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It's Time!

Updated: May 29, 2022

Our jarjums are deserving of seeing themselves in the books we read and love, yet the bookshelves in Australian classrooms are seriously lacking cultural diversity. As teachers we read to our students daily, and we provide books for our students to read back to us. The majority of these texts will be written by non-Indigenous authors and will include mostly, if not all, non-Indigenous characters. These characters will live in homes, communicate with each other and enjoy activities together that do not represent how all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families live, speak and spend time outside of school with their mob. This consistent portrayal of non-Indigenous ways of living only leads to our jarjums feeling out of place and unimportant, which can sadly lead to them disengaging with reading (and school).

Now, this lack of representation is not due to a lack of culturally diverse literature available - definitely not! In fact, in recent years there has been a huge increase of First Nations books being published in Australia. Bronwyn Bancroft (a Bundjalung author and illustrator) has released several books about colours, patterns, numbers, letters, family, Country and much more. Sally Morgan, a proud descendant of the Palyku people from the eastern Pilbara region of Western Australia, has also authored several books for all ages. Thomas Mayor, Victor Steffenson, Gregg Dreise, Corey Tutt and Jasmine Seymour are some of my favourite new children's book authors too. Their books provide an insight into Aboriginal culture, traditions, beliefs, history, family life, and language, and highlight that there is also diversity among the different nations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples. Their books reflect traditional times, and also what it is like to live in Australia as an Aboriginal person in both urban and rural settings today. Sometimes their books, like Sally Morgan's 'Benny Bangarra's Big Bush Clean Up', are not necessarily about Aboriginal people but provide a unique take on important issues in Australia (like caring for our environment) from a First Nations lens.

By including a variety of First Nations books in your lessons and on your bookshelves, you are showing your Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students that they are important, their culture is valued and the worldviews they bring to the curriculum are welcome. Your non-Indigenous students will also benefit! Being exposed to diverse literature from a young age helps children to see and learn about other cultures, and build empathy, understanding and respect for theirs peers from different cultural backgrounds.

So this is your reminder to audit the books you have in your classroom and school libraries. Do students have access to fiction and non-fiction books that explore First Nations cultures? Are diverse family structures represented? Are First Nations characters represented traditionally and in a contemporary sense, urban and remote settings, and with a variety of skin colours? If not, it's time for your workplace to invest in up-to-date books by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors and illustrators.

Head on over to the BOOKS page of my website to see the recently released books I recommend and then download the comprehensive list I made of First Nations children's books from the DOWNLOAD tab (for free). I provide a summary of teaching points and link any available teacher notes for each book. You can further support First Nations communities by purchasing your deadly books from businesses owned and lead by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. My top three online stores for books are Riley Callie Resources, Magabala Books (there is a physical store in Broome) and Koori Curriculum.

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