Picture Book Perusal: The Rabbit-Hole Golf Course

0

picture book perusal button

Today’s book is the perfect pick for the depths of winter, when you need a bit of sunshine and dry, parched desert in your life.  We received The Rabbit-Hole Golf Course by Ella Mulvey and Karen Briggs from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from A&U:

A warm and funny story about a unique Australian experience with a fantastic rhythmic read-aloud text.

In the big old ute, on the long red road, in the desert of my home, we all set off for the rabbit-hole golf course. It’s the best place around here to find rabbits.

We sit by the holes, we dig, we wait …

Thump tick, thump tick, thump tick

Where are all the rabbits?

A warm and funny Australian story.

rabbit hole golf course.jpg

The Rabbit-Hole Golf Course by Ella Mulvey & Karen Briggs.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 28th June 2017.  RRP: $24.99

From the moment we picked up this tome, we were positively disposed toward it, because we are actually acquainted with a family whose number plate is USMOB, so there was something familiar about the book before we even started reading.  The familiarity soon wore off however, as this is one story that depicts an event that no doubt only a small percentage of the population have ever experienced.

The story follows a group of kids who live in the Australian outback and go on a quest to find a pet rabbit.  Rabbits being plentiful in the wild in their part of the world, the kids begin digging in the dirt to uncover a rabbit hole and its inhabitants, but the rabbits are too wily and the kids go home empty-handed.  Happily though, they have such a good time digging and scraping and sleeping under the stars, that the absence of a rabbity pet doesn’t smart too much.

The strength of this book is in the repetition and rhythm of the text.  It is a “noisy” book, as I like to think of them, of a similar ilk to books like We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, that invites readers to join in the repeated refrains.  As the day wears on, the cries of “Where are all the rabbits?” are expanded upon with noises relating to different activities – the bump-click of a ride in the ute, the shake-hop of bushes rustling with kangaroos, the pinch-pop of honey ant tucker – and little ones will no doubt love joining in with the different sounds.  The beautiful ochre tones of the illustrations evoke the desert country perfectly and provide an homage to free range children and the joys of being outdoors.

The mini-fleshlings in the dwelling did have a little trouble following the story, simply because, being city-dwellers, it seemed so foreign to their experience.  The fact that kids could just dig in the dirt and come up with a new pet was baffling to the oldest one, and he joined in the perplexity of the protagonists regarding the distinct lack of rabbits in the vicinity.  Where were all the rabbits?  How come the kids couldn’t find a single one?  And why wasn’t anyone wearing a hat in that blinding sun?  I suspect this story will be a bit of a sleeper; one that will require a few re-readings before the mini-fleshlings really warm to it.

Nevertheless, The Rabbit-Hole Golf Course is one that will fire the imaginations of city kids and have them yearning for an outdoor adventure.  This would be a fantastic pick for illustrating concepts about diversity in living environments.

Until next time,

Bruce

Advertisements

The Eye of the Reindeer: Snow, Sanity and the Search for Self…

5

eye-of-the-reindeer

We readers know that it is super important to make sure you have the right book for the holiday season.  Something that won’t be over too quickly, that will take you on a journey (even if you have to stay at home) and will plunge you right into a new and unexpected world.  Today’s book does all of those things and more in an epic journey toward freedom of body and self, spanning more than 30 years.  We received The Eye of the Reindeer by Eva Weaver from Hachette Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Shortly after her thirteenth birthday, Ritva is sent away to Seili, an island in the far north of Finland. A former leper colony, Seili is now home to ‘hopeless cases’ – to women the doctors call mad. But Ritva knows she doesn’t belong there. As biting winter follows biting winter, she longs to be near to her sister, and wonders why her father ever allowed her to be taken to this desolate place.

Hope arrives in the form of Martta, a headstrong girl who becomes Ritva’s only friend. Martta is a Sami, from the north. All through her childhood, Ritva’s mother told her wonderful Sami legends and tales – of Vaja the reindeer, the stolen sealskin, of a sacred drum hidden long ago. When Ritva and Martta decide to make their escape, this is where they will head.

So begins an odyssey over frozen sea and land towards a place where healing and forgiveness can grow. This is a story about friendship, about seeing the world through a different perspective, and the stories and tales that can make up a life.

Wowsers, what an epic!  I had absolutely no idea when I started reading this book that it would span such a long time period and feature an unbelievable journey, both in foot miles and in growth of characters.  Ritva is a young woman in 1913 when she is shipped off to Seili, an asylum set on an island in the freezing north, and home to women that have been deemed (correctly or incorrectly) difficult cases.  The daughter of a pastor, Ritva has long experienced strange dreams and visions, and it is only when she meets Martta, a young Sami woman imprisoned with her, that she discovers that her dreams may be related to legends of the Northern Sami people.  After a daring escape, Ritva and Martta are caught up in a journey toward physical freedom from Seili, and the emotional journey of dealing with family history, sexuality and who they really want to be.

