The Magic Dictionary, written and illustrated by Bruce Whatley.
About: A boy gets a magic dictionary for his birthday. Every word he looks up comes to life around him in some way. Bruce Whatley’s son first came up with the idea, and Bruce turned it into a book. We’ve got quite a few books illustrated by Bruce in this house, and this one has less whimsy in the method of art than others – but the picture concepts and story well and truly make up for that. Kid 7 has been asking for a magic dictionary for their birthday ever since they got this book as a Kid 5, and has been willing to read through a couple of picture dictionaries just to check and see if they happen to be magic ones.
About: This is a sweet little kids’ tale, about loneliness and finding a friend, set within the context of nomadic Aboriginal culture. David Hardy is Aboriginal, and also Disney-animation-trained, so the illustrations have that 2D cartoon cuteness and impishness to them that really works. At first I had misgivings about Disneyfying Aboriginal folk, but then I figured Disney does that to everyone so I’d probably rather have the representation than the lack of it. And it’s grown on me.
Lead is POC, Aboriginal, traditional culture
Emotionally expressive illustrations
Australian landscape and colours
Rhyming text, limited number of words on a page for early readers.
Mermaid Queen. Written by Shana Corey, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham.
About: Annette Kellerman lived in Australia in the late 19th and early 20th century. She learnt to swim when sports were unseemly for women, invented water ballet, and eventually became an international swimming star of sea, stage, pool and, as time went on, movies. In the process she designed her own swimming suits, challenged US law and became part of fashion history as well. She’s one of those once-household-names that’s been forgotten this many decades on. She’s great to read about. Her story is told simply, it’s easy to follow, and there are solid author’s notes at the back of the book that you can use to look up or go into more detail on some of the events in her story.
Bravery, courage and persistence
Vividly and rhythmically illustrated with hints of Art Nouveau styling
Written by Sally Morgan and Blaze Kwaymullina, illustrated by Sally Morgan.
About: A simple little child’s tale with a little bit of silly to it. It’s not an Aboriginal fable or Dreamtime myth, or a morality tale of any type, just a story with animals and stars and the Moon in it. There’s not too much text on any one page, or at all, just enough to lay out the story in support of Morgan’s glorious-as-always illustrations. And what text there is is simple enough that a beginner reader can attempt to make their way through it with some help.
An Aboriginal take on the typical genre of animal and nature characters
Authors and illustrator are both Aboriginal
It’s not a traditional myth or legend or tale (I fully support the idea that Indigenous people are more than just what they were at the point of colonisation and that they don’t need to stay in that box).
Text is suitable for an early reader with assistance.
About: Saffioti retells one of her family’s stories, of her mother-as-a-young-girl entering the school’s fancy dress parade. This is one of those books that reminds you that history isn’t just about the big things, but also about the little things, the things that make us family and town and nation. The illustrations are warm and in an Australian palette, easily bringing the emotions of each page to life.
True story and historical event, retold by someone with a direct connection to the event
Aboriginal author and illustrator
A small event with a big impact, easy to empathise with
Lead character is female, Aboriginal, POC
Strong and present family supporting the lead girl
Setting is Australian, non-Eurocentric
Artwork is warm, Australian colours, shows a range of emotions clearly