25 Jun 2009

Iconically Australian

The Art Gallery by May Gibbs from Snugglepot and Cuddlepie 1918

It's impossible, I think, to compile a list of Classic Australian Children's Literature without including May Gibbs' The Tales of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. Her gumnut babies are iconic - like Vegemite, or the Hill's Hoist, or a Four'N'Twenty pie. They're a unique part of what makes us Australian.

Her expressions have entered our National vocabulary too: "Stone and bone her"; "Rack and crack him"; "String and ring him"; even "Deadibones as a doorknob" - our language would surely be the poorer without them. Certainly our family's speech would.

It is difficult to walk though our Australian bush without finding evidence of the gumnut babies, their hats and their skirts lying discarded under the gum trees, and those big, bad banksia men, eyes open and staring menacingly at everything. You can even see their scribbly writing on the trees!

To me, May Gibbs is Australia's Beatrix Potter. A childhood without either one would be unthinkable.

The Tales of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie is her best known book. It's A story about the eponymously named gumnut babies, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, on a journey towards Gumnut Town. Their fantastical adventures and strange travelling companions, like the anthropomorphised kookaburra or Mr Lizard, make for exciting reading - a world where good always triumphs over evil - as it should.

May Gibbs wrote lots of books about the Gumnut Babies. Read as many of them as you can.

We read the first three books in the Snugglepot and Cunnlepie series in AO1. The three, entitled: Snugglepot and Cuddlepie; Little Ragged Blossom; and Little Obelia are available in one volume called The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by Angus and Robertson. It's a beautiful book. We read another of the series, Scotty in Gumnut Land in AO2. It doesn't matter which ones you choose; they're all good.

Although not so well known as Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, our very favourite Gumnut Baby story is The Story of Chucklebud and Wunkydoo. If you read it aloud you'll know why - it just sounds good, that's why! Here's a teaser...
Now, these little Nuts were the most inquisitive little Nuts that ever sat in a gumtree. All day long they went about saying 'Why?' and 'How?' and 'When?' and 'What for?' till their parents grew quite tired of answering them and even the Bush Creatures would hide when they saw them coming, or pretend to be deaf.

One day Chucklebud said to Wunkydoo, 'Oh, I do wish I knew a lot of things.' 'So do I,' said Wunkydoo. 'Everybody knows something,' said Chucklebud. 'But nobody knows everything.' said Wunkydoo.

As they talked, a breeze swayed a leaf on which they were sitting, and away down in the valley they heard the voice of Mr Wackasmack, the Kookaburra.

It was a loud voice, and they heard quite plainly what he said.

This is what they heard:

'There's some thinks they know a lot, and a lot as knows they thinks some, but nobody knows what I know because I never tell.'

Chucklebud looked at Wunkydoo and Wunkydoo looked at Chucklebud till their blue eyes grew very round; then they nodded and put their faces close together till their small noses touched.

The breeze swayed the leaf again, and again the voice of Mr Wackasmack wafted up from the Valley. There were no words this time, only a low chuckle.

The blue eyes of Wunkydoo twinkled. 'Shall we go?' he whispered.

'Yes,' whispered Chucklebud.


  1. Oh, that looks like the SWEETEST book!

  2. I've got to make a list and see what I can get from inter-library loan!


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