Title: Say Yes
Author: Jennifer Castles
Illustrator: Paul Seden
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
RRP: $29.99 (Hb)

Celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 Referendum, this extraordinary picturebook is a story of friendship, and much more. Two young girls are best friends and want to do many things together, such as going for a swim in the local pool, and going to the movies and school. However, they are unable to because of the law, for one girl is Aboriginal, the other non-Aboriginal. They look forward to May 27, when people can vote to have these laws changed.

I don’t usually deem a book as an important one as literature appreciation can be subjective, but I simply have to with this one, for it is not only the quality of the literature that is important here. It is not only the subject matter and how it has been portrayed, both verbally and visually that is important either. It is also the background of the story, inspired by the author’s sister’s lifelong friendship with an Aboriginal woman from when they were both five years old in 1966.

The verbal and visual texts collaborate perfectly in this picturebook. The verbal text, written from the unnamed non-Aboriginal girl’s perspective, is straight forward and honest. The unfairness of the racist laws and their impact is blatantly obvious. The solution, to vote yes, seems a simple one. The last sentence of the book, at the conclusion of the notes page, “It was a ‘good beginning’, but there is still a LOT more to do…” is poignant and affirming. Yes, there is a still great deal more to do.

The visual text is as strongly voiced as the verbal. Using a mixture of pencil, ink and watercolour, Paul Seden has contrasted the images of the two girls with archival photographs containing a variety of people, newspaper clippings, voting papers and the two laws from the constitution that were changed. The images are rich, the friendship between the two girls tangible, and the archival material places these seemingly fictional girls in history. The end papers, of different patterns, encase the narrative in friendship.

This picturebook is a must for all primary school and public libraries. Secondary school libraries may also benefit from having this in their collection. As a true picturebook, it offers much. As a historical, social and political testimony, for the past and the future, it is unmissable.

Extensive teacher notes, by Dr Robyn Sheahan-Bright, are available here. They include a useful bibliography of related texts. Please note, a PDF file downloads immediately from this link.

Many thanks to Allen & Unwin for supplying this book for review.