EducationDaily Booklist: Recommended First Nations YA reads for Aussie teens

Jarrod Brown
Jarrod Brown

In celebration of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day next Friday, 4 August, EducationDaily has put together a list of some of our favourite First Nations YA offerings for teenage readers.

These authors explore themes of identity, culture, legacy, and so much more – each with a captivating, unique story (and valuable lessons) to share.

The Upwelling

By Lystra Rose

Winner of the Indigenous Writing Award at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2022, this fantasy debut by First Nations writer Lystra Rose is a fascinating deep dive into the traditional culture of the Yugambeh people, proudly showcasing their language and practices throughout the narrative.

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“A deeply immersive young adult fantasy and an enthralling debut. It’s a privilege to walk this new path into the oldest of stories.” – Amie Kaufman, New York Times bestselling author

We Didn’t Think It Through

By Gary Lonesborough

From the author of the award-winning The Boy from the Mish comes a compelling coming-of-age YA novel about sixteen-year-old Jamie Langton finding his future and navigating the challenges of racism, family and friendship in a small Australian town.

The book chronicles the journey of Jamie, a young aboriginal kid, as he travels through the youth justice system, where he must find a way to mend his relationships with himself, his friends, his family and his future.

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Living on Stolen Land

By Ambelin Kwaymullina

Living on Stolen Land educates readers on the colonial contextual history of Australia, exposing myths at the heart of our nationhood and challenging Australia to face its own past and place within, and on, Indigenous countries.

A number of First Nations truths are discussed in this title, including stolen lands, sovereignty, time, decolonisation, native perspectives, and systemic bias.

My Spare Heart

By Jared Thomas

This is a tender story about the struggles of growing up. Phoebe is dealing with a lot: dividing her loyalties between her parents, confronting the ignorance and racism of her fellow students, experiencing her first crush, and of course, making it onto the local basketball team.

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My Spare Heart is a powerful and crucial story by a First Nations YA writer whose work explores alcoholism, racism, sexual assault, bullying and family dynamics.

“A story with grit, authenticity of voice and characters who show strength in identity and culture.” – Dr Anita Heiss, award-winning author of Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray 

Meet Me at the Intersection

This collection of short fiction, memoirs, and poetry written by First Nations people, people of colour, members of the LGBTIQA+ community, and disabled authors, gives a louder voice to people in Australia’s most marginalised communities. 

There’s historical fiction from Kelly Gardiner and Wendy Chen, poems from Graham Akhurst, a dialogue-driven exploration of job-hunting by Kyle Lynch, Olivia Muscat’s ode to Harry Potter, and sweet, strange and smart speculative fiction from Jordi Kerr

“Springing from the passion and insistence of its editors and contributors, Meet Me at the Intersection is the kind of inspired publishing I wish there was more of in Australia.” – Leanne Hall, former children’s and YA specialist

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Growing up Wiradjuri

Growing up Wiradjuri is a collection of personal stories by Wiradjuri Elders, Uncles and Aunties who grew up under the troubling rule of the welfare board in 1950s New South Wales.  

In a strong collective voice, they share the difficulties and lessons of the times, including tales of evading capture by the state, being torn away from family and suffering through racism in schools. Every contributor has important advice to share with the next generation.

‘These stories form part of our collective history, the way we speak of and live culture still today, and the importance of passing on such stories to younger generations.’ – Dr Anita Heiss.

Unlimited Futures

By Rafeif Ismail, Ellen van Neerven, Hella Ibrahim

In Unlimited Futures, 21 emerging and established First Nations writers and black writers explore visionary pasts, hopeful futures, as well as the invisible connections between their respective cultures.

This anthology of tales features Tuesday Atzinger, Flora A Chol, Claire G. Coleman, Zena Cumpston, Lisa Fuller – and many more – telling tales about things they wish had existed when they were young.

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“The stories acknowledge the trauma of the past, but also imagine many diverse, eclectic futures.” –  Angela Crocombe, author and YA specialist 

Flock: First Nations Stories Then and Now

By Ellen van Neerven

Ellen van Neerven’s award-winning Flock explores indigenous storytelling across generations, bringing together voices from across the country.

Featuring established authors such as Tony Birch, Melissa Lucashenko and Tara June Winch and rising stars such as Adam Thompson and Mykaela Saunders, Flock confirms First Nations stories’ ongoing resonance and originality.

“Individually, each of the stories are engaging, enlightening, and memorable, yet when read together, they become stronger, more captivating, and much richer – much like a flock of birds flying together.” – The Literacy Village

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My Place (younger readers)

By Sally Morgan

My Place comprises the voices and memories of three generations of Morgan’s family, Baligu people from the Pilbara region, living in suburban Perth in the 1950s. Journey along with Sally Morgan as she discovers her identity, her family’s history and her trauma. 

Since its publication in 1987, it’s sold an impressive 500,000+ copies – a figure that makes Sally Morgan’s rich, zesty and moving work one of the best-loved biographies of Aboriginal Australia ever written. Younger readers can now enjoy the abridged edition – a shorter, sharper tale that retains all the charm and power of the original.

‘Edited to make it more accessible to a teen audience, it is essential reading in the context of Black Lives Matter and anti-racism work around the world.” – George Delaney, former Carltons bookseller

Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia

By Anita Heiss

With this anthology, award-winning author Anita Heiss aims to answer this question by presenting as many diverse perspectives, experiences, and stories as possible.

The accounts reveal the impact of invading and colonising – on their languages, on their countries, on their lifestyles, and on how they are treated in the community, in schools, at work, among friends.

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New voices of all ages, from coastal and desert regions to cities and remote communities, are presented alongside experiences from well-known authors and high-profile figures. All of them speak to the heart – sometimes calling for empathy, often challenging stereotypes, and always demanding respect.

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Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. Jarrod established his journalism career working on the education news and information site The Bursar. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.