Welcome to the blog of the Tasmanian branch of the Children's Book Council of Australia!

Friday 25 February 2022

Step into the lives of others: A database of Australian children’s literature reflecting our diverse culture

Following on from posts over the previous fortnight celebrating Aboriginal literature and how to discover a wealth of titles via the NCACL Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Resource, this week introduces another excellent resource: The NCACL Cultural Diversity Database.

Here is the story behind the decision of the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature to create a database of children’s books featuring cultural diversity. 

You may have heard the oft-quoted analogy—children’s books are ‘windows, sliding doors and mirrors’ explored here in this article. ‘A window is a resource that offers you a view into someone else’s experience. A sliding door allows the reader to enter the story and become a part of the world. A mirror is a story that reflects your own culture and helps you build your identity’ (We Are Teachers Staff, 2018, para. 4). Children’s books are the perfect medium to do all three.  

We all know that the Australian population is culturally diverse. The facts are available from the Australian Human Rights Commission website which states: ‘One in four of Australia’s 28 million people were born overseas; 46 per cent have at least one parent who was born overseas; and nearly 20 per cent of Australians speak a language other than English at home’(2014, para 5). These statistics and the windows, sliding doors and mirrors analogy motivated us to create a database featuring cultural diversity in Australian children’s books. 

We found other such databases in Canada and the United States. We studied these, chose their best features and decided what would work for Australia. We asked teachers, public librarians, teacher librarians, home schooling groups, researchers, specialists in children’s literature, literacy, English as an Additional Language/Dialect (EALD) and staff at the ACT Directorate of Education what would be useful? 

As our perspective on this topic developed, we needed to choose which books to include. The Centre is very fortunate to receive donations from publishers, authors and illustrators so we see the majority of Australian children’s books. We also extensively researched existing sources to discover others’ views on culturally diverse children’s books. Here are just a few that we examined: 

  • The Canadian Children’s Book Centre —Social Justice & Diversity Book Bank
  • United States non-profit organisation —We Need Diverse Books
  • AustLit: the Resource for Australian Literature 
  • Australian Multicultural Children’s Literature Award (1991-1995)
  • CBCA’s Notable Books (1990-)
  • International Board on Books for Young People Australia Honour Books
  • The White Ravens: A Selection of International Children’s and Youth Literature
  • Source Online: Subject Guide to Children’s Books 
  • Kerry White’s Australian Children’s Fiction: The Subject Guide (1993 and 1996)
  • Prime Minister’s Awards for Children and Young Adult Books and all State Premier’s awards

These, other bibliographies and databases, plus a wide range of people with expertise in this field, helped us determine what and how we would capture and deliver books featuring cultural diversity. We read hundreds of books, discussed, annotated and assigned key concepts then we added Australian Curriculum Links and the Early Years Learning Frameworks. We sought out database expertise and design at 372 Digital in Canberra. It was a big learning curve. We learned a new ‘language’ about databases and realised undreamed of possibilities. A year later, our Cultural Diversity database said ‘Hello!’ to the world.  People told us what they thought of the Cultural Diversity Database, and we added comments to our website.

“The database is accessible and interesting.  It seems to me that kids need to be hearing their own stories and more than ever the stories of others too and access to libraries and such information as you are putting together will go some way to help that along.”
Bob Graham | Author and Illustrator | April 25 2019

“This is an amazing initiative by the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature – a database that can be searched for titles that showcase or promote diversity, be it cultural, linguistic, familial, political, geographical, historical. Explanations and background here, dive right in here.”
Australia School Library Association | Newsletter, 30 April 2019

Pictures in this blog are jacket covers for just some of my favourites! Why not search for them on the database for publication information, curriculum links and plot summary.

