This week’s Monday musings brings you my fourth guest post, this time from Kim of Reading Matters. Like Guy, Kim started commenting on my blog in its infancy and I soon discovered that this blogger from England was actually an Australian. Naturally we developed a rapport. I have appreciated Kim’s support of my blog – through regular commenting (particularly in my fledgling days) and through inviting me to be a Triple Choice Tuesday guest. She is one of England’s top litbloggers and this month is hosting an Australian literature month as I advised in last week’s Monday Musings.
I’m thrilled that Kim decided to write on children’s literature. Her guest post on children’s classics beautifully complements Louise’s recent post on current writers/illustrators.
Australian classic books from an Australian childhood
When you are an Australian expat who’s lived overseas for as long as I have (13 years and counting…) it’s easy to think you’ve never lived anywhere else. Then you have little “cultural blips” that rudely remind you that you grew up on the other side of the world.
For me, these “blips” usually occur when friends and colleagues start reminiscing about sweets (or should that be lollies?) from their childhood that are no longer available, or British TV shows they watched when they were growing up which were never screened in Australia. Once I had to sit in on a lengthy discussion about children’s literature where many of the references went completely over my head.
This got me thinking about my favourite books from childhood, all by Australian authors, which do not appear to have ever attracted an international audience. Here are three classics, none of which have been out of print in Australia, that mean a lot to me:
Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall
Dorothy Wall (1894-1942), a New Zealand-born Australian, originally illustrated books for other writers before creating her own series about a mischievous male koala called Blinky Bill. The first book — Blinky Bill: The Quaint Little Australian— was published in 1933 and two others followed — Blinky Bill Grows Up (1934) and Blinky Bill and Nutsy (1937).
My aunt had three books in one beautifully bound volume. I still remember the distinctive red cover and the cheeky little picture of Blinky Bill, wearing bright orange trousers, toting a swag and billy can on a stick slung over his shoulder. It was always a real treat when I was allowed to take the book down from the shelf and look at the colour-plates inside. I remember turning the pages with awe and being very careful not to mark the book in any way.
Funnily enough I can’t really remember what the stories were about, but I remember the pictures with almost perfect clarity, they were so vivid and funny.
I’m delighted to say that you can read the text online at Project Gutenberg Australia
The Muddle-Headed Wombat by Ruth Park
Ruth Park (1917-2010), yet another New Zealand born author who called Australia home, also turned to Australian wildlife for inspiration.
Her main character was a wombat — a creature with which many non-Australians may not be familiar, think of a very cute furry pig with a cheeky face and short stumpy legs — whom was very muddle-headed. He spoke in spoonerisms and misused similar sounding words — for instance “sensibubble” instead of “sensible” — which meant he often said very funny things without realizing it.
Wombat, as he was officially known, had two friends — a skinny grey cat called Tabby and a practical female mouse called Mouse — whom accompanied him on all kinds of adventures.
I can only recall vague details of particular stories — there were more than 16 in the series, all written between 1962 and 1971 to accompany an ABC radio show, which was cancelled by the time I was born. For instance, in one story Wombat bought a bicycle with shiny red wheels and in another he ate some chalk that made him sick.
But it was the quite hilarious illustrations that I remember most — along with the cute red jacket and floppy purple hat Wombat used to wear!
The Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs
May Gibbs (1877-1969) was an English-born Australian writer and illustrator whose stories were inspired by Australian native flora.
She’s probably best known for her gumnut babies, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, who are cute little foster brothers that resemble eucalyptus nuts.
The pair go on an adventure in the Australian bush, but they have to take care not to run into the big bad Banksia men — horrible creatures modeled on banksia cones, which are a bit like hairy pinecones.
As a child I remember being physically scared of the Banksia men, but as ever in the world of children’s literature, good overcomes evil and they sink to the bottom of the sea!
The best part about Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, which was first published in 1918, are the truly beautiful illustrations by the author. To this day these illustrations are used on all kinds of merchandise, but what I hadn’t realized until I started writing this piece is that all profits go to UNICEF, the Spastic Centre of NSW and the NSW Society for Crippled Children (now the Northcott Society), according to the wishes of May Gibbs’ bequest.
May Gibbs home Nutcote, on the shores of Sydney Harbour, is also open to the public.
I suspect that all three books, with their emphasis on Australia’s unique plants and animals, may be responsible, not only for my love of Australian literature, but my love and respect of the Australian bush, too.