Physical Address

304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124

5 First Nations Picture Books for Australian Children During NAIDOC Week
Belinda Howell/Getty images

Books are powerful tools for educating and empowering children about the histories, achievements, and ongoing contributions of First Nations peoples to Australian society.

The best books are often written by First Nations authors, authentically recognizing and celebrating culture. They are frequently published by First Nations publishers, such as Broome-based Magabala Books or the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

Here are five such picture books to read during NAIDOC week – or any time.

1. Mrs White and the Red Desert by Josie Boyle, illustrated by Maggie Prewett
Magabala Books

Written by Josie Boyle (Wongutha), this story focuses on three First Nations students, aged around five to eight years old, who live in a corrugated iron house in the West Australian desert, exposed to the winds and gritty red sand.

One night, they invite their teacher, Mrs. White, a white lady dressed in white clothes, to dinner to show her why their homework is always so grubby. They clean the house very carefully before her arrival.

Maggie Prewett (Ngarluma) uses vibrant earthy tones to transport readers to the outback with deep browns, reds, and purples, combined with rich golds and emeralds to evoke the environment. Brushstrokes mimic the descriptions in the book, curling and swirling with words like “wavy” and “higgledy-piggledy.”

The book demonstrates cross-cultural connections and the developing relationship between Mrs. White and her students, highlighting the challenges some students face. When a sandstorm hits, the homework, house, and Mrs. White herself turn red with dust!

2. I Saw We Saw by Yolngu students at Nhulunbuy Primary School with Ann James and Ann Haddon
Indigenous Literacy Foundation

“I Saw We Saw” depicts life for Yolngu students who live near or around Nhulunbuy, a small town in Arnhem Land. Life revolves around the sea, with always something to see and do.

Written by Yolngu students aged 9-12 during workshops sponsored by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, each student contributed artwork and helped write the story in Dhangu, a Yolngu Matha language.

They describe activities on Yolngu Country, such as playing on the sand, swimming, collecting shells, watching birds fly, and seeing fish swim and leap. This book immerses readers in the Yolngu community, allowing appreciation of their culture and daily experiences.

3. Respect by Aunty Fay Muir and Sue Lawson, illustrated by Lisa Kennedy
Magabala Books

“Respect,” written by Aunty Fay Muir (Boonwurrung) and Sue Lawson, introduces the cultural principle of respect, essential to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations, to young readers.

Illustrator Lisa Kennedy (Pairebeenne/Trawlwoolway) fills the book with rich color and powerful images of people and landscapes: an Elder with a young person, a twinkling night sky, Elders gathered around a fire, coastlines, and gum-leaves. The deep reds, browns, and blues create a connection to the natural Earth and Country.

The descriptions share First Nations ways of knowing, being, and doing, teaching children the importance of family, listening, learning, and sharing.

4. Welcome to Country by Aunty Joy Murphy, illustrated by Lisa Kennedy
Koori Connect

“Welcome to Country” explains the process of a Welcome to Country on Wurundjeri lands.

Elder Aunty Joy Murphy (Wurundjeri) explains the custom of a Welcome, with captivating artwork of Country by Lisa Kennedy. The illustrations feature bright, vibrant colors and First Nations artworks.

The book reminds non-First Nations peoples that each community has its own language, belief systems, and protocols. It explains how each Aboriginal community in Australia has boundaries defined by mountains and waterways. Traditionally, permission was needed to cross these boundaries, marked by a Welcome to Country.

The book takes the reader through a Wurundjeri welcome, introducing the creator spirit and inviting the reader to take a leaf from the branches of the white river gum as part of the ceremony. Aunty Joy writes, “We are part of the land, and the land is part of us. We feel the roots of the land through the soles of our bare feet.”

5. Finding our Heart by Thomas Mayo, illustrated by Blak Douglas
Hardie Grant

“Finding our Heart” is a children’s picture book based on the Uluru Statement from the Heart, written by Thomas Mayo (Kaurareg, Kalkalgal, Erubamle). It provides insight into Australia’s history from a First Nations perspective.

The book covers life before colonization, highlighting practices such as caring for Country, singing, dancing, working, learning, and sharing. It addresses the topic of colonization appropriately for children and discusses ways for First Nations and non-First Nations peoples to move forward together. Mayo asks, “How can we find the heart of the nation?”

Blak Douglas (Dhungatti) illustrated the book with bold, bright colors depicting various scenes, along with the AIATSIS Map of Indigenous Australia and the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Additional information is provided at the back for older children, catering to ages five to ten. This book aims to spark conversations, as the author trusts in children to find Australia’s heart.

Source: The Conversation