National Treasure: Bob Graham

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It was my privilege to attend this year’s Children’s Book Council conference in Canberra last weekend. The theme for the conference was ‘Discovering National Treasures’ and one of my personal highlights was ‘A Bird In The Hand’, an exhibition at the Canberra Museum and Gallery celebrating the thirty-year career of picture book writer and illustrator Bob Graham.

The exhibition was lovingly curated, holding the same wonderful tone as the many household favourites that Bob Graham has given us: Greetings From Sandy Beach, Max and A Bus Called Heaven. Using memorabilia, sketchbooks and reflections from Bob Graham about his career, ‘A Bird In The Hand’ includes the personal - such as meeting his wife Carolyn when he was at art school where she was an artists' model - and the professional - such as his very first published work, Pete and Roland in 1981 - aspects of his life. I know I wasn’t alone in feeling emotional by the end. Or in wanting to walk around all over again.

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If you live in Canberra or you’re planning a visit between now and the end of August, go and see it. There are also workshops for children and an opportunity to see the Lu Rees Archives.

At the conference itself, there were some interesting discussions about what a national treasure is and who gets to decide. For me a big clue is in the language used by children, as I discovered during a Twitter chat this week with Jo Canham of Blarney Books and Art in Port Fairy. I told her how my son had stopped asking when we could get a dog and instead asks “When can we get a Dave?” (Dave is the tiny, naughty dog in The Trouble With Dogs) and she replied that whenever they see an old bus her kids will say “Look, a bus like Heaven!”

But let me give the final word to Bob Graham with this quote from the exhibition:

As well as cosy home grown certainties … through books children can imagine what it might be like to be in someone else’s shoes. This is surely where empathy starts … and who knows? Then maybe they may have a world with some fear taken out of it.


Emily Gale is a Children’s & YA Specialist at Readings Carlton, and a Children’s & YA writer the rest of the time.

Greetings from Sandy Beach

Greetings from Sandy Beach

Bob Graham

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