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Sunday, November 29, 2020
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Exploring a storied history

Many Australians have been fortunate to grow up engaging with our country’s rich tapestry of children’s literature.

The Magic Pudding, Blinky Bill, Animalia, Possum Magic, The Rainbow Serpent, Storm Boy, Silver Brumby, and Seven Little Australians are just a few of the many titles being celebrated in the National Library of Australia’s (NLA) latest exhibition, Story Time: Australian Children’s Literature.

It’s highly likely at least one, a few, or perhaps all of those titles were on your bedside table at one point or another growing up.

Exhibition curator, Dr Grace Blakeley-Carroll, told Canberra Weekly that Story Time is an opportunity to get nostalgic, and reacquaint yourself with some familiar characters from your youth.

“It’s also an opportunity to meet some new characters, read some new stories and find out about them … and hopefully come away feeling inspired and hoping to pick up some more books,” she said.

The exhibition has been a couple of years in the making, and involved Blakeley-Carroll undertaking extensive reading and research, delving into the special collections of both the NLA and the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature (NCACL).

“Through that research, I came across a number of really recurring themes … things like books about the environment, books about adventure and exploring, coming-of-age stories, books exploring other worlds, and those things have informed the layout of the exhibition.

“We’ve arranged things by theme, and looked at how certain themes have been explored by different writers and illustrators over time, both in books for very young children, but also children’s novels and young adult fiction, too,” she said.

When curating Story Time, Blakeley-Carroll said she was aware of what was available to her, and what stories could be told with their collections.

“You think about what are the things people are going to expect to see. When people see Australian children’s literature I think there are a couple of iconic stories that would be missed were they not here.

“Something like The Magic Pudding, if that were not in there people would quite rightly point it out.

“It’s also an opportunity to bring in some writers and illustrators who perhaps were very significant during their time but might not be as widely known today.”

The exhibition includes not just a collection of books, but a lot of related ephemera, such as paintings, calendars, postcards, notes, illustrations, figurines and other trinkets.

Story Time also explores the historical breadth of Australian children’s literature, what’s changed, and what’s remained constant.

“Obviously Australia has evolved since 1841, so we see a change in some of the ways, for example, maybe family life might be represented,” Blakeley-Carroll said.

“There might be more diversity in the types of families, the cultural backgrounds that people come from, and that really reflects modern Australia, but that exploration of family life has always been there.

“Something that’s stayed the same is a sense of wonder and play.

“There’s this sense of children having this different perspective on the world, and I think that books are a way that children learn about the world,” she said.

Blakeley-Carroll said we can expect to see more growth and more of diversity in Australian children’s literature going forward.

“That idea that there’s many ways to have a childhood and many ways to experience an upbringing, that’s being reflected more and more.”

“I would hope that a child coming through this exhibition might be able to find a story that they relate to, regardless of who that child is and I think we’ll see more of that as time goes on.”

Story Time: Australian Children’s Literature will be displayed at the NLA until 9 February 2020; nla.gov.au/storytime

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