Friday 10 August 2018

At the End of Holyrood Lane

At the End of Holyrood Lane by Dimity Fletcher & Nicky Johnston (EK Books) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN9781925335767

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This picture book tells of Flick, a small girl who loves to chase butterflies and jump in heaps of leaves, but who is terrified of storms. The first storm which arrives is shown in an illustration of Flick indoors looking to outside where ‘angry clouds muscle in and wild winds bully the curtains.’ Doubtless any child reader with a fear of storms would take the visual and written text as depicted on surface value.

However, the information sheet which accompanies the review copy says, ‘(the book) provides a sensitive glimpse into one aspect of domestic violence and how it can affect young lives’. Yes, Flick is shown hiding indoors day and night ‘in places where the thunder cannot reach her’. But until there’s an illustration – just one – which shows the silhouetted profile of a person in a storm cloud, there’s no real indication that the storm Flick is reacting to, could possibly be caused by an adult.

Flick flees outdoors where a black storm ‘seethes and snarls… drenching her in its fury’. There she does something she’s never done before – she seeks help. Once again, outdoors in an angry storm, she is embraced by a woman with an umbrella. Her confession works, the story tells, and ‘the sun comes out’.

This book is visually arresting and the words well written. And it’s one of the most difficult things in a book for young children to depict domestic violence. But one must question whether a child would see the duality of meaning in this picture book given its text. And, too, finding a solution to domestic violence is never easy for anyone – adult or child. Just telling an adult is not as easy as it seems. And too, in this book the simple act of telling immediately solves the problem.

Doubtless the book creators and the publisher mean well. They have tried valiantly to highlight and remedy a malaise which is too common in our society. Certainly, the book shows a child’s anxiety and fear of a storm. And at the end of the story when the storm has gone, we see the little girl still anxious that the storm might return.

The only way to see if this book can be understood by small readers is the test of time. A caring adult reading it to a child could use At the End of Holyrood Lane to prise out the underlying meaning through probing questions and sensitive disclosure of the book’s message.

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