Little J & Big Cuz is the most important show on television

Kids are obsessive creatures. At the moment my five year-old is hooked on the ABC animation Little J & Big Cuz. If you don’t spend a lot of your time overhearing children’s television programs, let me explain: Little J & Big Cuz follows the adventures of the title characters, aged five and nine, in their outback community. Little J & Big Cuz live with Nana and Old Dog (who has caused debate amongst my kids as to whether he is actually talking out loud or the audience just happens to be privy to his musings). As described by its creators: ‘Little J and Big Cuz are busy with the ups and downs of playground and classroom. There’s always something surprising going on, whether it’s at school, in the backyard or beyond… With the help on Nanna and Ms Chen, Little J and Big Cuz are finding out all about culture, community and country.’  It is the first Australian animation aimed at an Indigenous audience with almost exclusively Indigenous characters. It was created by Indigenous director Tony Thorne and written by Indigenous writers from across the country. The cast features celebrated actors such as Deborah Mailman and Miranda Tapsell. actf_news_little_j_big_cuz_premiere

While the show may be aimed at a young Indigenous audience, it has picked up a significant number of non-Indigenous viewers like my son, who was introduced to it at preschool, where there has been a strong focus on Indigenous culture and history recently. For example, the kids recently experienced an Aboriginal smoking ceremony and now begin each day with an acknowledgement of country. My son doesn’t view Little J & Big Cuz as a show about Aboriginal people. He views it as a show about people. He doesn’t seem to have a partition between white and black cultures, instead he relates strongly to the character of Little J because they are both five and interact with the world the way five year-olds do. The show is important foremost because it gives Indigenous kids the opportunity to see themselves reflected in story, something intrinsically valuable to all children and young people, but its impact on non-Indigenous kids cannot be overstated.

Storytelling is vital to human experience because it gives the gift of empathy. It allows audiences to view the world through the eyes of someone else. It breaks down the barriers between ‘us and them’, barriers which cause unending amounts of suffering throughout the world and all human existence. It demolishes modes of dehuminisation.

While watching Little J & Big Cuz I cannot help but contrast my son’s childhood interaction and experience of Indigenous culture and history with my own. I, like many of us, was a kid in a time before welcome to country statements were introduced in a significant and widespread way. My first earliest memory of learning about Aboriginal culture is a lesson in year two about why there is an Aboriginal man on the two dollar coin, I don’t remember anything after that until year six when an Indigenous elder visited, showed us how to throw a boomerang and played the didgeridoo. He spoke about how men were allowed to play, but not women. Most of the student chatter afterwards was about how sexist he was.

Australian history was taught through the lens of white experience: Captain Cook founded our country, the ‘first settlers’ were a bunch of white blokes who arrived in boats and carried guns. In year eight  there was a brief module in history class about the suffering inflicted on the Indigenous population by the early settlers. It was an awkward, stilted chapter in our history textbook. (Fortunately it was my art teacher who gave the most powerful and vital insight into Indigenous history and experience. She did it through artworks, most significantly Gordon Bennet’s Outsider.)

By contrast, my son is taught about the impact of white settlement on Sorry Day, he is given the opportunity to be immersed in Indigenous stories and culture, he can recite the story of how birds got their colours whenever we see a rainbow lorikeet. He does not view Indigenous people as victims, instead he is educated in their history beyond the genocide which was suffered at the hands of white man. He sees Little J as like himself: a five year-old boy who likes adventures. He knows Little J’s life is a bit different to his own, but these differences bring curiosity rather than animosity in a way which can only be achieved through that most vital part of human experience: story.

The work in healing the wounds inflicted upon Indigenous people by white man is not done and probably never will be, but stories like that of Little J and Big Cuz are a vital ingredient to the process.

Little J & Big Cuz can be found on ABC2 and iView. More information can be found at https://www.littlejandbigcuz.com.au/

Hello Queensland! (I will not be wearing these leggings.)

