If only they could have been introduced to Australia's past through a book like this one!
On the opening pages, we meet kids Kiah and Mandu, two of Australia's first inhabitants. In simple text and engaging illustrations we learn how they spend their days, what they eat, how they play. We're also shown their day-to-day tools (boomerangs, woven baskets, spears, stones for grinding). It's a snapshot of life as it was thousands of years ago.
Fast forward to the 1800s, and European settlement has occurred. Meg is a servant girl and the daughter of a convict. William was gaoled for picking pockets, but now works on a farm. On we move through the early 1900s, Federation, the world wars, the 1960s, '70s, '80s and '90s, right up to today, depicted in each case by a 'typical' boy and a girl.
My daughter and I have already spent an enjoyable hour or two paging through this book. While so much has changed over the centuries — technology, multiculturalism, professions — so much has also remained the same. Kids are kids, whatever the era. They seek friendship, they love to play, they have dreams. Fashions, however, come and go! My daughter was horrified by the ribbon adorning the ponytail of William from the 1800s and wasn't enamoured with Annie's 1900s dress and pinafore either. But the 1970s kaftan and sandals seemed to meet with approval.
From an adult perspective, it gave me quite a jolt to realise that we've been reading Green Eggs and Ham since the 1960s, while Harry Potter (which my daughter is now enjoying) has been around for nearly 20 years already! And who else remembers spending hours fiddling frustratedly with a Rubik's Cube in the 1980s?
This is a book to return to time and again, as more details are spotted at each reading. At the back of the book, photographs from the National Library archives have been included to further illustrate each period, and will inevitably spark more memories and conversation. The high-quality paper stock and hardcover fortunately mean it's a book that will withstand the wear and tear.
Done well, non-fiction picture books are such a great way to engage kids in learning about subjects like history, geography and science. Australian Kids Through the Years is a fantastic example of this. Highly recommended.
Title: Australian Kids Through the Years
Author: Tania McCartney
Illustrator: Andrew Joyner
Publisher: NLA Publishing, $24.99 RRP
Publication Date: October 2015
For ages: 5–8
Type: Picture Book