- What we collect
- Preserving our collections
- Building our collections
- Selected Library collections
- Collection statistics
- History of the collection
- Processing and describing our collections
Curating Story Time
Australian Children's Literature
Talks / Lecture
Australian Children's Literature
13 September 2019
Curator Grace Blakeley-Carroll offers a behind-the-scenes look at the development of the exhibition Story Time: Australian Children’s Literature. Hear about how she brought together material from the National Library, the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature and other important collections. She will also explore some of the key themes and books featured in Story Time.
Storytime Curatorial Lecture 130919
*Speakers: Guy Hansen (G), Grace Blakeley-Carroll (B)
*Location: National Library of Australia
G: Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Guy Hansen, I’m Director of Exhibitions here at the National Library of Australia so welcome today to our lunchtime talk.
Before we begin I’d like to acknowledge and celebrate the first Australians on whose lands we meet, I pay my respects to the elders of the Ngunawal and Ngambri people past and present for caring for this land we’re now privileged to call our home.
I always like introducing these talks, particularly when it’s one of the staff from the Exhibitions Branch. We work very hard to present really engaging and - exhibitions which celebrate the Library’s collections and I think this one we have on at the moment, Storytime, is a really great show. We did this in association with the people from University of Canberra from the National – I can never remember what the full acronym is, Belle, but NCACL is the acronym but it’s National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature who helped us with this show as well.
But today what we have is Dr Grace Blakeley-Carroll who’s going to tell us a little bit about the research she did in selecting those objects. So up there you’ve got a wonderful selection of material from University of Canberra and from the National Library’s collections with some loans elsewhere and Grace is going to give us a bit of a background on how she selected those items and how the exhibition came into being. So let me welcome Grace, thank you.
B: Hello, thank you for spending your lunchtime here at the National Library. So I’m sure many of us in the audience today cherish the books that we read and enjoyed as children. I lost count of the number of times people came up to me while I was working on this exhibition and asked whether their favourite book would be included. I didn’t make any promises and I'm really sorry if you’re disappointed when you go in and look at the exhibition.
Many proceeded to tell me about the special books they have kept in their personal collections, some handed down through the generations, no doubt dog-eared, with detached spines after many, many reads and perhaps even bearing some water damage having survived an unfortunate encounter with bath time.
Their enthusiasm is something I can relate to and I think that this little boy could probably relate to as well. Books have always held a special place in my heart. I have strong memories of discovering many wonderful picture books in the Library at my primary school and my love for books and libraries has stayed with me into adulthood.
I remember our class sitting on a large serpent-shaped beanbag. In hindsight it was probably a rainbow serpent. This is an image of a class reading a book with a teacher. Sadly I don’t have a photograph of my primary school library. I remember listening as teachers introduced us to books by Emily Rodda, Jeannie Baker and others. Little did I know that some 20 years later I would be working here at the National Library, bit of a dream, and given the opportunity to curate an exhibition about Australian children’s literature.
As curator of Storytime I had the enviable but difficult task of selecting items for display, choosing children’s books and associated materials to assemble a show that tells audiences about and celebrates the literature that we have created for the young here in Australia. Along the way I learnt a lot about children’s books.
Storytime, Australian Children’s Literature, features an extensive range of materials from the National Library’s collections and the material dates from the colonial period through to the present day. In all there are more than 250 items in the exhibition that could easily have included double, triple or four times that number if space was not an issue.
Developed in association with the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature, as Guy mentioned, or NCACL, the exhibition includes almost 50 items from their very extensive collections as well as objects from other significant collecting institutions such as the State Library of New South Wales, the State Library of Victoria and the National Museum of Australia. We also have some loans from author and illustrator, Shaun Tan’s personal collection.
The items selected take audiences on a journey thorough our history of children’s literature across time and place, real and imagined. At the end of the exhibition there’s a family space, Playtime, and I really encourage visitors of all ages to feel that they can have a play in that space, it’s not just for children, and there’s a range of activities that you can explore and I’ll talk a bit more about them later.
