I find it incredibly hard to put together a list of books which encapsulate Australia. Our country is so many different things to so many different people and I don’t think any one book, or even collection of books, can cover ‘Australia’. But with Australia Day on it’s way, our mind does turn to books which celebrate all things Australian – and many of these books I, and many other teachers, will be using throughout Term One. Clearly this list covers but a teeny tiny portion of the books out there and I’d love you to leave a comment with your own favourites. In terms of age range, I’ve spanned early childhood to lower secondary but you can click on each title to check suitability and/or purchase.
The cover and title links of books take you to the Australian based online bookstore Booktopia. If you live in the US or would prefer to use Amazon clickhere. If you live in the UK or would prefer to use Book Depository click here.
‘A is for Australia’ by Frane Lessac. I adore the work of Frane, and have for the longest time now…she was also one of the first author/illustrators I met ‘in real life’, back when I was a beginning teacher librarian (sheesh I feel old now). ‘A is for Australia’ is the perfect book to gift to visiting guests, and in fact I’ve just ordered a copy to give to our homestay student from Macau, who turns 18 next month. What is the Fremantle Doctor? Where is Qui Qui? And why are some islands named after days of the week? You’ll uncover these exciting facts when you explore the A to Z of Australia – from Bondi to Kakadu and all the way to Taronga Zoo. Discover why Australia is one of the most amazing countries in the world!
‘Possum and Wattle’ by Bronwyn Bancroft. Stunning. A magnificent publication in so many ways and one of my favourite alphabet books. In hardcover this is a worthy coffee table book.
‘Why I Love Australia’ by Bronwyn Bancroft. Again…stunning. The work of Bronwyn Bancroft is just exquisite and one day I will have a piece of her artwork on my walls.
‘Australia A-Z’ is a new one from the incredible talented Armin Greder. This book is sure to become a classroom classic because of its relevance across the curriculum, including the study of history, society and environment, English language and literacy, visual literacy, creative arts and learning technologies.
‘Australia to Z – an alphabet book, but not one for the young and teaching them their letters. Instead Armin Greder has cast his critical eye on us and our symbols.’ Libby Gleeson
‘Disquieting and potent – a “gloves off” account of Australian nationhood, and how we, as a culture, might appear to those from other cultures. This is a profoundly significant work which will – like Greder’s The Island and The City – provoke, disturb and challenge the reader’s perception of what it means to be Australian, and what it means to be a global citizen.’ Dr Robyn Sheahan-Bright
No list on ‘Australiana’ books would be complete without Jackie French of course. ‘The Animal Stars’ series by Jackie French, such as ‘The Goat Who Sailed the World’ and ‘The Camel Who Crossed Australia’. I have learnt more about Australian history from these books than in all my years in school. They are aimed at middle to upper primary and they are brilliant, engaging and gritty (check suitability for your child on some!). Clearly here we must also mention ‘Diary of a Wombat’ also by Jackie French and illustrated by Bruce Whately. 90% of Jackie French books could be classified as ‘Australiana’ and we are incredibly fortunate to have her as our Children’s Laureate for 2014-2015. Read more about Jackie French here in my ‘Book People’ series.
Likewise, anything by Sally Morgan must be considered in any list such as this. My favourite of hers from 2015 was ‘Sister Heart’ which you can read more about here. Sally Morgan is a living treasure and I was so honoured to interview here here.
‘Our Australian Girl’ series – various authors. My favourite series in many years…read my gushing review here. These books are the perfect books for young people to read in order to support them in their studies of Australian history at school. A selection of the covers from this series are below and you buy them as individual titles or as bind ups.
‘Do You Dare’ – various authors, are the ‘boy’ version of the series above and they are equally as brilliant. Aimed at boys 8-12, they are action packed, fast paced and chock full of Australian history. Just two of the six titles are in the series are below.
‘Australia’s Greatest People and Their Achievements’ by Linsay Knight and ‘Australia’s Greatest Inventions and Innovations’ by Christopher Cheng, Linsay Knight and the Powerhouse Museum. These are great reference books for every home and school library and the format will greatly appeal to the plethora of young people who pour over ‘world record’ type publications. From explorers to scientists, business people, artists, politicians and writers, these books celebrates the many Australians who have made this country the great nation it is today and the great inventions and their creators.
‘The Big Book of Australian History’ (second edition) uses images from the National Library of Australia collections and has been compiled by the multi-talented and award winning, Peter Macinnis. This book provides an overview of the history of Australia from its earliest geological formations to the present day and was developed with teacher libarians (yay us!) and experts in the field. The contents page and index are comprehensive whilst remaining student friendly and the list of illustrations is a fine example of referencing and provides information on how to view full titles, medium and dimensions through the National Library of Australia website. This is a must have for home, school and library collections and would be suitable from middle primary to lower secondary.
