Barlay, by Cheryl Kickett-Tucket

Sarah and her brothers, Jay and Rene, lived with their parents and Nan in a white house with a red roof. The house sat high in the hills on the Darling scarp, nestled amongst the tall white gum trees. Many birds made their homes in the trees and Sarah loved ot listen to the, and watch the bush animals eat and play. She was a Noongar girl, so for her family the bush was a spiritual place where people could learn many special things.

Sarah lives with her family on the edge of the bush. One night her grandmother Nan, tells her the story of the woordatj, a mysterious creature who lives in the bush and is seldom seen but always watching. His role, says Nan, is to make sure children listen to their elders. If not, he comes and takes them away. Sarah is thrilled by the story and apprehensive next day when she learns a trip to the waterhole is planned. What if the woordatj finds them? Nan reassures her that he only comes after sundown. They spend the day in the bush and learning more of the ways to respect and enjoy it. ‘Barlay!’ means ‘Look out!’ Barlay! is a brightly coloured paperback chapter book with black and white illustrations throughout.

Sarah listens closely to her grandmother’s stories. The story is intended to instil caution and respect for the bush and to keep her and her family safe. But Nan is no fierce finger-wagging killjoy. She has a lively sense of humour and a deep knowledge. A family outing is an opportunity for plenty of fun as well as a learning time for the children. Sarah appears to have a special connection with Nan, and it’s easy to imagine that she will remember these stories and pass them in her turn to her children. This is the way of story. Barlay! and other stories in the Fremantle Press’s Waarda series are created by indigenous writers and illustrators in part to bring their stories to indigenous children, but they are magical stories for all. Chapters are short and perfect for readers in transition from picture books to novels.

Barlay!, Cheryl Kickett-Tucker
Fremantle Press 2010
ISBN: 9781921696114

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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