Tania McCartney

HarperCollins, 2018

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


On January 17, 1977 “in a land far away, where fairies, pixies and elves live deep in the woods,” a baby girl was born. To her parents she was Mamie, but to generations of Australians she is May Gibbs, creator of the iconic literary characters the Gumnut Babies. In this centenary year of the publication of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, Tania  McCartney has created this stunning tribute to Mamie’s life, tracing the early years of the little girl with the big imagination who could draw as soon as she could walk, staged home-made musicals and who became fascinated with the Australian bush and its creatures after her family moved to Adelaide and then Perth when she was just a few years old.

Told in a way that engages and enchants, rather than a litany of sterile facts – “she skipped and rode through shimmering bushland where smooth grey trees dipped their blossoms-heavy branches, and birds gathered to trill and chatter” –  McCartney not only brings the world of May Gibbs to life but also puts dreams in the head of any young child with an imagination. May Gibbs was just an ordinary little girl who did wonderful things as she grew up, so why not them?

Mamie also introduces young readers to the genre of biography and the concept of the stories behind the stories.  Instead of the usual  dispassionate collection of dates and milestones that are soon forgotten, we see the person and how her eventual legacy was shaped by the very ordinary days and deeds of her childhood and circumstances.  Perhaps other important people have a similar story to tell too.

Just as Gibbs had her distinctive style, so does McCartney and it is this modern interpretation that is such a big part of the appeal of this book.  This is not a stodgy piece of close-formatted text with deadpan pictures in a dull retro palette – it is as fresh and alive as Mamie herself was, full of plans and actions just like so many little girls today, finishing at what was really just the beginning.  

Aspirational and inspirational.

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