Asking simple questions and giving thoughtful responses, Philip Bunting tackles some of the most profound questions we can ask ourselves at any age, starting with: Who am I?

This picture book begins and ends with rainbow end papers, and in the middle we discover that human beings are more than just their names or the stuff they own or their gender. We are even more than the colour of our skin or the way we think and feel. All of us are just people, one of many “pootling around” on a vast earth orbiting a sun in an infinite universe.

That could be scary for some, but ultimately our uniqueness, individuality and humanity can be the stuff that helps us to connect with one another, across all the things that outwardly make us feel different.

Each question is posed on a different coloured background on the left page with a corresponding answer underneath. On the page opposite there is an illustration to help explain the idea. As always with Philip Bunting, there is gentle humour in the text, with a “humourless jellyfish” appearing on the skeleton page and a note in the small print about guts and stuff suggesting that the bladder is not the organ of consciousness!

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years, it’s a thoughtful introduction for discussions which promote philosophical ideas about identity, self-love, self-perception and inclusivity. Below are more suggested picture book reads that cover similar themes, both humorously and seriously:

Avocado Asks by Momoko Abe

Be More Bernard by Simon Philip Illustrated by Kate Hindley

I am NOT an Elephant
by Karl Newson
Illustrated by Ross Collins

I Am Enough by Grace Byers Illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo

We’re All Wonders by R.J.Palacio

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont Illustrated by David Catrow

It’s Okay to be Different
by Todd Parr

The Day You Begin
by Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by Rafael Lopez

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

Under My Hijab by Hena Khan Illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

Thelma the Unicorn
by Aaron Blabey

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox Illustrated by Leslie Staub

Perfectly Norman by Tom Percival

10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert Illustrated by Rex Ray

Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt Illustrated by Selina Alko
and Sean Qualls

Mary Wears What She Wants
by Keith Negley

Neither by Airlie Anderson

Armin Greder: Diamonds

Illustrated by the author

Published by Allen & Unwin, 2020

I have always approached Armin Greder’s work with fear, trepidation and respect.

I have also struggled with the categorisation of his illustrated works as picture books. But, there they are, for all to borrow in the children’s section of the library.

For me, the art is confronting and powerful as Greder tackles complex issues like separatism, repression, exploitation, war, conflict, slavery and the plight of refugees. 

Apart from a few paragraphs of dialogue at the beginning and end of Diamonds, the main story is told without words. It is the compelling, razor sharp dialogue between mother and daughter, however, that raises the hairs on my arms.

I have diamonds in my engagement ring. Have I ever wondered where they came from? No. Have I ever asked about which country in the world they were mined or whether the labourers were treated well and fairly paid? No. Would I buy diamonds again or have them bought for me? Not without asking a few questions about provenance and whether the process of the diamonds’ manufacture was without conflict. Could I ever really be sure of the answers?

In this picture book, Gerder has revealed the complex chain of exchange from impoverished mine worker to armed militia to anonymous men in black suits and dark limousines with briefcases full of money, to jewellery makers…ending up eventually in elegant boutiques where a thoughtful purchase of diamond earrings for a beloved partner is transacted in quiet, plush, genteel surroundings.

The story makes me think, and I am left feeling uncomfortable and prodded. There is an afterword by journalist Francesco Boille at the end of the book and a statement by Riccardo Noury, representing Amnesty International Italy. As well, there are two magnificent quotes by past statesmen, Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.

I encourage you to read this picture book and share it with young readers who are over 8 years old. Below I have recommended other picture books that deal with confronting issues such as racism, war and repression as well as books about brave people (fictional and real) who have deviated from the well-travelled path:

Malala’s Magic Pencil
by Malala Yousafzai
Illustrated by Kerascoet

We Are All Equal by P.Crumble Illustrated by Jonathan Bentley

Yoko by Rosemary Wells

Skin Again by Bell Hooks
Illustrated by Chris Raschka

The Rabbits by John Marsden Illustrated by Shaun Tan

I Dissent by Debbie Levy
Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

It’s Okay to be Different
by Todd Parr

A is for Activist
by Innosanto Nagara

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman Illustrated by Caroline Binch

The Island by Armin Greder

The Mediterranean
by Armin Greder

Room on our Rock
by Kate and Jol Temple
Illustrated by Terri Rose Baynton

My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald Illustrated by Freya Blackwood

A Different Pond by Bao Phi Illustrated by Thi Bui