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Book Reviews

Australia and New Zealand

 

Melina Marchetta    Robert Ingpen    graeme base    Anthology

 

 


  Melina Marchetta

Bibliographic Citation:
Marchetta, Melina.  2004.  Saving Francesca.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf.  ISBN 0375829822.

Summary: 
Seventeen-year-old Francesca starts her second term at St. Sebastian's, a Sydney boys' school that recently began accepting girls.  As she struggles to make new friends and find a place in school, she must also deal with her mother's recent "nervous breakdown."  Having always depended on her mother for strength, Francesca is forced to find her own way and her identity in order to save herself and her family.   

Analysis:  

    In Saving Francesca, Melina Marchetta tells the poignant story of seventeen-year-old Francesca as she searches to find herself.  Francesca has always depended on her mother, Mia to be her strength, but now her mother's illness has left her bed-ridden.  With Mia's powerful force in her life, Francesca must learn how to be strong for herself and her family.  In Year Eleven at St. Sebastian's, a Sydney boys' school that recently began accepting girls, Francesca and the her female peers find themselves outnumbered 30 to 750.  Told in the first person, Marchetta uses flashbacks to Francesca's days with her old friends and her mother.  Francesca feels alienated and wishes she could be at Pius Senior College with all of her Stella "friends."  Francesca has always allowed her friends to define her and tell her what her personality should reflect.  She says, "I miss the Stella girls telling me what I am.  That I'm sweet and placid and accommodating and loyal and non-threatening and good to have around . . . I want to be an adjective again.  But I'm a noun.  A nothing.  A nobody.  A no one." (Marchetta 44)

    Francesca not only demonstrates an inability to define herself, but she struggles to put a name to her mother's illness.  Though Marchetta hints at Mia's depression throughout the novel, Francesca refuses to accept her mother's condition.  She says, "I don't understand.  Sad people with sad lives are depressed.  Mia's not one of them." (Marchetta 90)  Francesca tries looking at the situation logically and without all the facts.  On the outside, it appears that Mia has everything she could want -- a Masters, a teaching job, and a happy family.  However, as Marchetta slowly unravels the pieces Francesca realizes that there were clues leading up the Mia's nervous breakdown.  When Mia told Francesca she was taking the university job, Mia broke down into tears.  However, Francesca never asked her mother why (Marchetta 183).  She finds out later that her mother had a miscarriage.  Through this poignant storyline, Francesca learns that a family has to be open and honest with one another.  Also, she has to make the decision to be an adult and face her mother's condition.  She realizes that her family cannot split themselves apart, but they have to remain together if they want Mia to get better.

    The author has developed a strong setting throughout this novel.  Set in Sydney, Australia, the school system is set-up differently from American schools.  At year eleven, Francesca must change schools, where as American high schools continue from grades nine through twelve.  Francesca is forced to endure school sports that include watching either cricket or rugby (Marchetta 66).  In school, the first group to acknowledge Francesca is the European guys.  They accept her because she is Italian and her grandparents immigrated to Australia (Marchetta 47).  Marchetta plays up the Italian immigrant role in Francesca's family life.  Francesca calls her grandparents the Italian words, Nonno and Nonna.  Also, Will Trombal gives her the a compliment by comparing her to Sophia Loren, the most beautiful Italian actress (Marchetta 209).

    Marchetta utilizes numerous cultural references touching on everything from movies to television to music.  When discussing favorite movies with Jimmy, Francesca guesses that his is Apocalypse Now.  Hers on the other hand is The Sound of Music (Marchetta 63)One of Francesca's complaints about staying at her grandparents' house is that they will not let her stay up to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  The cultural references also help to establish the Australian culture, such as the use of the band One Dollar Short and the mention of the pop star, Kylie Minogue (Marchetta 3).  Though these subtle references are embedded into the storyline and help to reflect the current culture, they also threaten to quickly date the novel within a certain time period.

    By making friends, Francesca realizes, "I feel a little less empty than the day before." (Marchetta 65)  As she struggles to find herself, she realizes that she is the strong one and always has had the ability to save herself.  Before Francesca relied on the Stella girls and her mother to define her, but her time at St. Sebastians and Mia's breakdown brought out her true identity.

