Possum and Wattle – My Big Book of Australian Words by Bronwyn Bancroft was a recent impulse buy – I simply couldn’t leave the shop without a copy…
This A-Z book of single words each individually illustrated is a great introduction to Australian, and more particularly Aboriginal culture. Some words are instantly recognisable as “Australian”, such as joey, possum, didgeridoo or boomerang, whilst others were new to me and my kids eg quandong (a tree bearing bright red, edible fruit), quokka (a small wallaby found on Rottnest and Bald islands off the coast of Western Australia), willy-willy (a spiralling wind of dust, like a small whirlwind) and yabby (an edible crayfish).
There’s a third group of words which we initially wondered why they had been selected as especially Australian eg sun and snowflake, but that’s where the glossary at the back of the book came in very helpful – for most of the words which appear in the book there is a sentence or two about them, explaining what the word means (“wobbegong: a type of shark with a flat body that lives on the bottom of the sea“) or why it has been included (“sun: According to Aboriginal dreaming, the sun came out of the earth. The sun is central to the Aboriginal flag.“)
Through just a small selection of Australian vocabulary M, J and I have been able to explore and discuss and think about lots of different aspects of Australian Aboriginal culture and for this alone the book is a welcome addition on our bookshelves, but I’d be lying if I pretended it wasn’t the illustrations that keep bringing us back to read the book again and again.
Bronwyn Bancroft’s father was Bundjalung – the Bundjalung people are Australian Aborigines whose homeland is on the northern coastal areas of New South Wales (Australia) and the illustrations in this book are so-called “dot” art, perhaps the most recognisable form of Aboriginal painting (click here for a helpful introduction to Australian Indigenous art).
We all adore the illustrations – you can’t help but feel cheerful when you look at them but I also have one tiny gripe about the artwork. Although the book includes great contextual information on the words chosen, there is no background information on the pictures and painting technique, and I think this is a lost opportunity. For example, I would have liked to find out if “dot” art is common to all Aboriginal groups, or whether it is a specifically Bundjalung tradition (perhaps a blog reader can give us some information here? )
With such delicious images of course we were inspired to try our own hand at dot painting. I prepared the ground by painting black outlines of several animals, which the girls then filled in with dots – we used corks, pen lids and circular sponges to create a variety of dot sizes.
It was an easy but very satisfying project with results that made us smile just as much as the illustrations in Possum and Wattle!
Possum and Wattle – My Big Book of Australian Words *** (3 stars)
Whilst we “dotted” we listened to….
Other Australian activities we might get up to include:
It would be really interesting to have an Australian perspective on Possum and Wattle – My Big Book of Australian Words – I know that when I see similar things about England or Britain I often wince at the hackneyed stereotypes (although here’s one I haven’t yet read which I would like to see) that are reproduced. Please do leave a comment and let us know what you think! Or if you’re not Australian, are there any ABC books from your own country which you think provide an exceptionally good cultural introduction (to “insiders” or “outsiders”, for want of better words)?