'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 16 November 2012

Review: Butcher Paper, Texta, Black Board and Chalk

What has always fascinated me about Ruby Hunter was her ability to communicate with children, the ease with which she could enter their world and become a child herself. Time and time again I observed this phenomenon, whether it was with our children, nephews and nieces or grandchildren; always inspiring me. – Archie Roach, from the foreword to Butcher Paper, Texta, Black Board and Chalk

It would be easy to describe this book as simply a collection of songs, co-written by Ruby Hunter and the children of the communities of Cape York with music by Archie Roach, accompanied by a CD and DVD. A good classroom resource and an interesting glimpse into the daily lives and interests of young indigenous children in this remote area. Easy, but far from accurate.

Butcher Paper, Texta, Black Board and Chalk is all that and far more. It is a tribute to Ruby Hunter and her passion for the children in these communities. It is a tribute to those who understood her passion and carried her idea through to completion after her passing in 2010. It is a celebration of life through the eyes of children and, for me, a wonderful example of how the enormous creativity of children can shine through when encouraged by someone who believes in them and their potential.

The songs range from those that could be written by children anywhere, such as Shakey Wakey and I Love My Garden, to songs that clearly reflect life in indigenous communities Hunter visited in far north Queensland (Kowanyama, Kup Murri, Kup Murri). The accompanying CD features recordings of the songs with and without lyrics. The title of the book reflects the way the songs were composed, working in classrooms with children sharing their ideas by writing them down with texta and chalk on butcher paper and black boards.

I listened to the CD and read the book, which also features illustrations by Ruby Hunter, and thought that the project was quite lovely and certainly likely to be very useful, particularly in primary school classrooms. I then watched the DVD featured on the flip side of the soundtrack and was moved to tears by the passion and joy so evident in Ruby Hunter as she worked with the students, helping them to shape their ideas into songs that reflected their lives and their interests.

Archie Roach’s words about what this project meant to Ruby were particularly moving. His obvious love for Ruby and his admiration of how she could connect with children and really hear their voices shines through. Footage from Ruby’s visits to the schools, working with the children and performing the songs, gives very clear evidence that what he says is true. Ruby had a very special gift for connecting the children with their own songs.

Profits from the sale of Butcher Paper, Texta, Black Board and Chalk will go to Ruby’s Foundation, an organisation dedicated to creating opportunities for Aboriginal people through the promotion, celebration and support of Aboriginal arts and culture. For further information about the inspiration for the book and the process of making Ruby’s dream a reality, visit the One Tree Hill website and watch the videos from the book’s launch.

Butcher Paper, Texta, Black Board and Chalk isn’t just a useful book, although it is that, it is also something extremely special – a tribute to the children of Cape York and the woman who encouraged them to share their songs.

Title: Butcher Paper, Texta, Black Board and Chalk
Author: Ruby Hunter & Archie Roach
Illustrator: Ruby Hunter
Publisher: One Tree Hill (distributed by Scholastic), $19.99 RRP
Publication Date: September 2012
Format: Soft cover song book with accompanying CD/DVD
ISBN: 9780980794847
For ages: 8+ years
Type: Music book, Picture book