Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Five Times Dizzy and Dancing in the ANZAC Deli

Five Times Dizzy & Dancing in the ANZAC Deli Five Times Dizzy and Dancing in the ANZAC Deli by Nadia Wheatley (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN: 9780734413819

Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

Nadia Wheatley wrote these two excellent books in 1982 and 1984 respectively. They are now considered classics and for this 30th anniversary edition, Lothian have combined the stories in one book. Five Times Dizzy received the New South Wales Premier’s Special Children’s Book award in 1983. In 1986, it was adapted into a twelve-part television series for children. Dancing in the Anzac Deli was commended in the 1985 Australian Children’s Book of the Year Awards, and in 1986 received the IBBY Honour Diploma for writing.

Inspired by Nadia’s experiences of living in Greece as well as in the Sydney suburb of Newtown, the stories are centred around Mareka and the Wilson kids who live in Smith Street, Newtown. In the first book, Mareka is troubled about her Yaya (grandmother), a short stout lady dressed in black the Greek way, who misses her village in Crete and especially Poppy the goat. When Mareka is not helping out at her dad’s delicatessen, she is pondering what she could do to make Yaya happy. Then there is the rivalry between herself and the Wilson kids who spend their time laughing and whispering about her, especially Patricia who is around the same age as Mareka. Jenny Wilson who is eight likes M’reka but if Mareka plays with her, the others in the gang snigger even more. But their mum is nice and both families want the kids to be friends.

At last Mareka hits on the idea of buying Yaya a goat. She needs to raise the money but her best efforts leave a shortfall. When someone accidentally betrays her secret in front of the Wilsons, it looks as if Mareka’s plan will fail until Mrs Wilson comes up with a great fundraising idea. Not only is it successful but it brings the whole street together. Love and friendship abounds and Mareka and Patricia are wary friends.

Peppered with a lot of Greek words and references, this romp of a story about Greek immigrants adapting to the Australian way of life is inspiring, informative and fun.

Dancing in the Anzac Deli continues the lives of the Smith Street crowd. One morning Mareka comes into the delicatessen to find the window has been smashed and new glass is being installed. Her parents appear tense and unhappy, and a Greek called The Munga, a creepy, sinister man, visits her father and appears to be the reason behind her parents' anxiety.

The Munga works for the Red-Headed Man who wants to take over the delicatessen to use as a second-hand fridge shop. The local councillor, Kyrios Graham, knows he is a bad lot, using the fridge business as a front for other deals - protection money and bribes to name a few. The Red-Headed Man uses The Munga to scare people into doing what he wants, which is why the Anzac Deli's window was smashed.

When the Smith Street children find that the empty Haunted House they play in has been rented out and now has a Trespassers will be Prosecuted sign in the front, they go to see Alderman Graham to plead for his help. But it is hard to find a loop-hole to enable Graham to rid Newtown of the two thugs.

Nadia Wheatley weaves a very enjoyable and action-packed story, giving a wonderful insight into the Nikakis family and their Greek superstitions and tales which the Aussie children of Smith Street find fascinating. One such superstition saves the day, and the whole street rejoices by dancing in the Anzac Deli.

These are two immensely entertaining stories kids will relate to easily and learn about another culture into the bargain.

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