Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Children’s Book Review, and Teaching Notes, Australian Story

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

I’m always on the lookout for exciting and entertaining non-fiction for kids. Today I want to share a recent find with you. It’s a children's picture book, Australian Story: an illustrated timeline, and the latest book from Australian author, Tania McCartney. Published by the National Library of Australia, it’s due to be released in April 2012.

I defy anyone, young or old, not to be fascinated by Australian Story! It’s the sort of book you might pick up to glance through, but find yourself reading compulsively. Trivia experts will enjoy it, but what I value most about the book is that it will bring Australian history to life for children, and prompt them to wider reading. It gives “A snapshot of our country…tells who we once were, who we are today …and where we are going.” On the last page, kids are reminded: “Where will we go next? What will we do? It’s all up to you…”

Australian Story is a perfect choice for educators who want to ensure kids learn the principles of visual literacy. The timeline aspect is not visually overwhelming, but through clever choice of font and placement of images and text, flows from event to event. Of course, being a book for children, McCartney couldn’t encompass every detail of Australia’s history, but I love the snippets she’s included. Most events are illustrated, either from the National Library of Australia’s digital collection, external sources, or, most charmingly, by illustrator, Peter Shaw. Of course, Australian Story will also make a great resource for children’s studies of Australia.

To add even more value to Australian Story: an illustrated timeline, McCartney shares Teaching Notes for Key Stage 2 Children related to her children's picture book with us today (see below.) My review and Tania McCartney’s Teaching Notes are part of her blog tour to celebrate the publication of Australian Story. LINK to her blog to discover more about the tour.

Teaching Notes for Key Stage II Children, Australian Story
by Tania McCartney

My memory of history studies at primary school is shady, to say the least. In fact, I can’t really remember much at all – and anything that does come to mind, in shadowy form, is enough to make me yawn. This didn’t, however, stop me from pursuing modern history as part of my university studies. Like many Australians, I’ve held a deep fascination with the origins and events of our country’s past – and have always felt impassioned to share our rich history and heritage with children in a way that inspires.

Yes, history can be cool!

Writing Australian Story was some of the best fun I’ve ever had on the topic of history – and penning it elicited not a single yawn. I was emotionally pulled from pillar to post whilst researching this book – and discovered many an occurrence, invention, event – that I’d never even heard of. What a thrill it was to imagine children similarly thumbing through this book and discovering fabulous moments in time that make their toes curl, hearts sing or mouths gape open.

These teaching notes are designed to complement Australian Story, and are geared towards children in Key Stage II. The following components are ideal for complementing and enhancing studies in English and history, Indigenous study units, popular and Australian culture, media, technology, internet usage and research methods, an understanding of book production, layout and design, an understanding of text and imagery association, an understanding of chronology and time, teamwork, and an appreciation of our National Library’s digital collection.

- Tania McCartney, author

Book Study

Discuss with children the different ways authors might research non-fiction books. Material for Australian Story was researched via many different avenues including history books, the internet, discussion with teachers and historians, and images from the Digital Collection.

Have children write a timeline of their life, pinpointing key moments. They can also note their sources and add pictures or photos set in chronological order.

The idea behind Australian Story was to write an historical account in chronological order. Discuss with children the meaning of chronology. Ask them to take key moments from their past year and sort them into chronological order.

Image Research
Books published by the NLA require usage of their extensive digital collection, including paintings, photographs, prints, ephemera and other imagery. Australian Story incorporates many images from this collection (most but not all images used in Australian Story are from the Collection).

Visit the National Library’s Digital Image Collection and have the children search a particular entry from the book by clicking on the ‘search catalogue’ link in the right hand column. Refine the search by clicking on the drop down menus next to the search field, for example, children can ‘add limits’ by choosing to search for Picture only.

When they have chosen an image from the Collection, have them discuss the image details and what each part means, for example:

Bib ID – bibliographical identifier
Format – the image is a picture, and also whether it is available online
Online versions – shows the enlarged image
Notes – details of the image proper, and how the title was devised
Provenance – who donated the picture to the NLA
Subjects – what ‘tags’ the image is filed under

Discuss why the author chose these particular images to represent entries in the book. Explore why images are appropriate for children and why some may be less appropriate. Which images may be less appropriate for children? (appropriate: colourful, childlike, interesting, funny, quirky / inappropriate: too graphic, age-inappropriate, convoluted, boring).

Layout and Design
Discuss the layout and design of the images and why they work so well. What makes the layout appealing to children? Which images do they think were illustrated by the book designer? Which images do the children like, and why?

What is the importance of the timeline running along the bottom of the book’s pages? What does this line provide?

Have the children design and layout their own double page spread using images and timeline references. This could be done manually or via computer.

Historical Facts

Discuss the following historical facts. Which children have encountered these facts before? Which do they find most fascinating? Which facts do they feel are of significant importance? Why?

