Say Yes: a story of friendship, fairness and a vote for hope

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Jennifer Castles (text),  Paul Seden (illus.),  Say Yes: a story of friendship, fairness and a vote for hope,  Allen & Unwin,  April 2017,  32pp.,  $29.99 (hbk),  ISBN: 9781760294670

It’s a big ask to write a picture book about an important historical, cultural and political event while keeping the story relevant, understandable and entertaining for a young audience. Jennifer Castles meets the challenge through a simple narrative about two young girls. Like all best friends, they want to spend time together at the pool and the cinema, and they’d like to go to the same school. But this story is set in the sixties, and the law says they can’t do any of these things because one of the girls is Aboriginal.

The book then goes on to describe the true story of two women who joined forces to try and get the discriminatory law changed. The resulting 1967 Referendum asked whether Australia’s laws and Census should include Aboriginal people along with other Australians. In the most successful referendum in Australia’s history, a resounding 90% of people voted yes, and the law was changed.

Text, illustrations and photos of archival materials all play their part in bringing to life this important chapter in Australia’s history. Told from the point of view of one of the children, the voice is spot on.

“Me and Mandy know the alphabet. Her big brother Simon showed us the letters.”

The simplicity of the grey-lead drawings of the girls is lovely. The only colours are in the girls’ vibrant dresses, which give me the impression of the world trying to stifle the girls’ vivacity.

Throughout the book the type also plays an important role by reflecting different moods through its different sizes, forms and colours, and highlighting important sections such as “It’s the law” and “It’s just not fair”.

Photos of newspaper clippings, voting cards and archival black-and-white photos bring home to young readers that this creative non-fiction story has a very real foundation in fact.

The story’s ending is uplifting without being sugar-coated. Informational back matter explains the precise changes made to the Constitution, and reminds us that not everyone agrees that the Referendum was a total success. It was a positive step on the road to equal rights for all Australians, but did not achieve all it set out to do. Much still needs to be done to ultimately achieve equality for all Australians.

This book was released to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the historic vote in 1967, and would make a valuable classroom resource.

Teachers Notes are available on the Allen & Unwin website.

Reviewed by Julie Murphy

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