Papa and the Olden Days written by Ian Edwards and illustrated by Rachel Tonkin was a Children’s Book Council of Australia 1990 Honour Book in the Younger Readers category. This book has been inspired by the illustrator’s family history as she has recorded and preserved her father’s stories about growing up in Thoona, a north-eastern Victorian country town in Australia, in the early 1900s. Meticulous research has been carried out, making this a reliable historically accurate source and captivating insight into a slice of Australian history. There are a range of stories included that reflect the values and life in country Australia in the early twentieth century. There are tales, often humorous, about the general store stocked to the brim with an assortment of foods, household items, clothing, hardware and all kinds of fascinating items from the time (some creative ingenuity certainly went on to lure customers into the store). The reader gains an insight into the way leisurely days were spent with family and friends and enjoying past times. Families came together to create their own entertainment as there was no electricity, television, radio, internet or modern amenities. The reader is transported back to school in the early 1900s and learns about some games the children played. The magical tales about Christmas time are heart-warming to learn about, such a sense of community and generosity existed.

While this book is a portal to another time, there are similarities that can be drawn between now and then. So many rich discussions could be inspired by this story. There are examples of crafty tactics the general store employed to attract customers. Children could consider ways buyers are tempted today (consider not just brick and mortar stores. What other shopping experiences are enjoyed today and how do these remain competitive). There are several pages in this book that give an insight into family time. Readers could compare and contrast the way families in the early 1900s enjoyed quality time together with activities and experiences their own family relish. It was interesting to read the text, “Good neighbours meant a lot in those days”. Children could consider this quote and how it relates to them personally. Do they know their neighbours? Do they spend time with them and if so in what capacity?

The differences that exist between the past and today as well as how life has evolved over time are fascinating to read in both the text and highly detailed illustrations. There are references to the imperial system for measurement (measuring weight in pounds and distances in miles). Readers will enjoy comparing the fashion, homes and the living areas from the past with that of today. Children could plan a trip to go shopping in the early 1900s and compare it with the same experience today (consider everything from clothing worn, the transport, how long the trip will take and any other considerations that may need to be thought out prior to making the trip). The story shines a light on values that were held highly at the time and it makes for an interesting discussion (or even debate) whether or not the values that were respected then are the same as those now.

Rachel Tonkin’s incredibly detailed illustrations brimming with nostalgia add to the story and provide so much additional historically accurate information about life in country Australia in the early 1900s. Within each illustration there are many stories to unpack. Readers gain a real sense for a day in the life of a person living in this community at that time. Be sure to keep an eye out for either a dog or cat that appears in each illustration.  

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