If you pick up this book expecting an alphabet book to support young children in learning the alphabet you may be briefly confused or disappointed when you realise that, although it is an alphabet book, it isn’t likely to be of use in teaching letter recognition. However, that doesn’t mean this is not an educational tool, and it is certainly likely to enlighten readers.
Australia to Z challenges readers to explore what it means to be Australian. Each letter is used to begin one word or phrase which represents an aspect of Australia’s psyche. From the opening spread – which contrasts the word Aborigine, complete with a lonely figure watching a sailing ship approach the coast, with the phrase Boat People, with a shadowed, crowded boat approaching the same coast – to the final one, presenting the words of the Advance Australia Fair with a series of images which question whether the words of the anthem are relevant or respected, readers are asked to think about what is being shown, and why it has been chosen. This spread follows the completion of the alphabet with Z for Zoo, showing not animals, but people pressed against the bars of a cage (are they staring in, or out?).
Some word choices are amusing, or might appeal to readers as being uniquely Australian – T is for Thongs, for example, and L is for Lamington – but for the most part the choices are disquieting – are Pokies and Calories really so important to us? The blend of irony, humour and pathos in both image and word choice provide so much fodder for thought and discussion that it is hard to believe how few words the book has and how deceptively simple the accompanying illustrations are.
This clever, thought-provoking look at Australian culture should find a home in every school and university in Australia. Brilliant.