The journey presented in the exhibition is not chronological nor does it include every book published - as I mentioned there may be some disappointment - as the content reflects our collections’ strength and those of the NCACL but the exhibition I do hope will appeal to anyone who has experienced the magic of these stories or perhaps people who would like to.
So in this talk today I’m going to provide some background on the development of the exhibition focusing on my curatorial process and I’ll outline some of the themes and stories that are featured. At the end I’ll share some of the things that I’ve gained from working on the exhibition, namely a rekindling of my love for children’s literature.
So why did the National Library decide to put together an exhibition about children’s literature? Nostalgia aside, our exhibition program exists to enrich the knowledge, understanding and appreciation of our collections and to connect audiences with these collections and the stories that they can tell. Because of the strengths of these collections relating to Australian children’s literature the Library had in our minds for some time to develop an exhibition on this theme. Then a couple of years ago Dr Belle Alderman AM who’s the Director of NCACL approached the Library about working together on a project and it just seemed like the perfect idea. It was a couple of years ago as well that I joined the Library and I was lucky enough to be given this project to work on.
The National Library’s children’s literature collections include thousands of books and other related materials and these include the formed collections, namely those of bibliographers, Marcie Muir and Kerry White. This image taken by me - you can see why I’m not a professional photographer, I’m a curator - is of the Marcie Muir stack and there’s a number of stacks that just contain Marcie’s books and also Kerry’s books as well. Then the collections go over different areas. We have translations and different editions of books.
Delving into these collections for the exhibition provided an opportunity to discover children’s literature treasures, finding books, ephemera, pictures, manuscripts, oral history recordings and educational kits. This variety reflects the diverse collections held by the Library and also other collections elsewhere. But of course when we think of children’s literature I think that it would be safe to say that most of us do think of books and probably when we think of the National Library we think of books, perhaps closely followed by Trove and the bookshop. So you will find lots of books in the exhibition. I felt that that was really important too.
But I also wanted to acknowledge how the ways in which we connect with children’s literature through other formats, things like merchandise, for example, I still have the badge that my grandpa bought me when I saw Possum Magic, the musical in the 1990s and I was delighted to find another one in Mem Fox’s papers. I think hers is in better condition.
Drawing on other significant collections, particularly NCACL’s, provided a wealth of potential material for the exhibition and led to some very difficult decisions about what to include. It’s any curator’s great dilemma.
As I immersed myself in the world of Australian children’s literature I was reacquainted with some much loved books from my childhood and adolescence and these included Graeme Base’s The 11th Hour which was published the year I was born, actually in 1988, and since working on this exhibition I’ve realised that this book must have inspired my great love for Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries. I discovered through my research that Base was inspired by her work when he devised this mystery book for children.
Other special books I rediscovered included Robin Klein’s Hating Alison Ashley first published in 1985 and Melina Marchetta’s Looking for Alibrandi, 1992 but it’s really the version released when the film came out and I believe that was 1999 that I really remember.
I was not expecting to discover so many authors and illustrators whose books were published either before or after my youth in the 1990s and early 2000s. These included illustrator, Margaret Horder, who worked with authors Joan Phipson and Nan Chauncy among others and also the author, Ivan Southall. Aside from a memory of being read Southall’s Ash Road, first published 1965, by a primary school teacher I knew very little about any of these writers and their works so it has been a wonderful journey of discovery for me in many ways.
More recent books such as Boori Monty Pryor and Jan Ormerod's Shake A Leg from 2010 and Sophie Beer’s Love Makes a Family, 2018 were delights to read for the first time. Pleasure aside, as exhibition curator it was my job to sift through all the books and associated materials and to think about how we could best celebrate Australian children’s literature in an exhibition.
I was very fortunate that I got to work with a reference group of experts on this exhibition and so sort of tease out ideas and learn from them as well when we were thinking of how we would approach this exhibition. As with many exhibitions there’s many different approaches that you could take. With this kind of subject we could do something like a chronological layout, first children’s book to the most recent children’s book. You could arrange material by type so you could have a room with just picture books and then you could have a room with children’s novels and you could end with young adult fiction.
