With National Threatened Species Day falling on the 7 September, this week’s post presents fiction written expressly to capture young readers’ attention and build awareness, interest and active concern in our native animals and the myriad of threats they are facing. It is confronting to come to terms with how many native species in Tasmania are threatened through the impact of humankind on the landscape but heartening to see the work of children’s authors and illustrators to champion our natural world – on land and sea - and those who live within.
Fittingly, and poignantly, Threatened Species Day was declared in 1996 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the death of the last remaining thylacine (Tasmanian tiger). The tragic fate of this misunderstood and much maligned animal has featured in a number of picture books, the most recent, the stunning and heartbreaking One Careless Night by Tasmanian author and illustrator Christina Booth. This hauntingly illustrated book follows the last thylacine on its journey through stunning wilderness landscapes to its final destination in captivity. Visit Christina’s website for more about the book, teacher notes and a useful pictorial for children on how to draw a thylacine.
An earlier work, also by Christina Booth, Purinina: A Devil’s Tale is seen through the eyes of a young female Tassie devil, from infancy, suckling in her mother's pouch, to adolescence and playing with her brothers. The prolonged absence of her mother and then her return with the facial tumour disease marks a turning point for Purinina, and the species, as she grows up alone to then participate herself in the cycle of life, and death. This is a beautifully told story with stunning illustrations where colour changes and shifts to set the tone and mood of the events. The text is accompanied by notes about the life and habitat of this often misunderstood Australian animal and the threats it faces. The author’s website includes a link to an article about the use of aboriginal language – also endangered - to explain the name -Purinina.
For a longer read aimed at independent 7 to 12 year old readers, Queenslander, Samantha Wheeler has expanded her series on Australian endangered animals with the recent release of Devils in Danger set in Dodges Ferry in southern Tasmania. 11 year old Killarney is initially scared, then intrigued by the aggressive screaming coming from under the family’s old weatherboard house. On discovering that a female Tasmanian devil has moved in, and with the help of a visiting scientist, Killarney takes on the responsibility of protecting the devil through the gestation of her two imps, the joy of watching them grow and play and the heartbreaks when Fern falls victim to the facial tumour disease. Tasked with turning around community distrust and antagonism towards this unappreciated native animal, Wheeler takes the reader on a journey of discovery weaving factual information effortlessly into the story line with a strong focus on affirmative action to help native animals and protect them against the dangers that human habitation poses. The concluding extracts from Killarney’s journal adds to the scientific knowledge collected incidentally throughout the story. Access teacher notes and Samantha Wheeler as she reads the first pages.
Tasmanian illustrator Coral Tulloch has built a respected reputation of her accurate and realistic illustrations. Her close affinity with the natural world permeates her work and is effectively capture in her portrayal in Bouncing Back: An Eastern Barred Bandicoot Story. Listed as vulnerable in Tasmania, on the eastern seaboard of Australia the small and inquisitive creature is under extreme threat due to habitat loss, predators and human development. Discover more about Coral’s work with children and interest in wildlife in this post and on the CSIRO website.
A notable book for CBCA 2021 Eve Pownall Award and shortlisted for the Environment Award for Children’s Literature: Nonfiction, the creative and scientific efforts of Gina M Newton and Rachel Tribout (residing part time in Tasmania and inspired by the beauty that surrounds her) put the spotlight on the spotted handfish and its relatives. Hold on!: Saving the Spotted Handfish is an engaging factual account of this fascinating bottom feeder that ‘walks’ on the ocean floor and that has been around since the dinosaurs. However, the impact of invasive species, pollution and climate change has sadly resulted in this little known fish being listed as critically endangered. Newton and Tribout’s representation of the handfish speaks to young readers with detailed and fascinating information presented in an accessible and expressively illustrated format. The book also includes important information about the status of this and other handfish with suggestions for positive action to help preserve this allusive creature. There is further information available on CSIRO's website. Read more about Rachel’s work and inspiration for this and other projects on her post: Drawing on the Landscape.
In an interview posted by her publisher CSIRO (2021, April 16, section 5), Anne talks about her inspiration and says “I want children to care about seadragons and the delicate, complex web of life that exists in the sea. The information at the back of The Way of the Weedy Seadragon explains that climate change is warming the oceans and making them more acidic. Kelp forests are an important part of the Weedy seadragons’ habitat, but the kelp is rapidly disappearing due to climate change. I hope that the more children know about the sea, its marvellous creatures and their habitats, the more they will be inspired to protect the sea’s natural environments into the future.”
Anne’s message is indicative of the desire of many children’s book creators to harness their medium to connect young readers to the world around them in a personal way so that they grow up to be come responsible and caring global citizens striving to build a safer place for all creatures to live, and survive in. I applaud the power of literature to change the world!
If you can add another title focusing on Tasmanian wildlife under threat please comment and share.
CSIRO Publishing. (2021, April 16). Dive in and meet the weedy seadragon with Anne Morgan. CSIRO Publishing Blog. https://blog.publish.csiro.au/meet-the-weedy-seadragon-with-anne-morgan/
CBCA Tasmania Social Media Coordinator
To find out more about these champions of our animal kingdom visit their websites.
FB: Christina Booth Books
Gina M Newton