    I must admit that at first I had a hard time getting past Francesca's naiveté about her mother's condition.  Since depression is so widely publicized in the United States, I found it hard to believe that a seventeen-year-old would be so clueless about the disease.  However, once I got more into the story I began to realize that part of Francesca's problem was denial.  She did not want to admit what was wrong with her mother because that would make it real and she would have to face it.  Despite the numerous obscenities, I think this book would be ideal for young adult readers.  It demonstrates the importance of finding your own way in life, instead of having someone else force you in a direction. 

 


  Robert Ingpen

Bibliographic Citation:
Ingpen, Robert.  2005.  The voyage of the poppykettle.  New York: Minedition.  ISBN 0698400259.

Summary: 
A community of miniature fishermen called the Hairy Peruvians decides to leave when the Shining Spaniards invade.  The tiny Peruvians salvage a teakettle and set sail to find a new home.  They endure a long journey until a fierce storm damages their Poppykettle.  A dolphin offers to carry them to shore and their new home in the "Unchosen Land".   

Analysis:

    In The Voyage of the Poppykettle, Robert Ingpen retells a modern Australian folk tale about setting off into the unknown.  He utilizes vividly, detailed illustrations and narrative mysteries to reconstruct this adaptation into a work of his own.  Set in ancient Peru, the story follows a group of tiny fisherman named the Hairy Peruvians.  Their canoes are so small and fragile that they never venture very far out into the sea.  After the Noble Incas are conquered by the Shining Spaniards, the miniature Peruvians make the decision to find a new home away from the Spaniards' greed (Ingpen 1).  However, they need to find a suitable boat.  The Silverado Bird listens to the Peruvians' plight and replies, "I know the answer.  Come with me to a special place, to the temple city of Machu Picchu." (Ingpen 3)  Unfortunately, the sacred city lay in ruins from the Spaniards.  All that survived the invasion was a teakettle for making poppy tea.  The Hairy Peruvians know at once that it was perfect for their voyage. 

    The tiny fishermen make a sail and fill the ship with food.  Even with all their sacks of food, the ship is too light and top heavy.  They steal a number of brass or irons keys from the Spaniards, which fit neatly into the Poppykettle (Ingpen 8).  A Silver Fish tows them out into the water and the seven Peruvians begin their journey at last.  After battling with fire-breathing iguanas, steering through reefs, and losing crew members in a raging storm, the Hairy Peruvians find a stroke of luck.  A curious dolphin swims up just as their Poppykettle is sinking and offers them a ride on his head (Ingpen 29).  The dolphin leaves the Poppykettle and its crew on a beach.  "The weary Hairy Peruvians looked around wondering whether this was the new home they had been looking for, or was it just another stop on their long journey." (Ingpen 33) 

    Ingpen adds to the sense of mystery and folklore by continuing his story further.  Some 263 years after the Peruvians landed on their new home, two men digging on the coast of Geelong in Victoria, Australia come across two ancient brass keys.  Are these the keys that weighed down the Poppykettle?  If so, what happened to the Hairy Peruvians and their ship?  Was Australia their new "Unchosen Land"?  The author leaves these questions for the reader to figure out and decide for himself.  Ingpen also adds a sense of realism by ending the book with an "AND NOW..." section.  He tells how children of Geelong celebrate Poppykettle Day every October, even though they may not understand why they do or how it became a part of their lives.  Ingpen says, "The story of the Poppykettle and its crew is a celebration of the imagination.  By taking a few facts and wrapping them in a parcel of invention, it helps make reality more interesting." (40)  The mysterious origins of this piece of Australian folklore and the celebration it has sparked help capture a piece of the country's culture.

    The Voyage of the Poppykettle is illustrated by Ingpen with detailed ink and watercolor drawings.  He uses scale to convey the size of the tiny Hairy Peruvians.  When the reader is first introduced to the group, Ingpen stands them against the Brown Pelican who towers over them (1-2).  Ingpen also adds to the "long time ago" feel of the story by depicting the Peruvians in primitive clothes and colors.  They have wild uncut hair and unshaven beards.  Their arms and legs are wrapped in bandages.  The Peruvians dress in hand-stitched, leather vests and grass-like skirts.  Ingpen uses all dark and muted tones to color the tiny group.  Also, the Hairy Peruvians all blend together.  They are not distinctive as individuals.  This technique makes the story more acceptable as an ancient folktale.  Ingpen's illustrations switch from bold colors to soft tones in order to reflect the mood of the scenes.  Pale blues and greens flood the calm image of the Silver Fish towing the Poppykettle out to sea (Ingpen 12).  In contrast, the thunderous storm is illustrated with dark browns and turbulent greens (Ingpen 26).  Ingpen masterfully manipulates the illustrations to flow with the story.  His final double-page spread, however, is not an illustration but rather a photograph.  The photo depicts a parade of children dressed up for Poppykettle Day, while carrying cardboard cut-outs of brass keys (Ingpen 39-40).  Ingpen's decision to utilize a photograph adds a sense of realism and illustrates the place this folktale has found in the Australian culture.

