Title: Waves
Written by Donna Rawlins
Illustrated by Heather Potter and Mark Jackson
Published by Black Dog Books, an imprint of Walker Books
RRP: $27.99 (AUD)

Waves tells the stories of many people who have come to Australia by boat. Fifteen young immigrants, spanning the years from 50,000 years ago to the 2000s, share their stories with us. Anak is the first, coming across the sea with is mother, father and dog on a raft. Then there is Maarten, sailing in the early 1700s from The Netherlands for Indonesia to trade, but the ship is wrecked along the treacherous coastline of Western Australia. Many young people’s voyages and stories follow, with Abdul fleeing his war torn country completing the narrative. The people and circumstances in which they find themselves sailing for and reaching Australia are varied. The fictitious stories are based on real events in history, real voyages and real people. All are seeking a better life.

This narrative non-fiction picturebook is quite beautiful. The endpapers introduce the characters in a visual timeline of the boats in which they sailed, their names and the time in which they sailed. In the background is a wash of the world map, reminding us that people have come from all over the world to settle in Australia, by boat. The endpapers not only introduce each traveller but give other crucial information. They serve as an integral part of the book. In the pages that follow, each character has their own double page spread with lengthy verbal text telling their story. The book can be read from page one, in order, or can be dipped into at any stage. Created in graphite pencil and gouache, the illustrations are evocative and moving, adding to the well worked verbal text. The length of the text suits the genre and style of the book and encourages the reader to find out more about Australia’s immigration. There is further information at the back of the book about the characters, their boats and what was happening in their world at the time. This double page spread of text is a wealth of interesting information.

This book offers so much. There are endless possibilities for its use in the classroom and young historians will pore over it for hours. Scholars of picturebooks and those interested in the study of endpapers in picturebooks will find this a real treat.

Highly recommended for all public libraries, school (primary and secondary) libraries and classrooms.


This book can be integrated with so much in the classroom. Below are just a few suggestions.

  • Using the characters’ stories as writing prompts, have the students write about their favourite character after they arrive in Australia.
  • Divide the class into small groups and allocate a period of time from the book to research. Set research areas and have them report a number of interesting facts, such as five facts about how people lived during that period of time.
  • Alternatively, choose one time period from the book and divide the class into small groups to research various aspects, such as food, work, childhood, and transport.
  • Construct a timeline using the endpapers. Plot characters from the book and other important events in history.
  • On a map of the world plot where each character comes from. Research those countries as they are today. Look at customs, architecture, schooling, government, and other aspects chosen by the class.

Teacher Notes are also available here. Written by Simon French, they include an interview with Donna Rawlins, a look inside the sketchbook of the illustrators, and activities directly linked to various areas in the Australian Curriculum. These are some of the best teachers’ notes I have seen and are a work of art in themselves.

Many thanks to Walker Books for supplying this book for review.