The river by Sally Morgan & Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr

cover image

Excited eyes will be drawn to the image of the river, flowing across the bottom third of each page, filled with reeds and bulrushes, teeming with life on its shores, the nearby landscape and in the water. They will spy many animals: marine, land and air, and see what part each plays in the story of the river.

Morgan’s repetitive words sing with interest and delight, as readers are asked to listen with their ears, and watch with their eyes to all that is going on. And there is plenty to see and hear. A frog croaks amongst the river reeds, an emu calls amongst the tall river trees, a fish splashes in the cool river water, while we see a turtle peeping from the river grass, and a kangaroo jumping amongst the low river bushes. The number of animals that young children can spot with thrill as they turn each page, noting the environment with its dense scrubland, trees and reeds in and by the river.

The illustrations serve to reveal the sights and sounds along the river, giving readers an image of what to see there, but also giving them insight into the style of Aboriginal artists, with their distinctive xray patterns, traditional motifs and earthy colours. Malibirr, a  Yolnu man from the Ganalbingu clan does this to perfection, celebrating the river with an artist’s eye, offering insights to younger readers as they pore over all the things that a river offers. The environment of the river is revealed for us all, its richness clearly demonstrated in both word and image.

And younger readers will respond to everything on the pages before them, talk animatedly of the Australian landscape, reiterating what Australian flora and fauna consist of, while marvelling at the wonderful artistry unfolded on each page.

The text’s repetition begs to be emulated and the sounds of the animals will resound in the classroom, as the children read with their teacher. This is a wonderful read aloud and its telling will encourage children to be more aware of their surroundings. 

Themes: Environment, Australian flora and fauna, Riverbank, Aboriginal art.

Fran Knight