The Bilbies of Bliss, by Margaret Wild

Biba loved it at Bliss. There was so much to do! And the food was delicious!
Now and again, though, she worried that things weren’t as happy as they should be. The Rules were strict, and Matron sometimes lost her temper. But Biba pushed these thoughts away because she felt so lucky just being there.

Biba the Bilby has scrimped and saved so that she can spend her retirment in the beautiful surrounds of the retirment home called Bliss. Here the food is delicious, the food is tasty and the building and surrounds are perfect. Biba feels fortunate to be here.

So, if Matron’s rules:
No dancing.
No parties.
No midnight feasts.
No visiting each other’s rooms.
No talking after lights out.
No being late for dinner.
No falling asleep at the dinner table.

seem a little harsh, timid Biba is not going to complain. But when a new Bilby, Nina, comes to live at Bliss, she soon starts to question the rules. When Matron locks out a latecomer at dinner time, Nina lets him in, and when Matron ostracises a Bilby who falls asleep at dinner, Nina goes and sits with her. Biba is horrified. What if Matron sends Nina away?

Soon, though, Nina’s courage starts to spread to the other Bilbies, and Matron finds her authority being challenged. When they tell her that is she that must leave Bliss, life at Bliss becomes just as it should be – blissful.

This is a delightful allegorical tale about ageing, dignity and compassion. It also shares a message about standing up for justice and working together to change what is wrong. By choosing anthropomorphised animal characters, Wild has softened the message of the tale, but not diminished it. There is a serious message which adults and older children will easily perceive, whilst younger readers will enjoy the tale for its surface value.

The watercolour illustrations match the gentleness of the text, and with antique shades of olives, blues, mauves and greys, provide an antique feel appropriate to the setting of an aged person’s home. The attire of the bilbies, with beads, jackets and sensible shoes, is especially delightful.

This a book which is sure to endure, touching both children and adults, for a long time to come.

The Bilbies of Bliss, by Margaret Wild and Noela Young
ABC Books, 2005