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Indigenous children’s books aim to preserve traditional language

Students from the remote Kimberley school of Yakanarra are the nation's newest authors, having launched two books at the National Library of Australia on Monday.

The books, A Yakanarra Day and The Yakanarra Dogs, are part of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation project, and aim to connect Yakanarra students to their traditional culture.

The books capture the students' creative capacity, reflecting life in Western Australia's diverse Kimberley region and providing insight into an indigenous community through the lens of a child.

Over a two-week workshop, students shared ideas and illustrated pictures for the books, while Aboriginal elders translated the stories into the first language of the Yakanarra community, Walmajarri.

The Australian Children's Laureate Alison Lester and the Indigenous Literacy Foundation then worked for over a year to get the books published.

Ms Lester said she had ''no idea'' the books would ever be published but was driven by the desire to protect indigenous heritage.


''These kids have centuries and centuries of being connected to one place,'' she said. ''Family, culture and place are the things that are central to life to keep you strong.''

Traditional languages were ''immensely important'' for preserving indigenous culture, Ms Lester said. ''If you want to keep culture you have to keep language. You have to do as much as you can to help keep that language alive.''

A publisher at Penguin Young Readers, Jane Godwin, who worked with Ms Lester on the books, said it was important for indigenous children to have reading material relevant to their lives.

''What are indigenous children going to make of an urban white story?'' she said.

''They need access to all stories, including the ones that relate to their culture. When you suddenly read something of a place you recognise or understand it is so validating.''

Aboriginal elder Jessie Moora, who translated the stories into Walmajarri, said it was a ''big job''.

''Walmajarri is very important for our kids,'' she said. ''In the future they can take it on so they can learn how to read and write.''

The books will be added to the National Library of Australia collection.