Old Man Emu

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John Williamson (text) and Simon McLean (illustrator), Old Man Emu, Penguin Australia, September 2020, 32 pp., RRP $19.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781760898793

In this joyfully illustrated picture book, Australian icon, John Williamson pays tribute to Old Man Emu, the popular song that launched his 50-year entertainment career.

As with so many of John Williamson’s funny and tender ballads and tributes, Old Man Emu tells the tale of an unsung hero and his many traits – good and bad. Just like his previous picture book Christmas in Australia, this picture book is quintessentially Australian and full of native charm.

Along his journey, Old Man Emu encounters many Australian birds and animals and is compared to each of them (dingo, galah, cockatoo, wedge-tail eagle, kookaburra) and of course, the kangaroo.

Let me tell you of an interview with an Old Man Emu.
He’s got a beak and feathers and things, but the poor old fella ain’t got no wings.

Simon McLean’s quirky illustrations give all the animals a wonderfully comedic appearance as this rollicking tale sweeps us through the outback countryside in chase of a female emu.

Young readers will be engaged from start to finish in this funny and endearing picture book and with all the ‘oom ba da little da da da’ ditties included in the verse it feels just like a performance for those who are reading it aloud.

He can’t fly, but I’m telling you, he can run the pants off a kangaroo! 

The catchy chorus will have everybody joining in and it’s a quick internet search to find John Williamson’s first performance of the song on the ‘New Faces’ show back in 1970.  This picture book would be a great title to use in a primary or pre-school music lesson or perfect to share at home with grandparents who might remember the original song.

Reviewed by Lisa Hoad

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