Belle Alderman of the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature (NCACL) introduces us to the new free database of children’s books by and about Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander Peoples
When you want to find books by and about Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander Peoples for your classroom or library, which resources do you turn to? The NCACL has just launched a new database, which they hope will be invaluable to teachers in their search for the most appropriate materials to share with their students.
The ‘Resource of Books for Children by and about Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ was created by a team of people representing a range of perspectives, including culturally diverse individuals of various ages, sexes, backgrounds and expertise. The resource, which covers books for children aged from birth to 12 years of age, is free, user-friendly and offers a range of search options, including the option to search by the Early Years Learning Framework and the Australian Curriculum as well as by language and location. We asked Belle Alderman AM, Director of the NCACL, to tell us more about the resource.
Tell us about the project – its aims and its scope.
We were funded by the Australian Government to create a resource that identifies and celebrates children’s books by and about Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander Peoples along with annotations and teaching resources to explore these. We wanted to showcase these books so that everyone everywhere can find and use them with young people.
When people are looking at the resource, is it clear which are own voice books, created or co-created by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors?
If Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander creators have been involved in the book and the book itself identifies their cultural background (usually the case), then that is noted in the annotation.
Approximately 80% of the books in this database have Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander creators’ involvement. There are also books where non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal creators have worked together as a small but growing trend which is evident in this resource. The earliest book in this database is 1974. There are about 20 books published so far this year, with more on the way.
You can search by Aboriginal language and Aboriginal locations where these have been identified in the books, which is often the case. This enables the sharing of cultures. There are also a growing number of bilingual books.
We are in a time of change and this is reflected in the growth in publishing of more informative and respectful Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ books for children.
Will the database be updated as you go and do you need publishers to stay in touch to help make that happen?
We are constantly updating the database and have asked publishers to send us books in this area. Most publishers already donate to the NCACL, for which we are very grateful.
How do you hope this database will be used by educators?
We hope that educators will discover the strengths of children’s books here, find ones that suit their interests and needs and borrow these from libraries or acquire them for their own use with young people. We hope that including the Australian Curriculum and the Early Years Learning Framework and teaching resources for each book will give every book extra promotion.
You’re an Emeritus Professor of Children’s Literature, so you know a lot about children’s literature. Did you make any new and/or surprising discoveries as part of this process?
Over the year and a half we spent researching this area, we discovered it is a growth area, both in terms of quality and quantity. There are increasing collaborations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal creators in picture books bringing together ideas, talents and views of culture in innovative and original ways. We noticed awards, fellowships and mentorships aimed at increasing creations by Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander Peoples authors and illustrators. Many of these books are exceptional. We discovered many small and new publishers with high levels of community participation involved in these stories. We have noticed respectful, new understandings between all cultures and individuals.
There are over 300 entries in the database. What do you think this says about the state of Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander Peoples children’s publishing in Australia?
It’s a very strong field! In fact, we have another 450 books in our database for young people aged 13 and older! Our funding only enabled us to cater for the younger age group. We are ready and waiting and only lack the funds.
How can teachers and librarians access the database?
Easy! Just visit our website at https://www.ncacl.org.au and follow the prompts. Check out the many ways you can explore each book with links to the curriculum, teaching resources, location and language of the story, age suggestions, and annotations for each book. You can share your personal favourites on social media and send these to your colleagues.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I wish to personally thank the 30 individuals across Australia who contributed to this project, as well as all those who managed the project, created the purpose-built design and uncovered the amazing amount of information in this resource for everyone interested. It has been a truly astronomical effort.
More about Belle Alderman
Belle Alderman AM has spent a lifetime in children’s books as an early reader, a secondary English teacher, teacher librarian in a primary school, and a university academic teaching and researching children’s literature. She has reviewed children’s books for newspapers, magazines and the radio, written countless articles and a couple of books about them, and served as a judge for the CBCA Awards and the Prime Minister’s Awards for children’s and young adult books. Since retirement, she became the Director of the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature (NCACL), a not-for-profit, deductible gift recipient organisation with over 47,000 Australian children’s books (including 4,600 in 66 languages), original artworks, manuscripts and much more. Here she is involved in all things children’s literature through events, exhibitions and wide-ranging activities relating to this ever-mesmerising field.
The NCACL has a comprehensive collection of material about Australian children’s literature, including books, artworks, authors’ papers and manuscripts, unique research files and reference material. The collection is valued at over $10.5 million and is one of Australia’s major cultural heritage collections. The NCACL’s collections are shared through virtual showings, exhibitions, events and databases.