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Bill Baillie – The Life and Adventures of a Pet Bilby

Bill Baillie

Bill Baillie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill Baillie – The Life and Adventures of a Pet Bilby

Ellis Rowan

NLA Publishing, 2018

104pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780642279200

In the harsh, hot Western Australian desert, several hundred miles inland from Perth lies the town of Goongarrie, where, at the turn of last century, Tabitha, a painter, came to paint the wonders of the landscape and its inhabitants.  Despite its remoteness there were people there and each day they brought her “curious plants and queer beasts” to examine and paint.  

Among those “queer beasts” was a little creature – naked, five inches (12.5 cm) long at most, long legs with a strange eyelet mouth that had been attached to a teat in its mother’s pouch before she was killed in the sharp teeth of a deadly trap. Looking like he had given up and decided to die, it felt the warm, comforting hands of Tabitha around him and in that moment both were determined that he would live.  Bill Baillie’s life and adventures with this itinerant painter had begun!

And what a life it was – becoming famous and known as ‘Master Bill Baillie of Goongarrie” he travelled everywhere with Tabitha for the rest of his life, his energy unbounded, his curiosity unsated,  especially at night time which was his day, and his love for her unequalled. Getting into precarious situations, dodging a host of bilby enemies who wanted to eat him and travelling on trains and boats and wagons from Perth to Melbourne, Bill Baillie was Tabitha’s constant companion until his inevitable, sad death in her arms just two years later. 

“Tabitha’ is actually Ellis Rowan herself who was determined “to find and paint every wildflower on the continent”, and she initially wrote this story in 1908 at a time when having a native creature for a pet was considered a curiosity rather than a concern.  Using remarkable skill that keeps the reader intrigued and wanting to know more about these almost mythical creatures, Stephanie Owen Reeder has abridged the original using more accessible vocabulary and shorter chapters while omitting none of the drama of this curious relationship.  Rowan’s descriptions of the environment as viewed through the eyes of a painter are exquisite and the reader is transported to that vast lonely landscape with its brilliant colours and on-the-surface desolation brought to life.  Many of the original illustrations by Rowan and Hans Praetorius have been left in while others from the NLA’s collection of bilby paintings have also been included.

As is usual with NLA publications, the story is complemented by  several pages of further information, all based on the library’s relevant collections including the Rowan collection itself.  

Bilbies are an endearing but endangered species brought to our attention as the Australian symbol of Easter to raise awareness of the damage done to the environment by the introduced wild rabbits so the release of the charming story is fitting, with Easter on the horizon.

 

 

Reflection: remembering those who serve in war

Reflection: remembering those who serve in war

Reflection: remembering those who serve in war

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflection: remembering those who serve in war

Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg

Robin Cowcher

Walker Books, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781922179050

Left! Left! Left! Right! Left! We make our way in the dark.

On the one hand feet make their way to a commemorative service; on the other soldiers’ boots take them to the battlefront. 

As ANZAC Day approaches and the centenary commemorations of World War I continue, this book reminds us that Australians have been involved in wars since before we were even officially called Australia and that our presence is known and respected in wartorn countries even today.

Each double-page spread with its simple text and evocative illustrations juxtaposes the people at the commemorative ceremonies with soldiers in conflict throughout our history. From the title page where the family hurries out the door into darkness through to the endpapers with the iconic poppies that we associate with remembrance in this country the reader is taken on a journey through our military history in such a sensitive way. 

As the Dawn Service moves through prayers,  the raising of the flags, the lighting of candles, the placement of wreaths and poppies, silences and the familiar bugle call of The Last Post and Reveille so too we move through time –  The Boer War, World Wars I and II. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq I and II, Bosnia & Herzegovina, East Timor, Afghanistan – whether as combat troops or peacekeepers, Australians have had a role committing hundreds of thousands of men and women, each of whom deserves our respect and gratitude. While each page just has one factual statement of what is happening, the  illustrations bring a depth and dimension that inspire emotion and memories as the two marry together perfectly. From the sprig of rosemary somehow surviving the stomp of boots on the first page to the ghost-like images marching with the people on the last, there is a sense that this is an enduring commitment by military and civilian personnel alike.   One could not stand without the other.   

Thumbnail sketches of each conflict are provided at the end of the book and teachers notes’ are also available for those who want to use this as the first step in a deeper investigation for both History and English. It may even inspire some students to investigate the role that their family has had in the Services and given our multicultural population there may be students who have personal experiences to share that might give a unique insight that can’t be gleaned from picture books, no matter how stunning they are.

