Sun Mother Wakes the World: An Australian Creation Story


At the beginning of the world, it was dark and silent and nothing stirred anywhere, until a voice roused the sleeping Sun Mother in the sky, telling her it was time to wake up all the creatures of the earth.

The indigenous people of Australia believe that their first ancestors created the world and its laws. They also believe that the world is still being created in a continual process they call The Dreamtime. Renowned storyteller Diane Wolkstein has crafted a powerful retelling...

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At the beginning of the world, it was dark and silent and nothing stirred anywhere, until a voice roused the sleeping Sun Mother in the sky, telling her it was time to wake up all the creatures of the earth.

The indigenous people of Australia believe that their first ancestors created the world and its laws. They also believe that the world is still being created in a continual process they call The Dreamtime. Renowned storyteller Diane Wolkstein has crafted a powerful retelling of an Australian creation story, illuminated by illustrator Bronwyn Bancroft's authentic, beautifully realized paintings.

An Aboriginal creation story in which the Sun slowly brings life to the Earth.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"Darkness. Silence. No fish swam. No animal stirred. The wind did not whisper. The earth was asleep." In the beginning of this folkloric creation tale, a "soft voice" tells Sun Mother to revive the slumbering earth and give life to the barrenness below. She sends her golden rays into dark caves and awakes the sleeping animals, who emerge into a bright new world. Wolkstein (The Magic Orange Tree) here adapts a legend of the indigenous Australian people, who believe "their ancestors created the world... and [it's] still being created" in a process called "The Dreamtime," according to the author's introductory note. Bancroft (Big Rain Coming), an indigenous Australian artist, underscores this dreamlike quality with her otherworldly illustrations. The compositions teem with amorphous creatures Sun Mother, a yellow shape-shifter, takes on tree-like roots, her arms literally make a circle at other points); dots, lines and curlicues form patterns and swirl across the pages in a kaleidoscope of saturated hues. Yet the story does not quite break out of the stiff, longwinded voice of the set-up pages, and the searching, wonder-filled sense of Dreamtime that Wolkstein hints at in her foreword never makes its way into the storytelling. Unfortunately, youngest readers may come away from the story more confused than enlightened. But older children interested in mythology and lured by the illustrations may well be mesmerized. Ages 4-7. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
This Creation story begins in darkness and silence. A voice wakes Sun Mother, who brings light to awaken the sleeping earth, plants, and trees. Then the voice sends Sun Mother into dark caves, to bring forth insects, snakes, animals, and other creatures. Sun Mother then returns to the sky. The animals fear the dark she leaves behind, but she returns to visit each day. When they quarrel, she allows them to choose their own forms. Then she gives birth to Moon and Morning Star, for light at night. Finally they give birth to the first man and woman. Sun Mother welcomes them, but tells them that they must keep the earth alive and look after their birthplace. Bancroft, an indigenous Australian, draws upon the symbols and colors of the Aboriginal Dreamtime tradition in her double-page painted illustrations. They maintain much of the mystery of the verbal narrative, exploiting encapsulated shapes, dot patterns and designs, simple animal outlines, and strong color contrasts for mystical but emotionally moving exotic imagery. A note on the Dreamtime tries to explain this concept, which is so different from Western tradition. There is also an extensive note on the author's sources. This story is interesting to compare to other Creation tales and it's interesting as an explanation of the ecological concerns of native Australians. 2004, HarperCollins Publishers, and Ages 4 to 8.
—Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 2-4-Brilliant paintings enfold Wolkstein's retelling of an Aboriginal creation myth. Awakened by her father's voice, Sun Mother leaves her home in the sky and travels the sleeping earth as grass, plants, and trees sprout in her footsteps. She wakes the dozing animals in their dark caves: first the crawling creatures-grubs, beetles, and caterpillars; next, the lizards, frogs, snakes, and fish; and finally, in the coldest cave, she wakes the birds and animals. She creates a beautiful world, then returns to the sky. Night frightens her creatures, until they discover that it isn't permanent. In time, Sun Mother lets the animals choose their own shapes and attributes: "Platypus could not decide what she wanted. So she chose everything. A beak, fur, webbed feet, and a tail!" Finally, Sun Mother gives birth to a daughter, Moon, and son, Morning Star. They, in turn, give birth to twins, the first woman and man. Sun Mother instructs them to care for the plants and animals, as all share a common home on Earth. Though the tale is gracefully told, it is Bancroft's paintings that make the greatest impression. Bold colors and patterns lined with thick, powerful lines draw the eye along each page and bring the story to life. Wolkstein's authoritative notes carefully document her sources, and add insight into the origins of these tales.-Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In this more-or-less tranquil creation myth from Australia, Sun Mother, wakened by an unidentified parent, in turn wakes the Earth's animals, gives them new shapes after they become dissatisfied with what they already have, then gives birth to the Moon and Morning Star, who produce the first humans. Veteran folklorist/storyteller Wolkstein retells the tale in a terse, formal way, with strong but understated feeling and glints of humor; Bancroft, an artist of Aboriginal descent, depicts Sun Mother as a graceful, golden form, bringing light to a swirling, distinctively stylized, brightly patterned world. A respectful, eye-opening alternative to Biblical versions of the creation, such as Gerald McDermott's Creation (2003), with similarly sweeping art, and a female Creator to boot. (introduction, source note) (Picture book/folktale. 7-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688139155
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/30/2004
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 4 - 7 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 0.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Diane Wolkstein has been teaching, performing, and writing for over thirty-five years. She is the author of numerous award-winning books of folklore, including The Magic Orange Tree, and Other Haitian Folktales and Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer. Known for her meticulous research as well as her great range as a performer, Ms. Wolkstein traveled to Australia three times while preparing this story. She gives workshops on storytelling worldwide and lives in New York City.

In Her Own Words...

"I love stories. They give me strength, Inspiration, courage, and great delight. For thirty years I've told stories at the statue of Hans Christian Andersen in Central Park. I love watching the eyes of my audience light up as they enter stories. Stories let us explore the farthest places in the universe and the deepest recesses of the human heart. They present possibilities. They let us try out different emotions and characters. Stories are treasures which last forever.

"I also enjoy gardening, dancing, swimming, painting, and creating stories with music. My daughter, Rachel Zucker, is a poet, photographer, and the mother of a little boy named Moses."

Bronwyn Bancroft is an indigenous Australian artist and designer whose artwork has been collected and exhibited by galleries and museums throughout the world. A descendant of the Bunjalung people of New South Wales, Ms. Bancroft grew up in the small country town of Tenterfield. She says, "The work that I do challenges people to accept indigenous peoples as equals." Books she has illustrated include Big Rain Coming by Katrina Germein and Just a Little Brown Dog by Sally Morgan. Ms. Bancroft lives in Sydney with her three children.

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