When Sam visits a waterhole in the bush with his Nanna, he's grumpy about all the mosquitoes there. Later - in a dream that might not be a dream in the usual sense - he finds the waterhole a much more attractive place...
One of the many stunningly vivid and beautiful illustrations in Sam's Bush Journey - illustrated by the sublimely talented Bronwyn Bancroft.
When I was in grade 1 at school, I once took home a book that featured a series of myth-oriented stories from the Aboriginal Dreamtime. I can't for the life of me remember what it was called, but it was vividly illustrated and had me spellbound on the loungeroom couch for hours.
A giant death-breathing dingo chased a pair of brothers across deserts and through mighty river gorges... I think they managed to trick it into following them into a very narrow pass between two hills, where it got jammed and began to howl furiously.
As dusk fell, spidery crab-like shadow figures emerged out of cracks in cliffs and boulders, so thin that they were virtually invisible when viewed side-on and apparently they were/are very vulnerable to even the slightest breeze (which could snap their necks)...
A rainbow serpent appeared at some point, big enough to fill the entire sky, and saved somebody who was in a pretty nasty spot of bother.
I'll admit it scared the living you-know-what out of me at the time, but it also fascinated me and got my imagination going in ways I hadn't known were possible up until that point in time.
I've always wanted my children (being Australian) to learn as much as possible about Australian Indigenous culture, stories and art. One of the things I really love about Aboriginal Dreamtime storytelling is that it rarely sanitises stories in the name of being more 'child friendly'. Like the landscape itself, these stories are pretty up front, with as many easy to grasp morals as there are mysterious shadows trailing away into dark places.
Remembering my own experience reading a brilliantly illustrated story from this genre, I was happy to stumble upon Sam's Bush Journey (by Sally Morgan and Ezekiel Kwaymullina, illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft) in a bookshop in the National Gallery of Victoria in Federation Square in Melbourne when we visited there as a family over the weekend.
Another of Bronwyn's illustrations from Sam's Bush Journey - showing Sam (in a sort of dream state) discovering a hollow gum tree to shelter in when he gets caught in a thunderstorm out in the bush.
Jamie (my son) and I have been reading it at bedtime, and he absolutely loves it. The story itself is fantastic (there's an excellent summary and review of it here), especially in terms of blending the modern reality of the Australian child with the culture and oral wisdom associated with Indigenous elders.
But the pictures... The pictures!
They are absolutely stunning, and the samples I've pasted in here (from the illustrator's own site) really don't do the actual book versions anywhere near enough justice.
I love the fact that there are so many things in the pictures that I can't directly explain to Jamie when he asks me about them ("Who are those shadows between the trees?" "What's this green thing along the bottom? Is it grass? Is it a giant caterpillar, or... a snake?") - they are things we have to hypothesize about together (and his young eyes see so many possibilities that mine have forgotten to learn to entertain).
These pictures have also started to fire up the little artist in our son. He loves to draw, and this style of illustration is relatively easy for a child to model and copy from. I can see it in his eyes. He looks at the illustrations in Sam's Bush Journey and his eyes turn into dark saucers, drinking it all in. It's a vague itch for him at the moment, but I have seen this progression before and I know (in very general terms) where it's headed...
Jamie also reminded me that I haven't read a story to his kindergarten class for a few weeks now, and Sam's Bush Journey could be just the trick to take in and read this week.
How could any dad say no?
Sam's Bush Journey it shall be, then!