Monday, September 29, 2008

Requirements for Australian Young Adult Literature

I'm noticing something about the young adult books I'm reading.

They mention Vegemite at least once-- and often multiple times.

I'm thinking this is a requirement in Australian literature.   Thou must mention Vegemite. Either that or I have completely underestimated the importance of Vegemite to Australians.  I mean I know Australians eat Vegemite, and I know it has important cultural significance.   I guess I just didn't grasp how really important it was.

I'm trying to think if we have a food like that in America--something that we'd find mentioned in almost every book.   Maybe coffee?    I mean in most American books, probably at least one character has coffee at one point.   I'm trying to think if the characters, in the novels I wrote, drank coffee?  They definitely didn't eat Vegemite.

Anyway, I finished reading Guitar Highway Rose.    I almost cried at the end; so for me that means the book was good.    I'll try to say something without giving anything away, which might mean I end up sounding incredibly vague and make no sense.  

I had feelings that maybe the book might give the wrong message to teens.  I feel it might give kids a sense of false hope--in a Parent Trap kind of way.  And I thought it also might promote a particular kind of behavior that could end up being dangerous.  

When reading the book, I thought teens might read this and get some bad ideas.    Then I thought, oh the hell with it.  The book was good.  It almost made me cry.   Who gives a shit if the message doesn't promote perfect behavior?

I liked the book and I recommend it.  

Now I'm reading Leaving Jetty Road.   I'm on page 19 (at the time of writing this) and Vegemite has already been mentioned.   Oh!  Here's something interesting.   I didn't notice this before.  The mom packs a picnic for the characters.  It includes "Squashed Vegemite" sandwiches and it also includes red Popsicles.   I didn't think Australian used the word "Popsicle".  I wonder if the language was changed for American readers.   Or maybe I'm wrong and sometimes Australians do use the word "Popsicle".

The book has also already mentioned Vegetarianism.   I'm eager to see where that goes.  I hope it's positive, and at least not too negative.  


Stephen Moore said...

I'd say the analogue for Vegemite in US culture would be peanut butter and jelly. Though not present in all stories with children, be it on the page or on the screen, it is one of the prototypical (stereotypical, even?) images of US childhood culture.

And popsicle is used here in Oz, at least to the extent that I'm aware of it being used here. Though icy-pole is by far more common, I think popsicle would refer to a type of icy-pole. For instance, when I think of popsicle, I imagine an icy-pole that it thin and cylindrical in shape, rather that the more generic rectangular shape of an icy-pole.

Dina said...


Maybe. It IS a very typical childhood food. Another one might be Kraft Mac & Cheese. I think Oreo cookies are another--probably an equivalent to Tim Tams. And they both include special ways of eating them.

Peanut butter & jelly, I think, has lost some of it's role in our culture because of the whole peanut allergy thing. Now a lot of schools won't allow it.

Maybe we'll start having to do Vegemite too.

Gina said...

I'm so glad to hear that you loved Guitar Highway Rose. I read it when it was first released (a long time ago, I worked with kids' books) and adored it. Also cried...

I agree, I immediately thought "peanut butter and jelly" as the Vegemite equivalent. A concept which confused me no end when I was a kid and didn't realise that jelly is not in fact jelly but jam!

If you're enjoying Aussie young adult literature, may I recommend Came Back To Show You I Can Fly by Robin Klein, and Thunderwith by Libby Hathorn, and (if you're interested) about a million others....

I've been enjoying your Aboriginal history of Australia :)

Dina said...


Hi! I'm so happy to hear from you. I've missed your comments.

What kind of work did you do for kid's books?

LOL about the jelly thing. In Port Stephens, I asked Jack's friend is she liked Peanut butter & jelly and she looked at me funny. I later realized what she must have thought. Her mom though said she didn't like peanut butter & jam either.

I don't. I'm not a big fan of Vegemite, but I'd take that over peanut butter & jelly ANY day!!!!

I would love to know what books you recommend. I need to make a copy of all these book suggestions I've gotten in comments and take it to the bookstore.

Gina said...

I've been meaning to say hello, I just seem to have been so flat out busy the last few I've been quietly reading, but not saying hi...

The kids books work I used to do was that I was the children's department manager and buyer for a very large bookstore. I made a point of reading as many kids books as I possibly could, and developed a real passion for them.

I'll have a look at my bookshelves tonight, and have a list of suggestions for you tomorrow!

I confess I have never tried peanut butter with jam. But I can't imagine it would be that great. As for Vegemite - call me un-Australian, but YUCK!!

Dina said...


