Aussie Book Lists: Australian History for Young Readers

30+ Australian History Books for Young Children_ compiled by My Little Bookcase

During my first few years of teaching the majority of my days were spent studying Australian History alongside Year 9 students. At the time I was teaching in a secondary school where the students represented over 90 nationalities. Their attitudes towards Australia varied depending on personal experiences.

I had always been interested in Australian history, but during this time I developed a strong passion for helping students understand the history of our unique and wonderful country. In our discussions together I acknowledged the fact that not all elements of our history had been wonderful. However with honesty, recognition and discussion I believe the ugly parts of our history have and can help us become a better nation. I believe having a rounded knowledge of our history helps us to be grateful and proactive citizens.

I first started compiling this list a little under a year ago when a reader contacting me asking for suggestions on history books to read to toddlers. I am excited to share this amazing list with you just in time for Australia Day. It is full of wonderful resources covering a wide range of topics.  Many of the books below are picture books or historical fiction books based on true events, while others are non-fiction books. Each has been written for children and provides them with the opportunity to explore and discuss periods of time, events, historical figures and government policies.

I have also included some poems and songs which I think give us a great insight into Australian history through their language and themes. Because of their rhyme and rhythm they are great for reading aloud to babies too.

It’s  never too early to introduce history to your children and I’m sure you’ll find something here to interest them.

You might be interested in browsing some of our other Aussie Book Lists.

The Little Refugee

Authors: Anh and Suzanne Do

Illustrator: Bruce Whatley

ISBN :978-1742378329

Format : Hardback

Publisher : Allen & Unwin, September 2011

RRP: $24.99

This is a feel-good story which tackles the serious and topical issue of refugees. Told through the eyes of a child, and in a light-hearted and friendly tone, The Little Refugee is a great way to help children understand the reality of refugees and their plight.

In the early pages, Anh describes life in Vietnam and the impact that ‘losing’ the war had on his family’s safety. He describes the journey to Australia and the hardships he and his family continued to face once they arrived.

At times it is a frightening story with mentions of giant waves, hunger, thirst and pirates. But mostly it is an inspirational story full of hope and happiness. Bruce Whatley has also captured the cheeky personality of Anh so well.

Anh and Suzanne are donating 100 per cent of profits to Loreto Vietnam-Australia Program.

Suitable for ages 4+ (★★★★★)

The Great Expedition

Author/Illustrator: Peter Carnavas

ISBN:978-1921042812

Format: Hardback

Publisher: New Frontier Publishing, May 2011

RRP: $24.95 (aud)

This is a story of five children. Each of them has a special role to play as they cross the playground to deliver a cake from Mum to Grandma. Their story is inspired by the story of Burke and Wills, the first Europeans to cross Australia from south to north.

Peter Carnavas has successfully made this historic account accessible to very young readers in an innovative and entertaining way. It is a wonderful introduction to Australia’s early exploration history.

Suitable for ages 2+. (★★★★★). Read our full review here

Animal Tales

By Susan Hall and Ben Guy

ISBN: 978-0642277343

Format: Hardback

Publisher: National Library of Australia, May 2011

RRP: $49.95

This slipcase includes four stories, each narrated by a different Australian Animal who finds itself in danger. Set in the early settlement period of Australia the stories show what little understanding early settlers (called Uprights by the animals) had of native Australian animals.  Each story shows how the Europeans came to learn about these native animals. Included at the back of each book is a description of the animal and original interpretations of the animals drawn by the early settlers.

Suitable for ages 4+. (★★★★)

The books are also available individually for $14.95

The Tale of Kaz Kangaroo (The Uprights initially think of a kangaroo as a dog or a deer. They learn that kangaroos can hop with their young in its pouch)

The Tale of Kyla Koala (The Uprights initially mistake the koala for a bear. They learn that Koalas consume gum leaves, not milk.)

The Tale of Wil Wombat (The Uprights learn that wombats, even young ones, have long claws that make them expert diggers.)

The Tale of Peek Platypus (Initially confusing the platypus with a duck or a mole, the Uprights learn that a platypus needs water to breathe.)

The Rabbits

By John Marsden and Shaun Tan

ISBN:978-0734411365

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books (Hachette), September 2010

RRP: $17.99

This is the book that introduced me to Shaun Tan, and it remains one of  my favourite picture books not only because of its powerful message but because of its thoughtful and clever approach to the topic of European arrival.

