Australian Kids through the Years by Tania McCartney

cover image

Ill. by Andrew Joyner. National Library of Australia, 2015. ISBN 9780642278593
(Age: 5-10) Recommended. Andrew Joyner's retro style illustrations and Tania McCartney's fun presentation of information will make this non-fiction picture book popular with children, teachers and parents alike. McCartney also wrote the similarly presented An Aussie Year, which illustrates twelve months in the year of children around Australia. In Australian Kids through the Years, each double page spread looks at children's lives, starting with larger blocks of time (eg. 1800-1840s), and then looking at each decade individually from the 1950s onwards. For each period, we are introduced to a 'typical' girl and boy who then feature in the following double page spread. Through speech bubbles, descriptive labels within the illustrations and information textboxes, the spreads tell the reader about the food, games, clothes and activities that children of that period enjoyed. In the decades from the 1950s onwards, what children watched on television also becomes a main topic.
The pictures are rich in detail, filled with people playing, eating and moving, providing plenty of things to look at and discuss. Adults will get nostalgic about some of the games, toys, books and television shows that are named or shown, which this will no doubt spark rich conversations. Children will love questioning their parents about some of the things they see on the pages, such as games that are no longer popular, old technology and customs no longer followed. They will also delight in recognising things that have not changed over time. There is so much detail in here that it invites readers to keep going back and picking out different things each time. In the back of the book are photographs and images from the National Library of Australia, which further illustrate each period.
While there is an acknowledgment in the front of the book that 'For tens of thousands of years, our first people lived in harmony with the land', the portion of the book given to Indigenous Australian children is small. In addition, the one page dedicated to them as 'first children' fails to emphasise how many generations of Indigenous children lived on this land before European settlement, and does not provide a year which would help to put this into perspective. Despite this, the book successfully highlights and celebrates the cultural diversity of Australian society and shows how the social fabric of Australia has changed over time.
This is a resource perfect for teachers to use in discussions around how childhood and life in Australia has changed over time, but will also be wonderful for parents and children to share and discuss time after time.
Nicole Nelson