That sounds like an awesome job! I think now that you say it, I remember you saying you didn't like Vegemite. Or someone said it. Maybe it wasn't you. Then you can know there's someone else out there who doesn't like Vegemite. Well, I mean an Australian who doesn't like Vegemite. I'm sure there are a lot of people elsewhere who don't like it.

Thanks about the list!!

Gina said...

It was probably me - although I do know plenty of Australians who hate vegemite. I think our obsession with it is a bit of a myth...

No worries about the list, will "talk" to you tomorrow!!

Gina :)

traceyleigh said...

It really is an integral part of every day life for many Australians: Vegemite that is. It is definitely something you need to be brought up on too I believe. You'll see me eat lots of it at breakfast time when you stay :-)

Read some of my lovely friend Penni Russon if you get a chance :-)

Tors said...

I have to confess... whenever I see a reference to vegemite in a storybook, it says to me, "Hey! Just in case you couldn't figure it out, we're Australian! See?? We eat vegemite!!"

I ate it when I was pregnant. It's supposed to be the richest source of B vitamins in the world. Honestly, though, it smells like a bullion cube and I hate it.

I love PB&J. I've raised my Aussie kids on PB&J. My husband turned up his nose, but I said, don't knock it til you try it. Now he eats it all the time. ;)

Dina said...

Gina: It might be a myth. Did you ever see the YouTube video. I think it's called "The Australians are Fooling Us All." It's all a joke, but this American guy goes on and on about how he thinks Vegemite is a conspiracy. The Australians PRETEND they like it and then the foolish American tourists try to act cool and eat it too. Then the Australians laugh when the Americans choke on it.

Tracey: Maybe I'll eat it with you. MAYBE. I see Penni Russon's blog sometimes. Does that count ; )
I look out for her book. I'm sure I'll be able to find it in Australia, but maybe here too. She has a series right. It's fantasy? I remember you telling me about it.

Tors: LOL. That's the idea I get too. I don't know if it's on purpose or not.
I LOVE jelly and I like bread. I just don't like the peanut butter bit. It grosses me out. I hate the smell. But I don't mind so much the more natural peanut butter...especially home-made. But I still don't like it mixed with jelly on bread.

Miss Fi said...

I've always associated the word "Popsicles" with the US.

My family and friends use iceblock if it is water based and ice cream is it is milk based.

Maybe the authors use vegemite to freak out readers from overseas?

Peanut butter and jelly would be the closest sandwich ingredient most of described in American books that I've read.

Flutter nutters sound delightly foreign and a bit sickly too.

Joh said...

I loved 'Guitar Highway Rose' and I think teenagers want stories that are real. When I read it I cried and felt it was very authentic and good. I'm glad you liked it. Will have to check out the Jelly road one, I've not come across it.
As for vegemite - I love it when I feel like it. What's not to love.

tiff said...

Really? Vegemite is in most books that are Australian? That's classic. Also, agree PB&J would be the American alternative.

Dina said...

miss fi: My feeling though is when they're they picture an overseas audience? I don't know if I ever had that in mind while I was reading. But I'm American and we're ethnocentric by default.

Joh: Leaving Jelly Road is VERY good. At least I think so. I highly recommend it.

Tiff: I haven't read that many young adult books yet so I wouldn't say "most" books. It could be a complete coincidence. Maybe I happened to read a handful of books in a row that talk about Vegemite. I am curious now. I'm going to start keeping track ; )

Ariane said...

I wonder how many times I would refer to vegemite in passing in my day to day life. Often, I'd suggest. Not least because vegemite toast is an essential part of my life, as default breakfast, and essential hangover breakfast.

I remember trying to like PB&J as a kid. PB belongs in satay, I just can't come at it any other way...

And as much as it is a cliche, a huge proportion of Aussies realise how much they miss vegemite when they go OS.

Dina said...


I agree about peanut butter. It belongs in Satay. Or cold sesame noodles. I LOVE that. Do they have it in Australia? I associate it with NYC. They rarely have it in places like Texas.

I just read two books that DIDN'T mention Vegemite. I kind of missed it. The two books were by the same author and they didn't have much of an Aussie feel to them. Not only wasn't there Vegemite, but there wasn't a lot of Aussie language/slang either. If I hadn't known the author was Australian, I would have never guessed the stories took place in Australia or had any connection to Australia. Maybe the author did that on purpose--maybe the books weren't supposed to have a definite setting.

Anyway, I was thinking the other day--I don't think there's an American food that's equivalent to Vegemite. It would have to be a food that almost all Americans eat on a regular basis (both children AND adults). And it would have to be something that's not really found in other countries.

Coffee is very frequently used here, but it's used in other countries as well. So it's not unique to us. It's not really special.

PB & J is popular, but mostly just with children. It's a symbol of childhood maybe, but not of America.