As a librarian, it often falls to me to catalogue books for beginner readers, and it is in this genre that the ingenuity of Australian authors and illustrators never ceases to amaze me. Working with a very limited vocabulary and designing the book so that illustrations provide context clues to support the reader, time and again these incredibly creative people manage to come up with something different.
This cute and quirky book by Shane Morgan is a good example. At 24 x 18cm, Look and See, meet your favourite Australian animals is a bit bigger in size than most books of its type, but it follows the usual design rules: short easy-to-read sentences on one side of the page, and a picture on the other.
What makes it a bit different is the humour. The sentences are rhyming pairs, and the first sentence introduces the animal, while the sentence on the ensuing page shows the animal getting the better of the human.
Look at the emu, running so fast.
See the emu, he caught me at last.
The picture that accompanies the second sentence shows the emu holding the human upside down by his undies – ouch!
The animals are not just the ones you’d expect, there’s also a lizard and a turtle, and all of them have very cheeky faces. (My favourite is the frill-necked lizard with a great big cheesy grin).
Shane Morgan is a descendant of the Yorta Yorta people of Victoria. He lives in Shepparton and studied the Advanced Certificate of Koorie Arts and Design at Goulburn Valley Community College, so I am hoping that he will go on to create more gorgeous books like this one. I haven’t come across too many other children’s books by indigenous people from Victoria and would like to see more of them.
PS I read it to Year 1 and 2 classes today, and they loved it. Interestingly, they picked up on the fact that it was created by an indigenous author from the double-page illustration (before the story starts) because they recognised the distinctive style of indigenous patterning and colours. I was rather pleased by this: it shows that our students’ exposure to indigenous literature is making them so familiar with it that they can identify it without being told, even when they are only seven and eight years old. I took the opportunity to show them on our indigenous map of Australia (always on display in the library) where the Yorta Yorta people come from, and they were excited to know that they were Victorian Aborigines. So now I’m even more keen to add to our collection with more indigenous stories from Victoria! I just have to find them…