Tom Tom by Rosemary Sullivan

Tom Tom by Rosemary Sullivan



Tom Tom by Rosemary Sullivan

Title:               Tom Tom
Author:           Rosemary Sullivan
Illustrator:       Dee Huxley

Rosemary Sullivan was born in Darwin and grew up on a property near Adelaide River in the Northern Territory. After attending Batchelor Area School and then Clayfield College, Brisbane, she worked for several years as a journalist. At just 20 years of age she had her mid-life crisis, and changed careers, training at the Northern Territory University (now Charles Darwin University) to become a primary teacher. Rosemary has a particular interest in indigenous education, and for the past 17 years has worked in regional and remote schools in the Top End of the Northern Territory, including several one teacher schools. Currently she is the Teaching Principal of a small school on a cattle station 200 km south-west of Darwin, which is part of the Top End Group School. She believes children’s books need to celebrate the innocence and joys of childhood, and pursues her interest in writing amidst a full-time professional career, single-handedly raising twins, and helping out (however slightly) at her family’s cattle station. In the dedication Rosemary says, Tom Tom  “ is dedicated to the memory of Marie-Louise Yanthalarr Minjin, and to all the Tom Toms I have taught, and who have taught me. Thank you. RJS”.

Dee Huxley has been illustrating picture books for many years and is now one of the most popular and well-known illustrators in Australia. Dee studied design and craft at the National Art School, East Sydney. After graduating she taught visual arts in secondary schools in Australia and London, and later worked as a graphic designer for television. A freelance illustrator since 1976, her work is displayed in galleries nationally and

internationally. Three of her books, Mr. Nick’s Knitting (1989), Rain Dance (2001), and You and Me Our Place (2008) were short-listed for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year Award. Dee lives in Sydney and teaches illustration and design part-time. She uses a wide range of media and techniques, and changes her style to suit the mood and subject of each picture book.

Tom Tom is a warm, simple story about a small boy, Tom Tom, who lives with his large extended family in an Aboriginal community in the Top End of the Northern Territory. The story follows Tom Tom as he plays and swims and dives with his sisters and brothers and cousins. He has lunch with his Granny Annie in the bottom camp, and spends the night with Granny May and grandfather Joe in the top camp. He goes to pre-school, where he makes up stories and paints pictures about his own world – making and cooking damper, just like Granny May makes for his supper; and painting a picture of the black cockatoos. Rosemary Sullivan's simple text and Dee Huxley's vivid illustrations capture the warmth and security of Tom Tom's world and highlights the importance of family and interconnectedness in Aboriginal life.

Tom Tom has a simple, straight-forward narrative structure.On the first pages the reader is introduced to Tom Tom, his mother, and his many, many other relatives. The story then follows Tom Tom through a sequence of events, with scenes introduced through the use of transitional language, ‘Every day…’, ‘When he is tired from swimming…’, ‘When he wakes up…’, ‘At preschool…’. The warm relationships between Tom Tom and his family are simply conveyed, ‘Sometimes his mother calls him Tom, and sometimes she calls him Tommy’, ‘…and all his other relatives call him tom Tom’, ‘He snuggles up with granny May and Grandfather Joe’. The language is lyrical, ‘(The children) swing way, way out and fall SPLASH into the cool clear water of the spring. And also introduces elements of humour, ‘The water in the Lemonade Springs tastes just like – water.’


Dee Huxley used pastel, gesso and coloured pencils for the illustrations in Tom Tom. Each double page spread bleeds to the edge of the page. This technique, and the use of warm earth tones of sienna, ochre and orange, and sparkling blue, turquoise and green, of the springs underlines the significance of land and water in the lives of Tom Tom and his family.  Dee Huxley draws the characters with loose, fluid lines - often as faint, distant images.  Her images beautifully and simply capture the strong bonds of kinship within this small community. For example, the picture of Tom Tom and Granny Annie waving to each other as he and his dog approach her house; the picture of Tom Tom snuggled up between Granny May and Grandfather Joe; and the pictures of the children heading for, and playing in the Lemonade Springs. Dee Huxley uses different perspectives in her illustrations to capture the intimacy of Tom Tom’s life against the sweeping breadth of the land and sky. Several pictures provide expansive landscape views, while others focus closely on Tom Tom. The endpapers provide an aerial view of the setting.


  • This story highlights the importance of family relationships and connectedness in Aboriginal society.
  • The narrative subtly reveals how the responsibility of caring for children is shared across the extended family. Each family member has a different role to play in Tom Tom’s day.


  • Before reading the book
    • Talk about the story. E.g. This is a story about a boy called Tom Tom who is about your age. He lives in the Top End of the Northern Territory.
  • Look at a map of Australia to find out where this is in relation to where you live.
  • Then look at, and talk about the endpapers, which show a map of Tom Tom’s immediate environment. Point out where the action takes place – where Tom Tom lives, swims, goes to preschool, visits his grannies.
  • Show the children the pictures of the many people in Tom Tom’s life - his mum, his grannies, all his brothers, sisters, cousins etc.




  • Read the story:
  • Take time for the children to absorb the words and to look carefully at the pictures.
  • Draw the children’s attention to details in the pictures – human figures, animals and birds, vehicles that are just there, blending into the landscape.
  • Refer back to the endpapers to find out where each scene is occurring
  • After reading the story (these activities may take place over a number of days or weeks).
  • Discuss what Tom Tom does throughout the day. What does he do alone? What does he do with different members of his family?


  • Discuss who makes up Tom Tom’s family. Who are they? How many are there? What does Tom Tom do with each of them throughout the day?
  • Ask children about who makes up their own families. Who lives with you? Who else makes up your family? Grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, extended step-families?


  • Ask the children to talk about what they do with the different family members. When do you see granny / aunty / dad? Do you see them every day? At weekends? In the holidays? Where do they live?
  • Talk about how many different kinds of families there are, and how different family members can have different roles to play in children’s lives.


    • Talk about the degree of freedom and independence Tom Tom has and how this may differ from the lives of children in other communities – for instance children who live in big cities.
    • Ask children to tell stories about a day in their own life. These may be told to the group, written by the children, or transcribed by an adult for younger children.


    • The children can illustrate their stories – maybe referring the Dee Huxley’s illustration for Tom Tom, and using similar materials (pastels and coloured pencils)
    • Ask children to draw pictures of themselves and their own family members. Cut out the pictures attach to icy-pole sticks to make puppets for the children to use to recreate their stories.


    • These pictures may also be used to make a poster or a frieze. Write the names of different family members on the frieze. Drawn lines or strips of ribbon or paper could be used to link children with their own family members. 
    • Dramatise Tom Tom’s story. Dramatise the children’s stories.


    • Look carefully at the illustrations and talk about what techniques Dee Huxley uses to depict a sense of the vastness of the landscape (broad sweeps, colour), and the intimacy of the family relationships, and Tom Tom’s absorption in play (close-ups and the use of perspective – the picture of the black cockatoos looking down on Tom Tom when he is painting).
    • Ask the children draw maps of their own environment / community. Talk about how their map may be the same, or differ from the map of Tom Tom’s community.

Source: http://www.workingtitlepress.com.au/teachers_notes/Tom%20Tom%20Teacher%20Notes.doc

Web site to visit: http://www.workingtitlepress.com.au

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Tom Tom by Rosemary Sullivan


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Tom Tom by Rosemary Sullivan