Wednesday 8 February 2012

The Two-Hearted Numbat

The Two-Hearted Numbat by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina (Fremantle Press)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9-781-921-888-007
Reviewed by Neridah McMullin

What is a Numbat? It’s a small native Australian marsupial also known as the banded anteater or walpurti. Once they were widespread across southern Australia, and are now mainly found in Western Australia. Thankfully, these cute little guys are now protected by conservation programs.

Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina are from the Bailgu and Nyamal peoples of the Pilbara region of Western Australia and The Two-Hearted Numbat, is a story close to home, told in the style of a dreamtime story.

Numbat has two hearts—one is made of feathers, and the other is made of stone. When Numbat is wearing his feather heart, he’s soft, kind and likeable—but exhausted from helping others. When he wears his stone heart, he’s strong, hard working and clever, but not very likeable. Numbat is torn between choosing a heart of stone that promotes strength and self-confidence at the expense of caring about others, and a feather-heart that promotes compassion for others at the expense of caring about oneself.

Feeling conflicted, Numbat consults the wisest of the numbats and they encourage him to go on a journey to discover his true heart. Facing many challenges, Numbat realises he needs both strength and gentleness, and his two hearts merge into one. “I once thought I had to choose between being as strong as a stone, or as gentle as a feather. But now I know that no one is truly strong who does not also have the softness to care for others. And no one is truly caring of others who does not also have the strength to care for themselves.” Numbat gains wisdom, and becomes a great leader.

The style of the artwork is a contemporary blend of modern and traditional. The use of brightly coloured rainbows of hot pinks, deep blues and jungle greens are throughout the book. There are identifiable, key elements of indigenous art—spirals, magical auras around the numbats and aerial views of the landscape. The traditional methods of ‘x-ray’ painting is also used to show Numbat’s two hearts, clearly visible inside his body.

The Two-Hearted Numbat is a vibrant combination of beautiful visuals and narrative; it’s simple and profound and thought provoking. It is a delightful story with an important message and will appeal not only to pre-schoolers, but older readers too.

Neridah McMullin is the author of three books for children. Her next book is an Indigenous folklore story called 'Kick it to Me'. It’s an ‘aussie rules’ story that’s being endorsed by the Australian Football League. Neridah loves family, footy, and doing yoga with her cat Carlos (who also just happens to love footy). 

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