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Indigenous picture books offer windows into new worlds

Indigenous picture books offer windows into new worlds

By Ambelin Kwaymullina

In a town by the sea that lies in the homeland of the Yawuru people, there sits a small publisher. But in the scope of its ambition, the depth and complexity of its range, and its commitment to bringing the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to all Australians, Magabala Books looms large on the Australian literary landscape.

The Broome-based publisher was established in the 1980s, partly in response to concerns that Indigenous stories were being taken and published without permission by non-Indigenous academics and storytellers.

Today, Magabala has the most extensive list of Indigenous children’s literature of any Australian publisher. So for parents and teachers looking to introduce children to the many worlds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Magabala Books is a good place to begin.

And anyone who buys a Magabala publication also has the comfort of knowing that they are purchasing an ethically published book. Indigenous peoples hold copyright in their stories and there is a return of benefits to the Indigenous storytellers and/or their communities.

While it is not possible to cover the depth of Magabala’s range in a single article, I offer here, as a starting point, five picture books that have wisdom to share with all ages. While most of these books are listed as suitable for lower primary, I’d suggest this is the point at which children can begin reading the books but not where enjoyment of these texts ends.

Magabala Books

Tjarany Roughtail

By Gracie Greene, Joe Tramacchi and Lucille Gill

Ability: lower primary

First published in 1992, this book is rightly considered a classic. A collection of Tjukurrpa (Dreaming) stories of the Kukatja people of the Kimberley region of Western Australia, Tjarany Roughtail is a bilingual illustrated narrative in which the pictures speak as powerfully as the words. It is also a book that can grow with children through the layers of knowledge it offers.

Young children will enjoy the stories of the Dreaming ancestors. Older children can explore the diagrams that explain the meaning of the symbols used in the artwork, as well as the maps of the Kukatja kinship system which shows the web of relationships between Aboriginal peoples and their homelands. And all ages can treasure a book that is at once a culture, language, art and philosophy text.

 

Magabala Books

Stolen Girl

By Trina Saffioti and Norma MacDonald

Ability: lower primary

This is a Stolen Generations tale written by Trina Saffioti (Gugu Yulangi people) and illustrated by leading artist Norma MacDonald (Yamatji and Nyungar peoples). It is told in nuanced, sparse text accompanied by illustrations that convey the warmth of family, the terror of removal, and the loneliness of life in an institution. The book ends with the hope of returning home, captured through the image of a girl stepping through a half open door into a sunlit landscape.

Stolen Girl is a moving tale that gently introduces children to a traumatic aspect of Australian history that echoes through the lives of Indigenous peoples today.

 

Magabala Books

Fair Skin Black Fella

By Renee Fogorty

Ability: lower primary

This masterful work by Wiradjuri writer and illustrator Renee Fogorty addresses Aboriginal identity, and in particular that being Indigenous is about culture, community and family rather than skin colour. The story is brought to life by illustrations that sensitively and appropriately capture the message of a tale that speaks to the importance of inclusiveness and belonging.

 

Magabala Books

Our World

By the One Arm Point Remote Community School

Ability: Upper primary

What is life like in worlds different from your own? This book tells of the Bardi Jaawi people of the Ardiyooloon community, weaving together history and traditional stories with the seasons and rhythms of everyday existence.

Our World features the children’s artwork as well as photographs of them undertaking activities such as fishing, constructing windmills from pandanus leaves, and learning animal tracks. As a whole, the book conveys a wonderful sense of Bardi Jaawi children speaking of their lives to the child-readers of the text in a meeting of lives and worlds.

 

Magabala Book

Once

By Dub Leffler

Ability: lower primary

This reconciliation tale by artist and writer Dub Leffler (Bigambul and Mandandanji people) is an evocative tale of friendship across difference, with the poetic text given full expression in illustrations that capture the beauty of the story and speak straight to the heart.

 

These books, along with the many other narratives by Indigenous storytellers, offer opportunities for children and adults to journey through diverse Indigenous realities – and in so doing, to begin to build bridges across worlds.


Ambelin Kwaymullina is an Aboriginal academic who comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She is an Assistant Professor at the Law School.

This article was first published on The Conversation.

Featured image credits: Flickr

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