Dr Belle Alderman AM, Emeritus Professor of Children's Literature 

Director, National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature Inc


We Are Teachers Staff (2018, July 12). What are windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors? We Are Teachers. https://www.weareteachers.com/mirrors-and-windows/ 

Australian Human Rights Commission. (2014). Face the facts: Cultural diversity. https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/education/face-facts-cultural-diversity 

Saturday 19 February 2022

Discover engaging stories on the Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander Resource database

Maureen Mann has been inspired by the diverse voices represented on the NCACL Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander Resource database and follows up last week’s post by Dr Belle Alderman, to share some of her thoughts on a selection of titles located on the database.

I have been dipping in to the Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander Resource. Explore it here NCACL’s database.  (See last week’s blog from Dr Belle Alderman- A gateway to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s literature) I’ve had some fun exploring the resource and then finding items to read. There were a few which I had already reported on in my blog last year while travelling in the Northern Territory but there were many more new-to-me titles. And there are many more which I haven’t had a chance of finding and reading – yet! 

The database is easy to use. Searches are easy. Look back at Dr Alderman’s listing last week for the details. Click on the cover after your search and a summary appears, with audience range listed. Then there’s more detail in subjects, annotation and teaching notes. 

Here are some of my choices, focussing more on books for early childhood and primary readers but something for secondary readers as well.

Aunty’s Wedding by Miranda Tapsell, Joshua Tyler & Samantha Fry. Allen & Unwin, 2020.

Everyone’s getting ready for the wedding. Maningawu describes what everyone will wear, and why there is a wedding. It’s a good introduction to Tiwi language with simple words woven into the narrative. Lovely illustrations, using bold colours. Great use of ‘white space’.

Azaria: A true story by Maree Coote. Walker Books, 2020.

This is a stunning description of the disappearance of baby Azaria Chamberlain at Uluru in 1980, the resultant police and justice investigation and how ignorance and the perils of mob thinking influenced the carriage of justice. The book tells all sides of the story: the family, the police, the indigenous trackers; its brilliant illustrations introduce many aspects of culture from across the world.

Backyard Birds by Helen Milroy. Fremantle Press, 2020.

Helen Milroy introduces the reader to many familiar birds. Each bird is shown on one page with an action statement opposite, often with rhyme or alliteration. Bright colours and swirling images attract the reader. 

Bindi by Kirli Saunders & Deb Leffler. Magabala Books, 2020.

This verse novel is one year in the life of indigenous girl Bindi Hoskins, her friends and family as they face the challenges of drought, fire and the complex world. The use of Gundungurra language enriches the reading experience and the pencil drawings enhance the reader’s understanding of Bindi’s world. 

Brother Moon by Maree McCarthy Yoelu & Samantha Fry. Magabala Books, 2020.

Told while sitting in a house beside the sea, this is great-grandpa Liman’s story about his brother, who slowly unfolds as the reader learns more details: wise, never growing old, brightest at night, changing shape, a helper during the hunt and a protector from unwelcome visitors. There’s a great double-page spread showing the moon’s phases and a joyful realisation by Hippy. Lovely evocative illustrations are done in pencil on dark paper. Both creators of this book are from the Northern Territory. Yoelu is a Wadjigany woman and Samantha Fry is descended from the Dagiman people.

Dry to Dry by Pamela Freeman & Liz Anelli. Walker Books, 2020.

Winner of the Eve Pownall Award in 2021. This is a wonderful depiction of the changing seasons in Kakadu in northern Australia. The reader sees the change from dry season through all the stages of the wet and back to the dry season. Along the way the myriad of animals, insects and birds are introduced to the reader. There’s a short summary of the six seasons recognised by indigenous inhabitants. 

Landing with Wings by Trace Balla. Allen & Unwin, 2020.

This is a complex and multi-levelled long picture book, or is it a graphic novel? Miri Blossom is forced to leave her beloved tea tree to move to the Goldfields, and doesn’t want to go. Miri, or Bloss, and her mum travel the train to get there, arriving in the dark. And then we, the reader, see her adjust to her new life, exploring, meeting new neighbours, and making a great adjustment – better than her mum, at times, who wants to move again. Bloss documents the changing seasons and landscape in her sketchbook, and we slowly see Mum adjusting and making friends. Details of cultural life in Dja Dja Wurrung country are incorporated seamlessly, with Balla guided by local elders. Created in Balla’s signature graphic novel format, full of detail and memorable characters.

