'It was good to be home' : nostalgia in Australian picture books 1970-1997

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The initial aim of this thesis was to uncover representations of societal ideologies in Australian picture books. As a close study of the books proceeded, the key ideology to emerge was nostalgia. While nostalgia has generally negative connotations, the concept of reflective nostalgia (Boym 2001), introduced to the study of children’s books by McGillis (2001), provides a positive base on which to build the production and study of children’s books. A sample of thirty picture books, successful in the Children’s Book Council awards system between 1970 and 1997, and apparently revealing contemporary Australian life, was selected. A framework of critical strategies from a range of sources was employed, paying particular attention to the analysis of the illustrations. In shaping the study, two images were extremely influential, those of maps of meaning and ‘homes’ in the world (Watkins 1992); together with an examination of the concept of home, they led to analyses of the two elements of time and space and their representations in the picture books. Nikolajeva’ s (2000) concept of the importance of Kairos or circular time in children’s books was applied, and was found to be the prevalent time in the majority of the books. The rural and Arcadian, associated with kairos, were also found to characterise picture book space, which is predominantly benign, often perfectible. The traditional Australian cottage, with its semiotic features referring nostalgically to a national past, was significant in many of the books. Families of the ‘golden age’, community and neighbourhood were all pervasive concepts; and many visual details, including those of food and clothing, revealed the characters’ cultural embeddedness. Some societal groups (mothers, Aboriginal people, other ethnic groups) were present only in the form of a trace. The study concluded that most Australian picture books of the period reveal, especially through their illustrations, a secure, nostalgic world.
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