11 May 2024

The Canberra Bookshelf: knowing things that matter

| Barbie Robinson
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Cover of Emergency! Emergency! Vehicles to the Rescue by Rhiân Williams

Emergency! Emergency! Vehicles to the Rescue by Rhiân Williams and Tom Jellett tells children and adults how to contact their emergency services. Photo: Supplied.

One of the many debates in education circles is the issue of core knowledge. Is there a set of facts that everyone needs in our society? Or is it more important young people learn how to find the information they need?

While opinions on this vary, it is certainly essential for children and adults to know how to contact their emergency services in times of trouble.

The excellent picture book Emergency! Emergency! Vehicles to the Rescue by Rhiân Williams and Tom Jellett (Wild Dog , Australia, 2022) provides just this information via its simple clear text and bright and appealing illustrations.

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Whilst paying homage to the excellent work of emergency service workers, it also provides facts about the range and scope of these services in Australia. Particularly important is the inclusion of the phone number to call in a crisis – counteracting the effect of ubiquitous US TV programs where a different number applies.

The book also shows us the varied scenarios that Australian services meet – everything from snake bite treatments by the Flying Doctor to horse riding accidents and missing hikers.

Now two years old, the book continues to be a valuable asset in homes and schools.

Cover of If It’s Not True It Should Be.

If It’s Not True It Should Be, edited by Paul Ashton, covers many aspects of historical fiction. Photo: Supplied.

The telling and imagining of history in fiction works is broached in a highly approachable slim volume of essays, edited by Paul Ashton: If It’s Not True It Should Be (Halstead Press, Australia, 2024; cover design Kerry Klinner).

Local authors Stephanie Owen Reeder and Peter Stanley are included in the collection, along with Claire Hallifax, Stephanie Lee-Ling Ho, Alison Lloyd, Sarah Luke, Sophie Masson, Felicity Pulman, Philippa Werry and Paul Ashton with Pauline O’Loughlin.

There are 10 essays covering many aspects of historical fiction, a genre apt to raise the ire of critics who claim history is about facts not speculation. However, the market defies them as historical fiction continues to grow in popularity.

One of the many reasons for writing in this field is that the recording of history has been notoriously constrained by gender and class, thus leaving many untold stories that could give a different perspective on our past – and hence inform our present. The place of women and girls is just one such area.

Writers of historical fiction research and delve into things they think it matters to know, specifically divergent views of well-known events. Amongst other benefits to readers of all ages is the reminder that point of view is important in all things.

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Surely this is something that should make the list of essential knowledge, the capacity to read and interpret information rather than merely accept its veracity.

The book is highly recommended for its accessibility, varied essay topics and insightful content by the contributors, esteemed and successful writers in the field of historical fiction. Their enthusiasm for the lure of the story and the hunt for fascinating vestiges of our history is infectious.

Cover of Wollemi by Samantha Tidy

Wollemi by Samantha Tidy and Rachel Gyan encourages the notion of the citizen scientist. Photo: Supplied.

And then to the environment and the need to sometimes keep secrets to protect the precious. Wollemi by Samantha Tidy and Rachel Gyan (CSIRO Publishing, Australia 2023), subtitled Saving A Dinosaur Tree, tells the story of the chance discovery by David Noble of a pine species that has survived for 200 million years.

Like much of Samantha Tidy’s work, it is fictionalised fact, its story elements aimed at exciting children about the wonders of the natural world and, in this case, the miracle of the Wollemi’s discovery.

They then are asked to consider the issue of what is precious and what we can each do to protect our endangered species. The book very much encourages the notion of the citizen scientist. And surely we are in the sphere of essential knowledge here for our planet’s sake.

Rachel Gyan’s jaunty illustrations are a perfect visual representation of the story, beautifully capturing both the ancient forest and the child’s world.

Barbie Robinson is co-founder and content creator for Living Arts Canberra, a not-for-profit media outfit supporting arts and community in the Canberra region and books worldwide through its website, podcast interviews and a 24/7 internet radio station.

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