Helen Milroy, Backyard Bugs, Fremantle Press, March 2021, 32 pp., RRP $19.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781760990282
The joy of this book is in the illustrations. They are full-page, richly coloured, and each one is a unique design carrying strong influences from the contemporary art of the peoples of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Helen Milroy (Australia’s first indigenous doctor, first indigenous child psychiatrist, Professor at UWA, 2020 WA Australian of the Year, and the AFL’s first Indigenous Commissioner) is herself a descendant of the Palyku people of the Pilbara, a region where evidence of occupation and art-making goes back 41,000 years.
On each page of this delightful book a backyard insect is introduced with a detailed image captured in traditional perspective from above: snail, bee, worm, cricket, and plenty of others. The text to the left of each illustration offers the reader one simple sentence on each insect, focused upon the verb that evokes the actions or sounds of each particular creature. The honeybee, for instance, buzz, buzz, buzzes along.
Perhaps the lasting joy of this book is that after reading it, a parent or teacher can go out with a young reader into the backyard (or across the road to a park) and look for these insects and others in their settings. It might even inspire a lasting interest in learning about these much neglected creatures of the natural world.
Reviewed by Kevin Brophy