Something a little different to share this ANZAC Day, not only to remember the huge contribution that has been made but also to acknowledge those who have served and continue to serve so that those students who have had or still have family in the military forces understand that they are included in the thoughts and prayers.  The services are not just for the sacrifices made long ago on faraway battlefields by generations unknown, but for everyone who has served in the short 120 years of our united history.

We hear the sweet songs of morning. And we remember them.

 

Ruby in the Ruins

Ruby in the Ruins

Ruby in the Ruins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruby in the Ruins

Shirley Hughes

Walker Books, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99

9781406375893

“Ruby and Mum have lived through the terrifying London Blitz and are waiting for Dad to come home from the war. Ruby hardly recognizes the tall man who steps off the train, but when she falls in the ruins nearby, there’s only one person who she wants to rescue her.”

Even though the setting and time are very specific in this new story from multiple award-winner Shirley Hughes, it is one with universal application for all those children whose parents have been away for an extended time and their return means changes not just to regular routines but also having to get to know this stranger whose experiences have changed them as much as those left behind have changed.  It also has particular application to many of Australia’s children as it could be the story of their grandparents and great-grandparents  who came here after the huge disruptions caused by World War II, helping to put pictures into minds that previously had only heard words.  

We are so lucky not to have known the devastation and death of war on our doorstep but many of our new arrivals may be more than familiar with the scenes and the experiences so it needs a sensitive and knowledgeable adult to share this story, particularly if it is read aloud to a class.  An important story about the lives of children in another time while remembering it could also be the story of a child in our own time.

 

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts – Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts - Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts – Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts – Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods

Craig Phillips

Allen & Unwin, 2017

192pp., pbk., RRP $A24.99

9781760113261

Ever since there have been children there has been children’s literature and having children learn lessons about life through this literature has been a constant thread in every culture across the globe.  Since the earliest days of mankind, stories have been created and told from generation to generation not just to explain the unknown but also to inspire better, more mature and moral behaviour in children with dire consequences inflicted by fearful creatures if boundaries were breached.  Didacticism was alive and well with stories featuring giants, trolls, witches, beasts and other fantastic figures achieving amazing things, wreaking havoc, surviving disasters or decreeing punishments so that adults as well as children lived in fear of retribution for misdeeds.

Now, with modern communication and science, while such creatures do not have the power of fear they once had, nevertheless they are still a central part of today’s literature with stories like the Harry Potter series and Game of Thrones commanding huge audiences as well as a continuing fascination for those stories in which the modern have their origins.  But until now, these have been retold and republished in formats that tend to scream “younger readers” and from which those who see themselves as more mature than the “picture book brigade” shy away from regardless of the quality of the content.  So to have ten traditional tales from ten countries brought together in graphic novel format as creator Craig Phillips has done is going to create a buzz of excitement.  Here, in one superbly illustrated volume, are stories featuring giants, trolls, witches and beasts with all their magical powers and chilling feats and universal messages of courage and obedience. that will appeal to those who are fascinated by this genre in a format that will support and sustain their reading.

Phillips has kept his audience in mind as he has drawn – the imaginary creatures are all sufficiently gruesome and grisly so their characters are clear but not so much that they will inspire nightmares. The mix of familiar and unfamiliar characters offers something for each reader to explore and perhaps think about why stories from such diverse origins have such similar themes.  Is there indeed, a moral and ethical code that links humans regardless of their beliefs and circumstance?

One that will appeal to a wide range of readers and deserving of its place among the 2018 CBCA Notables.

 

Bird to Bird

Bird to Bird

Bird to Bird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bird to Bird

Clare Saxby

Wayne Harris

Black Dog, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781925381122

When a bird drops a seed to an English forest floor, who could imagine that that would be just the start of a journey that continued for generations across thousands of kilometers from its starting point?

A combination of minimal text from Clare Saxby, sublime illustrations from Wayne Harris and the reader’s imagination bring this story of nature, history, creativity and recycling together in a way that captures the imagination and inspires wonder. How could something as small as a seed have such a big future? That it could grow into a sapling then a tree which is harvested and become bunk beds on a convict ship bound for Australia.  And when that job was done its life was not over – it becomes a loom then a lean-to and then…

So often we explore life cycles with little people and we create a simple circle of birth>growth>reproduction>death, but we seldom explore much further.   Does the tomato that forms after pollination just drop to the ground or is it picked fresh and become part of a delicious recipe, or is it stored on a supermarket shelf picked over and not chosen, eventually becoming part of a compost heap?  Does a baby spider fly though the breezes to land far from its home-web and start a new colony or is it the victim of a foot or a can of bug spray?  Saxby has a much gentler conclusion for the seed her bird dropped but this story could spark a lot of investigation and imagination and new stories!