You could focus on illustrations and that’s something that I notice that a lot of – when institutions have done exhibitions on children’s literature they tend to focus on illustrations, lots of 2D material tends to work really well in an exhibition. But of course I’m always trying to do too much so I thought well we really need to include the children’s novels and the picture books and some young adult fiction too. As I mentioned we have to have lots of books.
So in the end it was decided to arrange the material thematically as a way of showing how certain ideas have been explored over time and in different kinds of children’s books. This approach is very much informed by the research I undertook here and I’m showing you a photograph with my colleague, [Bushra Kanum] 12:05, from the Pictures Collection and we’re looking in the pictures stack and the posters stack in this image. So the research that I did here at the Library, I spent many hours out at the UC looking at NCACL’s collections and through that and other research it sort of helped me develop the themes that I thought we could focus on.
So in each theme area we’ve got a series of case studies where we sort of dive deep into a particular book or a particular author and then there’s a sort of – a separate showcase with other books that address that theme, again me always trying to include as much as possible. You wouldn’t want anyone to feel left out. Of course the selection of case studies reflects the collection’s strengths but also I felt it very important that certain sort of quite iconic books be included, the sorts of books that people would expect to see such as Oodgeroo Noonuccal's Stradbroke Dreamtime.
The exhibition and its branding were designed by Isobel Trundle, our Senior Exhibition Designer and I think you’d all agree that she’s done a superb job of bringing all of the objects in the exhibition to life through her design and through the branding. There’s a bit of a story about how the branding developed that I thought I would share with you. Isobel and I actually sit next to each other which is quite convenient and one day on my desk I had this little shape book. When I say shape book it means that it’s sort of cut to the shape of something, in this case a koala.
Had it on my desk and Isobel was captivated with it and she wanted to take it away and look more closely so I was a little bit suspicious but I thought okay, you can do that. It ended up inspiring the branding for the exhibition. It was produced in the early 1930s, we don’t know who the author or illustrator and it was published by John Sands. That’s just one of the ways in which some ideas for an exhibition might be generated. Of course there’s meetings and more formal processes but sometimes it’s just that sort of interaction that can really spark off something.
So what I’ll do now is I’ll talk you through each of the themes and I’ll highlight some of the case studies. This is another example of the branding.
So the very first story visitors encounter when they enter Storytime is a mother’s offering to her children. Dating from 1841 it is the earliest known book for children published in Australia. We are fortunate to have three first editions in our collection, two of which are displayed in the exhibition. The story takes the form of an educational dialogue between a mother and her children. It’s quite different to what you might expect from a children’s book and could perhaps be a bit impenetrable I would say for children today but nonetheless very significant.
For many years its author was not known beyond the fact she was a lady long resident in New South Wales. I’m sure many of you know that it wasn’t very respected for women to be writers in the 19th century and many wrote under male pseudonyms or just didn’t provide a name at all. But it was Marcie Muir, the bibliographer of children’s literature, whose collection we hold, who identified the author as Charlotte Barton who’s also known as Charlotte Waring-Atkinson.
We have displayed one of the copies open to the title page where you can see that someone has – someone, probably a young person, has had a bit of fun with colouring in. I feel I must confess to being guilty of decorating books in this way when I was a child and I wonder if anyone else could make a similar confession.
So the living ancient knowledge of Australian first nations’ peoples referring to as the dreaming is a really important theme that we explore in the exhibition and it’s the first sort of major theme that you encounter. Many children’s books have drawn on the dreaming stories – on the dreaming in stories and increasingly these books are created by first nations’ peoples and published in indigenous Australian languages.
A highlight of the exhibition is the display of all 14 illustrations for The Rainbow Serpent, 1975 by Goobalathaldin – I knew I was going to pronounce that terribly – also known as Dick Roughsey. It’s one of the best known books inspired by dreaming traditions and one that many remember from their youth. I’ve kind of been sneaking into the exhibition and I’ve heard quite a few conversations about this book and how important it has been for people to perhaps connect with the dreaming or with indigenous traditions or for their own sort of cultural knowledge.
