I came to Australia as a French-speaking child, without a word of English, and started school in Sydney within only a few weeks of arriving. Today, I am an author of children’s books, and English has become the language of my imagination. How did this happen? In part, the answer lies in the influence of The School Magazine, one of the world’s great literary treasures for children, which (rather incongruously) emanates from the very heart of a bureaucratic behemoth, the New South Wales Department of Education.
The School Magazine, which turns 90 this year and is the oldest literary magazine in Australia and, I think, the oldest children’s literary magazine in the world, was first published on 1 February 1916, just in time for the new school year. Its full title then was The School Magazine of Literature for Our Boys and Girls, and its function was to provide every primary school child in New South Wales with good stories, poems, plays, extracts from novels, facts and fun – all for free. From the very first issue, the Magazine demonstrated its belief that ‘only the best is good enough for children’, as Walter de la Mare said. And that best included both Australian writers, such as Mary Gilmore, Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson, and those further afield, such as William Wordsworth, Alfred Tennyson and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as well as nursery rhymes, fairy tales and animal stories, all illustrated with line drawings and reproductions of paintings.
Today The School Magazine is no longer a humble black-and-white single-part monthly journal, as it was at the beginning, but a glossy full-colour publication, produced in four monthly parts, each intended for different reading ages and called Countdown, Blast Off, Orbit and Touchdown. Economic rationalism has meant – very sadly, in my opinion – that the Magazine is no longer distributed to every pr
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