The River by Sally Morgan & Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr
“I love the river near my home. I look with my eyes, I listen with my ears, I learn about the life of the river.” (The River)
Picture book review and ideas on how to use The River by Joy in Books at PaperbarkWords blog
The River (Magabala Books) is a Notable Book in the 2022 CBCA Early Childhood category.
It is an apt companion to Sally Morgan and Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr’s previous picture book, Little Bird’s Day. Both books have a traditional yet contemporary First Nations genesis and aesthetic and feature Sally Morgan’s sensory, honed writing and Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr’s fluid illustrative style. In The River he uses a natural colour scheme of brown, olive and blue, to reflect a river.
Like a river, the written and visual narrative flow: here from left to right to also emulate the direction of reading through a book. Double page spreads in landscape form enhance the sense of space and direction of the river.
This book is a celebration of the river. It begins, “I love the river near my home.” The gaze of a child, probably a boy, directs the reader into the scene and narrative and, at the end of book, continues to look onwards as if to encourage the child reader to do the same and explore their own river or local natural setting.
The simple, repeated call-and-response text, “Look with your eyes, what do you see? I see …” and “Listen with your ears, what do you hear? I hear …” is ideal for young children and beginning readers. It is interactive and engages their senses.
The potential threat of the crocodile is shown at the beginning to add excitement. In the background, it cruises along the river. The artist then zooms in on the green ants crawling over the leaves on a branch. Most of the illustrations show a wide perspective of the river with the living creature in the foreground. Frog, goanna, fish, turtle, emu, kangaroo, goose, snake and then crocodile feature: a mixture of water and land-dwelling creatures.
Flora and fauna in the illustrations are outlined in white and are either executed in block colours or textured with patterns. Often the artist uses crossed diagonal lines and circles.
Using the book with children:
Rivers The child in the book says near the end of the story, “I love the river near my home. I look with my eyes, I listen with my ears, I learn about the birds and the animals who love the river like I do.”
Children either go to a river (ideally their local river if possible) or recall their experiences on or near a river. They look and listen, or recall, what they see and hear, particularly the living creatures. They could record what they saw or heard pictorially or by listing the creatures. They then share what they love about their river or other rivers.
Draw in the style of Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr Children look closely at how the artist has drawn the river scenes and creatures in the book. An adult could direct them to the analysis of the illustrative style in the book review above. Older children select a river scene and creature to illustrate in the artist’s style in similar landscape format. Include a limited, natural colour palette, white outlines if possible, block colours and texture. Younger children could decorate and colour an animal template.
River Floods Children are most likely aware of river flooding issues. Where appropriate, they could share their own experiences or knowledge of river floods.
Read other books by First Nations creators that feature rivers Read about rivers in Wilam: A Birrarung Story by Aunty Joy Murphy, Lisa Kennedy (and river keeper Andrew Kelly); As I Grew Older: The Life and Times of a Nunga Growing up Along the Murray River by Ian Abdulla; Big Fella Rain by Beryl Webber and Fern Martins. Also find rivers in Bronwyn Bancroft’s picture books. How do these compare and contrast with The River?
My resource notes on Little Bird’s Day by Sally Morgan and Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr at NCACL
Sally Morgan (from Magabala Books website)
Sally Morgan is one of Australia’s best-known artists and writers. She belongs to the Palyku people from the eastern Pilbara region of Western Australia. Her widely-acclaimed first book, My Place, has sold over half a million copies and is one of Australia’s most celebrated works. She has published several books including biographies and children’s stories.
Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr (from Magabala Books website)
Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr is a Yolŋu man from the Ganalbingu clan and is known for his paintings of Ganalbingu song lines as well as his mother’s Wägilak clan stories. Along with other members of his clan, Johnny keeps culture strong through painting, song, dance and ceremony. He travelled to Canberra in 2000 and performed at the official opening of Aboriginal Modern Worlds exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia. Johnny lives in the remote East Arnhem Land community of Gapuwiyak, where he is Chair of the Gapuwiyak Culture and Arts Aboriginal Corporation.
In 2017 Johnny was the inaugural winner of the Kestin Indigenous Illustrator Award. As the recipient of the biennial award, Johnny received $10,000, a mentorship and the opportunity to illustrate the children’s picture book, Little Bird’s Day by renowned author and illustrator Sally Morgan.