I wanted somewhere in the exhibition to highlight how these – how images tell stories and hoped to display the entire set of illustrations from one book. When I found out that the National Museum had these I immediately settled on this book for such a display. What I’m showing you here is a design drawing so of course you have to go upstairs and have a look at the illustrations yourselves.
Another common theme in children’s literature is books exploring family life, friendships and identity. Children develop their sense of self through relationships with friends and family so it makes sense that these would feature prominently in stories that explore the process of growing up and finding a place in the world. Australia has produced numerous tales exploring these ideas such as Seven Little Australians, something I’m sure many of us have read, either by choice or because perhaps it was something you had to read at school, other books like My Place, Teens: A Story of Australian Schoolgirls and The Little Refugee. Often grappling with complex themes these books remind us of the joys and trials of childhood and the diversity that exists within Australia.
Works by Bob Graham including Max from the year 2000 and Silver Buttons from 2013 celebrate family life whereas Shaun Tan’s illustrations for his wordless, The Arrival, 2006, evocatively capture the isolation and confusion faced by many migrants. I deliberately put the display on The Arrival and Graham’s works adjacent to each other through working with our designer to provide a point of contrast that intends to highlight the versatility of the picture book as a medium. Tan’s book for example makes us question for whom it was written? Many people would argue that it’s not even appropriate for children or it’s not something that would appeal for children and I think that kind of – this is something I’ll pick up on the end but as to whether children’s books are just for children or are they for adults too?
I think most of us love to laugh and children giggle a lot more than adults, explaining why humour is a popular topic in children’s literature and one that is explored in Storytime. It’s interesting when speaking with the editor that we worked – that I worked with, Katherine Crane, we sort of – working on labels and things, she was reminding me that actually apparently we laugh less as we get older. So perhaps that’s why we enjoy children’s literature as adults because we can have an opportunity to laugh.
So from Coles’ Funny Picture Book Series which first appeared in 1879 to the extensive list of amusing books by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton – I believe the Treehouse story is hugely popular in China according to staff in our Asians collections - to the many books written by Jackie French. Fun and humour are used as tools to encourage a love of reading and to explore and explain the world to young readers. Who better than Leigh Hobbs’ Mr Chicken to introduce Australian readers to Paris in Mr Chicken Goes to Paris, 2009. Mr Chicken himself makes an appearance in the exhibition in plush toy form and in an original artwork for the book.
Nearby we find the typed manuscript for Morris Gleitzman's Bumface, something I remember from when I was young. These books inspire a playful and open mind, not to mention the pure joy that can come from sitting down with a funny, silly or absurd story and sharing a chuckle.
Engagement with the environment and the animal world is another persistent feature of Australian children’s literature and I can’t profess to be an expert on sort of global children’s literature so I wonder if this is something particular to Australia or if it’s something you find across the world. It’s certainly not a new idea explored in books, we see it in Ethel Pedley’s Dot and the Kangaroo from 1899 and in Dorothy Wall’s stories about Blinky Bill from the 1930s.
While in many cases stories celebrate our natural world and its inhabitants they often include messages about animal welfare and environmentalism, introducing at an early age the importance of caring for our planet and its ecosystems. Some feature animals who share the trials and tribulations of humans while others highlight special bonds between people, animals and the environment. A significant section of the exhibition gallery is devoted to this topic and probably a sort of key highlight is the large display about May Gibbs’ Gumnut Babies stories and here we really wanted to show the many ways in which her stories and characters have been engaged with over the decades ranging from handmade calendars she created, featuring images of them, to toys, a commemorative plate, a boardgame and even a jumper. I’d argue that there’s probably a lot of people who maybe have some May Gibbs’ merchandise and haven’t actually even read the books but they know the characters. Definitely would enter into the iconic sort of realm. We’ve also included original artworks and books as well.
Elyne Mitchell’s The Silver Brumby is another book that has had many lives and earned countless fans over the decades and it’s also a case study in this area. Cluey visitors will find actor, Russell Crowe’s image on the poster for the 1990s film adaptation in which he starred before he was a superstar. How could I forget Jeannie Baker’s mesmerising collages for The Hidden Forest? Here you can see one mesmerised family. Photographs don’t really do justice to Jeannie Baker’s collages so you’ll have to go have a look at them.
