Dr Belle Alderman AM, Director, National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature Inc, provides us with a preview of a new exhibition soon to be launched at the National Library of Australia. The Story Time: Australian Children’s Literature exhibition showcases some wonderful children's literature collections.
Story Time: Australian Children’s Literature is a major exhibition showcasing the collections of the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature (NCACL) and the National Library of Australia. For three years we have delved into our individual collections and now offer a thematic and historical insight into our Australian stories for young people.
One gem is a young boy’s personally inscribed and coloured in A Mother’s Offering to Her Children, Australia’s first children’s book, published in 1841. There will be remembered classics and contemporary Indigenous works by Dick Roughsey and Bronwyn Bancroft.
The NCACL has loaned 69 gems for this exhibition. The final choice of these is yet to be made. It will be a difficult choice because these include May Gibbs’ preliminary illustration for Gum-blossom Babies (1915), Bob Graham’s artwork for Max, Graeme Base’s jacket cover and preliminaries for The Eleventh Hour and much-loved items by Alison Lester.
Stephanie Owen Reeder has written Story Time Stars, an illustrated gem, to accompany this exhibition. This family-friendly book features 60 favourite characters from Australian children’s books, including iconic ones from The Magic Pudding, Possum Magic, that Hippopotamus (sitting on the roof), and one of my contemporary favourites, Cartwheel from Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood’s My Two Blankets.
The NCACL recently accepted with enormous pride and pleasure all Freya Blackwood’s preliminary and final artwork for My Two Blankets. This timeless story of leaving a war-torn country for a new life in Australia is an example of great artistry in both words and images. Already a firm favourite with both young and old, winner of four awards and published in eight languages, My Two Blankets is a book for all times. The story behind translating books such as these reveals extraordinary challenges because of the nuances of language and the story itself. Matthew Callahan, a professional translator, spoke of the challenges of translation in his fascinating article about Australian children’s books, including those by Freya Blackwood.
Our NCACL research file on Freya Blackwood provides an in depth insight into her work and documents the extraordinary 50 awards bestowed on her books including the Kate Greenaway Award from the UK, awards from the CBCA, book industry, children’s choice awards as well as multiple shortlistings. Her books have been translated into numerous languages including, for My Two Blankets, Maori, German, Dutch, Catalan, Italian, and also bilingual editions of English with Dari, Arabic and Farsi.
Freya’s work is deceptively simple, yet the emotional content snares the reader and leaves a lasting impression. The NCACL research file provides numerous profiles of her work appearing in Reading Time and Magpies, major Australian newspapers as well as many overseas children’s literature journals.
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 website blogs. These are invariably penetrating with insights into both her intuitive and technical ways of working. Here she is describing her character Cartwheel from My Two Blankets. ‘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.’ (9 Aug 2013 website blog) Further insights into Freya Blackwood’s intuitive way of working on other books appear in a conversation held at the Wheeler Centre soon after her winning the Kate Greenaway Award for her illustrations for Harry & Hopper. For further comments by Freya on her thoughts and deliberations for My Two Blankets, visit our NCACL website and explore our artwork framework for this book.
Freya Blackwood is but one artist who will be featured in Story Time and Story Time Stars. Make plans to visit the exhibition over its five-month showing. Your reward will be memorable moments and confirmation that Australian children’s literature occupies centre stage in the world of children’s literature.
Blackwood, Freya. Website
Callahan, Matthew ‘The Translation of Children’s Literature – the Translator’s Perspective’ Behind the Imagined Issue 3, 2019, pp18-30
Children's Book Festival 2013: Freya Blackwood. Wheeler Centre, 27 January 2015
Kobald, Irena My Two Blankets illus Freya Blackwood. Little Hare, 2014
National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature. Freya Blackwood Artworks. ‘Artists’ Artwork A – L’ then select Blackwood, Freya links
Reeder, Stephanie Owen Story Time Stars National Library of Australia, 2019 (forthcoming)
Story Time: Australian Children’s Literature. Exhibition to be held at the National Library of Australia from 22 August 2019 – 9 February 2020
Wild, Margaret Harry & Hopper illus Freya Blackwood. Omnibus Books, 2009
Dr Belle Alderman AM
Dr Belle Alderman AM
Director, National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature Inc