Rebecca Young

Matt Ottley

Scholastic Press, 2015

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


“Once there was a boy who had to leave home…and find another.” As he climbs into an open rowboat, armed with just a book, a bottle and a blanket in his backpack he clutches a teacup filled with the earth from where he used to play.  As he sails over the seas, sometimes rough and wild, sometimes smooth and calm, through light and dark days constantly watching for a speck that would grow into a new land he is reminded of what he has left and understands how things can change with a whisper.  But throughout his seemingly endless journey he protects his teacup of soil and watches a miracle begin. 

Born from the story of her family’s own journey, Rebecca Young has created a most delicate and sensitive narrative that encapsulates the experience of leaving the familiar for the new, whether literal or metaphorical.  We don’t know learn why the boy has left home – that is up to the reader to speculate based on individual experience – but for anyone who has had to take that first step on an unfamiliar path, the shades of dark and light, the feeling of forward and backward, the heights of the ups and the depths of the downs will be familiar. But at no stage does the reader lose a feeling that there will be a positive ending.  Hope shines through both the words and the pictures and the final double spread captures the innate optimism of life.

Matt Ottley’s illustrations are exquisite. Using a carefully chosen palette and a remarkable vision, they echo the sparse text interpreting the mood and the theme. As well as the physical threat and comfort of the sea, they also symbolise the threats and comforts of life itself and the individual’s need and ability to navigate them. Ottley says, “…it was the most beautiful picture book I’d ever read. It is such a huge story about the human spirit, about loss and grief, love and joy, about beauty and also high adventure.” He describes being able to interpret the words as “an artist’s dream”.

This is a story that is rich in opportunities to accompany an inquiry unit about immigration and emigration as well as for older students to think about the journeys they are about to embark on as they become more independent and adventurous.  There are very useful teachers’ notes available that will enable this to be an enriching and enlightening read for those in Year 5+


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