Imagination can take us anywhere and as such it has inspired countless children’s books that push the boundaries of reality. There are many more that crash right through into the purely make-believe. Many children live happily in a world of make-believe, an existence some adults would relish and which many still enthusiastically inhabit every time they crack the covers of a new novel. I wonder if that’s why so many adults read Harry Potter when it came out?
Authors and illustrators of children’s books bring imaginary and distorted worlds to life, creating works inhabited by curious creatures and magical beings. These include fairytales and fantasy books as well as those that add a bit of magic to an everyday story and encourage us to believe that anything is possible.
Illustration of books and ephemera featuring the artwork of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, best known for her fairy illustrations from the early 20th century, remind us of our long preoccupation with this subgenre. In Storytime our display on her works includes the advertising circular for Fairyland of Ida Rentoul Outhwaite from 1926 from the formed collection of bibliographer, Sir John Alexander Ferguson, another really important collection which has a lot of treasures related to children’s literature and you’ll see some of those in the exhibition. Elves and Fairies published a decade earlier is a significant work in the history of Australian fine book production. Being printed entirely onshore with colour plates in 1916 certainly was no mean feat for wartime.
More recently publications such as Emily Rodda’s hugely popular and widely translated Deltora Quest, series of children’s fantasy novels, reminds us of the quality and breadth of Australian children’s literature. Emily Rodda, whose real name is Jennifer Rowe, launched the exhibition for us a few weeks ago and I was very pleased to see that many people had smuggled in copies of Deltora Quest for her to sign. I don’t think that they were for children – or some were, I’m sure but I think people had brought their personal copies in.
Many children crave adventure and let’s face it, most of us do, whether it’s travelling long distances or simply playing outdoors. From the escapades of Banjo Paterson’s overconfident cyclist in the picture book version of Mulga Bill’s Bicycle from 1973 to Alison Lester’s stories about journeys around Australia and to Antarctica in Are We There Yet? from 2004 and Sophie Scott Goes South from 2012. We and our children have journeyed vicariously to places we might never be able to visit in real life.
Speaking of Paterson I was surprised to discover just how many different picture book versions exist of his poems including Waltzing Matilda, Clancy of the Overflow and The Man from Snowy River and of course he wrote a children’s book, The Animals Noah Forgot. I was amazed to find just how many efforts there’ve been to really connect these classic Australian works with younger audiences. A favourite of mine is this illustration from Robert Ingpen’s papers which is for Clancy of the Overflow and it actually has the entire poem printed on it or written on it.
Some adventure stories revolve around the silly antics of adults and magical creatures whereas others explore children’s journeys and those are real and imagined beings. Many are fun including Norman Lindsay’s The Magic Pudding from 1918 and this is the subject of a large display in the exhibition which includes this curious painted rock that’s made to look like Albert, The Magic Pudding and it’s from Kerry White’s collection, and a cassette audio book, something that very young visitors might not even have seen before. I wonder if it’s a bit like when I would see records as a child and I sort of couldn’t figure out what they did and maybe today kids think of that when they see cassettes or disks, I’m not sure.
We’ve also included several dust jackets from Marcie Muir’s collection as The Pud was a favourite of hers. This is just a photograph of a shelf in the Marcie Muir stacks. She collected widely different versions and different printings of this book. I guess every collector has a favourite.
Other stories in this collection are perhaps scary and unnerving such as some of Ivan Southall’s disaster books and more recently in John Marsden’s Tomorrow When The War Began and that’s certainly something I remember being sort of a big deal when I was young and everyone was reading it.
The final section of the exhibition looks at the creative process. Writing and illustrating a children’s book involves many steps. Sometimes one person takes on both tasks while at other times an author and an illustrator work together to bring a story to life. Countless rafts, conversations, edits and revisions take place before the final version appears in the form of a book and usually what we see is just the final version, we don’t see that process that goes on beforehand.
