Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Children's Book of Australia

Welcome to Sally's book-a-day-for-2017 blog. If unfamiliar with the blog, scroll down.

The Children's Book of Australia (Post 81)

The Children's Book of Australia (2000) was a commission. Its format was based on another book called The Children's Book of America, and I think the idea was to produce a local version with a similar tone and range of stories. The book takes Australian icons, folk heroes and major events and puts them in terms that are entertaining and easy to read. 

The major problem was deciding on what to include. Subjects needed to be clearly defined, with facts that weren't open to too much controversy or different interpretation. One of the parameters was to include the things the average lay person thinks of when considering Australia, and also to include things that would have continued relevance. 

I made a list of things I recalled from primary school history and social studies, and from general reading. Then I read up some modern sources to get the late 20th C perspective. I discovered, as is often the case, that the things I and much of my generation "know" are inaccurate. I learned history from a 1950s and 1960s mindset. I soon found out that a lot of the heroes I remembered from childhood have been reexamined (or retconned) and now many of their actions are seen as foolish if not downright wrong. I found a few whose reputations had survived relatively unscathed, and tried to make up the balance with modern heroes and events. Again I ran into trouble. Our view of events is much less clear-cut than it used to be and one person's hero is another person's villain. Surely, I thought, sports people would be suitable. Yes... and no. I chose a few, and simply had to hope their names and reputations would survive untouched by tragedy and scandal.

This is not to mean I wanted a whitewashed version of history. I wanted a balanced view, not letting my 1999 social judgement see harm when none was intended, but not letting my 1960s erroneous "facts" be perpetuated. I thought then, and think even more now, that harm can be done by perpetuating errors and also by judging people of the past using our modern guidelines. Some people are wicked now and were wicked then. Some people intend harm now and intended harm then. Some people make the best call they can with the available knowledge and zeitgeist of their place and time. Some people intended good and did harm. History judges them good, wicked or misguided, but history has the benefit of hindsight. I think we need to pay them the courtesy of seeing their intentions and their situations as they saw them. The report card of the colonial age may well be Could Have Done Better. So could ours.

About the Blog 
Sally is Sally Odgers; author, manuscript assessor, editor, anthologist and reader. She runs and Prints Charming Books. (Sally is me, by the way, and I am lots of other things too, but these are the relevant ones for now.)

The goal for 2017 is to write a post a day profiling the background behind one of my books; how it came to be written, what it's about, and any things of note that happened along the way. If you're an author, an aspiring author, a reader or just someone who enjoys windows into worlds, you might find this fun. The books are not in any special order, but will be assigned approximate dates, and pictures, where they exist. If you enjoyed a post, or want to ask about any of my books or my manuscript assessment service, post a comment and I'll get back to you.

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