Ella and the Ocean
Allen & Unwin, 2019
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
Ella lived in the red-dirt country
where the earth was as dry as old bones
and it hadn’t rained
One night, Ella dreamt of the ocean… and the image mesmerises her and she wants to know more. So she asks her dad, her mum and Ben the farmhand, and while each has a distant memory to share it is viewed through the lens of the cracked red earth, the dust of the dry, dry, plains and the hungry hungry cows. Her Gran hasn’t seen the ocean but dreamt about it once – ‘it picked me up and carried me from one side of sleep to the other and I have never forgotten it’- and so she sets about making Ella’s dream come true.
This is an uplifting story that will resonate with so many children from the front cover of the red-roofed house surrounded by vast dry, red, rain-starved land and gaunt gum trees to the family melancholy of hard work and no relief to the power of just a small break in routine to restore faith and hope. You do not have to venture too far from the city to see the impact that this interminable drought is having on the land, and just as it sucks the life out of the land, so it has the people. Like Ella’s family, that impact is not as visible but is in their body language, their words and their perspective and while we city folk might pay some attention to their plight it is not long before we go back to our own lives, having put a few dollars in a tin or bought a more expensive bottle of milk. Stories like Ella’s and images like Bentley’s bring the reality home and depending where you live, will either help the children understand that they are not alone in this plight or perhaps inspire them to do something that might be ‘the trip to the ocean’ that turns a family around for a little while longer. Or perhaps look a little closer to home. maybe the local nursing home, and think about what they can do to disrupt the routine of same-same boredom to put a light into someone’s life.
So often any unit of work about weather and its causes focuses on the scientific rather than the human, and Ella and the Ocean works to redress this, as readers are almost compelled to think about the what-if. and the what-can-I-do. Another one of those great picture books that can work across all age groups.