Stephanie Owen Reeder and Liz Duthie – Courageous Kids and Their Amazing Adventures

National Library of Australia Publishing, Australia, 2023
Designer Hugh Ford
Cover and internal illustrations Liz Duthie

What a wonderful way for children to learn history this book is! All the heroes and heroines are children, some quite young, who are exemplars of bravery, care for family, perseverance in the face of difficulties and danger, cooperativeness and imaginative, innovative thinking. They also demonstrate practical life skills that see them through the worst of times.

Barbie spoke to Stephanie Owen Reeder about Courageous Kids and Their Amazing Adventures

One very important aspect of this then is that today’s children not only learn something of our Australian history, but they can see themselves as possible history makers through the example of these heroes and heroines from the past. It’s the much spoken of ‘being what you can see’ phenomenon.

In addition to the stories of their exploits as children, the author gives a brief summary of the adult life of these history makers, often not such a happy scenario unfortunately.

For example, young Will Hutchinson from South Australia went on a long and arduous trip to the desert with his father searching for opals. In the harsh conditions he well and truly proved his mettle and resourcefulness, but as a young man he drowned in the Georgina River in Queensland where he was working as a drover.

There is a nod to state pride with a heroic child being chosen from each and there is also a fair representation of boys and girls. Five of the stories were previously published in the author’s Heritage Heroes series and these have been abridged and edited for this compendium. The stories Clever Quong Tart (a person whom I found particularly remarkable) and Brave Bee and the Castaway Kids are new ones.

The author has clearly researched extensively for these stories and where she has had to use creative licence it is done for the sake (and benefit) of a good story. This after all is often needed in historical fiction to make up for slim records or uneven reporting based on gender, ethnicity or class.

Artist Liz Duthie has created black and white drawings that beautifully capture the spirit of the stories, the characters of the children and the feel of the historical time periods. Without the larrikinism of Footrot Flats, the pictures nevertheless have a sort of wild colonial days sensibility.

Similarly, the coloured cover images have been selected to portray the big personalities and dramatic action contained in the stories, whether it be a bare-back circus performer or a boy galloping through the bush on his trusty steed.

Children will find these stories enthralling, I am sure. As an adult reader, I certainly did. The chapters have been carefully written to a length easily digestible at bedtime or at the end of a school day and each ends at a point where children will want to know what happens next. Perfect for both home and school bookshelves.

Thank you to National Library of Australia Publishing for my review copy and to Stephanie for chatting with me about the importance of writing history for and about children and about this wonderful adventure of a book.