What a challenge: nominate my three favourite items in Story Time: Australian Children’s Literature. Which of the treasure trove of gems should I choose when each item is unique and special in its own way?
My first favourite is an original artwork from Australia’s iconic storyteller, May Gibbs. Three generations of Australians have enjoyed the adventures of her gum blossom babies, immortalised in her first Australian-published book, Gum Blossom Babies. Story Time features a jewel-like, preliminary artwork created for this book in 1915. This rare artwork has been donated to the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature (NCACL) by Jane Brummitt, Australia’s pre-eminent authority on May Gibbs. A friend of Jane’s spotted this artwork in an antique shop and knowing of her passion for May Gibbs, he took a photograph with his phone and sent it to her. Jane snared this beauty and, for a while, it remained in her home until she felt it should be shared more widely. Now it has through Story Time! More about this rare discovery features in an article by Jane in our e-journal, Behind the Imagined.
Original artwork for Max by Bob Graham from the NCACL collection. Max was published by Walker Books in 2000.
My second favourite is artwork created by Bob Graham for his children’s book, Max. This is a family story of superheroes and daring deeds. The entire family—mother, father and grandparents—can fly, with the exception of young Max. One day our youthful hero finds the perfect time to shine and is transformed into a small, flying super hero. Max is a simple story, filled with love, hope, pride and small but important achievements. We often are not privy to children’s favourites, not so with Max. In 2014, NCACL held a retrospective of Bob Graham’s work at the Canberra Museum and Gallery. His publisher created a giveaway poster showcasing several of his books. One day, I received a frantic phone call from a mother at the exhibition. Her son was distraught because there were no more posters. Did NCACL have a spare poster? We did. When they arrived, I asked the five-year-old boy which was his favourite of Bob Graham’s books. "Max", he said, with a face radiating pure bliss. We happened to have a spare Max poster. He accepted this poster with an unforgettable expression of pure happiness. This is the power of story. Be sure to see the original artworks from Max and a preliminary dummy revealing how the story developed in Story Time.
Original artwork for My Two Blankets by Freya Blackwood from the NCACL collection. My Two Blankets was published by Little Hare Books an imprint of Hardie Grant Egmont in 2014.
Now to my final favourite—My Two Blankets—a contemporary book by Irena Kobald and illustrated by one of Australia’s most talented artists, Freya Blackwood. Here, Freya excels by infusing her illustrations with emotion. Our main character, Cartwheel, is a young refugee recently arrived in Australia where everything feels strange and different. She is comforted by a familiar blanket in which Freya reflects aspects of her culture. Cartwheel meets a girl her age who kindly shares language and friendship. Most importantly, they share cultures. Fans of Freya’s work are fortunate that she is an artist who is curious about her own art and enjoys sharing her thought processes and techniques on her blog. These offer penetrating insights into both her intuitive and technical ways of working. When describing her character Cartwheel in a blog post, she writes “Cartwheel seemed to have designed herself and was in complete control. In some drawings of her, I couldn’t even really remember drawing them—it was all her, quietly reworking a drawing until it expressed exactly how she felt.” My Two Blankets reaches a diverse community of readers as it appears in Maori, German, Dutch, Catalan, Italian, and also in three bilingual editions of English with Dari, Arabic and Farsi. In Australia’s culturally diverse population, books such as My Two Blankets enable young people to understand and share similarities and differences. Story Time features an original artwork for My Two Blankets in the dedicated children’s area—Playtime—to inspire youthful creators to develop stories of their own.
An exhibition like Story Time has multigenerational appeal spanning as it does, Australia’s first published children’s book, A Mother’s Offering to Her Children by Charlotte Barton, alongside early works and contemporary creations. A special bonus of Story Time is its in-built encouragement to share stories and favourites among ourselves, remembering old favourites and discovering new ones.
Dr Belle Alderman AM is an Emeritus Professor of Children’s Literature and Director of the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature. The National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature began in 1974 under the name Lu Rees Archives. The collection is unique and internationally known as one of Australia’s major collections in the world.
Story Time: Australian Children’s Literature is produced in association with the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature.