Archive for May, 2019

Read aloud books for raising progressive children


One of the greatest gifts we can give to our children is to read to them from a wide variety of literature. The more stories and concepts they are exposed to, the more they will be able to form their own well-informed and well-rounded views. Forming that view themselves and coming to a progressive world view themselves is also important: education should never be about indoctrination. Rather, through wide exposure to literature and encouragement to think and reason for themselves, education should be an antidote to ignorance or wilful malevolence.

These are some of my (entirely subjective) favourite read-aloud books for raising progressive children. My list is never going to cover all the books that are out there. I’m always looking for more and I’d love to hear any recommendations of others!

1. ‘In My Heart: A Book of Feelings’ by Jo Witek, illustrated by Christine Roussey.


This lovely book encourages emotional intelligence and mindfulness of the child’s own feelings and others’ feelings. Being able to recognise and articulate their own feelings and the feelings of others is a crucial skill in developing empathy.  The ability to feel empathy for others who are different to oneself is one of the cornerstones of raising a child who is thoughtful and compassionate.

2. ‘What Shall We Do, Blue Kangaroo’ by Emma Chichester Clarke.


A modern Australian classic, this makes my list because every time Lily asks for help and the grown-up is too busy, Lily says “I’ll have to try and do it by myself” and in the process she discovers she is far more capable than she thought. A good early introduction for fostering independence and having a go on your own.

3. The ‘Alfie’ Series by Shirley Hughes (especially ‘An Evening at Alfie’s’ and ‘Alfie Gets in First’).


Absolute classics. These make my list though because of a minor character: Mrs. McNally’s Maureen. This teenaged girl is a great role model for Alfie and all children. She is sensible and confident, and keeps her head and problem solves when things go wrong. One of the things she is thinking about being when she leaves school is a plumber. She is quietly yet unabashedly badass.

4. ‘Some Boys’ by Nelly Thomas


This book is the perfect book about inclusive masculinity and accepting boys as who they are, in every way that might look like. ‘Some Girls’ by the same author similarly celebrates all the different ways to be a girl.

5. ‘Just The Way We Are’ by Jessica Shirvington and Claire Robertson


A great ABC published book that celebrates families of every shape and size. It has as its core message “my family might not look like yours but that’s okay, we are perfect just the way we are”. It includes a family with foster kids, a family with two dads and a family of just one parent and one kid.

6. ‘I’m Australian Too’ by Mem Fox, illustrated by Ronojoy Ghosh.


This picture book tells the stories of Australian children from different cultural backgrounds, including an Indigenous child, a child from Afghanistan who came by boat, and another child who is still in detention. Beautiful and not in the least bit subtle, the overall message is we share our country and everyone is safe and welcome here.

7. ‘When I Was Little, Like You’ by Mary Malbunka


I was educated for seven years in the Australian school system and six in the New Zealand school system. But my knowledge of Māori and Māori culture vastly exceeds my knowledge of Australian Indigenous cultures. I’m by no means an expert on Māori culture, history and language, but at least I feel like I have some understanding of it and in that sense I feel New Zealand does a much better job of honouring their Indigenous populations and including Māori in education. I’m trying to learn more about Australian First Nations cultures and make an effort to expose my children to an outlook that recognises that we live on land stolen by our ancestors from the world’s oldest continuous civilisation. This book is not about the Ngunnawal People, who are the traditional owners of the land we live on, but written by a Warlpiri/Luritja woman who grew up at Papunya, 250km west of Alice Springs. I love it because it talks about her childhood in a really relatable way for children and introduces Luritja words within the text in a similar way that I was exposed to Māori as a child in New Zealand.

8. ‘Ziba Came On A Boat’ by Liz Lofthouse, illustrated by Robert Ingpen.


Based on a true story, a gentle but moving tale of a little girl who misses how her life used to be before she and her family lost everything and she went on a brave journey to make a new and safe life in a foreign land.

9. ‘A Year On Our Farm’ by Penny Matthews, illustrated by Andrew McLean.


Another distinctly Australian book that follows a family through the changing seasons and the cycle of life on their farm. I love that the months line up with the southern hemisphere seasons, and that the book doesn’t shy away from the reality of animals dying on the farm. Part of learning to care about our environment is learning about it through observation. Learning about our food chain, climate and broader sustainability is also introduced gently within the story. Animals are born, animals die, there are rain and dry periods.

10. ‘Walking with the Seasons in Kakadu’ by Dianne Lucas, illustrated by Ken Searle.


A weather nerd at heart, I love observing the changing seasons around me. This book is beautifully illustrated and describes the six seasons in Kakadu including the weather and what plants and animals are doing each season. Even though these seasons don’t align with what we experience here in Canberra, it is no more foreign than reading books about the four seasons of Europe and North America and in truth far closer to home. This story is another way I can remind my children about how relevant the ancient knowledge of the First Nations People is to this day. I would love to find a similar book about the seasons we experience here in Ngunnawal Country. I have Sprinter and Sprummer by Timothy Entwisle but I’d love to find a children’s book if anyone has any recommendations.

11. ‘Oh The Places You’ll Go’ by Dr Seuss.


An activist’s guide to life. What’s not to love about a book that encourages children to get out there and make a difference, to weather life’s challenges, and all in verse to boot.

12. ‘The Barefoot Book of Children’ by Tessa Strickland and Kate De Palma, illustrated by David Dean.


Through the eyes of children from all over the world, this book is a celebration of diversity of cultures and families, while also drawing together the things and values that unite us as people. This is a multi-age book: younger children can connect with the story and illustrations, older children can delve into the encyclopaedic guide to the illustrations at the back to learn about what the illustrations are depicting.

A bonus entry: ‘The Bananas in Pyjamas’ series by Katrina Van Gendt
(Bedtime Book, Playtime Book and Holiday Book).

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Now sadly out of print, these sweet and simple stories have fantastically detailed illustrations that kids love. They make my list because I love how a quintessentially Australian icon promotes and normalises all kinds of families: even those consisting of six adult Bananas co-parenting 12 (somewhat) diverse Teddies.

There is an interesting point to make as I come to the end of my list and cast my eye over the authors on the list to check for gender balance. When looking for books in shops and in fact while raiding my children’s bookshelf looking for progressive texts, I have never specifically gone looking for any particular group or subset of authors: I judge what gets included purely by content of the book. In this context I feel it is noteworthy that the list I have compiled has 14 female authors to 1 male.


*** Disclaimer ***

These are books I have purchased myself over the years and that I read to my children. The list and the reviews are my own but the links to the books are affiliate links.


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