Boori Monty Pryor & Jan Ormerod, Shake a Leg (Allen & Unwin 2010)
Two of the greats of Australian children’s literature join forces in this book. Boori Monty Pryor’s chapter books written with Meme McDonald, My Girragundji and The Binna Binna Man, are wonders of cross-cultural communication. It must be a rare Australian born into a reading family who hasn’t been delighted by Jan Ormerod’s images of small children.
Shake a Leg starts out with three hungry boys hunting for pizza in a Far North Queensland town. They find an excellent pizza maker who gives them a little lesson in Italian (for those who don’t know, there has been a strong Italian presence in some parts of Far North Queensland for well over a hundred years) before mentioning that he is Aboriginal.
'You're ... an Aboriginal?'
'How come you're ...'
'Not standing on one leg, leaning on a spear, looking for emu?
I still do that on holidays but ...
a man's got to make a living
and you boys are hungry.'
As he makes their pizza he tells them traditional stories, and when they’ve eaten he teaches them to dance the stories.
It’s a witty, joyous, generous assertion of the vibrant persistence of Aboriginal culture. Boori Monty Prior has a long history of performing in schools. I would love to be in an audience when he reads / performs this book to a group of children, especially if it evolves into a general dance:
This was once our bora ground our gathering place for warrima. Now it's a busy street in this town. Our pizza feeds the soul, keeps you dancing strong, lifting the dust with your feet, listening with eyes, ears and heart so our old people can join us and together we warrima.
This book came to me by way of the little Street Library we set up a month or so ago. Our aim was to cull our bookshelves, hoping the books we discarded would find good homes. What we didn’t expect was the steady reverse flow of other people’s unwanted treasures. Shake a Leg is one of them.
I love this book: I used to use it in my classes when I was still teaching. When teaching ‘Safety Education’ to the little ones (avoiding poisons in the home &c) we used to begin by talking about how Aboriginal children learned to be safe, before white settlement. We talked about the dangers they faced that are the same as now (e.g. red-backed spiders, snakes) and how all parents teach their children to be safe. I used this book to show how Aboriginal parents use/d story and dance to teach their children the important things they need to know, like avoiding dangerous creatures in their environment.
I love the humorous way the book shows that these Aborigines have adapted new ways to suit themselves without losing their own culture. And I also like the careful way the author has asserted the importance of education. The character is working in a pizza shop, but his daughter is training to be a nurse.
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Yes, and the pizza-making has involved travelling to Italy and learning a skill. I’m so glad it works in the classroom while not being blatantly didactic by a long shot
Oh definitely not didactic. *chuckle* The days when a chalkie could get away with didacticism are long gone!
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