If you are a savy reader of blog titles you may have realised by now that I am in Queensland and I’m not wearing pineapple leggings, although they would be appropriate because it is rather tropical here and I like to team with the theme.PineappleLeggings_05_1024x1024 First up, I have two days talking to high school students, then on Tuesday night I will travel to the Gold Coast to either attend the Somerset Festival of Literature OR compete in the Quicksilver Pro. (I’m going to retain an air of mystery by allowing you to guess which of these options is accurate.)

The best part of all of this is the buffet breakfasts which I will enjoy, closely followed by the opportunity to meet my beloved readers and sign books for them. I prefer to keep this activity to books I have written myself but I have also been asked in the past to sign books by Any Griffiths. I don’t know if this was because my hair looks like the kind of novelty wig Mr Griffiths may wear but I don’t let that stop me.

I do get nervous talking in front of large groups of people. It could be argued that the act of public speaking is the most challenging thing a writer could be asked to do aside from saving for a house deposit. But I am here and I have had two coffees, a stack of pancakes, some croissants, yoghurt, bircher muesli and a little packet of delicious organic butter – so if I am too nervous to eat for the remainder of my stay, at least we know I won’t starve to death.

CBCA Book of the Year for Older Readers – THE PROTECTED

CBCA#1Yep, this is a thing that happened. I still haven’t seen the Book of the Year sticker on the actual cover of the book, maybe it will feel more real when I do! In the meantime here’s my acceptance speech….

I often say that I write for my seventeen year-old-self, right now my seventeen year-old-self is standing here saying ‘What the frig? How did this happen?’ I’m the kid who had a panic attack in the middle of her first HSC English exam and left. I’m not here because of the wonders of our education system, I am a glitch in the system. I’ve had the opportunity to visit a number of high schools recently and I’m not sure all that much has changed. When it comes to education we are very concerned with rankings and bell curves.  It’s worth noting that I was discouraged from taking on what was then called three unit Related English because my ranking wasn’t high enough. We want our kids to perform. We teach them to play Tchaikovsky by rote, but disable their ability to write their own music. I had teachers who fought against the obsession with marks and rankings and focused on nurturing my creativity, but I think that is like trying to light a candle in a cyclone, if you will allow me to get a bit Elton John.

I must thank my darling dad who told me over and over again that creativity was immeasurably valuable and must be held on to. I must thank my mum who gave the me stubbornness and determination required to pursue an artistic path.

Creative minds are vulnerable and mine has caused it’s fair share of problems, I would not have survived, much less written any books without the love and support of my husband, Nathan. Of course my thanks also go to my Publisher Kristina Schultz at UQP and my editor and coconspirator Kristy Bushnell.

I will finish by saying that this wonderful award does not qualify me to go into schools and give students the formula for a good piece of writing. I have no interest in improving their rankings. It does qualify me to visit high schools, look those kids in the eye — the off-beat ones, the weird ones, the ones who haven’t done that Biology assignment but have written 67,000 words, sometimes on their phones — and tell them that they will be okay.   To the Children’s Book Council: thank you for this award, I can not tell you how much this means to me, especially seventeen year old me.

Cutting the giant cake - a job I am well qualified for.

Cutting the giant cake – a job I am well qualified for.

Book Trailer Bonanza!

A couple of months ago I had the privilege of visiting Mount St Benedict College in Sydney to talk all things books and writing with some of the students there. It was pretty great because, not only were the girls delightful, but they also gave me cake.

As part of the activities leading up to the visit, the girls were invited to make book trailers for The Sky So Heavy, with the prize for the top three being lunch and cake-eating with me. I was also asked to pick a winner, which was tricky as they are all fabulous. Eventually I went with the entry by Grace Nicholson. I promised I would put links to the trailers up on my (much neglected) blog. So here they are. The first one is by Emily James. The second by Sarah Assaf. And finally, the winning entry by Grace Nicholson.

Enjoy!

Radio National review The Sky So Heavy

I’m quite the ABC Radio National fangirl, so to hear The Sky So Heavy reviewed on Books and Arts Daily (along with some other book called The Fault in Our Stars) was more than a bit spesh. 5528698-3x4-340x453

Follow the trusty link to have a listen…

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/booksandartsdaily/book-review3a-young-adult-fiction-with-bec-kavanagh/5528660