This fascinating creative process occurs for every story and I thought that by looking at some of the preliminary components alongside final illustrations and published books would really help to understand - audiences to understand that journey a bit more. In this area we see material including some artwork for the cover of The 11th Hour and yes, I did manage to fit my favourite book in. Also displayed are some of Shaun Tan’s artworks for The Lost Thing. We wanted to really have this section right before you enter into the play space so that hopefully people would be feeling inspired and creative and also in playtime you’re able to watch the animated version of The Lost Thing as it was produced in 2010 and that actually won an Academy Award.
So now for a little bit about playtime so this is an activity area and I was really fortunate, I worked very closely with our education colleagues on this space and also with our designer, Isobel. We wanted to develop a space where people could read books, watch videos, stories from the Story Box Library so I’ll show you some more images. It’s much better to see people in the space than just pictures of the space. You can see there’s a range of different activities. Here’s a bit of colouring but there’s also some – one where you can make a little book yourself or complete a story. You can have a look at this big salon [hang] 29:49 and don’t worry, the lions are protected by glass, it’s okay. It was a bit of effort to add to that artwork but you could let Graeme Base know perhaps if there’s some corrections to be made.
So as well as the Shaun Tan video we’ve also got six video stories from Story Box Library. If you don’t know Story Box Library it’s a subscription service and they have little videos of people reading aloud a picture book, a bit like a teacher who might sit in front of you and then they’ve got good images of the pages. This is the Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek narrated by Nick Cave. Nick’s face doesn’t appear, apparently he didn’t want to be on camera so you just get his beautiful voice but for the others you get somebody holding a book. It’s just a different way of engaging with the stories. Then we also have a book nook and we’ve got all of the books featured in the video package so you could read along or perhaps take in a bedtime story.
So now that I’ve given you an overview of the exhibition and told you a bit about my curatorial process in this sort of final part of the talk I’m going to talk a little bit about what I gained from working on this exhibition. So curating Storytime has really given me permission to revel in the world of children’s literature as an adult. I found myself reading a great deal of children’s books and being surprised by how many stories I still cherished. I was even more surprised by how much I enjoyed reading new ones for the first time, really, since I was young.
This time around I saw the books through the eyes of a grownup and I appreciated the thought and time that went into creating them. I don’t think I was as critical as I was as a child and I also feel like I really appreciated how the stories helped me to navigate my way through my childhood and adolescence. One of my happiest moments was sitting in a reading room trying to contain my laughter as I read, Where Is the Green Sheep? for the first time and I couldn’t believe it had taken me this long to discover it. Of course when I told everyone else about it they’d heard about it long ago so – anyway.
Visitors will find the elusive green sheep in the exhibition. We actually have all of the original illustrations in our manuscripts collection in our papers of Judy Horocek and we also have Mem Fox’s manuscripts too so I was able to find a bit more about their process of working together through looking at Mem’s papers. I rediscovered other books such as Plain Beatie Bow and Koala Lou.
So as I mentioned earlier reading has always been a big part of my life just like these little bookworms and I was a child who spent a lot of time in the library. I had a very full bookshelf and I was always on the lookout for a new read. Books brought me a lot of pleasure and they taught me about people and the world. They’re also a source of comfort during difficult times.
Although reading remains a great pleasure of mine my reading list has moved towards adult fiction and nonfiction. I think maybe we can remember that time when you sort of – one author I was reading recently said this and I can’t remember exactly which one but it was that sort of graduation to adult fiction and it was sort of like okay, I can read the adult fiction now and you’ve sort of left behind the children’s books. So as I passed through my adolescence and 20s I put down things like Seven Little Australians and I picked up more mature Australian books like Cloudstreet. Many adults share the same pleasure I found in children’s books. I like to think that this nurse is relaxing after a long day by reading something that perhaps she loved as a child.
Jane Sullivan has written about her own experiences of revisiting much loved children’s stories in her recent book called Storytime, Growing Up with Books and at the end of the book she writes, finding out about the authors of my favourite stories has given me a keener and sometimes more painful sense of appreciation for what they achieved. I think they worked their wonders not because they knew children well but because in some sense they were still children.
