It’s school holidays and keeping young children occupied usually involves baking, craft, reading, gardening and – let’s be honest – far too much of the electronic babysitter (TV).
So when Cunning Crow by Gregg Dreise and Cooee Mittigar by Jasmine Seymore and Leanne Mulgo Watson turned up, I just about couldn’t contain my own excitement about the chance to read something we haven’t read these school holidays, without having to go into an overflowing library with two young kids in tow.
Clever and Cunning
Of course, when given the option my four-year-old daughter begged for the Cunning Crow to start on our exciting journey into culture.
While usually I would put this preference down to the brightly coloured book catching her eye, it just so happens that we have been having a debate about whether the black birds that hang around our yard are Ravens or Crows.
Now I have it on good authority that they are technically ravens, however thanks to Mr Dreise, my daughter’s opinion has been vindicated. Crows they are. I digress.
Reading to small children can sometimes be hit and miss to keep attention, but from the minute we opened the book she and my two-year-old son were engrossed by the vivid colours illustrated on the paper and the bright ideas woven into the story line.
The story, set in the Dreamtime, starts with all the birds being white, then a storm comes across the sky and a rainbow appears. All the white birds gain their colour from this rainbow – even the cunning crow, Waan. Unhappy with the mediocrity of his colours, Waan tries to get more from the sky but to no avail. Finally, he develops a plan that he is sure will work, but sadly it backfires.
Mr Dreise cleverly stitches into the storyline an essential message to our young people, to be comfortable in their own skin – a story we sometimes forget in our later lives. The story serves as a timely reminder that we should be proud of our differences and that ‘true beauty comes from within.’
An important storyline and a memorable tale, Cunning Crow, is set to be a well-worn book in our household.
Cunning Crow is available now in bookshops and online with Magabala.
Songlines and Stories
Cooee Mittigar is the book that gives you all the parenting wins. Cooee Mittigar, meaning ‘Come here, friend’ in Darug takes children on a journey through culture, land and songlines.
The book weaves Darug language through a story that will take the reader through the seasons explaining the time to hunt and the time to rest. Mulgo, the black swan welcomes the reader to Nura (Country) and describes the land skyscape, birds, animals and totems.
It becomes a parenting win because the children start to ask questions about the words they don’t know, engaging them in learning. The story also feeds the cultural engagement around land and songlines, which is vital to young kids to expand their world.
The illustrations are stunning, and children inquisitively point to the animals they know – and the ones they don’t – on the page. The clever glossary means no reader is left unknowing about any left-field questions that quintessentially come from children expanding their minds.
This book makes for a great bedtime story. The darker tones in the illustrations allow children to wind down while providing a medium to engage with children’s questions and being part of the wonder and awe that is unique to watching someone learn something for the first time.
The timely release of this book falls in the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages and is a great vehicle for educating the public on the Darug language. The author, Jasmine Seymour and illustrator, Leanne Mulgo Watson are Darug artists and educators, which will come as no surprise to those who read the book.
Their wish for this book is that everyone will know the Darug mob is still here and still strong. Ms Mulgo Watson has expressed her hope around the book engaging and educating readers, saying “education is the key to our culture staying strong.”
Cooee Mittigar is available in all good bookshops or online from Magabala Books from November 1.
By Caris Duncan