Tell ‘em by Katrina Germein and Rosemary Sullivan and the children of Manyallaluk School. Harper Collins, 2020.

This exuberant celebration of all the things which the children of the Roper River region of the Northern Territory enjoy doing. As an adult, the reader will recognise the shouts from the children wanting to include their favourite activities, but younger readers will recognise many things. They will also learn about some Indigenous ceremonies, stories and how life in this remote area differs from their own.

Putting Australia on the Map by Carole Wilkinson. Simon & Schuster, 2020.

Wilkinson documents the slow discovery by European explorers of the existence of Australia, while also acknowledging that First Nations people had lived here for over 50,000. She comments on van Diemen’s timidity because he had been warned to expect ‘fierce savages’ and Dampier’s surprise that the Indigenous people didn’t envy the British way of life or admire their possessions. Throughout the book there are reproductions of contemporary maps which slowly expose the outline of what we now know as Australia. A highly readable non-fiction book which adults and younger readers will enjoy.

The Boy from the Mish by Gary Londesborough. Allen & Unwin, 2021.

This debut novel is the story of Jackson from the NSW South Coast after his Aunty Pam and his cousins on their annual visit from Sydney arrive with an extra person, Tomas. The growing attraction between Jackson and Tomas is the basis of the story. But there is more than their emerging relationship, including the definition of masculinity, identity, culture and the role of art in expression and healing. 

Maureen Mann
Retired teacher librarian and avid reader

Editor's note Each image is linked to its record on the database where you will discover intended audience, curriculum links, related subjects, an annotation and a link teacher resources if available.

Monday 14 February 2022

A gateway to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s literature

 Have you had a chance to explore the Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander Resource? This extensive database, hosted on the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature (NSACL) is the focus of this week’s post. Belle Alderman, a Director of the Centre shares insights into the development of this significant resource. 

The Australian Government’s Department of Education, Skills and Employment provided a grant to the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature (NCACL) in 2020. They tasked the NCACL with creating a database of children’s books by and about Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander Peoples aimed at teachers and others interested. 


Associate Professor Robert Sommerville AM, Martu Aboriginal man from WA, an educator and academic at Edith Cowan University, described this resource as ‘first class’ advising:


‘The resource will be a bonus for educators and caregivers alike. Educators are not only provided with numerous titles to be explored but also a host of support features that will certainly enhance the educative process. These features include links to national curriculum and the EYLF, teaching resources such that the book can be used as an anchor point for topics as diverse as ANZAC Day to Dreaming stories, as well as handy summaries pertaining to the author and in most cases the illustrator. As a planning tool it really does enable the embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content into everyday teaching. For parents it provides easy access to a range of exciting Titles that reflect contemporary Australian society.’

The NCACL developed quality assurance methods. A Reference Group, Critical Friends and 18 culturally diverse, experienced and knowledgeable people across Australia participated. This strategy ensured various perspectives, including those of First Nations People. 

Extreme challenges beset this project, including bushfires and COVID lockdowns but the highly committed individuals persevered in spite of libraries closing, family lockdowns, tight deadlines and challenging technology. They collectively created a unique and much needed resource. Every resource was researched, reviewed and moderated to ensure a respectful, high quality collection. First Nations Critical Friends reviewed and advised throughout. 

By February 2022, the NCACL’s database featured 525 titles. Books continue to be added. The last two years reveal a remarkable growth in publications in this area from both specialist and mainstream publishers. For example, 55 books published in this area since 2020 have been added to the database. An excellent overview of this remarkable growth appears in this article, ‘What’s the hottest trend in book publishing right now? 

