As many of you know, I recently became a grandmother – and if you know anything about becoming a grandparent you’ll know that THE critical question is “what are you going to be called?” Well, I would like to be called Gummie – the name given me here by one of my favourite bloggers Guy (His Futile Preoccupations.) However, the family is looking at me a bit askance, given other images conjured by the word, particularly in relation to, let us say, older people. I haven’t given up yet, though …
And my cause received a fillip last night when a friend gave me the gorgeous children’s picture book, The Gum Family finds home, written by local author Tania McCartney and illustrated by Christina Booth, because surely a Gum Family would think Gummie a perfectly good Grandma name, don’t you think?
Anyhow, I was intrigued by the book for other reasons too. For example, there’s the author, Tania McCartney. I hadn’t heard of her until the last couple of years when she started popping up in my social media feeds with another children’s author, Irma Gold, who has appeared several times on my blog. McCartney is currently an ambassador for our (ACT) Chief Minister’s Reading Challenge. She was also, back in 2012, an ambassador for the National Year of Reading. In other words she’s more than “just” an author-illustrator. She’s an active proponent of reading and literacy – and in my city – so well worth getting to know
But now, let’s get to the book. The cover provides a hint that it’s more than a story. It includes, it says, “fascinating facts” about “Australia’s unique geology” and this becomes immediately clear when you open the book and find, on the front (and back) endpapers, illustrations of places in Australia, each one with dot points. Pretty soon I was laughing because these dot points read like a house-hunter’s list of pros for a new home. So, for example, the points for Butterfly Gorge near Katherine include “on-site security (crocs!)”; for The Bungle Bungle Range there’s “decorative silica and lichen features” and “close to gorges, pools and walking tracks”; and for the Nullarbor Plain “lots of space” and “very private”. Haha, love it.
The endpapers, then, got me in before I even started the book. The narrative is straightforward, befitting the child audience it is geared to. It is about a family of koalas, the Gum Family, who decide that they need a safer, more “rock solid” home than their gum tree. So, they hitch up a caravan, pack some “gum leaf sandwiches and eucalyptus juice”, and set off around Australia to see what they can find. The story is told with lovely humour, as place after place doesn’t quite suit their needs, such as the Twelve Apostles:
Over the years, these limestone stacks will tumble into the sea. Mum is looking for something a bit more stable.
This trip, then, provides an excuse for McCartney and Booth to introduce their readers to, as McCartney’s website says, “the sheer variety and imposing grandeur of the Australian geological landscape, from Uluru to King’s Canyon, from gorges and limestone pillars to precariously placed boulders and sweeping plains.” There are two main themes – or ideas – here. One is this showcasing of Australia’s landscape, as McCartney explains on the National Library’s blog:
As a land of enormous geographical distance, enjoying these sites firsthand can be difficult for many children, so featuring them in children’s books is a wonderful way to encourage kids to learn about these sites and inspire them to visit.
The other is a more personal one about home, about the fact that home is where you feel most comfortable, where you can live with the people you love in the way that best suits you. For the koalas, this is, of course … but, no, I’m not going to spoil the ending!
The book ends with a lovely value-add – eight pages of basic facts about “Australia’s unique geology.” These facts comprise a photograph or two of the place, and a paragraph giving information about its formation and history. These are kept simple to suit an early primary-school-age audience, but they made the geology nicely comprehensible to me too. (I do find geologic time scales almost impossible to get my head around.) I can imagine a teacher suggesting students choose one of the places to research further, and do a project on or write their own story about … In other words, it’s a book that doesn’t really end when you finish reading it.
I do, however, have one little query. It concerns nomenclature. In some cases, the creators have used the now-agreed indigenous Australian names for the places, such as Uluru and Kata Tjuta, but in others, such as Kings Canyon (now Watarrka) and the Bungle Bungles (now Purnululu) they don’t. I’m assuming they are making some fine distinctions here between the landform and the name of the national park in which they sit, but it would have been good, at least, to include the indigenous name in the facts at the back, as they do for Katherine Gorge (or Nitmiluk.) This is a little quibble, and one, I’m sure, that they discussed thoroughly, but still …
The Gum Family finds home was, I understand, just published this month. I do hope it sells well as the story is delightfully told and the information engagingly presented. I look forward to reading it to Grandson Gums one day.
Meanwhile, though, what do you think about my grandma name?