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

Family
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

Lauren Child: The Goody

Illustrated by the author

Published by Orchard Books, Hachette Children’s Group, 2020

I have read this picture book many times now and I still don’t know where to start. It’s not that I don’t like it, because I actually love it. And it’s not that I don’t have any thoughts about it, because I probably have too many, long after reading it.

Chirton Krauss (what a name!) is the main character and he is the very goodest goody. He is obliging, always eating his broccoli, even though it is his least favourite food. He has good manners, never picking his nose, even when he knows for sure that no-one is looking. He is kind, cleaning out the rabbit’s hutch once a week, even though his sister Myrtle should do it every other week.

Chirton’s parents are so happy with him, that they give him a Goody Badge. Now everyone knows and can never forget that Chirton is a goody. And then in red letters, like a commentary, we read:

If people have decided you are good, do not disappoint them by being bad.

So instead of this feeling of lightness that being good should bring, there is now an unsettling undercurrent of doubt. Where does goodness come from and should we continue being good for our own benefit or because of the expectations of others?

Myrtle, Chirton’s sister, seems to have things all worked out and is riding the wave of life on the back of her brother’s goodness. Myrtle is not invited to parties because she is not a good child, she isn’t made to eat vegetables she doesn’t like, and she is not expected to do her share of the cleaning of the rabbit’s hutch. And in red letters, we are informed:

That is lucky, isn’t it?

So instead of accepting the status quo, we are now thinking that life can be unfair for those who least deserve it.

When Chirton discovers his sister staying up late one night eating choco puffs and watching TV, simply because the babysitter can’t convince Myrtle to go to bed, it feels like that is one straw too many for a Goody to accept. Chirton finally asks himself:

What is so GOOD about being a Goody?

So, you see, the story is complicated, and it is not even finished! It throws up questions about why we do what we do, how our behaviour impacts others, why expectations are so hard to live up to, what is fair and what is not fair, and that sometimes you can be kind and nice just because it feels good when you are kind and nice. And the world needs more people who are trying to be good, don’t you think?

I can highly recommend this picture book for children 4-8 years, it could be the starting point for long talks about what being good means and that could be applied to children and adults alike. Below are more suggestions for picture books which explore the themes of good and bad behaviour:

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller Illustrated by Jen Hill

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
by Judith Viorst
Illustrated by Ray Cruz

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson Illustrated by Tara Calahan King

Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak

Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild!
by Mem Fox
Illustrated by Marla Frazee

Words Are Not for Hurting by Elizabeth Verdick
Illustrated by Marieka Heinlen

Llama Llama and the Bully Goat by Anna Dewdney

Don’t Want To Go!
by Shirley Hughes

It’s Okay to Make Mistakes
by Todd Parr

Leonardo the Terrible Monster
by Mo Willems

Should I Share My Ice Cream?
by Mo Willems

What Have You Done, Davy?
by Brigitte Weninger
Illustrated by Eve Tharlet

No, David! by David Shannon

Erandi’s Braids
by Antonio Hernandez Madrigal
Illustrated by Tomie dePaola

Piggybook by Anthony Browne

When Mum Turned Into A Monster by Joanna Harrison

Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten
by Bob Graham

The Elephant and the Bad Baby
by Elfrida Vipont
Illustrated by Raymond Briggs

Because Amelia Smiled
by David Ezra Stein

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

Elizabeth Honey: That’s not a daffodil!

Illustrated by the author

Published by Allen and Unwin, NSW, 2011

Daffodils are the great heralders of spring. Like soft, yellow, downy chickens they speak of new life and hope. How something so colourful and beautiful can grow from an unassuming flaky brown bulb is one of the wonderful mysteries of life.

When Mr Yilmaz from next door gives young Tom his very first daffodil bulb, Tom thinks it is an onion. From a certain point of view, he could be quite right.

With the daffodil in the pot, every stage of its growth can be witnessed. For a long time, nothing happens. Tom is uncertain that anything will happen. With water and a bit of sunshine, a small green shoot eventually appears. To Tom, it resembles a green beak. As it grows, it starts to look more like a hand with five fingers waving in the breeze. After a few more weeks, it appears like a yellow streetlight. After months of waiting, a glorious golden yellow trumpet finally emerges.

There are so many lessons to take away from this simple story.

There is the constant friendship of Mr Yilmaz next door. He gives the gift of patience and steadfastness to young Tom when he hands over the daffodil. Patience for waiting; it takes time to grow something. Steadfastness in friendship; being there in times of doubt and growth.

There is the idea that what you and I see when we look at same thing together will not always be the same. Mr Yilmaz saw a bulb, young Tom saw an onion. Sometimes it is a gift to share a tried and true experience with someone who has never had it. Your perspective can be altered and enriched by someone else’s point of view.

There is the idea of nurturing. Plants grow with earth, water, light and time. People grow with love, encouragement and friendship. But we also need the earth, water, light and time. These are wonderful truths for young readers to contemplate.

I highly recommend this picture book for children 3-8 years.

For further reading I have chosen titles that explore the concept of perception, seeing a part of something and seeing the whole of something can make a world of difference!

Seven Blind Mice
by Ed Young
I See , I See by
Robert Henderson
I am NOT an Elephant
by Karl Newson
Illustrated by
Ross Collins
Brenda is a Sheep
by Morag Hood
They All Saw a Cat
by Brendan Wenzel
The Black Rabbit by
Philippa Leathers
I am a Tiger by
Karl Newson
Illustrated by
Ross Collins