Yarning Strong: stories about family for young readers

anita-heissDr Anita Heiss is the author of non-fiction, historical fiction, commercial women’s fiction, poetry, social commentary and travel articles. She is a regular guest at writers’ festivals and travels internationally performing her work and lecturing on Indigenous literature. She is an Indigenous Literacy Day Ambassador and a proud member of the Wiradjuri nation of central NSW.

In this post, Anita reviews four of Oxford’s Yarning Strong titles.

super-nature-starsSuper-Nature Stars
Written by Tania Crampton-Larking
Illustrated by Dub Leffler
Super-Nature Stars is Tania Crampton-Larking’s first published work. It’s a gorgeous story of ten year old Denny, who has a creative mind which he sometimes uses to mess with his five year old nephew, Jarrah. But it’s mostly in a good-hearted, playful way; it’s just not always so funny to the little fella.

Denny is a helpful, respectful young lad who jumps in his Great Aunty Yanyi’s teensy weensy purple car with her and spends the day cleaning her rather dusty old house. During the day he comes across a spider called Hoggy Huntsman in his aunt’s bathroom and a sundial in the overgrown garden. The sundial inspires Denny’s storytelling but not necessarily in a positive way. What lessons will his respected elders teach him about his gift for storytelling and how best to use it?

I think kids and adults alike will appreciate the tale of young Denny!

Written by Tammy Anderson
Tammy Anderson is a Palawa woman. She’s an award-winning artist, playwright and stand-up comedian. You may recognise her from the film The Sapphires or her one-woman show, I Don’t Wanna Play House that toured both nationally and internationally.

Tammy’s novel is about 10-year-old Sam, a ‘latchkey’ kid with a fabulous family tree that includes pets Mud Guts, Stink Bomb and Eddie.

Sam loves lots of things; her Nan’s tea parties, going to the river after school and collecting shells. But Sam is often expected to take on an adult role, and is told to ignore her hurt when she’s called ‘coon’, ‘boong’ and ‘dog poo’ by some kids at school. The old mantra of ‘Sticks and stones may break your bones…’ does not help.

S.A.M. is a book about a young girl with too many adult responsibilities. It presents a clear message that sometimes grown-ups forget that kids just want to be kids and should be allowed to be so.

The book includes a glossary for Palawa, Aboriginal English and other words used throughout. I must also say that I don’t recall ever reading the word ‘Sheila’ in a kid’s book before.

odd-one-outOdd One Out
Written by Cathy Craigie
Illustrated by Leah Brown
In the acknowledgments for this novel, Cathy Craigie writes ‘My grandmother told me that the first thing she noticed about my grandfather when he arrived at the mission was his pretty green eyes. Most people hadn’t seen one of their own with green eyes against dark skin.’

It is this ‘difference’ to the norm that is central to the story of young Buddy in Odd One Out, although in Buddy’s case he’s a Koori with red hair. It’s never bothered him before, but once Beau the Bully questions how he can be Aboriginal with red hair, Buddy stops to think about it. He asks himself ‘Who am I?’ questioning if in fact he might be adopted.

This novel touches on the issue of not conforming to fixed stereotypes. It is also full of fabulous information, such as what makes a monkey different to an ape and how/why apes are so like humans. Kids love this stuff (as do we adults).

Gamilaroi, Murri and Sydney Language words are used throughout with a useful glossary included, enabling young readers to also appreciate language maintenance.

rusty-brownRusty Brown
Written by Marie Munkara
Rusty (Russell) Brown lives on Bathurst Island – what his mum calls a ‘one-horse town’. He lives with his parents, grandparents, brother Darth and dog Ringo. Rusty’s mum has a sister named Poppy who was one of the Stolen Generation. Taken from her family when she was a small child, Poppy was disconnected from her family, language and her identity.

Rusty Brown is about Aunty Poppy’s reunion with her family. Poppy lives on the outskirts of Melbourne, so Rusty’s family sets out to teach her all about community life on Bathurst Island.

There’s an adventure at sea featuring a huge tiger shark, plus a trip for Rusty down south to Melbourne Zoo. This book is full of experiences of both remote and urban life, or as Rusty describes it, ‘The best of both worlds’.

Included is a glossary of Tiwi words used throughout the story.

To read more of Anita’s articles, click here.

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