NLA Publishing, 2015
40pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
Strange things are happening to Bertie, Jessie’s beloved teddy bear. One minute he is in Jessie’s arms as she sits on her trunk at the start of the family’s move into the unknown territory of the Outback and the next he is bundled into a squishy, smelly box! There is no room for him in the family’s cart and poor Bertie is bewildered. Even moreso when he is bumped along – badoumph, badoumph, badoumph – as part of the cargo on the camel train.
Night brings starlit skies and cold air rather than the warmth of Jessie’s arms as the cameleers shelter around their desert fire.
One of the camel drivers takes him up onto the camel but in a fierce sandstorm which whistles and screams and stings, Bertie topples off unnoticed – and then his real adventures begin. Will he ever find his beloved Jessie again?
Author Janeen Brian first met Bertie in an exhibition of toys, books and games in Kapunda, South Australia. Being rather old, he was a bit battered and bruised and looked like he had a story to tell – which he did. The information on the accompanying card said that he’d been sent as a gift to little Jessie May Allchurch who lived at the Telegraph Station in Alice Springs and after a lot of research, Brian discovered Bertie’s real story was full of riches and she needed to let him have one more adventure.
Told through Bertie’s voice and feelings it is both a heart-wrenching and heart-warming story that evokes all the emotions of being separated from a loved one. Bertie is frightened and bewildered at being alone, scared by the unknown noises and strange creatures as Brian openly acknowledges those feelings that readers have, almost giving them permission to experience and express them. They are real and natural and nothing to be ashamed of. Accompanied by illustrations that are full of the colour of the outback and rich in detail in a landscape often viewed as a vast nothingness, Bertie’s aloneness and apprehension become palpable and the reader is willing for a happy ending.
I adore these stories from NLA Publishing which combine the great imaginations of our foremost authors and illustrators with real-life objects and pictures of the NLA’s collection to tell the stories of our past and our heritage. They bring the past to life suggesting that everything in a library, a gallery or a museum has its story to tell and it is just up to us to take the time for our imaginations to roam and to gather the information to discover that story and add a little more to our own. As always, there are pages of background information showing that this, like others I’ve reviewed recently, are very much part of Australia: Story Country.