16,000 years ago Australia’s enormous inland lakes dry up and eventually become deserts

8,000 years ago The land bridge between Australia and Tasmania floods, leaving Tassie on its own

4,900 years ago Mount Gambier in South Australia erupts; This is the last volcano to erupt on the Australian mainland

1606 Dutch explorer Willem Jansz is the first recorded European to land on Australian soil

1797 The merino sheep is introduced to Australia

1829 The whole of Australia is claimed as British territory

1859 A farmer releases rabbits into the wild near Geelong; these 24 rabbits become the fastest multiplying mammals in world history

1886 The lamington is created in honour of Lord Lamington, Governor of Queensland

1895 Time zones are introduced across Australia

1902 It is now legal to swim at public beaches during the day

1906 The first full-length Australian feature film is produced—The Story of the Kelly Gang

1912 The Australian crawl swimming style is first used at an Olympic Games

1923 Vegemite is first produced

1930 Australia and Britain are now connected by telephone

1931 Sir Douglas Mawson claims almost half of Antarctica

1931 Arnhem Land is declared an Aboriginal reserve

1945 The Hills hoist clothes line is invented

1958 Qantas offers the first round-the-world air service

1962 Indigenous Australians are given the right to vote

1966 Decimal currency is introduced in Australia; we now have dollars and cents!

1966 In the Gurindji Walk Off around 200 Indigenous people protest against poor working conditions and wages; this begins a seven-year battle for land title in the Northern Territory

1969 An Australian radio telescope in Parkes, New South Wales, transmits the first pictures of the moon landing to the world

1971 The first McDonald’s opens in Australia

1973 The Sydney Opera House opens

1975 Colour television begins

1976 The Aboriginal Land Rights Act is passed

1984 ‘Advance Australia Fair’ becomes our national anthem

1988 Australia celebrates its Bicentennial; it is 200 years since the arrival of the First Fleet from England

1989 The internet becomes available to Australian universities

1990 Dr Fiona Wood begins developing skin sheets for burns victims

2008 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologises to Indigenous Australians of the stolen generations

2010 Mary MacKillop is Australia’s first saint

2010 Julia Gillard becomes Australia’s first female Prime Minister

Book Details

Take a trip into the past––from the explosive beginnings of our planet to modern day Australia, in this fascinating journey through time. Featuring succinct entries on historical moments over the past 47 billion years, Australian Story covers ecological change, politics, invention, war, immigration, celebration, culture, modern technology and more.

Illustrated with a striking collection of photographs and images from the NLA’s digital collection, this is history for children like never before, and is a fascinating snapshot of our country. Australian Story tells who we once where, who we are today . . . and where we are going. Australian Story is aimed at children in both Key Stage I and II.

Australian Story: an illustrated timeline (1 March 2012), $24.95
National Library of Australia, ISBN: 9780642277459

About the Author

Tania McCartney is an author of children’s books and adult non-fiction. Her works include You Name It (Hodder Headline 1995), Handmade Living: a designer collective (Handmade Press 2010) and the Riley the Little Aviator series (latest title: Riley and the Grumpy Wombat: A journey around Melbourne, Ford Street Publishing 2011). She is also an established magazine writer, editor and blogger. Tania is fascinated by history. She studied modern history as part of her university studies and is an avid reader of history books. She lives in Canberra with a husband, two kids and a mountain of books.


  1. I can't wait to get hold of this book! The prerelease publicity is killing me!

  2. Thank you for hosting me, Book Chook! It's always so much fun to visit you. x

  3. That's lovely to hear, Jeanne! I hope you get hold of it soon, and love it.

  4. This is an excellent explanation of the book and so much historical information as well. Thanks, I will have to get this book. It sounds fascinating. Carolyn

  5. Wow. I'm not sure what I'm more impressed with - the book, or your post! They both are amazing. Thanks, Susan.

  6. Wow! This is fabulous! Always looking for fab books from around the world, and this looks like the kind my kids would love, and be able to grow with.

  7. @Wise Owl Factory I think you'll enjoy Australian Story, Carolyn, Dawn and Medea!

  8. This looks fabulous and will definately be getting one for my boys. As a history buff myself having also studied and loved history at university level, I have often lamented the lack of books aimed at younger kids. There seems to be so much that teachers need to fit into their curriculum these days that some basic historical teachings often get overlooked. Sounds like a great resource too for ages.

  9. This sounds fabulous, can't wait to get a copy for my boys. As a history buff myself, having loved history and studied it at university level too, I have often lamented the lack of good Australian history books aimed at kids. There also seems to be so much thatt teachers must fit into the curriculum that there Is no time left for some basic historical facts. Sounds like a great resource for all ages.

  10. @themodernparentI hear you Martine! There is no time left for many things in school - so much time spent testing and teaching to the tests. I've even heard of schools where teachers have been told to stop reading to kids. Huh????

  11. This book sounds fabulous and I love all the extra info you have given that I can use for my homeschooling. Thanks so much.

    1. I think you'll be impressed with the book's authenticity and readability, +T-Rox Creations.


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