16 Jun 2012

The Australia Book

Back in 2006 as a bright eyed and crunchy new Charlotte Mason convert, I placed my first order with Abe Books. The order was for The Australia Book by Eve Pownall, and I paid the exorbitant price of $25.00 +delivery. I purchased it because it was recommended as the Australian History Spine by all the experienced Charlotte Mason mummas that I was avidly reading - okay -devouring online each day, and it was out of print, and Abe had only two available and this was the cheaper of the two, and clearly I needed it. I was filled with the zeal of a new convert. I was going to homeschool my then four year old daughter, and I was therefore going to need every recommended book that was available regardless of price or availability, or clearly I would fail.

The ironic thing is, I have never used The Australia Book, and I doubt I ever will. Why? Because despite its being on every Charlotte Mason booklist in cyberspace, The Australia Book is not a Charlotte Mason Living Book.

Notice that I am not saying that it is not a Good Book, because it is. When it won the 1952 Children's Book of the Year Award, it was described as 'one of the most beautiful and original books ever published for children in Australia'. They were right - and despite all the advances in children's book publishing that have occurred since 1952, the statement remains as true today as it was then.

The Australia Book is a good book. You may chose to use it in educating your kids. Just don't call it CM. Because it is not.

The Australia Book is not living because it contains the full sweep of Australian history from the first Australian right up to WWII in short bite sized snippets accompanied by those beautiful illustrations of Margaret Senior's that everybody adores. You struggle to read it aloud, and a child would have real difficulty in narrating it because there are so many facts with nothing fleshing them out.

Take, as an example, the section I've scanned above. Here it is written out starting at the bottom of the previous page:
When Captain HUNTER, the next Governor, arrived in 1795 he brought the first windmill, which turned out flour much more quickly.

A few children went to school in a little building that was a church on Sundays.

With hunter came two men, Bass and Flinders, who went exploring in a small boat, the "Tom Thumb." They had many adventures.

Once they landed to repair their boat and some natives surrounded them. They were not very friendly, so Flinders took out a pair of scissors and amused them by cutting their beards, while Bass mended the boat.

Later Bass and Flinders sailed round Van Diemen's Land and found it was an island, not just part of the mainland. Soon men were chasing seals in the passage they discovered (Bass Strait) and were whaling along the coast.

North of Sydney some soldiers entered the Hunter River (they were looking for escaped convicts), and FOUND COAL.

JOHN MACARTHUR, an officer of the New South Wales Corps, brought sheep from England, India and Spain, and raised them on land granted by the Governor. They did not look much like the sheep you know, but they became very important settlers, and English millowners were glad to buy their fleeces to spin into cloth.
And there I shall stop. As a little exercise, close you eyes right now and see how much of that you can narrate back. Pretty hard, isn't it? And what has the school building business to do with anything at all?

The Australia Book was reprinted in 2008, and is now readily available for $34.99. You can buy it if you want. It's a pretty nice book to have on your shelves. Your kids might like to flick through it too. It's just not a CM Living Book, so don't expect them to narrate it back when they're done.

So which Australian History Spines are Living Books then, I hear you ask in despair, your hands thrown up in frustration. Well, this was going to be a post on just that, only I've taken too much time in the introduction so I'll save that for another post. Save to say, don't despair dear friends, they are out there, and I will tell you what I think they are very soon.

In the mean time, have you used The Australia Book in your CM inspired homeschool? Was it successful? Do you agree with my appraisal? Have I been too harsh? Do tell.


  1. Probably a fair treatment, Jeanne. I'm not an expert on CM, but your rationale is sound. Put this way, those paragraphs do seem rather randomly chosen.

    We bought The Australia Book at the start of our eclectic home ed adventure, and it was a big hit with DS who was 5 at the time. Perhaps that is because:

    - I bought and shared it with enthusiasm (having also read those recommendations, and believing it would be essential to our education in history).

    - DS is a huge history fan, and would happily devour ANY book which offers him new and familiar snippets of history.

    - It put into chronological order some episodes and events which we had read about and discussed.

    - I didn't read it with CM expectations, nor ask for narrations. It was simply another of many history books with which to fan the flames which were already burning.

    - As for DD (then 4), an innocent bystander who doesn't share her brother's passion for the past, the response was less impressive, but neither did it turn her off books or history. She listened and responded with interest, content to be ensconced in bookish snuggles and keen to know more. I'd still call that a win.

    Luckily I'm not a CM purist!

