Review Blog

Oct 21 2020

Old man Emu by John Williamson

cover image

Illus. by Simon McLean. Penguin Random House Australia, 2020. ISBN: 9781760898793.
(Ages: 3-7) This picture book adaptation celebrates 50 years since the release of iconic Aussie singer-songwriter John Williamson's hit song Old Man Emu. After recently publishing book versions of Christmas in Australia and My Dad Snores this new release of one of his most enduring songs (and the one that kickstarted his career) comes as no surprise. The crazy lyrics are perfectly paired with wacky illustrations by Simon McLean that will have little ones giggling the whole way through. For those unfamiliar with the song, it tells the tale of what an emu can and can't do and compares its abilities to other Australian birds and animals (he's got a beak and feathers and things, but the poor old fella ain't got no wings'). While he may not be able to fly what he can do is 'run the pants off a kangaroo'.
There is beautiful rhythm within the rhyming lyrics and lots of repetition, perfect for getting kids to join in, especially with the 'oom ba da little da da da'. As well as obvious uses around music and singing the book could also be used to start a conversation about Australian animals and their individual abilities and characteristics ('you can't loop the loop like a cockatoo', 'duck can swim, but he can't sing') and applying this to our own individual human abilities.
This is a joyful and fun way to introduce kids to songwriting and rhythm and will be a particular favourite for children who have already been introduced to the song by their parents or teachers. Adult fans will appreciate the subtle nods to Williamson himself (the emu is clearly modelled on his image and there are some references to Quambatook where he grew up). Themes: Poetry/song, Australian animals, Abilities.
Nicole Nelson

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