    Even though this story has an important place in Australian culture, I can see how it would not initially appeal to young readers.  The muted and drab colors used in the illustrations can appear too dark at first.  Also, the story appears in thick, blocks of texts that would limit the age range for this story.  I think that the historical and mythological references may be too much for young children (or adults) to comprehend.  However, if one views the story as a beautiful work of art and as a well-told folktale, I think he or she could appreciate its importance and power.

Story Extension:
Celebrate your own Poppykettle Day!  Have the children dress up like the Hairy Peruvians and make their own brass keys.

 


  Graeme Base

Bibliographic Citation:
Base, Graeme.  2001.  The water hole.  New York:  Harry N. Abrams, Inc.  ISBN 0810945681.

Summary: 
As animals from various landscapes come to drink from the water hole, it gradually grows smaller and smaller until there is nothing left.  It takes a downfall of rain to bring all the animals back again.

Analysis:

    In Graeme Base's The Water Hole, he combines counting and animals to take readers on a world-wide safari as the season changes.  Graeme begins by saying,
        "Down to the secret water hole the animals all come.
        As seasons bring forth drough and flood, they gather there as one.
        United in their common need, their numbers swell to ten--
        But hidden deep among the trees lie ten times that again!" (Base)

Centered on the water hole, the story starts with "one rhino drinking at the water hole" (Base 1).  Base adds verbal wordplay and onomatopeia on each page.  As two tigers lap at the water hole, they "Grrrrrrr!" and "Good gracious, how very delectable!" (Base 3)  Base uses his typical alliterative style to drawn in readers.  By the time the four snow lepoards are left gazing at the water hole, Base warns that the pool is getting smaller and that "We must be careful, brothers." (7)  However, he does add a splash of humor into the mix.  By the ninth page, the nine tortoises ask, "Okay, which of you wise guys hid all the water?" (Base 17)  Silence falls as the ten kangaroos stand looking at the dried up water hole.  After the rain falls, all the animals return with a "Ooola!  Oooya!  Wahooooo!  Yippee!" (Base 27).  Base manipulates the language within the story to convey the increasing sadness and severity of the water drought.  Following the desperate silence, Base has the animals erupt into jubilant noise and sounds.  He verbal wordplay and sounds will drawn in and amuse young readers.     

    Base's illustrations help to enhance the global natural of drought and bring together ten different countries.  The illustrations are done with watercolors, pencil, and gouache on a hot-press illustration board (Verso).  The bright and vibrant colors are used to enhance Base's millions of details.  Though it is hard to ascertain a cultural setting just from looking at the water hole, Base gives readers a glimpse through the trees to help set the tone.  Incidentally, despite his Australian background, Base chose to incorporate different countries or parts of the world.  The only betrayal of his homeland is that the climaxes on the Australian page with ten kangaroos.  Plateaus and flatlands can be viewed on the shoulders of kangaroos (Base 19).  As five moose wallow in the water hole, one can see Mount Rushmore through the trees revealing the page's North American setting (Base 9).  Also, if one takes a closer look they will be able to find tiny details that betray the picture's setting.  For instance, in the African illustration, an elephant's trunk blends in with the tree trunks, while a zebra's face is hidden behind the branches of another tree (Base 1-2).  Another intriguing aspect of the book's illustrations is the water hole.  It has a cut-out hole on each page to represent the water hole.  The hole gets increasingly smaller as the water dries up.  This aspect helps further enhance the diminishing water hole.

    While the book has few words, Base has chosen the right ones to amuse and tickle young readers.  Not only does this book act as a counting tool, it introduces children to new countries and animals and landscapes.  It teaches the importance of water and how it connects the world.  Young readers will delight in the colorful and detailed illustrations.  There is always more to find!  They will love trying to spot all the frogs in party hats hidden throughout the pages.  Though younger readers may not comprehend the diversity of the pages or understand the overall meaning, they will still be able to enjoy Base's visual and verbal combination. 

