Illustrated by Vicky Duncan
Black Ink Press
ISBN: 978 1 86334 023 6
I recently had the opportunity to launch Michelle Witheyman-Crump’s first book, Original Girl Mari Miyay at the Ipswich Children’s Book Festival. And it was a fantastic celebration on so many levels.
The brightly coloured, bi-lingual, bi-cultural Original Girl is about Michelle’s daughter Emily, and explores Aboriginal identity from a young child's perspective. It’s about being Aboriginal, it’s about being a young girl; it’s about being an individual, and celebrating self. And this is the message we need our young people, our future leaders, and our future caretakers of each other and of country, to understand.
Original Girl is a story that joins other books in using the voice of young Aboriginal children, as a means of expressing who they are and their understanding of their Aboriginal identity, or as Michelle has noted Emily saying, their ‘original’ identity.
Original Girl reminds me of young Sarah Jackson’s book Tell Me Why which deals with society’s preconceived ideas about Aboriginality and using skin colour to determine identity.
Original Girl also reminds me of 9-year-old Hylton Laurel’s The Cowboy Frog, which is also a bilingual work with a message.
Like these other titles, Original Girl told in the voice of Emily, will engage young readers because it speaks to them, for them and of them.
I know that Michelle hopes that through her book, many non-Indigenous Australians will begin to better understand the diversity of Aboriginality – and that the way in which we express our identity can be as ‘original’ as we are.
I believe that many Aboriginal Australians will also learn from this book as well, as it reinforces the reality that you don’t have to do, or say or dance a certain a certain way to actually be Aboriginal, you just need to breathe, just be. Or in Emily’s case apparently, she just needs to be the Gamiliaroi Princess she is.
Many will already be aware that the greatest national challenge facing us today is the fact that some Australian children are being allowed to grow up severely disadvantaged and that disadvantage stems from a lack of literacy and numeracy.
And some commentators have stated, “The racial gap in learning is the most serious civil rights issue of our time. There is an increasing gap in educational achievement, and the education of Aboriginal children is going to trap them in an even more dangerously disadvantaged future.”
The key to dealing with this disadvantage and closing the gap is ‘literacy’. There needs to be a collective effort to close the gap. And I believe that one very significant part of that effort is for writers and publishers to be delivering books that encourage our young people to read. These books need to tell stories relevant to young Aboriginal people. They need to be a voice that is familiar to our young people. And they need to be illustrated in a way that young people can recognise themselves, and that doesn’t just mean, or even mean that the characters need to be brown in complexion. It means they need to be written in conjunction with young Indigenous kids themselves.
And for this reason I congratulate the team behind Original Girl because while it may be a book about young Emily it is a book that reflects, will appeal to and will be appreciated by so many other young girls and boys, of all skin tones.
I am not a literacy teacher, but a lover of literature and I want our people to read. For my part, as an author, its about producing relevant literature for them. Boys want to read boy stories, girls want to read girl stories, and Indigenous kids of both genders want to read stories that speak to them, that are about their life expereinces as blackfellas in the 21st century. Its not rocket science.
Congratulations also to the translators Brother John Giacon and to Des Crump who is a teacher, linguist and consultant but most importantly, he’s Micelle’s husband and Emily’s dad.
Congratulations also to Vicky Duncan on her foray into publishing as well.
I commend this book as a fabulous resource for teachers and a tool to get young students to write their own stories about their own identities, whatever they may be.
This book also makes the point that before invasion we communicated in our own languages, and some of them still exist, although in a crude form. Original Girl also helps contribute to the reclamation and maintenance of the Gamilaroi language.
A great story book in the classroom or library and the kids can learn some language at the same time.
For details contact Black Ink:
Phone 07 4773 5077
Fax 07 4773 530