  2. so now you tell me!!! lol (just joking)
    Well, I have it down this year for Rebekah and we are doing it in snippets but not in a CM way (shhh, don't tell anyone) :)
    I actually bought it at the Sovereign Hill shop in Ballarat earlier this year for $25 as I hadn't seen it that cheap before.
    anyway, I am enjoying it as *I* am learning Aust history. Rebekah is enjoying it because of the pictures I reckon:)
    WE don't narrate from it, just read it and look at places on the map etc.
    I wouldn't ask for narrations because you are absolutely right on that one!
    It's just a book to read and we'll do more Aussie history in the years to come so I'll wait for your next post:) We do have a Sunburnt country and I think that may be better (though I bought it a few years ago and haven't looked at it closely since!)

  3. agree - although I still thought it a good book for anglo saxon look at Australian History. I've found it a bit difficult to find something a little more balanced in it's report on history.

  4. There is always a bias to history, though, don't you agree? We do Indigenous Studies separately from history, although there is naturally some overlap.

  5. Maybe a little harsh;){} I'm an Eve Pownall fan, so it gets points for that, not for CM slant. currently using it with my 7yr old and she is enjoying it. Easy, quick introduction to Aust history. More a tantaliser.

  6. I'm an Eve fan too, actually, Erin. I just can't find a use for this lovely looking but rather vacuous book! She has written better.

  7. I was pleased to be able to borrow this from our llibrary earlier this year. We enjoyed it as we are studying the Australian Book Traveller - travelling around our country state by state through literature. We are also enjoying history with our Discovery Club and have been exploring the 1700s which is when this book commences its history of Australia. It fit in very well with our everyday life experiences. We didn't narrate from it but used it as a springboard to discover more information through research about things that interested us from it. I remember us researching the telegraph for example.

    We used it as a springboard for discussing our own family's entry into Australia and drawing up a family tree, speaking with grandparents about their growing up experiences and their ancestry.

    It seemed to fit well with all our life and other literature experiences and I was delighted our library had it.


  8. You make a great point Jeanne, and one I appreciate having desired this book 'just because its on the book lists'. Your excerpt makes me realise just how much we dont :-)

    However, to side track you a little - I can't believe that you of all people would have a word mispelt! How did that happen?

  9. Have I fixed it, or are there more? I fixed the capitalisation as well. Oh the shame.

  10. I too have borrowed this book and it's a nice read...though something we read together with the book 'Our Sunburnt Country'.
    I tend to use lots of different books. We also watch 'My Place' and documentaries.
    Do you have a good suggestion for reading history?
    Have you read the book "The Story of the world; History for the Classical Child" by Susan Wise Bauer? We are finding that quite interesting.

  11. I had it and sold it. I bought it cheap, thank goodness. To me it was like an Usborne book with nicer pictures. Having said that, my children (only boys at the time) liked it a lot less than the Usborne books and I suspect my girls would, too.

    So glad you posted this as now I can get over my stupid "my-homeschool-is-incomplete-because-I-don't-own-this-classic" syndrome. Which of course is made extra-extra ridiculous because I used to own it and got rid of it.

    Srangely, I do not feel the same about John of Sydney Cove and John and Narabee, which I never want to read again. Well, the latter anyway. The first John book we loved, the second was ok (but there are other books just as good) and the third... I never want to read again. Just in case I didn't say it plain enough before.


  12. Pam, I feel a bit the same way with John but I'm afraid to say it. The writing and story is okay, but I don't like it that he takes such a large role in historical events. I need to keep reminding Jemimah that He. Was. Not. There.

  13. We still have another year and half before we get back to Australian studies, so I've got plenty of time to ohhh and ahhhh about whether to buy it or not. :o)

  14. Nope, not on my list or on my shelves - not becuase I think badly of it, but for no reason in particular. I think that Janette Cassey Ingam's book "Our Australian Story" is the best allrounder, though it only covers the first 50 years, I think she has done a fine job. I can tell because I actually began to find our history interesting for once. Vol. 2 is in progress.

  15. We don't have it. But just putting a vote in for "Our Sunburnt Country" - we just bought our own copy last week after hogging the local library's copy most the year :)

  16. Ohh coming back and reading comments, what's this about John, Pam? I just wrote a post
    but if you have reservations I need to go back and add in opinions (haven't read it myself)

    btw Jeanne I can't subscribe to comments from your blog:(? I have to remember to come back and read.

    Oh and my comment, thinking, I think this Pownall book is okay for only the under 7 set, very skimmy, which suits my 7yr old.

  17. It seemed to fit well with all our life and other literature experiences and I was delighted our library had it.
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  18. Very interesting book for your kids!! Very simple to understand. Children can learn how to paraphrase using simple english.


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