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Sunday 3 March 2013

Review: The Lost Tail

The Goroka Show, which started in 1957, is a very special event on the Papua New Guinean calendar and is loved by locals, natives and tourists alike. It is a time when tribes that populate the Papua New Guinean highlands gather to display their customs and cultures for a weekend of music, dancing and extraordinary displays of tribal culture. The spirit of this event is beautifully captured in Patricia Bernard’s The Lost Tail, but she has not just captured the overall spirit of the event but the significance it holds in the heart of the young boy – Little Nura – our heart warming protagonist.

In The Lost Tail, Little Nura joins the Bundi Boys – part of his tribe – for a sacred five-day journey from his village to Goroka. The boys carry a long snake, the one that they will perform their sacred dance with. His mother warns him of the walk through the jungle with its high mountains and steep valleys and the angry cassowaries and wild pigs. She fills the boy with courage because Bundi Warriors are never afraid – not of the fast-flowing rivers and bridges that swing high in the air, nor the mountain forests with their night mists and bad spirits.

Eventually, the boys arrive at Goroka. Little Nura is wowed by the painted faces and dancers in traditional costume that fill the football oval with a sea of colour, and he is mesmerised by the hundreds of tribal languages that fill his ears. Exhausted by their journey, the boys and Little Nura fall asleep in their hut but the following morning Little Nura wakes to find the boys and the snake are gone.

We follow Little Nura through the amazing array of drummers and dancers and colourful costumes as he hunts for the boys and the snake’s tail. He is panicked with the feeling of being alone, but he remembers his mother’s words – Bundi Warriors are never afraid. The words and courage rise in him, giving him the strength to continue his search, finding the boys just in time for their sacred dance performance, and Little Nura gets to fulfil his very important role of holding the snake’s tail.

This gorgeous tale is told in a simple and spirited way, as if in the ancient oral culture of passing on stories between generations. We share Little Nura’s excitement, bewilderment, curiosity, aloneness and fear. This is enhanced by Tricia Oktober’s beautifully coloured and intricate images that capture the essence of these tribal cultures and festival. The characters we see throughout the story are perfect portraits and full of emotion and spirit.

The Lost Tail is a perfect way to introduce younger readers to the tribal cultures and the significance of dance, music and pilgrimage – it shares geography, culture and storytelling and will engage their curiosity with the strong symbols, images and significance.

There are teachers' notes available for The Lost Tail.

Francine Sculli is a regular reviewer of children’s and YA titles for Buzz Words Books review site.

Title:  The Lost Tail
Author:  Patricia Bernard
Illustrator: Tricia Oktober
Publisher: Ford Street Publishing, $22.95 RRP
Publication Date:  1st February 2013
Format:  Hardcover
ISBN:  978-1921665868
For ages:  4 - 8 years
Type: Picture book