The ‘Meet..’ series is just genius and I adore all seven titles. The picture book series invites middle primary – lower secondary readers to ‘meet’ some of Australia’s identities by presenting a very personal snippet of their lives. How I wish more books like this were around when I was in in primary school! I was forntuate to launch ‘Meet…Sidney Nolan’ recently and like all the other titles it is a stunning production – words and images. You can read more about ‘Meet…Sidney Nolan’ here.
I absolutely love the ‘Nature Storybooks’ series by Walker Books whose titles include ‘Platypus’, ‘Emu’, ‘Python’, ‘Big Red Kangaroo’ and ‘Bilby Secrets’. Both my girls request these book as bedtime reading regularly and they are a fabulous way to introduce narrative non-fiction texts to young children – like the ‘Meet…’ series above. You can read our review of ‘Python’ here, which also includes links to teaching notes.
Magabala Press produces some of the most beautiful Indigenous books in the country and ‘ABC Dreaming’ is no exception – plus it’s on sale for $2.95 at the moment – inexplicable but I’m buying up! With well-thought out design and an array of amazing creatures that can be found in the rainforest, both parents and teachers will love this book when introducing young children to the letters of the alphabet. ‘ABC Dreaming’ has been produced in consultation with Early Childhood specialists.
Also from Magabala Press is the ‘perfect for boys’, ‘Deadly D and Justice Jones’ series by Dave Hartley (interview here) and Scott Prince (interview here). This series is for all young Australians who love rugby league and need some subtle messages regarding friendship, family and managing anger while still being a strong young person. This series is an absolute sure-bet to engage reluctant readers as they use much schoolyard style language and humour to keep things moving along and there is some great line drawings to entertain. There are now three books in the series and you can see my full review here and a look at the book launch here.
‘An Aussie Year’ by Tania McCartney and Tina Snerling. I have been loving using this book with our early childhood classes at school and it will certainly be used to start the year off with discussions about Australia Day. ‘An Aussie Year’ takes us through significant events through the year and aims to showcase the enormous variety of cultures and ethnic backgrounds that make up Australia as a nation. Teachers notes are here.
Also by Tania McCartney (see my interview with her here) is ‘Australian Kids Through the Years’, illustrated by Andrew Joyner. This book is just brilliant for looking at ways of life in Australia over the years. For each period, the book introduces a particular girl and a boy who then feature in the following spread. The spreads show what Australian kids liked to eat, the games they played, the clothes they wore and the activities they enjoyed. See how these things have changed through the years. What games did Aboriginal children like Kiah and Mandu once play? How did Meg and William wear their hair in colonial times? What books did Matthew and Ming read during the 1970s? Which toys were huge in the 1990s? The page from the 1950s is below.
‘The ABC Book of Australian Poetry’ compiled by Libby Hathorn and Cassandra Allen.
‘Sand Swimmers. The Secret Dead Heart of Australia’ by Narelle Oliver. Read more about Narelle Oliver and her stunning books here.
‘My Name is Lizzie Flynn’ is a very personalized tale of a young convict girl on her journey to Australia, published by Walker Books. The story is based on a quilt, made up of 2815 pieces, which was sewn by convict women which is now held in the Gallery of Australia – some nice primary source research opportunities there! My interview with author Claire Saxby is here.
‘Big Rain Coming’ by Katrina Germein and Bronwyn Bancroft. Oh glory me where do I start with this one? I would list this as one of PudStar’s all-time favourite books (at age five!). Dan read this book every.single.night for nearly a year and it was still never enough. They can both recite the text and whenever either of the girls (or Dan) spot a dark cloud there is a deep voiced “big rain coming”. You can read more about the book and Katrina here.
‘Greetings from Australia’ has koalas and kookaburras, dunnarts and dugongs, and celebrates Australia’s weird and wonderful wildlife. Packed with 36 pages of animal stickers and 16 postcards of iconic Aussie locations, this is a sticker book like no other. Customise a postcard with animals or surfboards, hats and even lamingtons then write a message on the back and post it off, or give one to a friend. Either way you’ll take these critters on their own Aussie adventure without ever leaving home!
You cannot go past the Roland Harvey titles below which are suitable for students from early childhood to middle primary and are favourites of teachers around the country.
‘Australia: A Three Dimensional Expanding Country Guide’ by Charlotte Trounce (see photograph at start of post for an image of the book unfolded). A tiny little book (approx.10x10cm folded) which I can see I will be gifting to many friends overseas. I do so love when a book is also a décor item! Beautifully illustrated, it unfolds to a length of 1.5 metres and features some of the most significant sites in Australia, including Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Parliament House, Melbourne Cricket Ground, Twelve Apostles, Port Arthur, Daintree Rainforest, St Peters Cathedral, Wave Rock, Uluru, the Ghan, Kakadu National Park and the Great Barrier Reef. Presented in a slipcase, this is the perfect gift or souvenir.