7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #758:
Featuring Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr

h1 August 29th, 2021 by jules

“Time to play, Little Bird, time to spin across the sky.”


Little Bird’s Day, arriving in October (Blue Dot Kids Press), comes from author Sally Morgan and illustrator Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr. It’s the story of a day in the life of Little Bird — from the “rising and shining” of the Sun to the arrival of Moon, “glowing and whispering.” Both author and illustrator are Indigenous Australians: Sally belongs to the Palyku people from the eastern Pilbara region of Western Australia. Johnny is a Yolŋu artist from the Ganalbingu clan in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia, and his paintings depict both Ganalbingu songlines and his mother’s Wägilak clan stories.

This is Johnny’s picture book debut; as the winner of the Kestin Indigenous Illustrator Award in 2017, he was asked to illustrated Sally’s manuscript, and this book — originally published in Australia in 2019 — was born.

The story is told from Little Bird’s perspective — with some comments in italics from the elements in nature who speak to the creature: “Time to strech, Little Bird, time to sing the world alive,” says Sun. (As the Kirkus review notes, it’s a kind of call-and-response.) Little Bird wakes friends; feels Wind; feasts on flowers; glides with Cloud and “feathery friends”; bathes in Rain; and joins at Dusk “a nightfall roost” to dream of “flying among the stars.” The text is spare and features moments of pleasing alliteration: “I flutter with Rain to wash my fuzzy feathers.” Much like a child would, Little Bird seeks friends, food, shelter, camaraderie.

The illustrations feature a limited palette of earth tones and a host of animals local to the Arnhem Land region. (The book closes with a can-you-find-them-all challenge.) A note on the book’s final spread gives context to the artwork we see throughout, created using acrylic paints on rag paper:

Johnny’s illustrations reflect the distinct style of Yolŋu artwork. The color palette is based on the natural pigments of red, yellow, black, and white, and the animals are embellished with cross-hatching, a traditional raark design. …

The same note directs readers here to see how he creates his art. (Here is his page.)

Little’s Birds adventures with the earth where he makes his home are mesmerizing. Here are some spreads. (Please note that the colors as you see them below appear slightly different than they do in the book.)


“I warble with Sun to wake the lazy sleepers.”
(Click spread to enlarge)


“Here comes Rain, falling and splashing.
Time to bathe, Little Bird, time to sparkle with freshness.”
(Click spread to enlarge)


(Click spread to enlarge)


(Click spread to enlarge)



* * * * * * *

LITTLE BIRD’S DAY. Original Australian edition text © Sally Morgan, 2019. Original Australian edition illustrations © Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr, 2019. Original North American edition © 2021 Blue Dot Publications LLC. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Blue Dot Press, San Francisco.

* * * Jules’s Kicks * * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

1) This man in Tennessee (not far from where I live), whoever he is.

2) A long walk with a friend.

3) I realize it’s a kind of privilege in and of itself to say, I can’t take the news anymore right now, and I’m going to walk away for a bit. But I did that this week. And in turning to music, I rediscovered my love for the music of Crowded House (not the one-hit wonder most people assume they were), which I listened to over and over in my 20s. They made some excellent albums, and I’d forgotten. So, I’ve been listening to them all week. Here’s their best song (especially lyrically):



4) A nice, long conversation this week with Grace McKinney. Go read her blog!

5) Barry Jenkins.

6) This is neat.

7) I contributed (scroll down a bit here) to Emi Bagshaw’s “The Best Children’s Books of All Time to Read this CBCA Book Week.”

What are YOUR kicks this week?

6 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #758:
Featuring Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr”

  1. I love the color tones are beautiful in Little Bird’s Day.
    Jules, I hear you about walking away from the news and the privilege of that. Music is a balm for the soul.
    My kicks 1 -7 this week is a road trip to SoCal to see family. Home Tuesday.
    Have a great week.

  2. Jone, safe travels and enjoy the trip!

  3. Hi Imps! Hope the end of the month treats you and yours well.

    Hi Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr, and hello Little Bird!

    Jules: That reminds me of Elbow’s fantastic “elbowrooms” remote performances: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCxP0ozB7P0&list=PLVsFc2HXot6HVAoP4vvGl06ssuIuAoxI5 Congrats on the contribution!

    Jone: I echo Jules’ sentiments: Safe travels, and have fun!

    My kicks:
    1) Trying
    2) Okay
    3) Interesting
    4) Considering
    5) Motion
    6) Organization
    7) Right

  4. I love this book and these gorgeous illustrations! The indigenous art and storytelling of Australia has always been fascinating and incredibly compelling to me, so love discovering new artists and storytellers.

    Jules – that anonymous man in TN is clearly an awesome human. That Barry Jenkins interview is beautiful and inspiring in its raw honesty and truth. Started the Grace McKinney interview and will be going back to finish, as well as reading her blog – she cracked me up.

    Jone – safe travels this week! Hope you have a wonderful trip.

    Little Willow – love kicks 1,2,3 and 5 the most this week. Thanks for sharing that lovely video/song.

    My kicks this week:
    1) I was MIA last week because I was in Bend, Oregon to attend the Celebration of Life Memorial for a good friend’s dad. It seems like a weird kick, but Andy was 90 years old, a true one-of-a-kind and lived an absolutely amazing life. His absence will be felt, but we were all so lucky to know him and his joyous life-spirit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMzzyqtSXG0
    2)Having good friends to care for Daisy while I was away.
    3) The beauty of Oregon that I encountered on my drive to Bend. It was my first road trip out of Portland since the pandemic started in 2020, and so nice to see the mountain forests and the high desert along the way.
    4) Finding a mix-cd a few weeks ago that a friend made back in law school has had me looking and listening to old music again (Jules – is the nostalgia in the air or what?) and I have been listening a lot of music from the 90s and my L.A. days. The Wild Colonials album Fruit of Life was in heavy rotation back then, and hearing it again took me back instantly to those memories.
    5) More music – Diane Warren’s new album Songs From the Cave, Vol 1 is really good. “Where Is Your Heart” sung by John Legend, is heartbreaking, and “I Save Me” sung by Maren Morris is great. “Seaside” with Rita Ora, Sofia Reyes and Reik is an upbeat and fun end-of-summer vibe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8rnRRjiH7M
    6) My friend got me hooked on the Netflix series The Last Kingdom.
    7) Went to a local Farmers Market this morning and scored some great fresh produce and flowers, as well as fish tacos for brunch.
    7.5) Daisy turned 15 and we have been lowkey about it, but she had a great day yesterday – went to underwater treadmill and then got a puppacino on the way home. She is such a good reminder to me to find joy in the little things.

    Have a good week everyone!

  5. Little Willow, you know I love Elbow moments. What a great song that is too.

    Rachel: We are watching Underground Railroad, and it is mighty compelling. So glad you had a good, if bittersweet, trip. Love your fourth kick. Happy birthday to Daisy! (p.s. Falvie is a great name, and what a hearthrob, dating all seven of the girls in his class.)

  6. Happy belated birthday, Daisy! Give her a hug from me, Rachel – or a gentle pat, or a treat, whichever she prefers!

    Jules: Did you see? They just announced they have a new album coming out in November!!!

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