By Kyra Gillespie
Few have endured in the hearts and bookshelves of Australians young and old like Nar Nar Goon writer Alison Lester.
Author and illustrator of many works – including Magic Beach, Noni the Pony and Are We There Yet? – Ms Lester has been capturing imaginations since 1985
Some of my earliest and most treasured memories are of snuggling down with my mum in my small childhood bed – the two of us hardly fitting – and reading Lester’s book The Quicksand Pony; tears streaming down our cheeks as we fretted about the fate of Biddy’s pony, Bella.
Ms Lester has received due recognition of her service to her readers, announced as a recipient of the Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 2019 Australia Day Honours List.
They say that good things come in threes and for Ms Lester, that couldn’t be truer.
Last week the local author was awarded an Australia Post Legends Award, where she will be featured on new postage stamps alongside fellow Australian writers Mem Fox, Morris Gleitzman, Leigh Hobbs and Shaun Tan.
A few months prior to that she received the Melbourne Prize for Literature.
“There are a lot of things happening at the moment – it’s been a real trifecta,” she said.
“It’s lovely to have my work recognised with an Australia Day honour and I’m very grateful.”
Ms Lester has been an Ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation since 2013 and for the Royal Children’s Hospital Education Institute; she became the first Australian Children’s Laureate and is a patron for Buk Bilong Pikinini.
Her writing has taken her around Australia and the world, most notably to Antarctica in 2005 as Australian Antarctic Arts Fellow.
Ms Lester has taken her wisdom far beyond the page; she is involved in numerous community art projects and spends part of every year travelling to remote Indigenous communities, using her books to help children and adults write and draw about their own lives.
“Its work I love; travelling to incredible parts of Australia and working with some of the amazing people who live there. We work collaboratively on stories. Adults and children create the words and pictures and I act as the assembler; throwing ideas around and helping edit the work.”
Despite the rise of technology, Ms Lester believes in the enduring power of the hard copy book.
“I can’t imagine physical, hard copy books ever disappearing. Reading a book is a beautiful experience. It’s so different from sitting down and looking at a screen – not that I think screens are a totally bad thing – but books are a really wonderful thing to share with kids.
“Learning to read is so important and children will have a happier life if they are excellent readers. It gives them a great start and opens many doors.
“We all need to sit with our children and grandchildren and read to them. That’s the start of becoming a good reader. It doesn’t work for all kids of course, there are children with learning difficulties who need extra support, but for a lot of kids constant exposure to books will have them reading early.”