Teachers’ notes are available.

Gladys Goes to War

Gladys Goes to War

Gladys Goes to War

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gladys Goes to War

Glyn Harper

Jenny Cooper

Picture Puffin, 2016

32pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9780143507208

Auckland, New Zealand in the very early 20th century when girls were still supposed to be seen and not heard, despite having had voting rights since 1893 – still very much an English colonial mentality where they busied themselves with music, needlework and other “feminine” tasks.  However, unlike her sisters, Gladys was not good at such things, preferring instead to spend her time under the bonnet of her brothers’ cars and those of their friends.  

“No one will want to marry a mechanic” her mother told her, echoing the feelings and the culture of the times.  But her mother was wrong and in 1912 she met and married William Henning who taught her to drive and then set up a car sales business in Auckland. Being competent and comfortable in this “men’s world” meant that it was no surprise that when her husband and brothers enlisted when World War I broke out that Gladys wanted to go too.  But her efforts were met with the typical chauvinistic response of the times …”If you want to help the war effort, you should stay at home and knit socks and balaclavas.”

But they had underestimated Gladys’s determination and in 1916 with the assistance of the New Zealand Volunteer Sisterhood she was reunited with her husband in Egypt becoming an ambulance driver, and when he was sent to France she went to England.  But again male-dominated bureaucracy determined her place was in the hospital scrubbing floors not driving ambulances.  Until one evening, there was a shortage of drivers…

This is the story of just one of the many women who played an active part in World War I as doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and so much more, rather than being the stereotype wife/mother/ sister/ daughter who ‘kept the home fires burning’.  Despite their important contribution throughout history, so many women have been written out of it and when a request through a local network for a book for younger readers about World War I from a female perspective there was a paucity of replies.  Yet there are so many stories that could be told from both New Zealand and Australia.

Gladys was a pioneer in so many fields – in 1927, having survived both the war and Spanish flu, she and her friend Stella Christie became the first women to transverse Australia east to west and north to south in a car – and so bringing her wartime service to light is just the beginning of the stories that could be told about this remarkable woman.  But as well as her personal chronicle, this could be a springboard for having students investigate and retell the stories of other women whose contributions have been overshadowed by those of their male counterparts.  Searching the Australian War Memorial’s site for “women in war” is a good starting point.

But even if Gladys’s story is just shared as a standalone, it is a sound representation of #nevertheless,shepersisted 

 

Digger

Digger

Digger

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digger

Mike Dumbleton

Robin Cowcher

Allen & Unwin, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781760296735

A century ago.  Young Australian men were volunteering to got and join the forces fighting in World War I, seeing it as the greatest adventure of their lives and a way to escape the humdrum and hard times of home.  When James left, Annie stitched the name ‘Digger” on her favourite patchwork toy kangaroo and gave it to him as his farewell present. 

“A Digger for a digger”, she said.

Off went James and Digger  together, across endless, tireless seas and vast starry night skies to the battlefields and trenches of France.  And when the order came to advance, Digger was in James’s pocket.  He was there too, when James was evacuated to a French farmhouse to recover from his injuries, and Digger was mended too, this time by Colette who carefully replaced all his broken stitches. And he was still there when James was well enough to return to his unit.  He is even there when the worst happens… 

Inspired by and written as a tribute to the French schoolchildren who once tended the graves of Australian soldiers who died on the Western Front in the heroic battle for Villers-Bretonneux in April 1918, this is a touching story gently told and illustrated that brings the human side of war to life as well as commemorating the connections made that still live on

As the final centennial commemorations of this terrible time draw to a close, this is a special book to share as it demonstrates how the thinnest threads can connect us through the toughest time, and love and harmony and safe haven can grow from the smallest things.

A superb addition for Remembering Gallipoli

Every story has a hero

Every story has a hero

Oma’s Buttons

Oma's Buttons

Oma’s Buttons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oma’s Buttons

Tania Ingram

Jennifer Harrison

Penguin Viking, 2018

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9780143786573

Ruthie loved going to visit her Oma and doing all the wonderful things that grandmothers and their grandchildren do together – baking, singing, playing … One day she discovers a small tin under Oma’s bed – a small tin which holds BIG memories!  For in it were lots of buttons, each one representing a special person in Oma’s life.

