Friday 11 January 2013

Lyrebird! A True Story

Lyrebird! A True Story by Jackie Kerin, illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe (Museum Victoria)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781921833045
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

I immediately fell in love with this book. Set in the insanely picturesque Dandenong Ranges outside of Melbourne in the 1930s, Lyrebird! is based on the true story of James, a 'Miracle of the Dandenongs', and Edith, a flower grower.

The tall lush rainforest of this beautiful part of the world is home to many birds: robins, bell miners, magpies, wattlebirds and hundreds more. As Edith 'whistled, weeded and dug' her flowerbeds, the birds, some friendly, some shy, accompany her. One day, one of the shiest birds of all, a lyrebird, appears. Edith does not expect to see him again but he returns over seasons and years as a young bird and then as a father with a family. Over this time, the two develop an enduring relationship.

Snippets of notes, sketches and songs lets us in on their special friendship in a time before development had impinged on the flora and fauna of the Dandenongs. However, change was coming. Word spread of James' visits to Edith. The president of the Royal Zoological Society of Victoria, Mr Ambrose Pratt, asks to visit and is overawed by James' imitations of birds, and then a rock crusher and car horns.

Award-winning illustrator Peter Gouldthorpe fills out the story with colour and heart which brilliantly depict the Dandenongs and the era. I particularly love the opening double page spread with Edith working in her flower garden and the view across the valley.

The author's note at the end of the book reveals aspects of her research and you can check out more about the process at the Museum Victoria blog. There are brief biographies of Edith, Mr Pratt and James himself, as well as colour illustrations of a variety of birds found in Edith's garden.

Conservation and the environment are hot topics at the moment. Above all, though, Lyrebird! demonstrates the connection between people and the natural world. I highly recommend this book for any home or school library. It would also make the perfect international gift.

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