Having pretty satisfactorily completed our Antarctic explorations—I don’t want to push it to the point that Bella gets bored; better to leave off when she’s still fascinated by penguins—I’ve decided we should move on to Australia. So I put a few books in our library queue, starting with an Australian author Bella already knows and loves.
How we found Alison Lester, I’m not sure. Somehow when Bella was very little and we first began going to our town library Lester’s books were in a section that Bella kept returning to again and again. Just the right height or next to the table she liked to sit at or something. The illustration style is very distinctive and charming and we’ve explored a variety of books from counting books to stories about the seasons and stories about babies. When I began to look for Australia themed picture books, Lester’s name came up on a list and I was excited to add a few of her books to our pile. A couple of them were nice stories but not peculiarly Australian in theme. The one that has been most useful in helping us all to get a sense of geography, though is Are We There Yet?
The story follows a little girl named Grace and her family—Mum, Dad and brothers, Luke and Billy—as they take a three-month vacation to drive around the continent. (I love that the parents pull the kids out of school for the entire winter term. Roam-schooling!) The family visits landmarks and sees sights, go to museums and zoos beaches and raft trips, stay with friends and family. Grace has her hat eaten by an elephant, learns to juggle, snorkels, sees whales, and penguins and dolphins. You get a real sense of the breadth and range of Australia and yet it doesn’t feel didactic because it’s chock full of amusing family vacation anecdotes. Every other page spread ends with little brother Billy asking the iconic road-trip question that is evidently as well-known in Australia as it is here in the US: “Are we there yet?” You can trace the family’s journey on the frequent maps—there’s a complete map on the front end paper and a smaller, map that shows the journey so far on every other spread, the ones that don’t have Billy asking his question.
It’s a grand adventure that Bella, Sophie and Ben have all requested numerous times since we brought it home. I think we’ve read it every night.
I’d like to go one step further and take the time to look up various places and animals and even words we don’t know. Find pictures, videos, etc and get multi-media interactive—as much for myself as for the kids. I’m learning so much! So far we have listened to whale song, which the book mentioned, and I looked up the word “sook” which evidently means something like “crybaby”.
Other Alison Lester books we have now are Magic Beach and Isabella’s Bed, both are also big hits.
One other picture book on Australia that we’ve enjoyed is Over in Australia: Amazing Animals Down Under.
Because I’m finding myself intrigued by Australia as well, I got A Concise History of Australia for myself. I picked this one because it was what the library had. I’m rather enjoying it. It’s a relatively recent book. The author is very aware of postcolonial concerns, feminist concerns, etc and yet seems to be interested in presenting them as competing narratives. Not knowing anything about Australian history, I’m finding it a pretty readable introduction to get the broad sense of it. The author does throw out some Australian words that I don’t quite know the meaning of. It seems like I can’t get away from that sense of being not quite sure of what things mean. I’ve got a few more history books coming for myself. I’ll probably skim them unless they seem very compelling and to offer a great deal more insight.
So what picture books (or others) can you recommend for our continuing Australian adventure?