Literacy and Numeracy Week – 29th July – 4th August 2013 – The fundamentals are fun!
Written by Xavier Healy, a Year 11 student from Ouyen P-12 College who completed a week of work experience at PROV.
Tucked away deep inside of the vast repositories, Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) has many old books in its impressive collection. These books have come from government schools and have been donated by various people after they have been used for governmental purposes. Looking through the collection, it is easy to get swept away by the enormous amount of historical items, but eventually you will hit the proverbial oil. This is exactly what happened when we viewed some of our story books. From the sickeningly cute to the hilarious to the outdated, this week, in honour of Literacy and Numeracy Week, we will be showcasing some of our most delightful books, some from as far back as 1871.
Sixpence to Spend
Ultimately a cute children’s book, ‘Sixpence to Spend’ was first published in 1935 by Angus and Robertson. The story and the illustrations were all done by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, who transports us into the land of animals. Talking Koala’s, Platypuses, Possums and Rabbits are integral to this imaginative narrative. The book is likely to have provided relief during the height of the great depression while the illustrations that accompany Albert Edward the Koala, the main character, are mostly black-and-white with a few in colour. All of the illustrations are beautifully drawn, including the endearing cover. Amusing in 1935 and still amusing now, ‘Sixpence to Spend’ really is a charming book.
Written by Gwen Harrowsmith and illustrated by Jackson Hull, ‘Dinty’ was published in 1947. Following the lives of the residents of Carrowobbitty Street, this book centres around Dinty, a cat, and Erbi, an elephant, as the two best friends go about their lives. The overriding theme relates to the differences the two face and how they still can be wonderful friends (isn’t that sweet?). Next to the slabs of writing are a number of vivid images. Full page images in full colour really add to the delight of the book, while easily the most impressive images are those just inside of the cover. At the front and at the back are identical images of Carrowobbitty Street at sunset. The colours used are fantastic and make sure that the book stands out from the pack. The front cover simply depicts Dinty’s head (they even included the bow tie!) while the back cover shows an old-fashioned gun, which would seem weird today considering our views towards guns and the implications of violence that they bring.
What Katy Did At School
Following up from the successful ‘What Katy Did’, ‘What Katy Did At School’ centres around the life of a young girl from the 1860’s. The series (even more books followed) began in 1872 and drew from the personal experiences of the author, who wrote under the name of Susan Coolidge. The book explores the problems of the 12-year-old Katy, who was involved in a life-changing accident during the first book, as she attends high school. While obviously outdated, the book gives an upbeat look at life. Within the book are quite a few simple, black-and-white illustrations that simply add to the charm of this 141-year-old book. The author tells her young readers that ‘if your school days are happier than Katy found hers it is because times have changed for the better’, which is abstractly uplifting until you remember that the book is virtually a self-made biography with the names changed. In the 1960’s and 70’s, multiple TV and movie adaptations of the series were created, while, more recently, the book has made it into pop culture in less blatant ways – two episodes of the hit TV show ‘Lost’ have even featured the name of the book in the title: ‘What Katy Did’ and ‘What Katy Does’.
True Stories of Bravery
Retelling tales from history ‘for little folk’, ‘True Stories of Bravery’ is a great old-fashioned children’s history book. With stories titled ‘How the Dutch Saved their Country’ and others about Michael Angelo, the book traverses across various chapters in world history. Told as a narrative, each story is an historical recount, showing us that children were able to learn about history from a young age and by different approaches. As the title indicates, each story is true and is one of bravery. The cover, before we even explore the content, is laden with stereotypes and seems to have been designed to appeal to boys: a boy stands in armour and with fierce weapons. The image is striking in its composition, as are the various illustrations that can be found within the book. Like all other cultural products from any time in our history, books show us the morals and values at any given time. This book is clearly aimed at stereotypical boys, not to mention that every story within it centres on men. To be fair, it is probably a product of its time, when stories of brave women were not prevalent in our history books. The book is a great insight into our past – and while I do mean the history of the stories written about in it, I also mean the history of the book itself.
Gay Street Book
Consisting of compiled short stories, ‘Gay Street Book’ was created by Enid Blyton, a famous British children’s writer who is also known as Mary Pollock. The stories are designed to be happy little adventures. Accompanying each of the stories are various images that are very 50’s-esque. Black and white images punctuated with vivid drabs of a single colour force the illustrations to really stand out. This book really is worth a look. Honestly, how often do you hear ‘it’s been real champion to meet you’?
