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

Monday, 25 January 2016

Review: Australia to Z

If you pick up Australia to Z expecting another generic Australian-themed alphabet picture book, you’re in for a surprise. From the opening pages, with an Aborigine looking out to sea at a First Fleet-style ship on the horizon pictured opposite Boat people arriving on the same inky-blue waters, this is an alphabet book that invites questions and discussion as much as it seeks to capture images of Australia that represent our culture and country.

While most of the words chosen seem harmlessly nostalgic – Footy, Kangaroo, Lamington, Vegemite – discerning readers will find in the images complex layers of meaning despite the rough, sketch-like nature of the illustrations. Other words – Nationalist, Pokies, Rupert – are far less subtle.

While unlikely to appeal to young children, Australia to Z offers school-aged children and teens a springboard for questions and discussions on several levels depending on their age and interest. I found the book confronting and thought-provoking. My own children are beyond the age of regularly reading picture books, but I have shared Australia to Z with them and we have discussed some of the issues raised by the illustrations. There are teachers’ notes for late primary and secondary students available from the Allen & Unwin website.

National and cultural identity, nationhood, and citizenship are complex and multi-facted topics. Australia to Z offers a starting point for discussions on these topics at home and school. You may not agree with how some of the words are represented (or their inclusion at all), but that is part of the value of this book. It isn’t definitive, but rather it invites us to look beyond the stereotypical symbols and clichéd phrases to consider what it really means to be Australian.

Title: Australia to Z
Author/Illustrator: Armin Greder
Publisher: Allen & Unwin, $29.99 RRP
Publication Date: 4 January 2016
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781760113186
For ages: 7 - adult
Type: Picture Book

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