This is Banjo Paterson by Tania McCartney and Christina Booth

My kids read mostly chapter books these days but we’re still massive fans of picture books and this week we thought we’d try something a bit different. This is Banjo Paterson written by Tania McCartney and illustrated by Christina Booth is a unique biography of one of Australia’s best known and loved bush poets.

McCartney and Booth have turned a history lesson into a delightful story of a group of children acting out Banjo Paterson’s life in their backyard.

Our little Banjo rides around on his hobby horse, attends school and polo matches, works in an office, publishes poetry and even goes to war, without ever leaving his own backyard. We also learn how Waltzing Matilda came to be and how he earned his moniker.

I was surprised by how much I learned from the book but Tania McCartney never sacrifices the gentle rhythm of the text to share the information.

Christina Booth’s illustrations capture the essence of the Aussie backyard with a Hills Hoist, paddle pool and kids playing a game of totem tennis. She reflects Paterson’s gift for rhyme with speech bubbles of verse coming from the mouths of the children. Booth also does what all the best illustrators do, and gives us a story that goes beyond the text.

The book finishes with excerpts from Paterson’s best known poems and a biography displayed in the style of a newspaper article. The article makes excellent use of photos found in the National Library of Australia’s online catalogue.

Today (17 February) is Banjo Paterson’s birthday and Tania McCartney recorded an interview with The National Library. Watch the interview on the National Library’s Periscope page.

We thoroughly enjoyed This is Banjo Paterson and now will have to seek out McCartney and Booth’s offering from 2015, This is Captain Cook.

Post book activity

I remembered studying Clancy of the Overflow in high school history. I liked to raid my parents’ record collection as a teenager to create mix tapes for my best friend. These were not the look-how-cool-I-am mixtapes, but were cobbled together with songs that I found hilariously daggy or reflected an in-joke we shared or referenced something we had learned at school. When I found Dad’s record of Clancy of the Overflow, as sung by Wallis and Matilda, there was no doubt as to its rightful place on the next tape as it ticked two boxes, a school reference AND I thought it sounded hilariously daggy. I showed the video clip to the kids and, for something a bit different, we watched the mashup a recitation by comedian Adam Hills, as his wife, Ali McGregor, sings The Church’s Under the Milky Way.

After listening to the renditions of Clancy, we talked about the context of the poem: a man sitting in his city office yearning for life in the Australian bush.

We tried some other Paterson poems. The kids found The Man from Snowy River a bit long but were back on board for Mulga Bill’s Bicycle, which they’d read at school. Miss 11 also remembered reading We’re All Australians Now at school last year, so she read that aloud.

Magnifying The Man from Snowy River

Magnifying The Man from Snowy River

Our next activity was to find a $10 note (thanks to Mr 9 for raiding his piggy bank) and a magnifying glass. I told the kids that The Man from Snowy River was in microprint around Banjo Paterson’s face.

The three eager detectives took turns trying to read the words and could make out some of them. This was when I realised I was getting old, because I couldn’t make out a single one. Unfortunately it seems the new $10 notes, (to be released in September 2017) will no longer have this feature.

Now that we’ve learned all about Banjo, which Australian icon would you like to see Tania McCartney and Christina Booth take on next?

This is Banjo Paterson was written by Tania McCartney and illustrated by Christina Booth and published by NLA Publishing.