Every book in the database includes 

  • bibliographical details 
  • content summary 
  • audience 
  • subjects
  • creators’ cultural background, story location and Aboriginal language (where identified)
  • teaching resources
  • Early Years Learning Framework and the Australian Curriculum

Search filters retrieve these details for an individual book or for a collection of related books. Search results can be shared via social media or via email. Quick Tips for Searching provides detailed guidance.

These latest books reflect the power of children’s stories to reconcile our differences and bring us together. Here are a few examples.

Respect written by Aunty Fay Muir and Sue Lawson, illustrated by Lisa Kennedy, Magabala Books, 2020 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture, Family and the need to listen, learn and share with each other includes deeper concepts including respect, stories, songs, elders and Country.

Heroes, Rebels and Innovators : Inspiring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People from History

written by Karen Wyld, illustrated by Jaelyn Biumaiwai, Lothian Children’s Book, 2021 

Seven stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heroes and heroines from the eighteenth-twentieth century include interactions between the original inhabitants and newcomers to Australia. 

Kunyi written and illustrated by Kunyi June Anne McInerney, Magabala Books, 2021 

Kunyi illustrates her life as a Stolen Generations child through 60 paintings revealing stories about her childhood. 

The First Scientists : Deadly Inventions and Innovations from Australia’s First People written by Corey Tut, illustrated by Blak Douglas, Hardie Grant Explore, 2021 

Inventions and innovations developed by the First Nations People reveal cultural practices finely tuned to living on Country and understanding the environmental impact of people. 

Flock : First Nations Stories Then and Now edited by Ellen van Neerven, University of Queensland Press, 2021 

Twenty-one fictional short stories reveal First Nations’ historical, social and cultural concerns, opening conversations about the treatment and culture of First Nations People.   

Dr Belle Alderman AM, Emeritus Professor of Children's Literature 

Director, National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature Inc.

Friday 4 February 2022

Books and Emotions

Start off the year with this thoughtful post about emotions and the powerful role books have in helping children manage, reflect on, work through and celebrate the myriad of feelings they express each day.

Teachers often talk about regulating our emotions. We use phrases like... ‘feeling calm’; ‘being in the red/yellow/green/blue zone’ and ‘...breathing it out’. Language that the children at our school all know and trust, especially when they need it most. We use language associated with the emotions themselves; the physical responses to emotions; and the strategies related to regulation of emotions. This year, more than ever, we will be supporting our students to manage and challenge their emotions.

But what about books? What do they have to do with emotions? And I wonder, what place do they have in regulating emotions? Particularly for children? 

When a child turns to books to regulate, to calm, to find their happy place, is it about escaping? Or is it actually about relating? 

Whatever it is, it sure can work. Books have a wonderful way of calming, and of removing angst and upset. Different children go for different genres. When things are tough the Guinness World Records (no matter the year!), has this marvellous knack of engaging. Magazines too – Kids National Geographic and AMB (mountain biking) are popular class subscriptions. A really good series, that you just can’t put down can also do just the trick. The Rangers Apprentice series is a popular one for escaping into. And the spoken word – story telling too is a marvellous tool for when things get a bit much. And the best ones are often the ones that don’t make any sense at all, but come from a place of spontaneity. As a child, my Dad used to tell a story of his own, about a rocket. To this day, none of us knew where it came from, or what became of it, but the story sure did hit the spot!

There certainly isn’t a one size fits all ‘calming’ strategy, but what if was as simple as finding the genre fit?

As another school year begins, with the added complexities in our world right now, we will all benefit from having some effective calming strategies to draw on – going for a walk? Listening to music? Counting to 10? Deep breathing? Different strategies fit for different purposes, with that repertoire ever important to have up our sleeve. 

Perhaps we do also need to remind ourselves, ‘You’ve got this!’? It is a popular phrase at the moment. It is simple, yet effective. But what does it actually mean? Maybe it should be ‘You’ve got this. (But when you don’t, just grab a book and all will be well.)’?

Emma Nuttall
Teacher, reader and passionate advocate for children’s literature.