John Marsden has cleverly uses the story of rabbits (considered a damaging pest in Australia) as a metaphor for European arrival to Australia. The metaphor allows parents to read the story to younger children, whereas older children can start to make comparisons with actual historic events.

This poignant account highlights the  differences in language, culture, lifestyle and food of the Indigenous people and the new settlers.  More importantly, it shows the clashes that arose as a result of differing values,  respect and use of the land and the effects of such dramatic changes.

Suitable for ages 6+. (★★★★★)

ANZAC DAY PARADE (Australian Edition)

Author and Illustrator: Glenda Kane and Lisa Allen

ISBN: 9780143504412

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Penguin, March 2010

RRP: $14.95

Publisher’s description: A poignant look at war through the eyes of a former member of the 18th Battalion. Told in rhyme it takes place on Anzac Day when an old man and a young boy meet – the young boy wide-eyed and wanting to hear the glories of war and death; the old man quietly sad to remember the reality of what was faced. Suitable for ages 6+

My Place

Nadia Wheatley and Donna Rawlins

ISBN:978-1921150654

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Walker Books Australia, July 2009

RRP: $19.95

Publisher’s description: Discover, or rediscover, a ‘time machine’ which takes the reader back into the past. It depicts the history of one particular piece of land in Sydney from 1788 to 1988 through the stories of the various children who have lived there.

This anniversary edition includes a   new timeline tracing the history of the characters in the book as well as the history of Australia, and is right up to date with reference to Australia’s apology to Indigenous Australians. Suitable for ages 7+

Simpson and His Donkey

Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac

ISBN:978-1921150180

Format: Hardback

Publisher: Walker Books Australia, March 2008

RRP: $29.95

Set during World War I, Simpson and his Donkey is a child friendly story about the difficult topic of war and the heroes that arise from it.

Suitable for ages 5+. (★★★★) Read our full review here.

My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day

By Catriona Hoy

ISBN:978-0734410368

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Hachette Australia, February 2008

RRP: $$16.99

This is a simple and emotive story that shows how war service can bring generations together.

It is a story of a young girl who participates in formal Anzac Day events with her father and grandfather. Readers walk away from the book with a strong need to remember and pass on the stories of our national servicemen and women.

My Grandad Marches on Anzac Day includes a detailed foreword about Anzac day and the ode.

Suitable for ages 4+. (★★★★)

The Dog on the Tuckerbox

By Corinne Fenton and Peter Gouldthorpe

ISBN: 978-1742030081

Format: Hardcover

Publisher: Black Dog Books (Walker Books), July 2008

RRP: $24.99

Publisher’s description: The Dog on the Tuckerbox is the story of Lady and her master Bill. It is the story of Australia’s pioneers; the bullockies who worked the rough tracks, and of one dog’s unwavering loyalty to her master. Suitable for ages 2+

You and Me: Our Place

Author: Leonie Norrington

Illustrator: Dee Huxley

ISBN:978-1876288792

Format: Hardcover

Publisher: Working Title Press, June 2007

Publisher’s description: At the edge of a northern Australian city, where river and mangroves reach the sea, two young boys join Uncle Tobias for a day of fishing and hunting. This story create a world in which the old and new cultures exist comfortably together and children move easily between them.

Read a full review at The Book Chook

Lizzie Nonsense

By Jan Ormerod

ISBN : 978-1921272462

Format : Paperback and CD

Publisher : Little Hare (Hardie Grant Egmont), 2004

RRP: $14.95

A lovely story that highlights that children (regardless of era or living conditions) share innocent and beautiful qualities, particularly one of imagination.

Set in the early 1900s, Lizzie’s story is one of living in the isolated outback with snakes, bland food and a father who has long period of absences away from home.  The one thing that stops Lizzie and her mum from going crazy when her father is away is the use of their wild imaginations.

It is really beautiful to see the family reunited upon the father’s return. Much of Lizzie’s playing and pretending is based on what she hears her father say to her mum. She obviously idolises him and loves the stories he shares.

Suitable for ages 3+. (★★★★)

Stolen Girl

By Trina Saffioti and Norma McDonald

ISBN: 978-1921248252

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Magabala Books

RRP: $19.95

Publisher’s Description: Stolen Girl is a fictionalised account of the now universally known story of the Stolen Generation and tells of an Aboriginal girl taken from her family by the government and sent to a children’s home.