The Wee One’s Nursery Rhymes
Made by Renwick of Otley England, ‘The Wee One’s Nursery Rhymes’ is a Walker Toy Book. The book contains classic children’s nursery rhymes, including ‘Baa, Baa, Black Sheep’ and ‘Jack Sprat’. Every page is adorned with colourful or black-and-white images, which really do take centre stage. The cover shows a young girl and a friendly dog reading a book while being watched by a jester (who errs on the side of being creepy). The central two pages are the most stunning of the whole text. Depicting the Queen of Hearts and the Knave of Hearts fighting over tarts on a summer’s day, the pictures are bright and brilliant. Reading through the book, memories of childhood experiences will come flooding back. The book is a beautiful reminder of past experiences and it truly is a visual feast for the eyes.
Dangerous Secrets is a seamless story written by eleven different authors. Aged from 11 to 17, each writer created a chapter. The book, which was edited by John Gunn and released in 1960, was formed over the course of a year. The first chapter was written and released, and then the floor was made open for submissions to be made for the next chapter. A similar scenario occurred for the wonderful illustrations in the book. Eight boys and girls, aged between 8 and 18, created the illustrations for the book while under the guidance of Jeffrey Smart. The idea came to Australia from Norway, where Charles Moses, then General Manager of the A.B.C, had visited. Each contributor was a member of the Argonauts Club (an Australian children’s radio club) and was given just three minutes of guidance from Gunn through radio broadcast every five weeks. With the idea being well received, Gunn gave the book a starting point and let the Argonauts run rampant with the rest. With a time frame of one year, five weeks was allocated to each chapter. The A.B.C created a film based on the story and donated all profits garnered from the book and film to an appropriate charity. The book is charming and the illustrations beautiful, but you can’t deny that the story behind the making of the book is as interesting as the narrative itself.
Warrumbungle, the Wallaby
First published in 1950, ‘Warrumbungle, The Wallaby’ unsurprisingly follows the adventures of a Wallaby who goes by the name of Warrumbungle. Thanks to the informative title given by the author, Harry Hodge, readers are mentally prepared to follow the adventures of the courageous Warrumbungle and his friends. Strangely, one of his friends, Rochester, a city mouse, always carries a spare tail – just in case of emergency! The third member of the crew is a boy who can talk to animals. The story follows their trip through the mountains, where they encounter many strange and new things (cue the life lessons!). Unaware they are being followed by a wicked fox (SHOCK, HORROR!), they return home. Their exploits are accompanied with many pleasant images depicting their high jinks. Setting readers up for a whimsical ride, the cover depicts a jovial scene from the book where the three companions are trouncing down a hill. The drawings were provided by Bonor Dunlop, and breathe life into the story.
Cleanliness: starring Johnny Toothbrush
Beautifully illustrated, ‘Cleanliness’ is part of a 6 book series that encapsulates other titles – ‘Manners’, ‘Safety’, ‘Kindness to Pets’, ‘Obedience’ and ‘Going to Bed’. Written in 1943 by Virginia Parkinson and the Sass-Dorne Studio, you could forgive me, born in 1996, for finding the charming content more entertaining than informative. The story follows the escapades of a toothbrush who feels down in the dumps when his owner – dubbed his best friend – forgets to brush his teeth the morning of a busy day. You see, this oversight of Bobby deprived Johnny of his all-important morning exercise. Johnny Toothbrush eventually hijacks Bobby’s day to visit Doctor Stork (a bird with a bow tie and PhD) and convinces him that ‘cleanliness comes first before he plays’. The pictures, found on every page, are visually pleasing and certainly help keep the message of the book, that ‘Johnny helps you keep your smile so fresh and shiny bright!’ firmly inside of your head. Whatever you do, don’t forget to give your toothbrush his morning exercise! But, if you do forget and he takes you to a bird-doctor, it might be time to finally go and see your psychiatrist.
How The Bunnies Got To Australia
Published through the Alpha-Printing Company in 1944 by an aspiring young soldier-turned-author, ‘How The Bunnies Got To Australia’ was the only book ever written by G. Maxwell Baker. Somewhat similar to the historical events that led to rabbits populating Australia, the book introduces readers to the fictional sea-side town of Burrowville in the year 1787 – the same year the first fleet set out for Australia. Is this a coincidence? No, it is not. Bunnies, like Mrs Longears, Brighteyes, Whitehair and Furrycoat, got to Australia on ships that sailed from European countries in 1787. And yes, those names are legitimately the names for the characters in the book! The main family of bunnies, headed by Mr and Mrs Rabbit, decide to make the leap to Australia. Meandering through various ship-orientated adventures, the bunnies do make it to Australia, where wistfully embrace and look out over their new land. The book is filled with stunning images, the most striking of which are the fruity coloured pages that book-end the story, broken only by solitary images of a bunny. While the bunny on the cover does make me quiver in fear, G. Maxwell Baker did very well in illustrating the book that he also wrote.