It’s that time of year when you’ll be busily searching for kids’ gifts – and book gifts are the perfect kids’ gifts in my opinion. Over the next few weeks I’ll be offering some ideas, including some fun guest posts, to help making this year’s holiday shopping easier! First up, May Gibbs books your kid will love!
Tales From The Camp Fire & Tales From The Bush
Scholastic Australia RRP: $19.99
What was your favourite book as a child? Everyone has one or two that stick in the mind. You only need to catch a glimpse of the cover to be catapulted straight back to that moment on a parent’s lap or under the Christmas tree when you fell in love with a particularly charming tale. May Gibbs’ Snugglepot and Cuddlepie stories certainly have that effect on me! Originally published in the early 1900s, they’re timeless, children’s classics synonymous with authentic Australian storytelling.
So, far, so wistful. But it’s not all about the childhood nostalgia. As an adult, I’ve learned a lot more about who May Gibbs was as a person – and she was quite the trailblazer! Born in 1877, this art-school trained botanical illustrator was winning prizes for her work by the age of 15. As her career blossomed, she became Australia’s first professional female cartoonist, including publishing political cartoons in early newspapers. Read more here.
Her beloved Gumnut Babies seem quaint to us now, but were in fact a radical response to the intense British-ness of children’s literature at the turn of the century. The first proper published collection of bush fairytales – The Tales Of Snugglepot And Cuddlepie – came out to huge acclaim in 1918. With the 100 year anniversary on its way, a stunning array of special edition books and accessories have been released – just in time for you to create some special Christmas memories for a new generation!
Updated classics for a new generation of bush babies
My crew took a look a two samples from the new range – Tales From The Bush and Tales From The Camp Fire. These are reimagined versions of the originals, with fresh stories by Jane Massam and illustrations by Caroline Keys – based on, and well and truly keeping the spirit of, Gibbs’ originals. The language of the new books is contemporary enough to make for easy reading by today’s little ones, but the stories remain timelessly bush-based and free from unnecessary modernisations.
You’ll meet Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, obviously, two cheeky little bush boys who enjoy camping, creating bush gardens and visiting their animal friends. Ragged Blossom (my personal childhood favourite) is the girl next door who joins in their adventures. The characters celebrate Australian flora and fauna at every level, from their physical characteristics to the nuts, leaves and berries they use for building, decorating and food. Storylines centre on popular kids’ book themes like friendship, compromise and cooperation. Conflict comes in the form of characters like Mrs Snake, who must learn that being scary is not the way to make friends.
Contemporary editions inspired by Gibbs’ timeless stories
One of the few criticisms of Gibbs’ work in the past has been around representation of race, with the ‘bad guys’ sometimes looking a little too much like Indigenous Australians, or other migrant populations. Unfortunately, the early works were a product of their time, and such inappropriate depictions of race were not uncommon. Rest assured however, that the new editions do not follow this line. The Banksia Men, for example, are reinvented through Captain Bush Nut – a seafaring, bush-savvy scout leader figure. The only true bad guys here are, in fact, the humans who occasionally threaten to spoil to tranquil equilibrium of the bush babies’ outback home.
Each of these adorable picture books includes three short stories – perfect for a quick bedtime read, and even more perfect when your child asks for ‘just one more’! Need a new baby gift? Or present to send to friends overseas? Pair a book with a bookmark, greeting card, chocolates or homewares from the May Gibbs Foundation’s beautiful gift collection, all available online here.
Compared to Aussie kids of the early 1900s, our children are spoiled for choice when it comes to accessing local books and authors. But there is still something quite precious about May Gibbs’ books, with their strong connection to nature and simple, practical moral messages. Take these books on your next camping adventure or simply to the local park and see if the kids can ‘find’ Snugglepot and Cuddlepie! We’re blessed with a big garden, so I sent my kids exploring and came up with this little haul …
We’ll have bookmarks to last for a month!
Buy Tales From The Camp Fire or Tales From The Bush at your favourite local bookstore, via the May Gibbs website, or here…
I received two May Gibbs books to review for this post, but all opinions are my own.