Blinky Bill and Nutsy (#3) by Dorothy Wall

Published: 1937 (print)/05 June 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Angus & Robertson/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 156/2 hrs and 56 mins
Narrator: Julie McGregor
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

While telling the adventures of Blinky Bill, a naughty little boy in the form of a koala, the stories also present messages of conservation. Blinky Bill is known for his mischievousness and his love for his mother. In general throughout the stories he does things that are realistic for koalas as well as things that child readers would like to do. Dorothy Wall tells the stories directly to the children and Blinky often interacts with the readers in an introduction. Her dedications are often to ‘All the Kind Children’, with her own son Peter and other common Australian names of the 1930s appearing. The books are also fully illustrated by Dorothy Wall herself.

The third and final Blinky Bill book brings the adventures of the rambunctious koala to an end and introduces a whole new set of characters to get to know. Gone are the days of the same few characters, now there’s a heap of new names and creatures to get to know. If you’re like me and grew up in Australia in the 90s, you will recognise many of these characters from the television series, the difference is the story is not the same at all.

Wall has turned this simple bush story into a strange tale about animals behaving more and more like humans in ways that don’t even make sense. It’s gone from animals with a society but still behaving like animals to a complete anthropomorphising of these characters with chequebooks and boarding houses, hair getting put in rollers and the need for potato bins. They are now living their lives like humans but in animal form.

From waxing lyrical about the wonders of zoos at the end of book two, Wall opens book three showing us the animal abuse suffered and the desperate need to escape. The inconsistencies are annoying to read about, especially when there are so many contradictions not only in previous books but in the same story. The established society had changed so much and with new characters it was like a new story starting from scratch.

This time Nutsy joins Blinky on his adventures around the bush as she is the new addition to his family. Found lost and alone Mrs Koala invites her to stay and soon she is out adventuring with Blinky. With new friends like Splodge, Nutsy and Mr Wombat there is a consistency in the tales as these faces pop up again and again. Blinky has adventures around his home with the same mischief causing approach, angering various animals, helping others, and there’s the standard chapter where he and his friends make their way onto human land and cause chaos.

I know coming at this almost 100 years later will skew any interpretations but I can see how this would have been received by kids and parents when it was first published. They would related to Blinky being a naughty boy and getting into trouble as well as Mrs Koala’s frustrations. The fascination with Australian animals they may have seen near their homes or not see at all would be delightful, a long tradition seen with English literature coming to an Australian setting. It would also be a way to gain sympathy for these creatures, I can see Wall’s attempts at trying to sneak in references to helping them after fires and treating them like wild animals but it is quite subtle.

For all its faults from a modern perspective it was interesting to see the original story and the adventures of Blinky and the mischief he gets up to. Even though the audiobooks are three separate stories, the physical copies are always a collection of all three together. Listening to the audiobooks back to back was like reading the collection but it also made me realise the changes between each book. McGregor does a good job as narrator and the voices and tone she uses suited the style of writing. I missed out on the illustrations Wall had done scattered through the pages but looking at my paperback copy they are simple and are more decorative than anything else. As a classic it reads as such and it’s a good source material to gain inspiration from which is why Blinky Bill is still as captivating today.

You can purchase Blinky Bill via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Princess Kevin by Michaël Escoffier

Published: 7th April 2020Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Illustrator: Roland Garrigue
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

This year, Kevin is going to the school costume show as a princess. His costume is perfect but he knows that the best costumes are authentic. So he is outraged that none of the knights will partner with him and complete the look. Things don’t go quite a smoothly as he planned. Next year, there is only one thing for it. He will just have to be something even more fabulous.

This is a heart-warming and funny story about imagination, diversity and persevering at expressing your fabulous self.

I liked this book because it allowed an exploration of self and breaking gender norms without it having to be purely for trans or other identity reasons. Through the narrative, Escoffier notes that girls can be knights and cowboys so why can’t Kevin be a princess?

It showcases that kids want to play dress up and be the different characters they read in their books and whether that is a knight, a butterfly, or a princess then what does it matter? Kevin can be a princess because he is becoming someone different for the day.

There is some minor bullying towards other costumes and the lack of great design, but it doesn’t go any further than that. Ideally it would be better without this inclusion, no matter how trivial and small because in a book where Kevin is trying to have fun and be his best self on the day, having him join in mocking another student is not the best thing.  There is an apology that’s offered right after which is a slight redemption so I’ll grant Escoffier that.

