Books by Children has developed from collaborations between Dr Mary Tomsic (ACU) and community arts publisher Kids’ Own Publishing. It examines books created by and for children as primary source materials, which can help us explore and write histories of children and childhood. In examples of creative works like books, we can see how many children have expressed themselves in written, illustrated and published forms. They are significant historical artefacts that can demonstrate children ideas and stories that they see as important. The UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989), among other rights, asserts children’s right to express their own views freely (article 12). Embedded in this is children’s right to public participation. One way this right can be realised is through publishing words and art by children in books. Books by children allow all people, regardless of their age, to engage with and learn from children’s creative expression.
Research and collaborative activities to date have focused on a collection of three books: Donkeys Can’t Fly on Planes (2012), In My Kingdom (2014) and All the Way Home (2015). The three books are by children who were initially attending school in the regional city of Traralgon, in Gippsland, Victoria and their families. All of the authors were of South Sudanese heritage, and in these books recorded and shared their personal and family experiences of forced movement over recent generations. Collectively, these books reveal children’s and their parents’ understandings of displacement, movement and war, as well as cultural differences and cultural heritage.
We know that the types of primary sources we use to learn and teach about the past matters. The sources that we can access and understand determines what types of questions we can ask about the past, what types of knowledge we create and value, and ultimately what type of history we choose to tell. Research has focuses on history writing and teaching made possible when children voices and cultural expression are positioned at the centre of historical inquiries.
In addition to this work, a database of books published in Australia by children has been developed and is publicly available. It was supported by Digital Studio Graduate Internship Program at the University of Melbourne. It is a work in progress and can be used as a starting point to examine the circulation of children’s voices and how children’s cultural expression is shared and valued. There is a particular interest in considering books by children from all cultural and linguistic backgrounds. This pilot work is being further developed in collaborations with Kids’ Own Publishing and academics at ACU and the University of Melbourne.