In our home, the choice of bedtime story is a hotly anticipated conquest. But one particular book seems to appear more than any other in the nightly rotation, much to my delight.
While we all know The Gruffalo, I Want My Hat Back and Alphabetical Sydney by heart, the story that often gains top spot is Gregg Dreise’s Silly Birds.
As an Australian Indigenous story with a solid moral undertone and spectacular illustrations, it has pride of place on our bookshelves, and I couldn’t be prouder. Because while stories of little mice and hungry bears are lovely, I find it infinitely more rewarding to see my children enjoying traditional stories that leave a lasting impact.
The next book in Gregg Dreise’s bird series is Cunning Crow, which is out in October, and is already eagerly anticipated in our household. I spoke to the author and illustrator, who shared his love for traditional Aboriginal storytelling and what inspires him to continue the generational heritage of his people.
He says, “The Dreamtime was the time when Biamme travelled our country creating morals and the place as we know it. Cunning Crow is a part of a series of trying to bring back endangered or broken stories from my country featuring these morals. It celebrates our differences through the rainbow of colours found in Australian birds.”
He continues, “Cunning Crow highlights that we are all different and that you should be proud of who you are no matter what your colour or culture is. Sadly, when I grew up, it was hard to find books with multicultural characters. Thankfully this is now changing. I hope all readers enjoy learning about everyone’s differences.”
I have no doubt it will be another beloved story on our shelves.
Cunning Crow is available through all good booksellers through Magabala Books on October 1.
Can you tell us a little bit about your books?
My ‘bird’ books are a series of morality tales that bring very old traditions into today’s era.
Silly Birds discusses the excitement of finding a new fun friend… Only later to realise that this new friend likes having too much fun at the expense of respect. It reminds us that it is hard to soar high to be your best, when you are surrounded by turkeys.
Kookoo Kookaburra highlights that kindness is like a boomerang… The more you throw it out there, the more likely it is to come back. Kindness is a wonderful gift that costs nothing, yet gives so much.
Mad Magpie takes us on a journey of a character who reacts to bullies far too easily. When he learns to stay calm like the water, although strong like its current… He doesn’t give the reaction that he once did.
My new book, Cunning Crow, teaches us to not set out to become something that we are not. We come in all of the colours of the rainbow, and that is what makes us all beautiful… A celebration of our unique characteristics – not a quest to be like, or be better than others – just being happy to be you.
Finally, My Culture and Me is a reflection of being proud of me. It highlights my culture’s respect for Mother Earth and our connection to our beautiful country. Hopefully soon more people will make decisions about our children and future family members that are yet to be born. We need to cherish our country and ensure that future generations have the resources that they will need.
What inspired Cunning Crow?
Cunning Crow is inspired by a very old story about the opal on my Grandmother’s Country. It reminds us about beauty, about embracing differences, about not judging others’ appearances and being content with who we are.
Can you tell us about the importance of Dreamtime stories in teaching subtle life lessons to our children?
Our Dreaming is similar to the 10 Commandments in the Christian religion. We want the best for our children. We want them to grow up with morals, respect and courage. No matter where we come from, no matter our differences, we all want our children to grow to be the best that they can be.
What are some of your favourite dreamtime stories for children?
My childhood favourite was Tiddalik the Frog. Obviously it teaches us about the greed of the frog, however the greed of mankind is the real message in this story. The story is thousands of years old, but it means the most for today’s leaders.
What stories featured heavily in your own childhood?
I love to remind children in my live performances that they are getting more and more addicted to screens.
I grew up listening to storytelling – around a fire with music, laughter and imagination. I love the growing trend of firepits. The sooner children are introduced to it, the more respect for safety they learn. But there is something magical about it that evokes the imagination, especially when it comes to storytelling.
Get out there with some marshmallows and a guitar and enjoy that sense of togetherness! They grow up quickly, but they will always cherish family memories like those over watching TV.
How important is reading to our children? And particularly reading stories that share Aboriginal stories?
Reading to our children is essential for their development. It normalises an essential skill. It models expressions needed to be able to ‘tell’ a story with meaning. It creates discussions that foster deep comprehension of texts – reading for meaning rather than speed. But most of all, it extends that parent/child relationship – nothing beats that ‘snuggle up’ together at the end of the day. It’s a chance to calm down, a chance to reflect on your day, a chance to remind them at the end of every day that their parents are there – and they care.
It is wonderful that there are more and more indigenous stories available. It lets indigenous children feel like they also belong in the book world. Importantly, it is allowing non-indigenous families to grow up with an appreciation for Australia’s beautiful culture. It will obviously help us to all walk together as one.
Other than your beautiful books, what are some of your favourite indigenous Australian music or stories to enjoy with our children?
I am excited to have just finished recording a Music CD for children, “Sing. Dance. Walk Together.” It has been a lot of fun, and as well as touring with the CD, I hope it will be a foot in the door to progress with an animated TV show about some Aussie bush characters who make a band. It is called “1, 2, 3, Fur.” Keep an eye out for future projects! I will slowly build songs on YouTube in the lead-up.
For other stories, check out the amazing work of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. Kind-hearted people donate money and we gift books to remote communities who have no book stores or town libraries and often don’t enough resources for school libraries. As an Ambassador, I join up with Andy Griffiths, Alison Lester, Jessica Mauboy, Justine Clarke and many others to get to communities and make books with the children. It is an amazing opportunity to share our love for reading.
Finally, simply check out out the awesome books, perhaps snuggle up with your loved ones and continue sharing the love with an Indigenous story.