Children’s Book – Sorry Day
Author: Coral Vass (author) Dub Leffler (illustrator)
Publisher: National Library of Australia, $24.99
Australia’s first Sorry Day was held on May 26, 1998. Almost a decade later, the word SORRY resonated across the land as the prime minister, Kevin Rudd, offered an apology on behalf of past governments for the suffering and loss inflicted on the Stolen Generations and the broader Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
Author Coral Vass is launching her latest book for children on Sorry Day this year in Canberra. In the lead up to the launch she’s been pondering what significant steps our nation has taken towards reconciliation in the ten years since the apology.
“We have come some way as a nation, towards true reconciliation,” she says, “but we are also reminded that more needs to be done.”
The story Vass has written will take children and their families a long way towards understanding the tragedy of what people of the Stolen Generations encountered.
Vass skillfully intertwines past and present to capture the trauma inflicted on Indigenous children taken away from their families and culture, and the apology that went some way towards healing their wounds.
Maggie is with her mother as they await the long-anticipated apology to the Stolen Generations – but the little girl gets swept into the crowd and momentarily lost. When mother and child are reunited, the faces of the Stolen Generation are all around them – pain and resilience etched in their eyes and skin.
Dubb Leffler’s illustrations capture the essence of these emotions beautifully. Some of the saddest images in the book are pencil sketch line-ups of Indigenous boys (on the inside front cover) and of Indigenous girls on the (inside back cover). The children depicted do not need the words “stolen” or “robbed” stamped across their chests to show us this was what happened to them; their bodies exuding the fear and pain that would haunt them throughout their lives.
A foldout flap at the end of the book unites the two stories. In the sea of faces looking out, the first person I see is the Presbyterian minister the Rev. John Flynn – founder of the mission organisation that later became the Royal Flying Doctor Service. I scanned the crowd hoping to spot the Uniting Church luminary Sir Ronald Wilson, who did such groundbreaking work on the Bringing Them Home report (but he’s not there).
The National Library website has some great resources to accompany the book, which are designed to encourage age-appropriate and curriculum-related explorations of issues like reconciliation, Closing the Gap, Australia’s assimilation policies, and Welcome to Country statements. There’s also a comprehensive list of books and some web links to encourage further listening, watching and reading.
Sorry Day author Coral Vass lives in Victoria and predominantly writes fiction, although it often includes topics of Australian history, such as Meet Don Bradman, a children’s book published in 2016. Sorry Day illustrator Dubb Leffler is an artist, author, animator, muralist and teacher, and a descendent of the Bigambul and Mandandanji people of southwest Queensland.
Their story left my heart softer and sadder, which isn’t a bad thing. I imagined children reading it and asking, “How could this happen?” – eager to stamp out racism and to ensure such a terrible thing cannot happen again.
Children’s book age range 7+