And so Ruthie learns about the people who had passed through Oma’s life, each one special and significant like the red button that was from her mother’s apron because she loved to bake; the little wooden button from her father who taught her how to be brave; the blue button from the suit Opa was wearing on the day he proposed…   Even Ruthie is in there through the green button off her first dress. 

Fascinated she listens to all the stories , until she finds a beautiful button at the bottom of the tin – from Oma’s favourite coat and so Ruthie asks if she can have it to remind her of Oma.  That button goes with her everywhere that day, even to the park where it slips through a hole in the pocket in her jacket and is lost forever.  Ruthie is devastated but then Oma shows her the best memory button in the world…

This is a most beautiful book dedicated to the author’s mother-in-law who  was born in a displaced persons camp in Kematen, after her family had to flee the occupation in WWII and whose early experience as a refugee gave her an appreciation of family traditions and holding onto the memories of those we love.  Her button tin inspired the story and the love between her mother-in-law and her daughter shines through on every page as the story and memories of each button is shared and celebrated, clearly based on real events.   

Jennifer Harrison’s stunning illustrations are so photograph-like that each person comes to life so the reader not only feels they know them better but is also transported back to memories of their own special people – a grandmother who made porridge and served it with brown sugar as the familiar fanfare heralded the 8.00am news and taught me to make the traditional Kiwi favourites like pavlova; a grandfather who walked miles with us over the beaches and rocks of one of the southernmost towns in the world and who taught me to love the eternal, restless sea; a father returned from being a POW in World War II determined his kids would be brought up in peace and who taught me to look for the silver lining in everyone; a mother who insisted on keeping her hard-fought for career and who taught me to follow my dreams

Sadly, all are gone now as is my Nanna’s button tin, lost in international moves and the passing decades – but the memories are rich and alive. 

Tania Ingram and Jennifer Harrison have written an important book that will encourage reminiscing, perhaps even an investigation into why families are who they are for we all belong to someone, somewhere and we are all loved.  One to be treasured as much as the buttons.

Lyla

Lyla

Lyla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyla

(Through My Eyes-Natural Disasters  series)

Fleur Beale

A & U Childrens, 2018

208pp., pbk., RRP $A 16.99

9781760113780

DISCLAIMER: This will be neither an impartial nor an unemotional review. For one who called Christchurch home for many years, particularly those formative years of my schooling and teacher education, and for whom so much that was so familiar is now gone, it is impossible to be objective when the places and events are so well-known.  Although I was not there during the earthquake I have made trips back and I still can’t get my head around it.

February 22, 2011 and life has returned to normal for Lyla and her friends Katie and Shona after the 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck – that’s if having the earth move under your feet several times a day and making a game of guessing the magnitude can be considered normal. Even the daily reminder of the main block of their school, Avonside Girls’ High, being damaged and unusable has been set aside as they try to do the things that 13 and 14 year olds students do. Caught in town at 12.51pm when ‘the big one’ hit, their lives are plunged into chaos as buildings collapse and  people panic as the air fills with dust making visibility almost impossible.

While it is possible to watch endless news coverage, read articles and information it is impossible to know what a natural disaster such as this is really like unless you are part of it and experience it for yourself.  So while I had watched and read and listened and learned, spoken to family and friends who were in the thick of it and even returned home and visited the backyard of such a major part of my life, it was not until reading Lyla that I got a real understanding of what it was to be in the moment.  Beale has drawn on stories of the events of the day and the months following and woven them into a narrative that is both scary and un-put-downable that illustrates not just individual heroism but that sense of community among strangers that seems to emerge when humans are put under such duress – made all the more haunting when you can picture the reality of the setting which is a well-known as the face in the mirror.

In the beginning, there is the fear for family and friends as both Lyla’s mother, a police officer and her father, a trauma nurse at Christchurch Hospital are unaccounted for and she is separated from Shona and Katie in the chaos as the SMS service goes into meltdown, and while they are eventually found to be OK that need to know family is safe means that all families have an earthquake plan much the same as Australians have a bushfire plan. The theme of needing to be with others is strong throughout as neighbours have a need to eat and sleep and be together even if they have a habitable home to go to, and enduring and unusual friendships and bonds are formed.   

