Books for budding unionists

Looking for some new additions to your library? Journalist Emily Campbell explores two new picture books that aim to teach children about important social justice concepts including respect for all, the power of the collective and valuing diversity.

Sticking Together

The concept of solidarity is fundamental to the union movement, and the team at Victorian Trades Hall Council provide a great introduction to young children about the power of the collective in their new book Sticking Together.

Launched in December 2021 Sticking Together is the brainchild of two creative union officials from Vic Trades Hall: author James Raynes and illustrator Mitzi McKenzie-King.

Sticking Together features quirky rhyming language paired with gorgeous illustrations to convey an important message to children about how important it is for people to put aside their differences and work together for the greater good.

Animals can teach us something grown-ups need to know,At work, at home, at school, at play, wherever you may go.It doesn’t matter if you’re clothed in skin or fur or feather,Everyone is better off when we all stick together.

It cleverly uses a collection of heart-warming examples from the animal kingdom to demonstrate why it is important to stick together, help one another out and that there is strength in numbers.

The story describes how emperor penguins snuggle together in ‘scrums’ during blizzards to stay warm, with penguins taking turns and rotating who spends time on the outside of the huddle, so every penguin in the group can experience some warmth and some discomfort.

That situation being not unlike a group of striking unionists taking turns holding the line, come rain, hail or shine.

Other examples include bats, elephants, dolphins, meerkats, swans and otters all working together to look out for one another and making sacrifices for the greater good.

It positively reinforces the benefits of sharing and teamwork in a child-friendly, age-appropriate way. After finishing with animal kingdom examples, the book explains how joining a union is a similar action people can take to help others.

In an online article published by Megaphone Journal, creators James and Mitzi said they aimed to embed union values in every page of their book, in a humorous and engaging way to appeal to young children.

James said when researching for the book, he came across numerous examples of solidarity and how animals cooperate.

“The natural world is often used as a metaphor – a justification even – for individualistic, competitive behaviour and it’s really not accurate,” he said.

“Society teaches us over and over again to look after number one, but the reality is that working in union is part of human nature.”

Mitzi wanted to capture the theme of the Victorian unionists’ Solidarity Statement, and believes solidarity comes naturally to children and should be nurtured.

“We need to teach kids that unionism is about collectivism but also that it’s about valuing diversity, inclusion and intersectionality,” Mitzi said.

Illustrations in Sticking Together feature culturally diverse and gender diverse people, as well as some characters with a physical disability, to reinforce the power and beauty of diversity to young children.

Sticking Together is the first union-themed children’s book produced by Victorian Trades Hall, and the creators hope it will be a conversation-starter and inspire upcoming generations of unionists.

The book was launched with an online event and read through by actor, Playschool host and unionist Rhys Muldoon.

Buy it online at!/Sticking-Together

Somebody’s Land

First Nations business is union business, which is why the union movement is deeply committed to raising awareness about the ongoing impact of Australia’s colonisation, supporting the Uluru Statement from the Heart and advocating for a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament.

We all want to ensure children grow up to be empathetic, inclusive people who embrace diversity and see it as a strength.

Ensuring they have access to literature which reflects these values can go a long way in instilling them.

Somebody’s Land is the first story in a five-book series called Welcome to Our Country, designed to connect young children, parents and early childhood teachers with Australia’s First Nations history and cultures.

The series is a joint project written by legendary Australian Rules footballer, former Australian of the Year and proud Adnyamathanha and Narungga man, Adam Goodes, along with former journalist and political adviser, Balgowlah woman Ellie Laing and Barkindji illustrator David Hardy.

The trio of First Nations creators want the books to be a conversation starter for children, parents and educators and a tool to better understand Australia’s shared history.

Author Adam Goodes said he and co-writer Ellie Laing saw an opportunity to create something they could be proud of and that they’re incredibly hopeful for the book.

“As a new father, with my daughter now approaching the age where she will start school, I’m so proud to be publishing a series of books about Australia’s Indigenous history,” Adam said.

“I choose to be positive, to help us heal as a nation,” he said.

Ellie said part of the inspiration for the Welcome to Country series came from her son.

‘When my eldest son came home singing Indigenous lullabies and reciting an Acknowledgement of Country, I was so moved – I wanted to continue the conversation with him, to learn more and to ask questions,” Ellie said.

As a new father ... I’m so proud to be publishing a series of books about Australia’s Indigenous history.

Somebody’s Land introduces children to the term ‘terra nullius’, a Latin term meaning ‘nobody’s land’ which was applied to the colonisation of Australia by white settlers.

The theme throughout the book reinforces that it was in fact somebody’s land, belonging to traditional custodians who had cared for the country and waterways for many thousands of years.

Illustrator David Hardy, who has worked on several high-profile Disney productions, said after reading the manuscript, he felt compelled to be involved.

‘Growing up, I never received any education around the term ‘terra nullius’ or the Acknowledgement of Country,” David said.

“Somebody’s Land was one of those stories where as soon as I read it, I thought – I have to do this,” he said.

The story highlights the importance of acknowledging Country and touches on the rich tapestry of diverse cultures which make up Australia’s First Nations.

It can be daunting to consider the best way to explain these complex topics to young children in a sensitive and age-appropriate manner, although being equipped with the right resources like this wonderful picture book certainly makes a difference.

Somebody’s Land is a captivating story with gorgeous, vibrant illustrations, inviting readers to imagine themselves in Australia’s past.

Most importantly, it promotes reconciliation to young children and encourages their curiosity about Australia’s true history.

We look forward to reading the sequel, Ceremony, which will be published in April 2022.

See Giveaways to go in the draw for a copy of Sticking Together or Somebody’s Land.