Story Time Stars

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Stephanie Owen Reeder, Story Time Stars, National Library of Australia, September 2019, 148 pp., RRP $24.99 (hbk), ISBN 9780642279408 

Story Time Stars is a lovely, compact, hardback volume in gold and teal. The Muddle-headed Wombat does a happy dance on the cover: my heart was immediately won. Ruth Park’s work deserves to be remembered and venerated, along with the many other familiar favourites from childhood books circa 1910 onwards. 

The nostalgic chapter headings entice: “Puddings, gumnuts and Aussie larrikins”; “Kangaroos, ducklings and confused wombats”; “Swagmen, serpents and sleepy dragons”; “Hippos, possums and clever dingoes”; “Aliens, punks and divine wombats”; “Superheroes, foxes and sheep”; “Ponies, pugs and little refugees”.  It looks like wombats may be our all-time favourite storybook animal? 

The introduction states that the characters selected are “the most significant and recognised characters from Australia illustrated storybooks and picture books from last century.” That’s one way to make this reviewer feel her age. 

I remember when Uhu won the CBCA Book of the Year Award in 1970. Our school librarian read it to us (I was ten). I remember the deep indigo cover and the magic of the creator’s hyphenated name: Annette Macarthur-Onslow. How lovely to meet this owl again peeping out at me on these pages. 

Although I undoubtably read them, my little sister owned Blinky Bill (did EVERY Australian child own a stuffed koala bear called Bill in those days?) and The Muddle-headed Wombat (I was already reading full-length novels). I didn’t have much more to do with picture books until as a librarianship student in the 1980s I enjoyed reading the prize-winners I had missed. The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek  was good fodder for a student assignment. In the eighties and nineties my children enjoyed Edward the EmuPossum Magic and Koala Lou. 

I have a first edition booklet of the Gumnut babies that belonged to my great aunt. All this personal history may be by-the-by—but it reflects the knowledge of the general public about our literary heritage. Which books were owned, available in libraries, which were read and re-read, which were promoted by professional librarians and educators, which fell by the wayside? 

Although family favourites may be handed down, it is up to librarians, teachers and publishers to ensure the longevity of Australian children’s literature through compilations like this and the exhibition for which it is a companion book: the major exhibition at the National Library of Australia. Story Time: Australian Children’s Literature will run from August 2019 to February 2020.  Well done, NLA.  

One quibble: the font of the book is too small and pale to be accessible for visually impaired readers.  

This book is a welcome addition to library collections about the history of Australian children’s literature and a nostalgic gift for anyone who loved books as a child. 

Don’t forget to count the wombats. 

Reviewed by Julie Thorndyke 

Stephanie Owen Reeder’s website.

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