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Friday 19 June 2020

Reading in the Time of #BlackLivesMatter

A timely post from Lyndon Riggall reflecting on the power of literature to explore our own perspectives and views of the world. Read on to explore stories of celebration, history and hope.


Over the past few months on this blog there have been amazing and inspiring discussions of reading in the era of Covid-19, exploring challenges, opportunities and possibilities from the perspectives of families, schools, authors, artists, bookshops and publishers. It has reminded me that in turbulent moments that most maligned function of the printed word—“escapism”—can also be its most valuable.


Of course, escapism is only one function of writing. Sometimes, literature does the opposite, shining a light on something oh-so-real, be it celebration, history or hope. Coronavirus is one challenge that we face right now, but there are others, and I would like to give a signal boost in this post to a few children’s books that I have found offered me vital and valuable perspectives on the issues related to the #BlackLivesMatter, and internationally.




Our Home, Our Heartbeat by Briggs, gorgeously illustrated by Kate Moon and Rachel Sarra, is a picture book adaptation of his song “The Children Came Back.” The book is, at its very core, a rich and joyous text that explores the power and brilliance of Australia’s Indigenous legends, providing a striking list of heroes for further research and contemplation. It is an inspiring piece of work, reminding us all of the important contributions these individuals have made to our society in a way that is both joyous and triumphant.




Bruce Pascoe’s Young Dark Emu—the gorgeously minimalistic yet striking junior counterpart to his adult text Dark Emu—is an eye-opening, concise account of the past leading to Australia’s colonial occupation that argues for a change in the once-dominant narrative of this country that Aboriginal Australians were a hunter-gatherer society. It’s subtitle, A Truer History, beautifully sums up the book’s mission: to correct the assumptions of the past and reveal the reality of sophistication behind Australian culture before European occupation. By turns challenging, saddening and eye-opening, Young Dark Emu pulls the veil from the colonial narrative of our past while offering startling alternatives to the common misconceptions of life in Australia under the care of our First Nations people. 



In a similar vein that recognises the importance of these messages on a wider societal level, Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi is a manifesto by two stunningly insightful writers, cataloguing the realities of an American context while offering hope for the future. A “remix” of Kendi’s non-fiction text for adults, Stamped explicitly claims its status as “not a history book” on numerous occasions, and is instead a deeply practical, thoughtful and rousing call to arms. It is lyrically presented with lines of poetic phrasing that come at the reader with an almost physical force, and which can surely only be the recognised as the product of the deepest truth-telling. As a declaration for change, Stamped leaves a powerful mark.


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We live in a time in which there are no simple answers and uncertainties around every corner. We turn to literature to hide, yes, but sometimes we also turn to literature to reveal, and to see ourselves. If you have any further suggestions for further reading that can inform and inspire us all around this topic I would love to hear from you below.

Lyndon Riggall is a writer and teacher from Launceston. You can find him on Twitter @lyndonriggall or on his website at
http://lyndonriggall.com. His latest picture book, Becoming Ellie, is available at http://www.becomingellie.com.au


1 comment:

  1. Maybe Tomorrow by Boori (Monty) Prior is an amazing book which made me realise that I have no idea about what it is to live as an indigenous person in Australia. My Girragundji by Meme McDonald is just a great story, to be read on a variety of levels.