The book is broken into a number of parts that correspond with certain legs of the journeys that the girls – and then later on, women – take.  The story begins with Ritva’s time on Seili and we are given certain glimpses into her past and the reasons why her father may have had her committed in the first place.  This family mystery continues throughout much of the book until it is brought to a shocking, yet satisfying conclusion about two-thirds of the way through.    After this, Ritva tries to carve out a place for herself to belong and untangle the pressures of expectation and desire that have weighed her down.

I haven’t read a book like this in quite a long time, if ever.  The Eye of the Reindeer is totally focused on Ritva as she faces incredible challenges throughout her life.  The pace is quite slow, despite the fact that the story begins in Ritva’s adolescence and ends after her middle age, and yet I found each section totally absorbing while I was reading it.  I think my favourite part of the book was Ritva and Martta’s escape from Seili, their unconventional modes of transport and the suspense of potential recapture set against such a hostile environment.  The setting in Scandinavia and the lands at the top of the world was so well described as to almost be a character in itself and I was fascinated by the details relating to the indigenous people of this region – the Sami – and their way of life.  The author leaves some notes after the story is finished about the Sami and their current predicament for those who wish to find out more.

This book certainly won’t be for everyone, given the depth in which it explores difficult subjects like abuse, abandonment and betrayal, and the slow unfolding of the narrative, and certainly isn’t one that, had I known in advance how hefty the story would feel, I would probably have ever picked up.  The atmosphere is quite tense in some parts and particularly gloomy in others, but for the most part there is an undercurrent of hope and determination that spurred me on to find out how Ritva’s story might end.  Overall though, I am so happy to have read Ritva’s story and was completely absorbed in her life as it unfolded.

If you have a space in your schedule in the next few months which could be filled with a vast, sprawling landscape and a young woman slowly picking her way towards truth over the course of an incredible life, then I would definitely recommend you have a go at The Eye of the Reindeer.

Plus, the author has a rhyming first and surname.

That’s always a bonus.

Until next time,

Bruce

Boomerang and Bat: The Story of the REAL First XI…

1

It’s time for some picture book love today and we were lucky enough to receive a little gem from Allen & Unwin (thanks!) that is informative, entertaining and a brilliant conversation starter for the sports fans among you.  Boomerang and Bat: The Story of the Real First Eleven by Mark Greenwood and illustrated by Terry Denton, tells the story of the first Australian cricket team – made up entirely of Indigenous men – to tour England.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The first Australian cricket team to tour England was a group of Aboriginal stockmen. This is their story. In 1868 a determined team of Aboriginal cricketers set off on a journey across the world to take on England’s best. Led by star all-rounder Johnny Mullagh, and wearing caps embroidered with a boomerang and a bat, they delighted crowds with their exceptional skill. From the creators of Jandamarra, this is the remarkable story of the real first 11.

Boomerang and bat

If you’re looking for a cracking (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) narrative non-fiction picture book for the reluctant, sports-mad, mini-fleshing in your life, you should certainly get a hold of Boomerang and Bat.  Pitched at the middle to upper primary age range, the book takes an engaging look at the first Australian cricket team to tour England.  I found the story fascinating as an adult reader, with plenty of questions springing to my mind – not least of which, why is this event not more widely acknowledged and why are Indigenous people nowadays conspicuous only by their absence from our national cricket teams? – and I’m sure young cricket fans will get a kick out of seeing cricket “in the olden days”.  (No Rocket Man at these matches!)

The story has an incredibly subtle undertone that depicts aspects of life for indigenous people of the time.  While the team is received well as cricketers, there is still an undercurrent of “look at the performing natives” that is conveyed through the text and imagery.  I can imagine the book being used to excellent effect in the classroom to stimulate discussion around the social issues of the time – how would the men have felt, being lauded for their sporting skills, but not counted as citizens?  Did circumstances change for the men when they returned to Australia?  Did the men feel the trip was worthwhile, considering the death of one of their teammates?

The presentation of the book is gorgeous, with Terry Denton’s illustrations bringing the text to life.  The beautiful map that adorns the front endpapers is matched by the final endpapers depicting images of each of the team members, with their names, nicknames and a piece of information about their role in the team.  It’s hard to imagine Terry Denton as a separate entity from the Griffiths/Denton Juggernaut, but it’s wonderful to appreciate a more realistic illustrative style in this tome.

I will admit to enjoying this book enormously as an adult reader and being drawn in to the mystery of this event being lost in the annals of time.  I’m interested in finding out more – did these men have descendants?  If so, what do they think of their great-grandfathers’ sporting achievements? Could their perspectives have been included in this book somehow?

I think the mark of a good non-fiction book is to stimulate further curiosity about the topic. Boomerang and Bat has certainly achieved this for me as an adult reader and I can see it doing the same for mini-fleshlings.  Teachers in particular, get your grabby hands on this one and get it into your classrooms: stimulating discussion will be guaranteed!

Until next time,

Bruce