I’ve well and truly embraced the digital revolution where reading is concerned. My Kindle provides me with all the enhancements of The Book 2.0, while social media helps me discover new works and share reviews with other avid readers. I love it all! BUT, there will always be something special about the book as an object. Children’s books, coffee table books, cook books – there are certain things that I hope will always be released in a print version. May my bookcases never go the way of my CD racks (which went to St Vinnies a long time ago…)! To my great pleasure the team at Penguin have decided to re-release a series of classic Australian teen texts in stylish hard cover editions. They look good, they feel good, and the stories remain as relevant to young Australians as they ever were.
Marketed as ‘children’s classics’, these titles span the history of Australian writing for young people – from Seven Little Australians (first published in 1894 and the first outstanding contribution to the genre by an Aussie author) to titles from the ‘80s that continue to reside on school reading lists like Victor Kelleher’s Taronga and Robin Klein’s Hating Alison Ashley. Lurid, unusual colour schemes and simple graphics give the covers a contemporary groove within an old fashioned aesthetic. Each one would make a beautiful gift; as a set they’d make a funky design feature for any bedroom wall. These stories still make terrific reads for today’s young people, but they are also the kinds of stories that carry us back, as adults, to our early reading experiences and our favourite, formative books. The gift concept would not be lost on your adult book-loving friends! The series is also available as e-books, of course, in case your kids freak out at the concept of a three dimensional text.
If you are not familiar with the stories, you may want to do a little investigation about age-appropriateness before sharing them with your kids. For the most part, I’d classify these as ‘young adult’ novels rather than ‘children’s’ stories, depending on maturity and reading ability. Seven Little Australians and Hating Alison Ashley deal with destructive families, separation and teen angst; whilst Taronga paints a bleak picture of a post-apocalyptic world where wild animals and wild gangs of orphaned teens battle for survival. Playing Beattie Bow touches on love, romance and time travel; whilst I Can Jump Puddles was ground-breaking in its analysis of disability. Picnic at Hanging Rock can leave the most erudite of adult readers scratching their heads! That said, these books are ‘classics’ for a reason; they beautifully evoke the human experience, help young people define their own moral positions on important life issues, and remind us of the value of looking to the past to make sense of our present. They also demonstrate the evolution of Australian writing for young people, which has seen a gradual breaking away from a largely British canon towards telling our own national stories.
The Australian Children’s Classic series from Penguin will be available from 19 March 2013. I thank Penguin kindly for my sample copies. I will be buying the rest of the set as soon as it’s available, building a display shelf to show off their beautiful, colourful spines and boring my children with their significance until they are old enough to appreciate them as much as I do. There are still some things e-books simply can’t do!