'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Review: Scaly-tailed Possum and Echidna

So so nice to uncover a book that seizes hold of traditional Dreamtime stories and splashes them across the pages of a modern, kid-entrancing picture book. I want to learn more indigenous storytelling, me, and I thank author Goonack for sharing this lovely tail – er, tale.

The story of how scaly-tailed possum got his scaly tail and how echidna got his spikes is a story Goonack grew up with, told to her by her grandfather Wilfred, and passed down through the generations. We all know the value and beauty of stories long-held in our families, and it must have been pure joy for the author to gather this heart-held story and splash it over the pages of a book.

I was ravenous to learn how scaly-tail possum got his funny-looking tail and how echidna was cursed with a back full of spines, and the author not only told me how, she also provided fascinating facts along the way. For example, did you know possum eats nuts of pandanus tree? I’ve never heard of this tree… and any book that sends me to Google to look something up is an engaging book indeed.

When naughty echidna scales the pandanus tree and makes off with possum’s carefully-gathered food, possum quickly defended his stash. A fight breaks out in the tree top and as possum kicks and struggles, echidna holds onto his tail as he’s falling from the tree, and rips the skin of possum's tail off!

But I won’t spoil the next bit – how cheeky echidna ends up with his spikes... you'll have to read the book yourself.

The text in this book is simple but descriptively narrated, and what I love most about it is how I can hear Goonack’s voice in the words. The sentences are short, lending authority to the book’s subtle moral messaging, and to the goose-tingling power of the Dreamtime.

At the end of the story, the author provides photos and information on the real life animals used in the story, as well as a fascinating glimpse at the story of the Kandiwal people.

Goonack is a descendant of the Wunambal people and is part of the Kandiwal tribe from Ngauwudu near the Mitchell Plateau of far north Western Australia. She actually grew up in Derby and moved to Adelaide to finish her education. She has six children and now lives in the Kandiwal Community where she works with kindergarten children participating in School of the Air.

The book’s stunning illustrations were produced by three of Goonack’s very creative children, along with the support and technical assistance of artist Janie Andrews. The drawings were transferred onto silk and traced over with a gutta pen before being painted with silk dyes and sealed with a steamer to bring out the lustrous colour.

I would have loved to see this book in a slightly larger format, to take full advantage of the striking illustrations. It’s too common to see indigenous stories steeped in the reds and browns of the outback and it was sheer visual pleasure to enjoy these beautiful and brightly-hued pictures that complement the storyline so well. No more brown!

Now, for me, only one question remains… when’s the next Goonack Dreamtime story due?

Title: Scaly-tailed Possum and Echidna
Author: Cathy Goonack
Illustrator: see review for more info
Publisher: Magabala Books, A$12.95RRP
Format: Soft cover
ISBN: 9871921248160
For ages: 3-7
Type: Picture Book

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