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

Friday 6 September 2019

Story Time : Australian Children's Literature Exhibition


by KBR Founder, Tania McCartney

On 21 August, I was fortunate to attend the Story Time: Australian Children's Literature Exhibition opening was held at the National Library of Australia. What a breathtaking event. The exhibition is so exquisite and so comprehensive, it's hard to give a full outline, so here is a peek at the event and the treasures held in the exhibit.

Needless to say, from the very first children's book printed in Australia (A Mother's Offering to Her Children) to  Chinese versions of the 13-Storey Treehouse, this is pure children's literature heaven.

Created in partnership by the National Centre for Australian Children's Literature (NCACL) and the National Library of Australia, and curated by Grace Blakeley-Carroll, this is truly something you cannot miss.

Let's open the front cover!

The Hon Dr Brett Mason, Chair of Council, NLA, opens proceedings
Dr Marie-Louise Ayres, NLA Director-General, also spoke beautifully

local Canberra book people Genevieve Hopkins, Sarah Wallace, Leanne Barrett, Sarah Steed, Tania McCartney

a glorious (and funny!) Welcome to Country by Ngunnawal Elder, Aunty Violet Sheridan

Emily Rodda's Opening speech was superb - how I wish I had a copy

Tania McCartney, NCACL Director Dr Belle Alderman, Nicole Brownlee from Story Box Library

Nicole Brownlee and Dr Stephanie Owen Reeder, author of the exhibition companion book

The exquisite, bookish food displays ...

That's me there, below, barely able to contain myself. I'm about to walk into Wonderland. And I'm about to fall in love all over again with children's books, if that's at all possible. I'm not even sure it is, but perhaps it's true that love can ceaselessly expand.

The moment you walk through the Story Time Exhibition doors, this beautiful creation greets you. It's A Mother's Offering to Her Children by Charlotte Waring Atkinson. Charlotte is the great-great-great-great grandmother of authors Belinda Murrell and Kate Forsyth, and Kate has written about the book right here - a fascinating piece.

In the very first room, this exquisite - there is no other word - wall of ORIGINAL artwork from The Rainbow Serpent by Dick Roughsey (1975). I cannot express how moving this display is. It's utterly, completely beautiful, and I am going back to stare at it for hours. The colours. The skill. Just incredible.

The line-up of retro covers - to die for!

Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner was one of my very favourite books as a child. I read an illustrated version from 1975 relentlessly and I still have it. It's barely able to hold itself together. Here is a peek at this version of the book (a stock photo) illustrated by Mary Brooks, adapted from the TV series (poster of the series below).

And just look at this exquisite early copy. The handwritten note is Ethel's - she was taking notes for an article about the book.

And early character study from Shaun Tan's The Arrival...

Nicole Brownlee and Sarah Wallace discuss Bob

Bob Graham! Always a joy.

Here is some May Gibbs heaven (just some of it).

This exquisite artwork by May, above, was a character study for Gum-Blossom Babies. It's something you'll examine with your nose two centimetres from the glass. The colours! Oh my.

Here is local author/illustrator Genevieve Hopkins, adoring this superb fairy art by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. And just look at the Fairyland book!! And the candles--this was some early branding. Those candles--these are the type of candles that pock-marked the cakes of my childhood.

This is Australian history, right here...

Major childhood flashback with Bottersnikes and Gumbles. Those pudgy little creamy tummies and that gnarled bubbly skin still have a visceral effect on me.


Jeannie Baker

Jeannie Baker

Another devastating blow from my childhood. Why did I not have this game? And can you believe Freya Blackwood's stunning work from The Man From Snowy River picture book (Scholastic).

Freya Blackwood

I have a more recent incarnation of this fabulous book

Dorothy Wall

Ruth Park


This glorious Playtime section is specifically designed for kids, and features an audio visual display of stories from the divine Story Box Library.

The companion book, Story Time Stars, was for sale on the night. Penned by my friend and book creation partner Stephanie Owen Reeder, it's just the most sensational peek at Australian children's book characters from the last 100 years. I smiled the entire way through this book--it brings such joy. Don't miss it. You can purchase here. And read KBR's review right here.

The Canberra Times produced a fabulous feature article on the Exhibition and the companion book. Read it here.

Be sure to check out our guest post with Dr Belle Alderman, Director of NCACL, on 10 reasons why you simply must visit this astonishing exhibition. Read it here.

And lastly, you simply cannot miss this exquisite exhibition experience. It will rocket you back to childhood. It will inspire and uplift. It will delight. Be prepared to ooh and ahh.

Huge congrats to Dr Belle Alderman of the National Centre for Australian Children's Literature and her team, to the National Library and to the partners involved in this incredible achievement.


Learn more about the exhibition by clicking the poster above.