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Exploring the World with Literature (Grades 4-7): Australia

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Introduction to Continent

Australia is the smallest continent. It is the only continent that is also a country. Because it is located entirely in the Southern Hemisphere, it is often referred to as “Down-Under”.

A map of Australia will show that all of its major cities are located along the coasts, primarily in Eastern Australia. Nine out of 10 Australians live in cities. The countryside outside the cities and suburbs is referred to as the “Bush”, while only the central desert interior is designated the “Outback”.

The first inhabitants of Australia were Indigenous peoples, living in traditional ways for thousands of years. Scientists believe these first Australians migrated from Africa via Asia using land bridges created during the last ice age. The arrival of Europeans 300 years ago changed Australia, and Aboriginal population and culture declined as European numbers grew.

Australia today is highly multicultural, particularly in the Northwestern regions. Aboriginal groups have reclaimed some of their lands, and many live on reservations or in cities. Many Aboriginal people are dedicated to preserving their language and culture.

The three titles chosen to represent Australia capture the magnificence of the land and the diversity of its people. In To the Top End, an Australian family explores some major attractions, offering a humourous, visual taste of the country’s natural splendours. The Outback highlights the sparsely populated interior and serves as a quiet introduction to Australia’s Aboriginal people and their connection to the land.

In Naked Bunyip Dancing, students may recognize a classroom that could easily be North American, as a group of suburban students grapple with tween issues in delightfully humourous verse.

The Pacific Islands, often called Australasia or Oceania, is a group of over 20,000 islands that is not part of any continent (continents are defined as continuous dry land masses). Included in this group are the larger island countries of New Zealand, New Guinea, and Fiji, as well as the Hawaiian islands. Over 19 million people live in the Pacific islands, almost as many as Australia’s 2011 population of 22.32 million.

Although literature from and about the Pacific Islands is limited, the lush forests, sandy beaches, and dramatic mountain peaks are home to diverse people and many thriving indigenous cultures. Particularly on the smaller islands, traditional ways of living are highly evident. Most Pacific islanders live in small villages or towns, though the larger islands are home to major, western-style cities.

The additional reading selections include three titles set in the Pacific Islands. Stories of the Wild West Gang and River Song are both from New Zealand, and The Quest for Tree Kangaroo takes students to the island of Guinea. Additional reading selections also complement the titles included in the Micro-Library, giving students opportunities to further explore Aboriginal culture, the unique landscape, and the lives of contemporary Australian children.

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Further Reading