So here she’s really talking about how as an adult when she approached these books she wasn't just reading the story she was also trying to figure out who the people were that wrote them and why they might have written them and I think it’s that sort of different perspective that you bring when you’re an adult reading children’s literature. She adds, reading these titles again has given me a keener and more painful sense of my own child inside, and that’s the special thing that she’s gotten from her journey of revisiting - or gained from her journey of revisiting these books.
Others have written about why they love children’s literature. Bruce Handy’s 2017 book, Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult recounts his journey of rediscovery and for him it happened when he became a parent and I think that’s experience that a lot of people face. I don’t think a lot of parents are necessarily just reading the Bible to their children, I think that there’s more options available now but I love this image, had to include it.
Handy writes glowingly of the genre and he says, like any worthwhile art great children’s books are capable of speaking in many different ways to many different readers including readers of different ages. His book provides a defence of children’s literature against critics who see it as inferior to adult books or simply overlook it.
More recently Katherine Rundell penned an amusing passionate essay, Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise, and she is a scholar but she also writes children’s literature. In her essay she encourages all adults to read children’s books. Rundell argues, when you read children’s books you are given the space to read again as a child. She explains how these books provided her with a great sense of hope and that they still speak to it today. That’s something that really struck me, there’s often this sense that people are generally good and mean well in children’s literature and often things are explained quite gently to young readers so I guess that’s that sense of hope that she writes about.
Rundell also makes a subtle but very important point, adults do not necessarily need to be reading storybooks to little ones nor do they have to have children in their lives to benefit from these stories. That’s because they really belong to everyone. So perhaps this young writer is also reading a children’s book. Maybe she’s taking in Seven Little Australians, I’m not sure.
Just to conclude now, Storytime features some of our best known books as well as those that might not be familiar to all visitors but are nonetheless important parts of Australia’s literary history. It provides an opportunity to highlight the Library’s collections of Australian children’s literature and those of NCACL’s and other important collections and to bring these different collections together.
Curating Storytime was a surprising journey for me. It involved becoming - sort of meeting again if you like many much loved characters from books that I read as a child and also forming relationships with new ones. Along the way I rediscovered my love for children’s literature and how – and have added many titles to my never-ending list of books I want to read, I have a very full bedside table.
Perhaps you too will find your favourite Australian children’s book in the exhibition and maybe you’ll relive some memories of it. I’ve certainly heard a fair bit of that when I’ve been in the exhibition galleries. Or if not I mean perhaps you didn’t grow up in Australia and a lot of these books are brand new for you. Maybe like me you’ll rediscover a new book or perhaps if you come maybe with somebody older than you or younger than you you might hear about the books that they enjoyed reading. Maybe you’ll even be inspired after seeing the exhibition to crack open a children’s book, be it to read to a young person or simply to yourself. Thank you.
G: Well I’m happy to say we have a small amount of time for some questions. We are livestreaming today’s event so that I’d ask you before you start your question if you could just wait for a microphone to arrive. So any questions today? We have a question over here. Microphone is on its way.
A: Fascinating. When you were doing your research did you come to a view about the way in which children’s literature goes and addresses uncomfortable topics? Racism, refugees, gender identity and that sort of thing.
B: Yeah, definitely. I really feel that the literature reflects changing attitudes so when you look at literature from certain periods it’s sort of – you can see the view of that time reflected in the literature and I think that there’s been a much greater celebration of difference in more contemporary children’s books. I think you see that in something like Love Makes A Family and other books that are more recent. So definitely you see the attitudes of the day but much more of a – also awareness that there are different audiences and that it’s important that there are different kinds of books that speak to different children. So that young children today will be able to pick up a story that has something that they can relate to and especially perhaps if they feel – they might feel like they’re different and that there’ll be a story sort of for them.
A: Grace, thanks for that wonderful talk, it’s just lovely to hear about all the background. I’m just wondering too what was your feelings when you looked at the way different authors worked? I mean is there a big difference – somebody like Alison Lester, does she like to work with paper and – or does she prefer a computer? How did that sort of pan out when you were looking into those sorts of ways of working for children’s authors?