Each night she sings, and dreams of her mother and the life they once shared — of sitting on the veranda of their corrugated-iron home, cooking damper and hunting goanna.But each morning she is woken by the bell to the harsh reality of the children’s home, until finally one day she puts into action her carefully crafted plan — unlocking the door and taking her first step back toward home. Suitable for ages 5+

Read a review on Kids Book Review

Audrey of the Outback

Christine Harris

ISBN: 978-1921272189

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Little Hare Books (Hardie Grant Egmont)

RRP: $14.95

Publisher’s description: The Australian outback of 1930 is Audrey’s backyard. Audrey is a girl with a lot on her mind. Her dad has gone away to work, her brother Price thinks he’s too old for games, and little Dougie likes pretending to be a bird. Suitable for ages 6+

Audrey also has her own blog and fun page

Nancy Bentley

By Tracey Hawkins and Jacqui Grantford

ISBN: 9781921042768

Format: Hardback

Publisher: New Frontier Pty Ltd, 2011

RRP: $24.95

This is the story of Australia’s first female sailor. I was initially unsure whether this book would maintain my two year old daughter’s interest, but she was hooked from the first page when the story read like a picture book with Nancy Bentley ‘twirling and whirling’. This picture book is based on a true story. A brief biography, photo and copy of Nancy’s certificate of service are included at the back of the book.

After being bitten by a snake and falling gravely ill,  the Captain of the  HMAS Sydney is forced to enlist six year old Nancy into the Navy allowing her to board the ship and seek medical attention from the ship’s doctor, as females were not allowed onto a Navy ship in 1920.She received a Good Conduct Medal and was treated to a sailor’s uniform, chocolates and trip to the theatre in Hobart.

My two year old was certainly fascinated by this story. Sometimes it’s the little stories about the everyday people that can get us hooked on Australian history.

Suitable for ages 3+. (★★★★★)

Amazing Grace

By Stephanie Owen Reeder

ISBN: 978-0642277435

Format: Hardback

Publisher: National Library of Australia, 2011

RRP: $29.95

This is the story of a group of young Australians including a 16 year old Grace Bussell,  who help to save the lives of the passengers and crew of the Georgette which beached itself on the coast on Western Australia.

The book  is presented in an interesting format: Broken into chapters, it chronicles the events that took place. Interspersed between the chapters are sub-chapters of information about Australia in the late 1800s including: pioneering, shipwrecks and rescues and Christmas in the Colonies.

Quirky, interesting and informative snippets of primary resources and illustrations clipped from newspapers, personal letters and the National Library of Australia are also found throughout the book.

This is a wonderful book suited to children that enjoy reading non-fiction books and piecing together historical information.

Suitable for ages 10+ (★★★★)

Aussie Heroes: Professor Fred Hollows

Hazel Edwards

Illustrator: Pat Reynolds

ISBN: 978-1921042751

Format: Paperback

Publisher: New Frontier Publishing, November 2011

RRP: $14.95

Suitable for ages 9+

Publisher’s description: Fred grew up in rural New Zealand. As a kid he wanted to change things. He qualified as an eye doctor and moved to Australia. Fred gave ‘vision’ to more than a million people. He worked in remote and Aboriginal communities providing much needed aid, often for free. Suitable for ages 9+

Aussie Heroes: Dame Nellie Melba

Author: Gabiann Marin

Illustrator: Rae Dale

ISBN: 9781921042645

Publisher: New Frontier Publishing

RRP: $14.95

Publisher’s description: Six-year-old Helen Porter just wanted to sing on stage. As a child, and then a teenager, she continued to pursue her dream of being a great opera star. In 1886, aged 25
she left Melbourne for the bright lights of London. Born Helen Porter Mitchel, she changed her name to reflect her Melbourne heritage. In 1887 Nellie Melba made her operatic debut. She went on to sing in all the great opera houses of Europe. During World War 1 Nellie Melba worked tirelessly holding many fundraising concerts for the war effort.  Nellie Melba was the first great Australian diva. Suitable for ages 9+

Aussie Heroes Sir Edward Dunlop

Author: Hazel Edwards

Illustrator: Pat Reynolds

ISBN: 9781921042706

Publisher: New Frontier Publishing, March 2011

RRP: $14.95

Publisher’s description: Ernie Dunlop was determined to become a doctor from an early age.

Born in Melbourne, he was fascinated with both medical science and physical challenges. Whilst studying medicine he earned the nickname ‘Weary’ and gained a reputation as a dedicated doctor and sportsman.

