Friday, 16 September 2011

Flood


Flood by Jackie French, illustrated by Bruce Whatley (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 9781742830728
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

Flood is an unusual book indeed. The collaboration between two experienced children’s literary icons has produced a touching and thought provoking story which will, I am sure, be a catalyst for much discussion in schools and homes. Honourably, Scholastic is donating 100% of the profits from the sale of Flood to the Flood Disaster Relief Appeal. In addition, a complimentary copy of the book will be given to every primary school library, approximately 6000, across Australia.

The story is told from a lost cattle dog’s point of view. The nameless pooch appears as a bystander as the weather worsens, the disaster unfolds and the cleanup begins. At first the rain seems innocuous, gently falling onto parched land, but like a hungry monster, it soon turns savage, flooding the river and spilling out over the city. Our innocent and helpless little friend the cattle dog watches from a car roof, surrounded by brown water.

The river was the enemy… Trees and sofas sucked and swirled into the torrent… the cables of the boardwalk snapped. A kilometre of wood and metal became a weapon of the flood.

The hero of the story and a focal point of hope becomes the little tugboat, which hauls and strains to push the dislodged boardwalk out to sea. As the water level falls, the community swings into action:

The kindness of strangers bloomed like flowers after rain.

Brisbane resident Jackie’s own father was caught in the flood and many of the story elements were inspired by long phone calls between them. More than 60,000 volunteers helped to clean up.

Bruce Whatley’s illustrations in acrylic wash and pencil on paper are intelligently sparse, deliberately vague and washed over with a brown tinge which suits the subject matter perfectly. The spatters of paint make the scenes real as people of all ages grapple with removing rubbish, shovelling mud and sharing food. By contrast, when the city is returned to normal the sky is clear and blue and the cattle dog is reunited with its family. Bruce says, “This is a very emotional story and I needed to find an illustration style that would do it justice.” Having experimented with using his left hand, rather than his natural right, Bruce feels his self-expression is more vivid. I would have to agree.

Flood  is a wonderful book, not just for the magical execution of the story, but for the whole premise behind it – to reach out to flood disaster victims in a practical way, to show the generosity of the Australian spirit and to remind the rest of us how lucky we are.

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains and is a May Gibbs Fellow 2011. Her new book, The Anything Shop will be launched October 15th. See here for details: www.dawnmeredithauthor.blogspot.com  

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