Monday, 8 June 2015

Tashi 20th Anniversary Edition

Tashi 20th Anniversary Edition by Anna and Barbara Fienberg, illustrated by Kim Gamble (Allen and Unwin)
HB RRP $12.99
ISBN 9781743319697

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

It is over twenty years since Tashi escaped from a war lord in a faraway place and, flying on the back of a swan, landed into the lives of enchanted child readers aged five and up.  Since then he has told dozens of daring and imaginative adventure stories in books featuring dragons, giants, genies and princesses. But readers did not know the story of Tashi’s birth, produced in the 1995 book which is reproduced here in 2015. In the book’s first story, ‘Tashi and the Silver Cup’, Tashi’s mother yearns for a child; one is not forthcoming until she and her husband go to a wise and kindly man who creates a mixture for her – which works.

On Tashi’s first birthday during a family party, a silver cup gifted to the small child goes missing. Despite extensive searching, it remains missing until Tashi, tottering and crawling to his uncle Tiki Pu, cleverly finds it. Everyone knows that Tashi is destined for remarkable things in his life.

Turning the page from this first chapter there is a completely new story about Jack (who, if you haven’t read other Tashi books, is Tashi’s good friend). Jack explains to his parents that Tashi ‘came here on a swan.’
He goes on to tell how Tashi’s parents sold their son to a wicked warlord, but the boy managed to escape onto the wings of the swan.  One has to wonder why the parents, who had been so desperate for a child, would later hand said child over to anyone, let alone one known to be evil. Perhaps child readers wouldn’t care about such a deed, but it worried this (much older) reader.
In ‘Dragon Breath’, the final story in this anniversary book, Tashi relates to Jack how he tricks the dragon into falling into a river. Now he’s one enemy down, but there’s another – the dragon’s friend Chintu the giant ‘as big as two houses put together.’ But Chintu is ‘for tomorrow.’

What most impressed me about this book is not just its beautiful, hardback presentation and its episodic stories, but the quality of the illustrations. They are an absolute stand-out. The extraordinarily talented Kim Gamble creates detailed, exotic and mesmerizing pictures with simple black lead pencil. I spent far more time poring over the illustrations than I did reading – or even thinking – about the written text. Suffice to say I wonder if the Fienberg’s stories would be anywhere near as effective without such brilliant illustrative support.

The continuity of stories in this collection is not always free-flowing – it has a cobbled-together feel – but the story-telling is fine, the writing clear and imaginative. Suitable for readers 8 to 11 years.

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