Tuesday, 9 April 2013

ANZAC Biscuits

ANZAC Biscuits by Phil Cummings, illustrated by Owen Swan (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-1-74283– 346-0
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

ANZAC Biscuits is a touching story about a young girl baking biscuit with her mother to send to her father who is serving on the frontline of war, far away.

The contrasting situations of the girl Rachel and her mother - warm, happy and safe - and her father - cold and miserable - is brought clearly to the pages in a gentle manner. This is achieved through both the illustrations and text. Swan’s delicate pictures of Rachel and her mother in their kitchen are washed in cosy pastel colours of pink, lemon, pale blues and greens. The images of Rachel’s father on the frontline are chilly, with the colours drained. They are painted in greys, white and black, with only a hint of yellow.

The differences between the two worlds accentuate the starkness and desolation of the soldier’s situation. Rachel’s mother wears her favourite apron, covered in wildflowers, while her father hides his head on the ground amongst wildflowers to escape gunfire. In the warm kitchen, flour and oats are sprinkled like snow for the ANZAC biscuits, while bitter cold snow falls on the battlefield.

But it is these differences which also bind the family together; Rachel with the sticky treacle while her father trudges through sticky mud, the smell of smoke, a photo of the soldier on the wall, and the singing.

The final images are especially powerful. The love which pours from the soldier’s box of ANZACs reflects on his face and fills it with hope. These soft pencil and wash illustrations are beautiful, conveying the strong emotion which the text hints at. It is a fabulous example of text and illustrations working together to create and expand the story.

This is not a confrontational story about the horrors of war, but rather a subtle and gentle story which can be read to pre-schoolers. It embraces the ANZAC traditions and shows how family can be close in heart, even if physically separated, through simple actions such as the baking of ANZAC biscuits.

With ANZAC Day approaching, this would be a perfect time to introduce young children to a piece of Australian history.

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