First published in National Indigenous Times on January 24, 2019.
It’s after sunset. A group of technicolour monsters are on the move. They steal food from the shop. They stuff their faces with cake. They squash the community phone box. And this is just the start …
Welcome to The Children from Rawa: Monster Party, a joyous and vividly imagined picture book romp, that follows the monsters as they let loose on community.
Monster Party isn’t your average children’s book. It was created at Punmu, a community on Martu country in the Pilbara’s Great Sandy Desert. Two celebrated children’s book authors, Alison Lester and Jane Godwin, travelled to the community as part of a project to help improve literacy.
The monsters emerged from the imaginations of the Middle Primary children at Punmu’s Rawa Community School and they act out stories, both real and imagined. This book is a treat.
In contrast, the exquisitely illustrated Wäk Liya-Djambatjor Clever Crow, presented in English and Djambarrpuyŋu, tells an old story that belongs to the Dhuwa moiety in North East Arnhem Land. It’s about the journey of a turtle egg: to the hungry beak of a crow, to the pouch of a passing roo, to a man in a gliding canoe. The egg travels full circle—this crow’s too clever!
The illustrations in Wäk Liya-Djambatj are particular, stylised and very beautiful. We get a sense of the green riverbanks as they roll past, and the swift bubbling glide of river-water in blues. Illustrator Bronwyn Bancroft, a clan member of the Bundjalung Nation, has a mastery over her craft. She’s refined it in over 40 children’s books and has scooped up a number of well-deserved accolades for her work, including being nominated as a finalist for the Hans Christian Andersen Award (Illustrator 2016).
Author Nina Lawrence, a descendent of the Yidinji people of Far North Queensland, has kinship connections with the Yolŋu people and a passion for the preservation and promotion of Indigenous Australian languages. With its marvellous balance of English and Djambarrpuyŋu, regardless of who your mob is, this book is a must-read in 2019—the UN Year of Indigenous Languages.
Lucky and Spike, soon to be Magabala’s most recent release, will hit the shelves in February. In 2013, Norma McDonald brought us Lucky, the cheeky spinifex hopping mouse. Now Lucky is back—and he and his brother Spike are in terrible danger. A feral cat is on the loose. Predatory and cruel-eyed, it’s hungry for mouse. Or barking owl. Or anything native.
The story warns of the dangers of feral animals and Norma writes of living in the Pilbara and her sadness at witnessing the cats hunting the small spinifex hopping mice. This sadness, and the terror of Lucky and Spike, is captured in delicate watercolour washes with pencil detail—the illustrations give the adventures and frights of the evening the quality of dream.
All three children’s books are worthy editions to any library or shelf. You can read more about them on Magabala’s website here.