Book Review - Sorry Day

“Long ago and not so long ago …”

Time is an abstract concept. These words, which encourage reflection on perspective, are echoed through the pages of the picture book Sorry Day, authored by Coral Vass and beautifully illustrated by Dub Leffler.

For whom is it long ago and not so long ago? What do we know about the history of our nation? This book marks a significant event in our journey towards reconciliation. Sorry Day is both a sobering look at the darker aspects of our nation’s past and yet a beacon of optimism for a brighter future. Vass’s articulation of the importance of a national apology is thought provoking, hopeful and important for all children to understand.

Children as well as adults can access Sorry Day on various levels. It cleverly and seamlessly entwines different generations of Aboriginal children as it recognises the past and present actions of the Australian government. As young Maggie hides in between her mother’s legs in a crowd for the national apology, it parallels harrowing illustrations of children hiding in the thick mud. As Maggie loses her mother in a crowd, it recalls the experiences of children of the stolen generation. Maggie’s following panic and despair at being separated from her mother places our young readers in a familiar situation and builds their empathy. Albeit a brief glimpse of loss, they can “feel” something and explore the concept further.

Leffler’s vivid illustrations, poignant use of colour and perspective create an emotional experience that perfectly complements Vass’s powerful words. The physical and the metaphorical turning of a page is experienced by the reader as you rest your gaze upon Kevin Rudd as he says the words we needed to hear. The words that still manage to make my heart somehow both sink and soar. “As prime minister of Australia, I am sorry.”

Information on the history of National Sorry Day is provided at the end of the story to give greater social context to the events. This book provides an important conversation piece to educate all children of the ongoing indigenous experience from the Assimilation Policy to the apology to the stolen generation.

Education brings change, acknowledgement brings change, and understanding brings change. Our children have the opportunity in their lifetime to make a difference and significantly close the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-indigenous Australians. Student enthusiasm also provides a vehicle for change and opportunity for action to be explored. Now it is incumbent upon all of us to ask all children, “what happens next?” Considering the Bringing Them Home report recommendations are still to be enacted, it is a powerful question.

Coral Vass was born in Sydney, and has also lived in Bangladesh, Melbourne, Queensland and Japan. She often runs writing workshops for children to help them shape their own stories, encouraging literacy and creativity from a young age. Dub Leffler is one of thirteen children and grew up in the small town of Quirindi, south of Tamworth in New South Wales. He is descended from the Bigambul and Mandandanji people of south west Queensland.

Sorry Day won the 2019 Children’s Book Council of Australia, Book of the Year Eve Pownall Award.

Published by National Library of Australia, 2018.

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