This alphabet book showcases animals unique to the Australian continent, as illustrated by a celebrated Aboriginal artist Bronwyn Bancroft. Expand your growing readers’ horizons by acquainting them with the Australian natives – kangaroo, wombat, quoll, possum (not to be confused with the American opossum) and other animals endemic to these lands.
The seemingly minimalistic design of this book (one stylized picture per letter) meets the intricate richness of Bronwyn Bancroft’s patterned and coloured illustrations, of which she remarked:
“The paintings in this book are a personal journey inside myself, an exploration in line and colour. My artwork is not traditional. but when you are an Aboriginal artist, you’re not “just” an artist – you’re a teacher, a facilitator.”
Bronwyn Bancroft is a descendant of the Budjalung Indigenous people. Her art found its way into private collections around the world and is presented throughout major public collections in Australia (eg. within the National Gallery of Australia and Art Galleries of New South Wales and of Western Australia). She was a founding member of the Boomali Aboriginal Artists Co-operative established in 1987 and being Australia’s oldest Indigenous-run artists’ organisations. Throughout her successful artistic career she also worked as an illustrator and fashion designer. Bronwyn has illustrated a number of award-winning picture books.
The realistic shape outlines in “An Australian ABC of animals” are filled with detailed patterns in earthly reds, greens, yellows, ochres and blues, alluding at once to Australia’s earth, bush, sand, beach, sun and skies. It’s an Australian riot of color and pattern that would appeal to readers of all ages, including the very young ones who are usually mesmerized by the contrasted and patterned geometric shapes.
With the older readers the book can spark an interest in further exploring the facts about the featured animals and their long history on planet Earth. Depending on the child’s age it can help initiate all kinds of action from simple fact finding research to reflections on extinction rates and the impact of human interference with natural habitats.
The evolutionary journey of some of these animals (going back millions of years) is what both my son and I find fascinating if not mind-blowing. It is presumed that dingo species have been brought to Australia by seafarers, about 3,500 years ago. Whilst the earliest known dingo fossil found in Western Australia dates to only about 3,500 years ago, the echidnas, found in Australia and New Guinea, are thought to have evolved between 20 and 50 million years ago.
Goannas were found to have originated in the Northern hemisphere more 15 million years ago, before coming to Australia and Africa. The largest Australian goanna species today grow to over 2m long and the smallest to just 20cm.
Lyrebirds are ancient native Australian animals. The Australian Museum in Sydney holds fossils of lyrebirds dating back to about 15 million years ago. Lyrebirds are known for their strange but excellent ability to mimic natural and artificial sounds from their environment.
The Ulysses butterfly, also known as the Blue emperor, is commonly found in Australia, Indonesia and Solomon Islands. Its wingspan can reach 10.5 cm. The evolution of Australia’s most famous marsupial wombat is not well understood, but it is estimated that native Australian wombats diverged from other marsupials as far back as 40 million years ago.
With this book one can choose to engage with the ancient or modern history of Australian animal world as lightly or as deeply as desired. Just a meditative contemplation of Bronwyn Bancroft’s magnificent images could be joyous in itself.
For other Alphabet books reviews click on this link.
Wombat fans can also click here for some light-hearted wombat fun in a classic Australian picture book.
Author’s note by Bronwyn Bancroft, “An Australian abc of Animals”, Little Hare Books, 2004