There isn’t a moral to the story, Escoffier isn’t offering a grand statement in Kevin’s expression because as children do he finds the costume constrictive after a while and hard to play in. I liked that this story is such a non-event. It’s about a dress up event at school and nothing more. Escoffier normalising this behaviour is a great positive because letting boys chose to be princesses simply because they want to be is something I wholeheartedly support.

You can purchase Princess Kevin via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Blinky Bill Grows Up (#2) by Dorothy Wall

Published: 1934 (print)/05 June 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Angus & Robertson/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 150/2 hrs and 31 mins
Narrator: Julie McGregor
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

While telling the adventures of Blinky Bill, a naughty little boy in the form of a koala, the stories also present messages of conservation. Blinky Bill is known for his mischievousness and his love for his mother. In general throughout the stories he does things that are realistic for koalas as well as things that child readers would like to do. Dorothy Wall tells the stories directly to the children and Blinky often interacts with the readers in an introduction. Her dedications are often to ‘All the Kind Children’, with her own son Peter and other common Australian names of the 1930s appearing. The books are also fully illustrated by Dorothy Wall herself.

After coming home to his mother after the last batch of mischief, Blinky has gone out adventuring again and he meets a whole host of new creatures. Wall has changed her approach with this story completely. While the first book kept the animal more natural, this one tends to stray into the anthropomorphising area. There are lucky dips and bazaars, and while the animals are still animals, they start participating in more human type activities. 

The koala culls are still underway, it is mentioned that 200 000 of them have been shot which explains why there are none left in the area. Again, no idea why, if there was a mention of the need for it other than fun it would still be terrible, but Wall makes it sound like they are culling them just because they can. Especially given the description of the killing of Blinky’s father in book one. Strangely enough Blinky himself is now not immune to killing. He easily advocates for killing other animals and even has animals killed himself for trivial reasons but is horrified when humans do it and sees it as unjustified. 

There is not real sense of how long Blinky has been gone on this round of adventuring, whether it is a few days or weeks, Mrs Koala seems happy to have him back each time though regardless. The Australian animals are on show once more, though Wall includes a hedgehog (though the illustration is of a porcupine) instead of an echidna which was curious. But possums, bull ants, goannas and lyrebirds all get to be on show. There’s also introduced species like foxes and rabbits who get their own part of the story too.

Where Wall starts to lose my understanding is when she informs the readers that koalas are happy in the zoo. This is part of the story where she breaks the fourth wall and address readers directly. The narrative style has always been one where Wall is telling Blinky’s story to a reader and even with this shift the tone remains the mystical lyrical style that brings you into Blinky’s world, but it also tells readers that instead of being happy in their natural habitat koalas love being at the zoo. She then contradicts herself by telling readers not to kidnap the koalas from the zoo and keep them as pets because they need to be surrounded by their bush, and yet my understanding is, being in the zoo, a 1930s zoo on top of that, is hardly any better.

There’s a lot more confusion with this second collection of stories than the first. Blinky still goes on adventures but they feel less connected. It jumps all over the place and it’s jarring to go from animals running a fundraising bazaar to Blinky orchestrating vengeance on predators to Blinky causing mischief at a farm to back in the bush meeting friendly animals like birds and hedgehogs. Granted this story has been strange from the start, but by the end it turned into a strange propaganda about zoos and animals and I was glad to be finished.

You can purchase Blinky Bill via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Blinky Bill (#1) by Dorothy Wall

Published: 1933 (print)/05 June 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Angus & Robertson/Bolinda Publishing
Pages: 100/2 hrs and 3 mins
Narrator: Julie McGregor
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Classic
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

While telling the adventures of Blinky Bill, a naughty little boy in the form of a koala, the stories also present messages of conservation. Blinky Bill is known for his mischievousness and his love for his mother. In general throughout the stories he does things that are realistic for koalas as well as things that child readers would like to do. Dorothy Wall tells the stories directly to the children and Blinky often interacts with the readers in an introduction. Her dedications are often to ‘All the Kind Children’, with her own son Peter and other common Australian names of the 1930s appearing. The books are also fully illustrated by Dorothy Wall herself.

