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Storm Whale

Storm Whale

Storm Whale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Storm Whale

Sarah Brennan

Jane Tanner

Allen & Unwin, 2017

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

9781760293642

Bleak was the day and the wind whipped down when I and my sisters walked to town …

Surrounded by seabirds being buffeted every which way, wild waves  crashing on the shore and bitten by a chill wind that blew their skirts high, turned their legs blue and made their hair fly like a brumby’s tail, three sisters make their way to the beach undaunted by nature’s fury.  In fact they are delighting in it.  But that soon turns to anguish when they spot a whale stranded on the high tide line.  

Scarred old mariner, beached in hell,

Far from the cradling ocean swell,

Far from the peace of the ocean deep

Where ancient fugitives find their sleep.

Swept by the tide to its farthest reach,

Left with the kelp on the hard wet beach…

Dark as a demon, dull of eye

Waiting in silence to drift…or die

All day the girls battle to keep the whale alive, unperturbed by the weather and the waves soaking them to the skin.  But as dark rolls in and the driving rain sends them home, they have to leave the whale to its fate.  Even the cosy warmth of the fire doesn’t warm their hearts and their night is restless but dream-filled as the storm rages on.  Next morning they hasten back to the beach and discover a miracle…

Written in the most poetic language and accompanied by the most evocative illustrations, Storm Whale took me right back to my childhood in a seaside town at the very south of the South Island of New Zealand – next stop Antarctica- and brought back haunting memories of storms with wild winds that crashed the waves onto the rocks and made for the most exciting times.  While whales abounded, they didn’t become stranded on that part of the coastline although it was common on beaches not too far distant.  This is a story that not only paints a different picture of the seaside as the benign summer holiday playground of many of our students but brings to life the fury and magnificence of Nature and the insignificance of even those as mighty as whales in her power.   

The rhyming text suggest the ceaseless rhythm of the ocean and indeed, life itself, while both words and pictures give a subtle but strong message of respect and the need to appreciate, value and conserve.  

A most moving book that will touch the reader on many levels.

The Most Perfect Snowman

The Most Perfect Snowman

The Most Perfect Snowman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Perfect Snowman

Chris Britt

Balzer & Bray, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A34.99

9780062377043

Built in the first flurry of winter snow, Drift was the loneliest of snowmen.  With his stick arms, small mouth and coal eyes he stood forlorn and forgotten amongst the bare winter trees.  He dreamed of having a smart scarf, warm gloves and a long orange carrot nose like the other snowmen so he could join in their banter, their fashion parades, snowball fights and other fun stuff.  But he was too plain and different to be included, so his days were spent swooshing and sliding through the woods, stopping and standing in the shadows to watch the others at play.

Then one day some children gave Drift all that he wanted – a fluffy blue hat, warm mittens, a soft scarf and even a long orange carrot nose.  Suddenly the other snowmen found him acceptable now that he had his new accessories and watched as he played all afternoon with his new friends.  But that night a blizzard blew and Drift lost his smart new clothes and no matter how hard he looked, he couldn’t find them. All he had left were his scarf and his long orange carrot nose.  Then he heard a tiny voice – a little bunny was lost in the snow, frightened and shivery cold.  Drift knows he can save the bunny by wrapping it in his soft scarf and giving it his long orange carrot nose but can he bear to part with them? Can he go back to being that plain snowman with skinny stick eyes, a small nose and coal eyes?

As winter begins to grip southern Australia and some parts are seeing early snowfalls, this is a charming story about what it means to be “perfect” and whether it is about looking a particular way or having the right things or whether it runs deeper than that. What is the meaning of the old adage “Clothes maketh the man” and is it true?  Are we more visible and therefore perhaps more powerful because of our external appearance?

It also raises the concepts of selfishness and selflessness and whether even giving just a little can make any difference.  Do we need to be applauded and rewarded for doing something kind or should it be enough to within that we have made a difference?  Do we have to be the person giving the boldest and brightest present at birthday parties or is it the phone call saying thank you afterwards that is most remembered?

The soft palette echo the gentleness of both the story and its message but this is more than just a story to welcome winter.

 

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fabish: the horse that braved a bushfire

Neridah McMullin

Andrew McLean

Allen & Unwin, 2016

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

9781925266863

Bushfires are part of the Australian landscape and psyche.  Even though we know they are a necessary part of the life cycle of the indigenous flora, we still brace ourselves each summer hoping that we won’t be affected by one that season.  When they do strike though, news reports are cluttered with statistics of acreage burnt, homes and buildings destroyed, and too often, lives lost.  Seldom do we hear of the wildlife that is caught up in them, those that can’t clamber into a car and head to safety, although occasionally there are tragic photos of fields of dead sheep or heart-warming ones of a firey giving a koala a drink from his water bottle.  

