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

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Review: Tea and Sugar Christmas

For an astonishing 81 years, the Tea and Sugar train--no. 5205--carted mixed goods from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie. The 1050km rail link stretched across the dusty Nullabor Plain, making repeated supply stops along the way, delighting and uplifting the local settlers.

This train was a true lifeline for these isolated people. It supplied regular groceries, fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, and even banking facilties and the occasional theatrette car for showing movies. It also supplied invaluable news and information, medical and dental services--even a monthly priest to perform baptisms and weddings.

At Christmas time, however, train no. 5205 supplied something magical.
The first Thursday of December, it carried Father Christmas.

In Tea and Sugar Christmas, we follow the story of young Kathleen as she waits with enormous anticipation for the train. The family has no sugar left and the tea has run dry. The train resupplies each Thursday, so Kathleen often needs to wait for sugar, but she doesn't mind because this Thursday is special--this Thursday is the first Thursday of December.

As she waits in the searing heat, she sees the train snaking slowly along the distant rail line. She grabs a wheelbarrow and barrels out to the line. As she runs, her neighbours join her, and soon there is an army of happy people, dressed to the nines, chanting and cheering the train's arrival.

The description of Kathleen's reaction when she sees Father Christmas is too precious for words. His white beard is blinding, his clothes so Christmas red, his gift bag is endless--and very soon it's Kathleen's turn to receive her gift. I wonder if you can guess what she received. Her gift made Kids' Book Review very happy.

This truly beautiful book is bound to become an Australian classic. A divine blending of the real and the imagined, Jolly's words transport us to another world.

Robert Ingpen's timeless, soul-stirring illustrations and paintings make for a goosebumpling and emotional production. Featuring striking, monochrome pencil sketches that fold out into divine, full colour vistas, the book is a true feat in striking production. The four-page-fold-out scene of the inside of the train is just breathtaking, and the landscape vistas are equally beautiful. The pencil sketch of Kathleen when she sees Santa will not fail to bring a tear to the eye.

Centered in community and togetherness--joyful, happy, beautiful--Tea and Sugar Christmas is the epitome of--well ... Christmas.

Title: Tea and Sugar Christmas
Author: Jane Jolly
Illustrator: Robert Ingpen
Publisher: National Library Publishing, $24.99 RRP
Publication Date: November 2014
Format: Hard cover
ISBN: 9780642278630

For ages: 5 +
Type: Picture Book