Review Blog

Nov 06 2014

John Williamson's Christmas in Australia by John Williamson

cover image

Ill. by Mitch Vane. Penguin, 2014. ISBN 9780670077724
It's December in Australia which means Christmas is close, Everyone has gathered; the tree - a native pine - is decorated; turkey and ham are organised and Santa's on his way in the back of Jacko's ute. So it's time to take the traditional family photograph. But the task of getting everyone in the frame at the same time is proving very difficult. Will it happen?
There are many books about Christmas in Australia but this one based on the lyrics of John Williamson's iconic song is one of my favourites. As I read I could 'hear' him telling the story (if you're not familiar with it go here ) capturing all those images that we associate with the celebration under the sun. I love that the focus is the family getting together rather than giving and receiving presents - in fact with the exception of the endpapers where a cheeky kookaburra is guarding an array of socks and slippers on the line, there is no sign of gifts anywhere. Mitch Vane has captured the imagery perfectly adding extra life and humour that captured the attention of a group of Year 4 boys for ages. Each page was turned really slowly because there was so much for them to see and point out and laugh at! The scenes were clearly familiar to them.
Christmas in Australia offers lots of scope for compare-and-contrast activities as we are bombarded with imagery from the northern hemisphere which can set up investigations into the science of the seasons, but it can also suggest a probe into why so many of those old traditions remain. A southern Christmas is so very different from that known by our northern hemisphere ancestors so why did they feel it so important to cling to what they knew? But it is also an opportunity to look to the future. Have the children think about who would be in their family photo this year and what they would tell their own children about them. Also have them think about the other things they do on this special day and which of those they would ensure they pass on to their own children and grandchildren. Maybe they could investigate the origins of those things that are unique to their family so they know the stories behind them. Even though there is some concern that commercialism is taking over the Christian aspect of this celebration in Australia, perhaps it is an opportunity to find out why it is evolving into the most significant celebration of family that we have - in a way that Thanksgiving is to the USA - and why we feel the need to connect to each other in this way.
Even without using this book as a springboard for those sorts of investigations, this is a wonderful addition to your Christmas collection - one that would be a must-wrap-and-read for the Christmas Advent Calendar.
Barbara Braxton

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