When Julie Owen, a Nurrunga and Ngarrindjeri woman, was learning to read, she never heard of Indigenous Australians.
“I had never seen a story about someone from my culture doing the normal things my family does,” she said.
“Growing up, I didn’t have books that reflected my life, my culture, my country.”
So, as an adult, Dr. Owen set out to change that by partnering with the non-profit group Library for All to identify a collection of books reflecting the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The resulting collection, named Our Yarning, is available online, with the books available to download for free through an app.
This week, organizers also took the library on the road to Canberra, where some of the books were read aloud to children in daycares in a bid to involve children more in the learning process.
Books aim to tackle higher illiteracy rate
The Our Yarning collection currently consists of 160 books, and organizers hope to increase that number to 500 by 2026, not only to allow Indigenous children to see their lives represented on the page, but also in an effort to combat the higher illiteracy rates. in indigenous children.
According to 2018 government data, one in four Indigenous children in grades 5, 7 and 9 are below national minimum standards in reading.
And the Library for All group says that’s also a big part of why books are currently only available in English, not traditional languages.
“Our goal…aims to improve literacy levels, on a large scale, with books and educational resources aligned with the national language of instruction,” the nonprofit organization said.
But, the organizers said, over time they “dream of a free digital library that encompasses many traditional languages.”
“Books in which children can see themselves or dream of being in the future”
Awabakal man Stirling Sharpe volunteered his time to write some of the stories in the Our Yarning collection.
He is working alongside Dr Owen to help the initiative reach more people and said he had always dreamed of writing a children’s book.
“Slightly on my to-do list, just to write a children’s book one day, and Library for All held a workshop at the University of Canberra just over a year ago… and since then, the rest is history,” he said.
“I wrote a few manuscripts, they were accepted, and I joined the Our Yarning team.”
Mr Sharpe said the research was clear that children had better learning outcomes when they could see themselves in the stories in the books and could relate to the characters.
“The whole concept of a mirror book or a window book — a book where you can see yourself or you can dream yourself in that situation — is really important for engagement,” he said.
“The evidence is there. So for us, it’s really important that we get as many books that kids can see themselves or dream of being in in the future.”
And Dr Owen said while the stories reflected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences, they were relevant to all children in Australia.
“The books are aimed at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, but when you think about it, they are books for all children,” she said.
“And especially those kids from other countries who want to know more about Australia.”
But Dr Owen said she still hoped the biggest impact would be closer to home – the children who, contrary to her experience, would now have the opportunity to see themselves reflected in the world of literature.
“It’s an opportunity for my grandchildren to see themselves in the books,” she said.