There is also a strong thread of Lyla feeling powerless because of her age but finding things she can do that make a difference such as babysitting her neighbour’s children so their mother can return to the medical centre where she works; helping shovel the oozing, stinking liquefaction for elderly neighbours; setting up a charging station for those still without electricity… seemingly minor things within the big picture but nevertheless critical to her mental health at the time.

But like so many then and now, the situation becomes overwhelming. Despite hearing the harrowing tales of others and the rising death toll, and the news of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and telling herself that compared to them she is in great shape, Lyla succumbs and needs qualified medical intervention.  This is another strength of the story – given that seven years on the city still has not recovered it was never going to have a happy, all-is-fine ending, so having Lyla denying help because the common thinking is that the people of Christchurch are somehow more resilient than others, that because her home isn’t munted she should be okay, but nevertheless accepting it and going some way towards recovery shines a light on the okay-ness of needing assistance to get things back in balance.  This particularly poignant in light of the subsequent increase in suicides, unprecedented demand for psychological help and the continuing need for support as there has been a 73% increase in the number of children who need support for mental health issues in Christchurch.

While this has been an emotional read for me, it and the others in both this series and its twin focusing on children living in conflict are essential elements of both the curriculum and the collection as they offer the ‘colour and detail’ to the stark monochrome sketches of news reports, websites and other information-only sources.  They are the blend of imagination and information that such fiction can offer that leads to insight and understanding.  

Seven years on, long after the event has disappeared from the news headlines and faded from the memories of those not directly involved,  the reality of that time is still in-your-face on every corner of Christchurch and will be for many years to come – Lyla and her friends will be 20 now, confronted by images and memories of that day still, just as anyone who has lived and loved Christchurch is.  For now Ruaumoko, the Maori god of earthquakes has settled a little (even though there were 25 quakes in the week preceding the anniversary, albeit peanuts compared to the 15669 on that day in 2011) but like her friends, family and all those who chose to remain in Christchurch to rebuild their lives and their city one wonders when he will wake again.

185 empty white chairs

185 empty white chairs surrounded by empty spaces, broken buildings and a gloomy sky – September 2015

 

 

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shout Out to the Girls: A Celebration of Awesome Australian Women

Random House Australia, 2018

210pp., hbk., RRP  $A29.99

9780143789420

In recent reviews such as Barney and the Secret of the French Spies,  Women in Science and Three Cheers for Women I have challenged readers to consider a woman whose story, they believe, needs telling.  The problem is that when it comes to uncovering these stories few have been revealed and so it is those of the “usual suspects” that are told and retold.  

But now, this new publication from Random House Australia opens a whole new range of women whose lives and work need to be given “a public expression of thanks”.  Although we find people like Cathy Freeman, Germaine Greer and Mary Mackillop featured, there are dozens of new names like Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Rachel Perkins, and Felicity Wishart whose names might only be known to those in that particular field of endeavour. There are also those of more recent heroes like Sia, Carrie Bickmore and Turia Pitt making this an exploration of significant women in our girls’ lives, not just women in history with whom they may feel no connection. 

All in all over 50 women have a brief one-page biography accompanied by an illustration from a range of illustrators. However, the book also acknowledges all those who have made a contribution to the field, not just the “poster person” for it.  For example, while Magda Szubanski is celebrated for “helping us laugh and speaking the truth”, there is a shout out “Brava for the women who make their own roles on stage, on screen and in life”; Rosie Batty for “her compassion and bravery” but also to “the courageous and strong women who speak out for the vulnerable”; and Mum Shirl for “unwavering dedication and generosity” as well as thanks to all “the advocates and activists who give so much of themselves to help others in need”. There is a feeling of inclusivity that we are drawn into as though someone, somewhere is acknowledging that which we do as we go about our daily lives.

There is even a shout-out to the reader for picking up the book wanting to learn about awesome Australian women while the very last entry is a shout-out to the Smith Family to whom all royalties will be donated so they can continue helping Australian kids get the most from their education.

From the front cover depicting a range of Australian native flowers because like Australian women, its flowers “aren’t wilting violets; they are strong and tough, and have evolved to endure extreme environments” this is an intriguing book in its design and content that must be in every library’s collection if we are to continue to reveal and tell the stories of our women and how they have contributed so much to the life that we enjoy today, holding up mirrors, staring through windows, marching through doors and breaking down barriers.  

Again I ask, “Whose story will you tell?”