Here in the Garden, by Briony Stewart

The wind is raking through the falling leaves
and I wish that you were here.

The gently lyrical opening lines of this picture book perfectly capture its essence. The narrator – illustrated as a young boy – is missing his pet rabbit. Text and illustrations follow the seasons and show the boy missing his friend with each new season, reflecting on the things they did together at that time of the year – watching clouds, sitting in the shade, listening to crickets and more. The final pages have the narrator conclude that whenever he misses his friend, he can go outside and find him – in his memories, ‘in the garden, in my heart.’

Whilst this a book about grief, it is also a celebration of friendship and of life, with the boy’s memories having a gentle poignancy. Whilst the illustrations show a boy and a rabbit, this is made clear only in the illustrations, meaning readers and adults could equally relate the text to another loss.

The muted watercolour and gouache illustrations are perfect for the mood of the text – not sombre, but gentle, and with a contrast in detail between the illustrations showing the boy alone and those showing him sharing the seasons with his rabbit. In the former, reminders of the rabbit are there in little ways that viewers will enjoy noticing – such as a rabbit shaped shadow under the boy on a swing, and rabbit motifs on a curtain.

This is a treasure of a picture book which touches the heart.


Here in the Garden

Here in the Garden, by Briony Stewart
UQP, 2014
ISBN 9780702250101

Available from good bookstores and online.

Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers, by Briony Stewart

t night when it gets cold, tiny beads of water turn to ice, making everything glitter like the jewelled belongings of an empress. Even the tiles of our roof sparkle as I climb onto them from my bedroom window in my warmest hanten coat. Tomodo is waiting for me, his spines shining in the moonlight from his tail to his steps. Once I am sitting safely between his shoulders, he throws his black wings open to the air of the night and leaps into the sky.

Kumiko is tired of living in fear. Since she learnt about the dreaded Shadow Catchers, powerful sorcerers who will stop at nothing to steal dragon magic, she has known that she, her family, and her dragon Tomodo, are in danger. But instead of waiting for the Shadow Catchers to find her, Kumiko has decided she will find them – and stop them once and for all.

Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers is the third and final story in the Kumiko series, and is as enchanting as the first two. What is wonderful about this series is that it shows a child who sees herself as nothing special, and scared of everything, uncovering her own strengths and, as a result, blossoming. In each instalment the stakes have been raised – and as a result Kumiko has had to dig ever deeper to overcome the troubles that beset her and her friends.

The writing is poetic and utterly enchanting, with such gems as the breathtaking line: sometimes one short hug is like a long conversation between friends.

Whilst it is sad to see the series end, Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers is a perfect conclusion.

Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers

Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers, by Briony Stewart
UQP, 2011

ISBN 9780702238741

This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Kumiko and the Dragon's Secret, by Briony Stewart

‘What about the girl?’
I look up, my skin prickling. How hadn’t I noticed? Sobs and sighs tumble from every dragon around the temple as Rahzoo breathes the word, ‘Taken.’
‘What do you mean taken?’ I say. The dragons are silent. I turn to Tomodo. ‘What do they mean?’

Kumiko’s little sister Arisu is a pest. Kumiko would much rather spend time with her guardian dragon Tomodo. But when Arisu disappears, Kumiko realises how much she loves her. The dragons must find her and rescue her – if they can. It soon emerges that Kumiko herself is the only one who can rescue Arisu, by facing a foe even the dragons fear.

Kumiko and the Dragon’s Secret is a beautiful chapter book and sequel to Kumiko and the Dragon. Kumiko and her family are the last of the ancient royal bloodline of dragons. As such they have powers which they are still uncovering, and guardian dragons. Kumiko’s dragon, Tomodo, tells her that her secret gift is courage, but Kumiko isn’t so sure.

With gorgeous black and white illustrations by the author, Kumiko and the Dragon’s Secret is an excellent read for children.

Kumiko and the Dragon's Secret

Kumiko and the Dragon’s Secret, by Briony Stewart
UQP, 2010

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.