Monday musings on Australian literature: Alison Lester

Saturday, as I noted in my Six Degrees of Separation post, was National Bookshop or Love Your Bookshop Day in Australia (and in Great Britain too, it seems). For last year’s day, I wrote a post on author-owned/managed bookshops, most of which were located in places other than Australia. The exception was Australian children’s author and illustrator, Alison Lester, so I thought she deserved a little feature post today.

Alison Lester has appeared in my blog a few times, but the first was the most significant, because it was when she and Boori (Monty) Prior were named our first two Children’s Laureates. She was also mentioned briefly in my post referencing the 2018 National Bookshop Day, when Daughter Gums bought a Lester book for a baby shower she was attending! It’s time, then, to give her a little bit of a profile here, even though children’s literature is a sideline focus here.

As I wrote in my Children’s Laureate post, I first became aware of Lester through my own children. As I wrote then, she’s an author/illustrator best known for her picture books, though she has also illustrated chapter books for other writers and written a couple of young adult novels. The first book that she both wrote and illustrated herself was 1985’s Clive eats alligators.

Book cover

This means that Lester was just starting out when my children were young, so most of her children’s books have been published after my children left that stage of their reading lives. But, we did have some favourites, including Rosie sips spiders (1988), Imagine (1989) and Magic beach (1990). As our children grew we also enjoyed Robin Klein’s chapter book, Thingnapped, which was illustrated by Lester.

Lester, like all the best children’s book authors and illustrators has a lovely sense of fun while also conveying important values to children, such as respecting difference, a critical value at a time when rejecting other seems to be on the rise again. Indeed, as her website says, “her picture books mix imaginary worlds with everyday life, encouraging children to believe in themselves and celebrate the differences that make them special”.

Jonathan Shaw of Me fail? I fly has discussed Alison Lester’s books several times on his blog in his Ruby Reads series where he discusses the books he reads to his granddaughter. Lester’s books featured by Jonathan to date are:

  • Clive eats alligators (1985), which features seven children going about their daily lives, except that “Clive eats alligators”. You’ll have to read it to discover that that means! Jonathan says that the fun in this book lies in tracing any one of these children through the book to see “how their interests play out in the different contexts: the girl who loves horses, the bookish boy” and so on. Rosie sips spiders, which Daughter Gums loved, follows the same children in more adventures through life. Lester fans will get a giggle when, in this Rosie book, they read that “Clive jumps in Alligator Creek.”
  • Are we there yet? (2005), a picture book about – yes, you’ve guessed it – family car travel. Jonathan says that her images are “completely beguiling”. Maybe this is why it was the first book given to a child from Dolly Parton’s Imagination Reading Library.
  • Kissed by the moon (2013), about a baby, the night, and nature. Jonathan writes that “pragmatically speaking, I guess it’s a bedtime read, but Alison Lester knows how to put words together, and how to make images, that reach in and touch your heart”.
  • My dog Bigsy (2015), which is one of those books in which the feature character wanders around a farm, meeting other animals, like, for example, Pat Hutchins’ fabulous Rosie’s walk. I haven’t read this Lester yet, but Jonathan says that Lester does it well. I think I’ll be getting it for Grandson Gums.

Thanks Jonathan for posting on these books – for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge where we have appreciated these posts, and so I could use them here! Very thoughtful of you!

Lester has been shortlisted for, or won, Children’s Book or Picture Book of the Year awards several times over the years. She has also won the Dromkeen Medal for services to Australian literature, and was the first children’s writer to be awarded the valuable Melbourne Prize for Literature. She has been shortlisted for the international Astrid Lindgren Memorial Prize. And, of course, she is an active promotor of Aussie children’s literature, including being that Children’s Laureate role and being an Ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

Lester, born 1952, was a farm girl, and still rides a horse when she can. Adventure, that features in her stories, is in her DNA it seems (something I think I missed!) So, I wasn’t surprised to read that in 2005 she went to Antarctica as an Australian Antarctic Arts Fellow. You can read her Antarctic Diary on her website.

Alison Lester Gallery

Now to Lester’s bookshop. It is, I have to admit, not like the others. Located in the gorgeous Victorian town of Fish Creek, near where Lester was born, it is more a “gallery” than a bookshop, and is devoted solely to her work. We have been there, and it is a light, airy, welcoming place that sells her books, cards and other merchandise, and also prints of many of her illustrations. It also has lounges where you can sit and read her books.

So, a rare post for me, given its focus is children’s literature, but most of us here started our reading lives when we were very young, and if we’ve had children or grandchildren we’ve done our best to share that love down the generations.

I’d love to hear about your favourite children’s authors. Who did you love as a child and/or who have you loved reading to children in your life?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Australia’s first Children’s Laureates

Australian Children's Laureate logo

Logo Courtesy: Australian Children's Laureate

It has been so busy here at Monday Musings that I am late with this announcement … but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth making! On December 6th, 2011, the idea of an Australian Children’s Laureate was inaugurated with the appointment of not one, but two, children’s authors to the role. They are

Alison Lester and Boori Monty Pryor

and they will be our laureates for two years, 2012-2013. I understand that the idea of a Children’s Laureate was instigated in the United Kingdom in 1999. In 2008, the Library of Congress inaugurated a similar role, but called theirs National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. What’s in a name, eh? The main point is that these initiatives promote reading among children. The Australian program is organised by the Australian Children’s Literature Alliance and on their Laureate website they describe the laureate’s role as follows:

The Children’s Laureate will be an Australian author and/or illustrator of children’s and/or youth literature who is making a significant contribution to the children’s literature canon of this country. The Laureate will be appointed on a biennial basis and will promote the transformational power of reading, creativity and story in the lives of young Australians, while acting as a national and international ambassador for Australian children’s literature.

So, a little about Australia’s inaugural laureates …

Alison Lester (b. 1952)

I became aware of writer-illustrator Lester through my own children when, like most parents who are readers, I sought out good books to read aloud to them. Lester is an author/illustrator best known for her picture books, though she has also written a couple of young adult novels. My favourites were two of her picture books, Imagine (1988) and Rosie sips spiders (1989), and the “chapter” book (as new readers like to call them) Thingnapped, written by Robin Klein and illustrated by Lester. She has a lovely sense of fun while also conveying important values to children (such as respecting difference, a critical value at a time when rejecting other seems to be on the rise again.)

Boori Monty Pryor (b. 1950)

I did not know of Boori Monty Pryor – writer, artist, performer, storyteller – when my children were growing up. In fact, I only heard of him a couple of years ago when a friend lent me his memoir Maybe tomorrow which I reviewed in the early days of this blog. I came across him again last year when he was on the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards panel I attended. He impressed me – in both “meetings” – with his strength, his humour, and his ability and willingness to overcome his anger at the way his people have been treated. He’s an indigenous Australian, and he’s committed to forging good relationships among all Australians while at the same time shoring up traditional culture and values among indigenous people. No easy task, but his appointment to the laureate role is testament to his achievements.

To conclude, I must note that our inaugural laureates are a woman and an indigenous Australian. I’m sure there are many worthy white male contenders out there, but I believe that Lester and Pryor were not token appointments. They are worthy recipients who have proven track records in the quality and significance of their contributions to encouraging reading, story-telling and self-expression among Australian children.