Review: Our Island by the children of Gunana (et al)

Our Island cover image Our Island by the children of Gunana
Penguin Australia RRP $24.99
Collaboration between award winning authors and Queensland kids
– Themes of place, belonging and the natural world
For more information, visit Penguin Australia  

How formal of me to reach into my academic writing vaults and pull out an ‘et al’!  But the authorship of this bright, beautiful picture book is attributed to many significant voices: Alison Lester (best-selling, award-winning Australian writer); Elizabeth Honey (another award-winning author and illustrator); and the children of Gununa (the main township on Mornington Island, in far north Queensland).  The result is a sunny, authentic celebration of place highlighting local flora and fauna with a typically sharp kids’ eye view.

Our Island came about as part of an ongoing artistic collaboration between Lester, Honey and the Mornington Island State School.  The authors have made several trips to the region, facilitating art sessions and storytelling with the talented youngsters of the community, which has a total population of just 1200. Many of the illustrations that would eventually become part of this book were created back in 2006, using a wax resist method (crayon washed over with food dye). Some are clearly the sweetly naive etchings of young children; others would look like right at home in any urban gallery!  The brilliant blue skies, deep green ocean and vivid yellow sands of the children’s illustrations transport the reader as well as could any postcard.

The language is simple and evocative: Our island lies beneath a big blue sky, surrounded by the turquoise sea. Turtles glide through the clear salt water, and dugongs graze on banks of seagrass.  There’s no narrative, just gentle descriptions that serve to celebrate (for locals) and educate (for the rest of us) as we stroll from the beach to the mangroves, as day turns to night. Late at night, ghost crabs make patterns on the sand. One dog howls, another joins in, and they all sing to the moon.

The inside back cover offers a short glossary of terms in the local Lardil language, along with a few words about the project.  This book could be enjoyed by any young reader, but should be noted by educators as an opportunity for opening up discussion of cultural awareness, notions of place and belonging, and contemporary representations of Australian Indigenous culture.  It would also make a terrific gift for young friends outside Australia!  What’s more, royalties from the sale of Our Island will be donated to Mornington Island State School to fund art projects in the community.

With thanks to the publisher for my review copy. 

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