In this book, based on real events that emerged from the tragic Black Saturday fires in Victoria in 2009, we are taken to Tarnpirr Farm in Narbethong in north-east Victoria where trainer Alan Evett tried desperately to save the horses in his care. With expensive thoroughbreds to save, Evett had no choice but to set retired favourite Fabish and the seven young horses he led free from their paddock to fend for themselves while he cared for those he hustled into the stables.  All around the fire raged, Evett working tirelessly on spot fires and keeping the horse calm, while outside…

Thankfully, the fire dragon passed over the top of the building even though it ate everything else in its path and when morning came, Evett emerged to a scene of utter desolation.   Although he had saved the life of the racehorses. Evett feared he would never see his old mate Fabish again.  Climbing into an old ute that had somehow escaped too, he drove out through the paddocks to be met by more devastation and disaster.  Standing in the smoke-filled ruins of what had been his landscape and livelihood he mourned for Fabish and the yearlings until…

Together McMullin and McLean have brought to life not only the story of Fabish and all the other horses like him, but also the sights, sounds and the smells of a fire that once experienced can never be forgotten. Through carefully chosen vocabulary and evocative pictures the reader is drawn into the story hoping for a good outcome. The fire dragon is indiscriminate when it attacks and young children are often caught up in it just as grown-ups are, and their questions are often about the animals and how they survived.  In the aftermath when adults are busy doing the adult things they must, the children are often left wondering and so to have an uplifting story like this that not only demonstrates the determination and courage of those like Alan Evett who put their charges’ welfare before their own but also has a happy ending can go some way to alleviate their fear that everything is destroyed.

Sensitive in its approach, even those children who can remember the fires will relate to it although some discretion might be needed if there have been recent fires in your area because even though it is heart-warming we must be conscious of the memories it might evoke. For those who want to know more, Fabish was honoured a year later at the Healesville Picnic Races  and while Evett died not long after, his heroic story and that of Fabish are becoming more widely known as this book is shortlisted for the 2017 CBCA Eve Pownall Award.

A story for horse lovers as well as those exploring the impact of bushfires on the landscape.  

Fabish and his yearlings, picture courtesy Racing Victoria Ltd.

Fabish and his yearlings

Home in the Rain

Home in the Rain

Home in the Rain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home in the Rain

Bob Graham

Walker Books, 2016

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

9781406368239

It is time for Mum and Francie to head home from Grandma’s. Despite the fact that it is bucketing down rain and the highway is crowded with buses, oil tankers, trucks and other cars they feel safe and secure in their little red car – as safe and secure as the baby tucked away in mum’s womb.

As the rain continues to tumble soaking everything in its path – good for the mouse obscured from the kestrel’s view but not so good for Marcus out fishing with his dad with the water dribbling down his neck- Mum pulls into the picnic spot to have the lunch Grandma has prepared. As they sit their breaths fog up the window, and, cloistered in this intimate environment, like all children, Francie cannot resist writing her name on the window.  After she writes her own, she writes Mum and Daddy but there is a window left, waiting for the name of the new sister due soon.  But what will it be?

With his gentle, detailed, watercolour-wash illustrations and carefully chosen text, once again Bob Graham has taken the most ordinary of situations and crafted a touching, memorable story that brings beauty to the mundane, something from very little. The climax of the story where Mum chooses the baby’s name comes in a dirty, busy petrol station – the antithesis of where such a memorable moment is likely to occur, although Graham finds the beauty as Francie splashes in the rainbows of the oil-water puddles.

Our names are our most personal possession and children are always curious to find out why their parents chose the names they did so this is the perfect opportunity for them to investigate how they came to be called what they are.  It is also an opportunity to compare the various reasons as well as investigate popular names, collect data and share what they learn.

At the same time there is much to talk about being caught in the rain. where the rain comes from, how it makes you feel and why windows clog up. Further afield, they can look to the impact of the rain on the landscape – why has Graham introduced the rabbit, the mouse, the kestrel, the ducks, the fishermen, Marcus, even the two men who have had a bingle in the car?  

As is typical in his books, Graham has included so much with more to be discovered and considered each time it is shared.  Shortlisted for the 2017 CBCA Picture Book of the Year award, this is one that will be hard to beat.