Last month, I presented a list of my top Australian non-fiction at the Victorian CBCA’s Clayton’s night, in the lead up to the announcement of the CBCA shortlist. One of my top picks wasn’t submitted for the CBCA awards but it’s an important little book about a big topic that matters deeply to me and to most Australian children – insects!
The Little Things that Run the City by Kate Cranney, Sarah Bekessy & Luis Mata is the sort of book that would have changed my understanding of the world, if I’d read it as a child. One of the most important things this exceptional book does for young Australian readers is it gives them the gift of the language of their landscape. Australian children are inundated with information about European, Asian and American wildlife. It’s good to know about the wider world but it’s crucial that information books help children connect to and interpret their immediate surroundings.
Kids are fascinated by creepy crawlies but most information books for children about bugs are not published in Australia and don’t include common Australian insects. When I went to live in Europe, I always wondered why their cicadas were so quiet compared to ours. It was only when recently reading The Little Things that Run the City that I discovered that our Green Grocer Cicada is one of the world’s loudest insects.
Kate Cranney’s illustrations are magical and the bite size pieces of information accompanying both illustrations and photos introduce readers to thirty different insects found in Melbourne gardens.
I love the specificity of The Little Things that Run the City. Every Melbourne child should have a copy of this book available to them and that’s actually possible as it’s a free, downloadable pdf at the City of Melbourne’s website. Click the image of the book’s cover to get a copy. Though it’s great to be able to access this fascinating project so easily, the actual hardcover book is such a pleasure to hold, I highly recommend getting a physical copy. The book was produced as an outreach educational resource for the City of Melbourne as part of the Interdiscplinary Conservation Science Research Group at RMIT University. So it’s not widely available in bookshops but it can be purchased at the shops in the Melbourne Museum and the Royal Botanical Gardens.
If you are considering a ‘no’ vote in the plebiscite on gay marriage, imagine walking into an average Australian classroom – hypothetically, 25-30 small children. In that room there are, statistically, at least three children (11%) who cannot be party to the story you are about to tell them.
Here is the story you will tell:
“Twenty-seven of you here today will grow up to be legally entitled to marry and live happily ever after. Three of you will not, because three of you will not be entitled to have your love recognised under law. But that’s okay. Because you three must understand that the other 27 will love in a way that allows them to be privileged to the protection of the law and the love the three will feel will not be equivalent. The families of the 27 deserve the full protection that the law can offer, if they choose to avail themselves of it. For the three (and for those who are already the children of gay couples), their families are beneath the law.”
You, the story-teller, may then feel a need to apologise to the three, but, you will say, those three children must understand, they are not like the other 27, not full citizens of their own country.
Perhaps the three do not yet know that they will be gay one day but when they realise who they love, they will remember your story and it will torment them.
Three (or more) children in the classroom are not given your respect, your acceptance, or the privileges you will grant the other 27 under law. This is a hard story to tell the three, but it is also a cruel and destructive story to tell the 27. Some of those 27 children will feel ashamed and embarrassed for their three friends. Some of the 27 will assume that the three don’t deserve their friendship and respect, some of the 27 will see your denial of the three as a licence to abuse them. Every child in the classroom will be damaged by your ‘no’ vote.
I will vote yes for the sake of the three and for the sake of the 27 – because every child deserves full access to society, because I believe in the very Australian value of a ‘fair go’, because love is love and legal rights are legal rights and all our children deserve to live in a free and equal society.
Last weekend I returned from nearly a month in the USA.
It was the kind of adventure that shifts things. It shifted the way I think about America, the way I think about diverse books and our urgent need for them (the shortage is chronic), and the way I think about story.
While I was there I did three events to celebrate the release of the US edition of ‘Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean’, visited twenty-one bookshops, and attended the fabulous Bindercon.
I also sailed around San Francisco Bay, ate a crazy number of tacos and met a stellar array of Californians who inspired me with their energy and optimism. When you realise that San Francisco sits along one of the great fault-lines in the crust of the planet, you can’t help but be impressed by the millions of people who live there and embrace each day as it comes yet still plot and scheme for their futures.
Before I left for the US, a number of people asked me if I was afraid to travel there. When I mentioned this to friends in California, they were amazed and alarmed to realise how much Donald Trump’s election had frightened the rest of the world.
Fear is at the core of most of the stories that dominate world news. And of course there’s plenty to inspire fear in the current state of the world. I love that the US publisher made that the shout line on the cover ‘Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean’ – tales of imagination and daring. In an age where fear is crippling so many people, more than ever we all need stories of imagination and daring.