Review Blog

Nov 20 2017

M is for mutiny: History by alphabet by John Dickson

cover image

Ill. by Bern Emmerichs. Berbay Publishing, 2017. ISBN 9780994384119
(Age: 7+) Recommended. Themes: Australian history. Aboriginal themes. First Fleet. A different view of Australia's history is presented in this intriguingly illustrated picture book, with information to hold readers' attention and drawings that will make the eye linger on each page.
An alphabet book, the first double page entitled, 'A for Acknowledgement', is devoted to the first people who lived in this land. Following is 'B for Banks the Botanist' who accompanied Captain Cook in his explorations of the southern lands. The text gives information about this scientist and his place in our history while the illustrations shows some of the plants he is known for, adapting the local Aboriginal name for their classification. And 'C is for Captain Cook', while 'F is for First Fleet', 'M for Mutiny', 'R for Rum Rebellion', 'S for Sheep', so offering few surprises with information given about known events in Australia's early history. Where this departs from the expected is the emphasis given on how the indigenous people were affected by this incursion. So we have 'L for Land Rights', 'Q for Questionable Acts', 'T for Terra Nulius', 'U for Uproar', and 'Y for Yemmerawanne', while several of the other pages include information about Australia's Indigenous population.
An alphabet book trying to achieve a 'history by alphabet' is by necessity very selective, having only 26 headings to use, but this book has selected a number of events normally not included in history books, so offering a differing view of our past, one which readers will recognise alongside learning something new.
Told in a chatty style, each paragraph is enough to engage and delight while offering snippets of funny information kids love to read.
References to other events, for example Mabo, gives readers something more to research, while some themes - Women, Crime and punishment, Treatment of the Indigenous people - will impel readers onto to fields beyond this book.
The startling illustrations were developed by painting onto ceramic tiles which are then photographed. The detail is astounding and infectiously fascinating, the detail quite extraordinary, making this a book to pore over. The naive style is reminiscent of early pottery. The endpapers list all the people of the First Fleet, some named, most left with a number, underlining the lack of importance given these people by those who sent them to Australia. In a classroom, it would be fun to envisage what the students would have included as their letters.
Fran Knight

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