Out, by Angela May George & Owen Swan

I’m called an asylum seeker,
but that’s not my name.

A young girl and her mother flee their war torn home, and travel by boat to a new country, where they are safe and can start again. Life is better, but there are still struggles to overcome, including learning English and overcoming memories. But the biggest struggle is waiting to hear what has happened to her father.

Out is a gentle yet powerful story of the asylum seeker experience. Told from the point of view of a child, it reveals their reasons for leaving, what they had to go through to get to the new country, and the struggles once there, as well as the simple joys of feeling free, and being able to explore a new place in safety.

The simple text is accompanied by gentle watercolour and pencil illustrations in muted colours which get lighter and more colourful as the story progresses. A yellow ribbon worn by the girl as she flees a burning school, recurs throughout the story as a link between past and present, and her hopes of being reunited with her father, which occur sin the final spread.

Suitable for very young readers, Out offers a way of understanding and exploring issues which are increasingly prevalent.

Out, by Angela May George & Owen Swan
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781743629000

Newspaper Hats, by Phil Cummings & Owen Swan

Newspaper Hats
Georgie walked through the doors that opened like curtains.
‘Will Grandpa remember me today?’ she asked.
Her father squeezed her hand and smiled. ‘Wait and see.’

Georgie loves her Grandpa, and goes with Dad to see him. But Grandpa has trouble remembering things, and sometimes he doesn’t even remember Georgie, even though he remembers things from long ago. Georgie tries to jog Grandpa’s memory with photographs and when they find a photo of Georgie wearing a newspaper hat, Grandpa remembers how much he loves those hats. Soon, Georgie, Grandpa and Dad are busily making paper hats for each other and for the other residents of the nursing home.

Newspaper Hats is a beautiful story of the love between a grandchild and grandparent, and the issues of memory loss and dementia. While the child character is challenged by the fact that her grandfather doesn’t remember her, she is empowered by being the one who finds a way to connect with him, enriching both of their lives.

The illustrations, rendered in watercolour and pencil in gentle pastel tones, are a lovely complement to the text, and touches such as news font on key words, and endpapers featuring headlines and front pages from a wide range of time periods add visual interest and talking points.

A wonderful tool for discussing issues of ageing – and celebrating newspaper hats!

Newspaper Hats, by Phil Cummings & Owen Swan
Scholastic, 2015
ISBN 9781743622544

Available from good bookstores and online.

The Red Feather by Ben Kitchin ill Owen Swan

One day, Claude, Shelby, William and Maya went to the seaside together.

Claude found a red feather.

It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

One day, Claude, Shelby, William and Maya went to the seaside together.

Claude found a red feather.

It was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

Four young children go to the beach. One finds a fine red feather which becomes his most treasured possession. He plays with it, completely entranced until he is very hungry. Then his friend Shelby offers him food in exchange for his feather. Reluctantly, he relinquishes his treasure. Shelby is then mesmerised by feather play. And so it goes, until all four children have played with the feather. But despite its marvellousness, in the end, the feather is a poor substitute for companionship. So the children play together with the feather. Illustrations are pencil and watercolour and mostly sit in white space, combining full page and vignette images. End papers show feathers red-on-white at the front, white-on-red at the back.

The Red Feather is a story about sharing. Each of the children covets the feather and at first it’s all they need. But before long, it’s not enough. Other needs overwhelm, and although each misses the wonderful feather, they trade it for something else (food, shelter). The feather seems to have altered their ability to play collaboratively, and each becomes mired in loneliness and wanting. But they resolve their dilemma and find a way to share the feather. Then they can get back to enjoying their time on the beach, playing together. The endpapers show the feather faded – perhaps not quite as valuable as when first discovered. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

The Red Feather, Ben Kitchin & Owen Swan
New Frontier Publishing 2015 ISBN: 9780957988439

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller


Anzac Biscuits, by Phil Cummings and Owen Swan

The fire crackled and Rachel was warm.
‘Let’s make some biscuits for Dad,’ her mother said.
‘Yes, let’s!’ Rachel cried.

Rachel and her mother are at home on the family farm in Australia. Far away (presumably, though this isn’t stated, in Europe), her father, a soldier, battles the cold, the mud and the horrors of war. As Rachel and Mum bake Anzac biscuits, they are unknowingly linked to Dad. When the biscuits are baked, they will be sent to Dad, making that link real.

Anzac Biscuits is a beautiful story of love and connection, particularly in times of war. In alternate spreads we see Rachel and her mother making the biscuits, then Dad cold and afraid on the battlefield. The actions are subtly linked – when Mother dons a flower-patterned apron, and Rachel accidentally drops a pan, Dad lies low from the banging of rifle shots in a flower-strewn field; when Rachel licks her sticky treacle fingers, Dad’s feet are sticky with mud.

Text and illustration are both simple and touching. The war scenes are are depicted in greys whilst the home scenes are warm creamy sepias and blues. The images of war focus on the harshness of the conditions and the emotions of the lonely soldiers rather than on more startling battlefield images, making the story accessible to young children.

A lovely tale, and a beautiful way of introducing both the subject of war and the history of Anzac biscuits. And, if you’re like me, you may find yourself inspired to whip up a batch of biscuits after reading.

Anzac Biscuits

Anzac Biscuits, by Phil Cummings & Owen Swan
Scholastic, 2013
ISBN 9781742833460

Available from good bookstores and online.