When I say I have wanted to read this series for almost half of my life I would not be telling a life. I remember gazing in wonder at the huge, illustrated hardback collection at the bookshop and wishing I had the money to buy it. Even when I eventually bought the much smaller, cheaper paperback it still sat on my shelf for years waiting for me to pick it up. Now that I have read the stories, I’m glad I can tick it off because it is quite a unique, strange collection and yet one that has captured the hearts of people all around this country given he is still popular and being reimagined for kids today.

First published in 1933 the time period is evident in Wall’s writing style and the events in this book. The notion of Australian animals is a fascination and similar to May Gibbs with the Gumnut stories, telling stories of “the Australian bush” was the way to go. We’re introduced to Blinky after he’s born and how the animals around comment on him, watch him get named, and then, in a weird turn of events see him being nannied by a wallaby and almost get eaten by a snake. Why a newborn koala is being taken from the tree to the ground is not even the first question, the better one is why his mother can’t raise him herself. But such was the times I suppose and Wall is reflecting human behaviour onto these animals.

To give her some slight credit, Wall doesn’t overly anthropomorphise the animals. There is a group that live around the tree and are neighbours, animals hunt and are preyed upon, and we see Blinky’s early life. He is cheeky and mischievous, the iconic red “knickerbockers” on him from a young age.

Wall doesn’t hold things back either, there is a proper depressing description of the death of Blinky’s father in the first chapter, one told from both his perspective and the others. Definitely something I wasn’t expecting. It isn’t graphic, but it is rough to listen to. As Blinky grows up and explores the bush we see more of the animal life and the balance with humans and see the tense relationship between them.

Blinky has always been portrayed as being cheeky, but he is a lot rougher and harsher in the book. He hates his neighbour, he also runs away a lot when he doesn’t get his own way. The “reality of bush life” is through this story, Wall obviously wanted a cute tale about the Aussie bush creatures but it isn’t quite as cute with hunters culling koalas for no reason and animals preying on others, but it also has a simplicity about it where Blinky comes across various Australian animals and having brief encounters with them. Wall’s Australian knowledge only goes so far as Blinky’s mother is called Mrs Bear for most of the book until it switches to Mrs Koala and Blinky is called a cub not a joey, but given the actual weirdness in the story that part I might forgive her for.

You can purchase Blinky Bill via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson | Project Gutenberg

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

A Scarf for Keiko by Ann Malaspina

Published: 1st February 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Kar-Ben Publishing
Illustrator: Merrilee Liddiard
Pages: 32
Format: Picture Book
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

It’s 1942. Sam’s class is knitting socks for soldiers and Sam is a terrible knitter. Keiko is a good knitter, but some kids at school don’t want anything to do with her because the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor and her family is Japanese American. When Keiko’s family is forced to move to a camp for Japanese Americans, can Sam find a way to demonstrate his friendship? 

This is a good book with an important message but it’s also one that is incredibly text heavy which may be a deterrent for younger readers. Each page has around a paragraph of story on it, accompanied by a large illustration. The text included dialogue and narrative but with this set up across all 30+ pages it is a long read.

While it may be long, the story isn’t overly complicated and the message and history Malaspina is trying to convey is important. The focus is through Sam and we see his perspective and understanding of the world around him. As the story goes on you can see Sam’s opinions being shaped by what he hears around him but you also see him learn and realise that those opinions might not be right.

The bigger message of the camps is addressed but the focus is on how a child may view the world during this time so we only see Sam’s experiences during this time and his interactions with others. Malaspina isn’t giving a complete breakdown of the war, instead she is looking at it from an individual perspective and humanising what happened. This works better in my opinion because as Sam is the focus of the story we see events play out around him and seeing Sam’s growing understanding of what is happening demonstrates how opinions can be changed and how the loudest voice isn’t always the right one.

The full page illustrations help visual what is happening on the page, something that helps given it is such a text heavy book. The colours help reflect the era the story is set, a lot of browns and tans as was seen during the war. The few colours we see stand out on the sepia type illustrations varying between full page pictures and framed images that reflect old photographs which I thought was a clever choice by Liddiard.

The ending is left open but there is also a lot of historical information at the end of the book to learn about the real camp and the real ways Americans treated their fellow citizens. It was an interesting book and maybe having such a detailed story works in its favour because you get to see a lot more than if it had been condensed down. There is definitely a sense of injustice throughout and having a child like Sam have to realise his own mistakes is a great lesson for kids to see.

You can purchase A Scarf for Keiko via the following

 Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Fishpond

 Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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