In November 1939, after the outbreak of World War II, Weary signed up for the Australian Army. In April 1942, Weary and his men were captured and became prisoners of war. During this time Weary became known for his leadership and communication skills with the enemy. After the war Weary was committed to caring for war veterans. Suitable for ages 9+

The Legend of Moondyne Joe

Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac

ISBN: 978-1920694326

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Walker Books, February 2011

RRP: $16.95

Publisher’s description: This is the story of the greatest escape artist of Australia’s convict era – the legend of Moondyne Joe. There wasn’t a cell built that could contain him, and Joe often led the troopers on wild chases through the Moondyne Hills of Western Australia. Suitable for ages 7+

Read a full review by Trevor Cairney at Literacy, Families and Learning.

The Boy From Bowral

Robert Ingpen

ISBN: 978-1921150647

Format: Hardback

Publisher: Walker Books Australia,  July 2008

RRP: $32.95

Publisher’s description: A beautifully illustrated and inspiring account of the life of Donald Bradman to mark the centenary of his birth.

Sir Donald Bradman is one of the best known and most respected cricketers in the history of the game. Published to mark the centenary of Bradman’s birth, Robert Ingpen charts the history of the legend, from his early years in his Bowral backyard, through the infamous bodyline series, and to his post-war comeback with his trademark detailed and thoughtful illustrations. Suitable for all ages.

Read a full review by Trevor Cairney at Literacy, Families and Learning.

Ned Kelly and the Green Sash

Mark Greenwood

Frane Lessac

ISBN:978-1921150876

Format: Hardback

Publisher: Walker Books

RRP: $29.95

Publisher’s description: A narrative non-fiction picture book about the life of Ned Kelly and the Kelly Gang, Australia’s most infamous bushrangers. Backed by detailed research, the story focuses on Ned as a young man and the little known story of the green sash. The text also includes brief biographies and fact files on the Kelly Gang, the true story behind the green sash and a detailed list of sources. Suitable for ages 8+

Advance Australia Fair

Arnold Adoff

ISBN      978-0207185991

Format Paperback

Publisher              HarperCollins, Australia

Published             Australia, 01 June 1994

RRP: $14.99

Publisher’s description: In this book , the words and music of Australia′s National anthem are accompanied by paintings from some of Australia′s finest artists: Fredrick McCubbin, Tom Roberts, Margaret Preston, Russel Drysdale, Albert Namatjira and others.

Turn the pages through history and song, and advance Australia fair! Suitable for all ages.

Read a review at Kids Book Review:

My Country

Dorothea Mackellar and Freya Blackwood

ISBN:978-1862917309

Format: Hardback

Publisher: Omnibus Books (Scholastic), February 2010

RRP: $26.99

An iconic and beautiful poem illustrated by one of my very favourite illustrators. The poem written in 1904 accurately describes the juxtaposing features of Australia. I bought this as a gift for my friend’s newborn son. Although now living in Canada, my friend grew up in a farming region of Gipplsand, Victoria. I knew this would be a perfect book for her to share with her son so he could learn about the wonderful country in which his mum was born.

Suitable for all ages. (★★★★★)

60 Classic Australian Poems

Christopher Cheng and Gregory Rogers

ISBN:978-1741664140

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Random House Australia, September 2009

RRP; $19.95

Publisher’s Description: Australian poets have a wonderful way with words and their poems bring to life the iconic Aussie characters and unforgettable landscape that are part of our Australian heritage. Many of these – Mulga Bill, Clancy of the Overflow, The Ant Explorer, M’Dougal, The Shearer’s Wife and Mr Smith – are larger than life. And the poets who created them – AB Patterson, CJ Dennis, Thomas E Spencer, Louis Esson and DH Souter – have become heroic figures in our pantheon of stars.

The 60 poems in this collection appear in their original, or near original, form and are wide-ranging in their subject matter: animals, the countryside, the struggle of bush life, early transport, sport, growing old, being young and having fun with words! But whether they are humorous, serious or playful, they are simply a joy to read! Suitable for all ages.

Click Go the Shears

Charlotte Lance

ISBN 978-1741690828

Format: Hardback

Publisher: Scholastic Australia, 2008

RRP: $14.99

This is a humorous book to share with your children. This is an Australian folk song which offers an insight into the work of shearers during the late 1800s. There’s also an array of some classic terminology (snagger, bare bellied yeo, ringer, tar boy, swag) to discuss with your children.

The illustrations are incredibly humorous depicting shearers as hair stylists. I dare you to read this book without breaking into a song.

