WOW Recommends: Birrarung Wilam

Birrarung Wilam cover art depicts a lush scene of plants and animals in a waterway.The use of English and the Aboriginal Australian language of Woiwurrung, in the picturebook, Birrarung Wilam: A Story from Aboriginal Australia, has a lilting candence that will perk up the ears of young listeners. Before reading this book aloud, study the Glossary in the back for the pronunciation and meanings of the Aboriginal words. Birrarung Wilam means Yarra river home, and the story tells how the Yarra River is home to the Aboriginal culture and many unique animals only found in Australia.

The story traces the beginnings of the river to its end in the bay at Melbourne. The first full page spreads start with the rising sun and the last pages end with a colorful sunset. The eagle that soars over the first illustration flies again on the last pages. “Sharp-eyed Bunjil soars overhead, watching everything spread out beneath. Fresh water, which began its journey as parnmin falling on djerang, mixes into palm warreen.”

The authors and illustrator of this book bring rich heritages and experiences to their story. “Joy Murphy Wandin is the Senior Aboriginal Elder of the Wurundjeri people of Melbourne and the surrounding area.” She is a “storyteller and a writer and is passionate about using story to bring people together and as a conduit for understanding Aboriginal culture.” Andrew Kelly grew up on the Birrarung river also called the Yarra and is the Yarra Riverkeeper. Lisa Kennedy, the illustrator, “is a descendant of the Trawlwoolway people on the northeast coast of Tasmania.”

Kennedy’s, rich, stylized, acrylic paintings are packed with details that illuminate the places and creatures mentioned in the text. Children will want to linger over the illustrations to discover all the details. Don’t miss the platypuses and fish on the endpapers.

The first pages of the book highlight a quotations from William Barak, 1874. The quotation reads, “Me no leave it, Yarra, my country.” Barak is an ancestor of Aunty Joy Murphy. I found it illuminating to read about this clan leader of the Wurundjeri people in the The William Barak collection at the Koorie Heritage Trust. Visit their website to learn more.

Connect young readers with these other picturebooks about rivers: Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris with illustrations by LeUyen Pham; River by Elisha Cooper; A River Ran Wild by Lynne Cherry; Where the River Begins by Thomas Locker; Three Days on a River in a Red Canoe by Vera B. Williams. Many of the animals captured in the painting are marsupials. Some of them may be new to children who will want to learn more about them and other animals: The Australian Animal Atlas by Leonard Cronin. Three picture books: Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French; Koala Lou by Mem Fox; Possum Magic by Mem Fox. -Recommended by Marilyn Carpenter, Professor Emeritus Eastern Washington University

Author: Aunty Joy Murphy and Andrew Kelly
Illustrator: Lisa Kennedy
ISBN: 9781536209426
Publisher: Candlewick
PubDate: August 4, 2020

Each month a committee of Worlds of Words advisors recommends a book published within the last year. Our hope is to spark conversations on our website and on social media about the book that expand global understandings and perceptions. Please join us by leaving a comment. You can also share your thoughts with us by using the hashtag #WOWRecommends on social media.

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