Sunday 26 July 2020

By the Billabong

By the Billabong by Maura Finn and Cate James (Affirm) ISBN 9781925972474
RRP $24.99 (HB)

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

This thoroughly Australian picture book uses rhyme and repetition to describe what is seen from a child’s perspective while on a walk beside a billabong. ‘I went for a walk by the billabong to see what I could see …’ Matt illustrations show bush scenes and a collection of animals: wombats, spiders, possums, dingoes, emus and finally crocs. The young person, who could be a girl or boy, wears a sun-smart hat and cleverly keeps out of sight of the creatures encountered. Fun use of collective nouns is followed by ‘That’s what I could see. But none of them saw me.’ This all changes with the sighting of ‘glaring crocodiles.’ The run home collects all the other animals on the way, with a very suitable finish, ‘And they all came home with me!’ (Apart from the crocodiles, that is!)

Reminiscent of Hairy Maclary, the rhyming is engaging and works. The animals (and spiders) are doing unexpected things like the dingoes are sowing seeds and the emus are dancing ballet. A wisdom of wombats is one of my favourite collective nouns and it’s good to see it included in a story. Illustrations are full page and in natural colours, like the khaki of eucalyptus and realistic sand and rock hues. There is also a textured look to the pictures, which is very effective. A strong page-turning sense about the writing draws readers through the story to see what happens next.

Author, New Zealand-born Maura Finn and illustrator, Scottish-born Cate James seem to get the Australian aesthetic perfectly. By the Billabong is a fun book to read aloud with beautiful illustrations. It is suitable for reading to young children or for early primary school readers.

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