B: I think it – I guess like any sort of creative process it’s different for everyone. I did find – at NCACL they’ve got quite a lot of Alison Lester material there and there’s some illustrations I have, one that I’ve included in the exhibition from Sophie Scott Goes South, her book about a young girl going with her dad to Antarctica.
You can see she’s used the whole sheet of paper and then when you compare that to the book obviously each little picture has been scanned but they’re not even sort of all facing the right way. I just get the sense from her that she was just somebody who had lots of ideas and was always writing on things and it wasn’t necessarily that it had to sort of look sort of polished, it was more about getting each little image right. I did also find some typed notes, sort of more typed manuscripts where she’d then annotated them as well. I think increasingly people do seem to work on computer, that seems to be the main sort of process but a lot of people still I think have a lot of notebooks.
Something I found really interesting is the exchange between author and illustrator and as I mentioned in Mem Fox’s papers there's a lot of emails between – they’re printed so Mem’s printed a lot of emails between Judy – where she’s sort of emailing Judy Horocek and yeah, I guess that perhaps like another main way that people communicate. I don’t think they were living in the same city when they worked on that book and the emails are just hilarious so if you’re interested in the Green Sheep I really encourage reading the emails. Sort of a bit hard to include them in the exhibition ‘cause you would have needed a lot but they’re basically obsessed with the green sheep and they’re sort of cracking all these jokes with each other and it’s – yeah, that kind of exchange.
I guess of course another approach would be that some people – I believe Terry Denton and Andy Griffiths, they’re more sort of friends and they would kind of be in the same place and like meet up and share ideas that way so so many different approaches you could take and you can spend so many hours just getting lost in someone’s manuscripts collection, definitely.
A: Thank you very much, Grace, it was marvellous going back through my – I was born in 1960 so it was lovely to revisit a lot of that stuff. The indigenous oral tradition of storytelling, did that – you didn’t touch on anything like that?
B: We limited ourself to published children’s books. One of the reason – well the reason why I wanted to start with the section looking at the dreaming which we called Living Knowledge ‘cause that’s obviously – the dreaming stories are alive, they’re not – sometimes people think of it as something from the past but just to be sort of aware that it’s something that’s living and it’s very important for a lot of people. But yeah, we limited ourself to printed books so we do have some early material that I didn’t talk about in this lecture but you’ll see it upstairs and very much it’s in - from my research that there wasn’t a lot of involvement or agency from indigenous people in the telling of those stories for children and that really it seems to be more from the 1960s onwards.
People like Oodgeroo Noonuccal's very important and the Dick Roughsey books. They're in English but they’re just very important sort of step towards what we have today where it’s really indigenous Australians telling their stories and as I mentioned increasingly published in language which is wonderful ‘cause it’s such an important way of keeping the story and the culture alive but the language too.
G: Thanks very much, Grace. I mean –
G: I have to say the exhibition has inspired me to dig out some old books and read them to my children and assure them that these are classics and they need to know about them. I’ll wait ‘til I finish and see whether they think they agree with me but no, I’ve been revisiting Ivan Southall, very good.
Couple of plugs, we mentioned we’ve been doing this – we’ve done this exhibition in association with NCACL so if you’re interested there’s some brochures up the top here about talks which are coming up on the topic of children’s literature so Sarah-Jane – I don’t know how to pronounce her second name, I’m sorry, Belle – Leigh Hobbs and Bob Graham are all talking in the coming weeks so you can pick up a brochure as you leave.
If you’re interested of course I encourage you to go to the exhibition which is on the ground floor and there’s also some very interesting oral history excerpts which you can listen to in the foyer just off the exhibition space where you can hear some of the authors talk about their creative process. I’ve been told by the shop that you have a limited opportunity of one hour to go and purchase this book for a 10% discount so if you feel so inclined. This is Storytime, it’s associated with the exhibition and talks about how some of the famous children’s characters were created so you can pick that up from the shop for a special price for the next hour.
So that’s today’s event, thank you very much for coming and we hope to see you here again soon. Bye.
End of recording