It’s NAIDOC Week, and in light of celebrating the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, I figured it would be appropriate to review the illustrated book – Common Wealth by Gregg Dreise.
Common Wealth is not your normal picture book story. It is told in a poetic slam style, which is incredibly effective. It follows the true history of settlement in Australia. It’s stunning but brutal, heartbreaking but honest, beautiful but confronting… and I adored every page.
The message is that together we can get work towards a common wealth – a country that is best for everyone, which is even reflected in the gap between the words in the title: Common Wealth, the good of everyone. It is told in a lyrical style and is described as a slam poetry persuasive. It highlights how simple changes to things such as our national flag, the words in our national anthem, and the date of Australia Day, could so easily be shifted and explains why something so simple could have powerful positive repercussions to help heal our nation.
The beautiful illustrations sweep across the double spread pages as the text dances along the images. The bright colours and traditional aboriginal art is perfect and incredibly well done. The writing is brilliant and is fantastic to read out loud, especially as it is slam poetry, every line packs a punch.
Common Wealth is a powerful book that tells a story that should be shared in every classroom, household and library. It is a conversation starter that will help to develop our respect for indigenous Australians and shape compassion and understanding in younger generations. It truly is a bold and brilliant book that is perfect for NAIDOC week. And although it has darkness and sadness in its story, and rightly so, it does send a message of hope and peace, and a way to work towards a better future for every Australian.
A word of warning though, it does have some disturbing images towards the end of the book. It is handled is a subtle way but is still probably uncomfortable for young children, so this book is definitely suited for primary school aged children (which it does state at the beginning of the book and on the back!). I feel some people may be a little confronted by this image on a particular page, and I was a little jarred seeing it myself, but I think it needs to be in this story as it represents our true dark history, and I also think that children are stronger than we give them credit for and are capable of dealing with difficult images. If you are worried about this, then read it yourself before giving it to your child, and decide what you want to do.
For more books for NAIDOC week you could also look at Wilam – A Birrarung Story, and Young Dark Emu. Or for parents/teachers/guardians and young adults looking for more, you could read Dark Emu, The Yield , Catching Teller Crow (YA) or watch Paul Kelly and Ziggy Ramo emotional cover of ‘Little Things’ live on The Set a few weeks ago here.
Title: Common Wealth
Author/Illustrator: Gregg Dreise