Suitable for ages 3+. (★★★)

Give Me a Home Among the Gum Trees

Bob Brown and Wally Johnson

Illustrator: Ben Wood

ISBN: 978-1862917651

Format: Hardback

Publisher: Omnibus Books (Scholastic)

RRP: $14.99

Charming and funny illustrations of koalas returning from a world-wide trip, together with a fun and catchy song make this book  a fun one to read with the kids.

Although light-hearted and fun, I think this song accurately describes early settlement and reasons for migration to Australia. Many people have chosen Australia as their new home-both in the early 1880s to now- for space, freedom and a backyard of their own.

Suitable for ages 1+. (★★★★)

The Man from Snowy River

Banjo Paterson and Freya Blackwood

ISBN:978-1865046969

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Scholastic Australia, April 2007

RRP: $15.99

Publisher’s description: He sent the flint stones flying, but the pony kept his feet, He cleared the fallen timber in his stride, And the man from Snowy River never shifted in his seat- It was grand to see that mountain horseman ride There is no greater Australian bush hero than the man from Snowy River, and no greater bush legend than his famous downhill ride. When a valuable colt escapes and runs off with the mountain brumbies, the crack riders and stockmen of the region get together to bring it back. But the countryside is wild and rugged and only the toughest horse and rider can keep up with the wild bush horses.

Waltzing Matilda

Author: A.B. Paterson

ISBN:978-1865048161

Format: Disc & Paperback

Publisher: Scholastic Australia, October 2007

Publisher’s description: This ballad of the sheep-stealing swagman is known the world over. Here we are treated not just to the swagman’s story, but to the story of the shearers’ strikes of the time, of the squatter’s family, and of the dangers of outback travel in the nineteenth century. Suitable for ages 5+.

100 Australian Poems for Children

Clare Scott-Mitchell & Kathlyn Griffith

ISBN:978-1740517751

Format: Hardcover

Publisher: Random House Australia, October 2002

RRP: $19.95

Publisher’s description: From emus to magic puddings, this feast of Australian poems for children is both fresh and familiar. With beautiful illustrations from award-winning Gregory Rogers, this collection of favourite classics and contemporary gems shows us what is special about growing up in Australia. Suitable for all ages.

Lone Pine

Margaret Warner and Susan Hamers

Illustrated by Sebastian Ciaffaglione

ISBN: 978-1921541346

Format: Hardback

Publisher: Little Hare, April 2012

RRP: $24.95

Publisher’s Description: When a soldier on a World War I battlefield sends a pine cone home to his mother, he could not know that his simple gift would become a symbol of history and remembrance.

An extraordinary story that spans generations and brings an important message about the First World War to a new generation.

Australian Story- An Illustrated timeline

Tania McCartney

ISBN: 978-0642277459

Format: Paperback

Publisher: National Library of Australia, April 2012

RRP: $24.95

Publisher’s Description: Take a trip into the past––from the explosive beginnings of our planet through the formation of the Australian landscape, the deeply entrenched history of our Indigenous people and past the white-sailed ships of the First Fleet to modern day Australia, in this fascinating journey through time.

Illustrated with a striking collection of photographs and images from the NLA’s digital collection, this is history for children like never before. A fascinating snapshot of our country, Australian Story tells who we once where, who we are today . . . and where we are going. Suitable for ages 6+

Aussie Book Lists: Australian History for Young Readers

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  1. Thank you for such an amazing list of wonderful books. When I was younger I wasn’t too keen on Australian history and was dazzled by more ancient cultures. As I get older however, I am drawn to Australian history more and more. I think researching my family tree helped spark my interest, and I look forward to sharing our rich history with my children and this list of books will be a great help.

    • I’m a bit the same Melissa. My interest in Australian history had grown with age. Maybe it’s because of my awareness and appreciation I have that I was born in this pretty special country. Family tree sounds fascinating.

  2. I can tell I am going to be visiting your blog for recommendations all the time!! What a really great list, can’t wait to check some out :-)

  3. I have just started reading Henry Reynolds latest book “Forgotten War” and out of curiosity went looking for how Australia’s past is being presented to young children. I did so because he used the word “sanitised” to describe how generation after generation of historians have presented our country’s past. Given that children are impressionable and develop values at an early age, when should they be introduced to the reality of what happened to the Aboriginal people in the early days of the settlement of Australia?

Aussie Book Lists: Australian History for Young Readers

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