Story Extension:
You can have the children make their own Water Hole book.  Have them pick 10 countries (or less) to depict and write their own story to go along.  For fun, they can substitute countries for states, places in their home town, etc.

 


  Anthology of International Children's Literature

Bibliographic Citation:
Aldana, Patricia, ed.  2004.  Under the spell of the moon: Art for children from the world's great illustrators.  Foreword by Katherine Paterson.  Translated by Stan Dragland.  Toronto: Groundwood Press.  ISBN 0888995598. 

Summary: 
In honor of the International Board on Books for Young People, an international anthology has been developed consisting of 32 artists from countries from around the world.  Each illustration is accompanied by a saying, poem, prayer, or writing of the artist's choosing.  All text appears in its original language, as well as English.

Analysis:

    Compiled by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), the anthology Under the Spell of the Moon takes readers through an international look at the world of children's illustrators.  The collection consists of 32 artists from countries across the globe, ranging from the well-known artists to the lesser-known.  Each artist agreed to donate their art to the anthology, so that IBBY could receive 15 percent of the proceeds.  Also accompanying the artwork, each illustrator was asked to select a piece of text from their childhood or culture whether it was a poem, prayer, prose, or original work.  The text is simply meant to inspire and blend with the illustration.  "Verbally and visually, the entries vary from simple to cryptic, playful to haunting,." (Publishers Weekly)  Little is given about the text selections.  The only clue as to their origin is in the index, which differentiates between traditional text and original text by the artist.  One easily identifiable song comes from Vera B. Williams of the United States.  She accompanies her brightly-colored illustration with the bouncy and familiar song, "There were five in a bed . . . ." (Aldana 26-27).  However, her illustration is not easily identifiable as an American artist.  She uses many different nationalities to represent the five children in bed, and in turn to reflect the melting pot culture of the United States.  Others, while marked traditional, are less familiar.  Angela Lago of Brazil pairs her colorful, cartoon drawing with "Two Riddles" (Aldana 32-33).  Readers may have to turn the book upside down to find out the answer to the riddle, "the more of me you remove, the bigger I get."   

    The illustrations vary from modern art to soft watercolors to ink drawings.  The anthology includes a variety of styles and tones.  Readers find themselves trying to guess the origin of the artist by evaluating the picture and text.  Some are easier to figure out than others.  By having the original text alongside the English version, readers are often able to deduce which country an artist is from.  Ange Zhang of China has created an illustration using deep hues of red and blue, but it is the wood cut-outs and Chinese lettering that give away the illustration's culture (Aldana 60-61).  By incorporating the original text, readers are given a chance to see how a verse or song appears in its native language.  It further enhances the cultural aspect of the anthology.  As readers continue to search for cultural clues, they will notice that a rhinoceros in subtle watercolors betrays its artist, Pulak Biswas' Indian roots (44-45).  On the other hand, some artists do not reveal their countries' culture in their illustrators or words.  The modern drawing by Kveta Pacovska of the Czech Republic uses primary colors and geometric shapes to illustrate, "The frog leaps" (Aldana 18-19).  This abstract illustration removes all cultural origins from the painting.  Readers would have to cheat and look to find out the author's home country.       

    The collection does include an "About the Artists" section that lists each illustrator, along with a short biography and list of achievements.  This section gives the reader further insight into the individual illustrators and their selections.  However, it does not comment on the artwork included in the anthology or the text entries.  A critical review in Children's Literature said, "Although the book displays a beautiful compilation of illustrations from master illustrators around the world, its lack of information regarding the artistic materials and processes of each artist and its choice to include only single-page illustrations rather than longer illustrated selections make this book little more than an exquisite coffee table book for the children's illustration enthusiast." (Ackroyd 2004) 

    While I do not agree completely with the reviewer's criticism of the anthology, I do think that it would have strengthened the collection if it had more of a description on the individual illustrations and the texts.  I was unable to place most of the text selections within their cultural context.  I think it would have made it clearer to me why the artist chose what they did and what inspired them to create their artwork.  I felt like the anthology was a wonderful start, but it simply left me wanting more.

Story Extension:
You can have the children draw their own illustration and add their favorite poem, song, rhyme or riddle.  Then you can create a library anthology for display.

Reference List:
Ackroyd, Meredith.  2004.  Children's literature review: Under the spell of the moon.  http://www.bn.com (Accessed February 12, 2006).

Publishers Weekly.  2004.  Review: Under the spell of the moon.  http://www.bn.com (Accessed February 12, 2006).

 


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