The Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky

the blue cat.jpg

Title: The Blue Cat

Author: Ursula Dubosarsky

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 29th March 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 176

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: From the multi-award-winning author of The Red Shoe comes a haunting story about a boy who can’t – or won’t – speak about his past in war-torn Europe, and his friendship with a young Australian girl.

A boy stood in the playground under the big fig tree. ‘He can’t speak English,’ the children whispered.

Sydney, 1942. The war is coming to Australia – not only with the threat of bombardment, but also the arrival of refugees from Europe. Dreamy Columba’s world is growing larger. She is drawn to Ellery, the little boy from far away, and, together with her highly practical best friend Hilda, the three children embark on an adventure through the harbour-side streets – a journey of discovery and terror, in pursuit of the mysterious blue cat …

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aww2017-badgeThe Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky is a glimpse into a world affected by war through the eyes of children. The main character, Columba, is a dreamy, curious child, who notices the strange boy, Ellery at school during the early part of 1942. A blue cat, sleek and mysterious, has appeared at her neighbour’s house. The arrival of Ellery and the cat spark a curiosity in Columba that has her asking more questions, wanting to know more about the world as she tries to become Ellery’s friend. Columba’s friend, Hilda, is the realist, the pushy one out collecting money for the war effort, and isn’t as dreamy as Columba.

Ellery’s arrival hints that war is closer to home than everyone thought. He is mysterious and quiet, and doesn’t speak English – through the eyes of a child, he is strange, a mystery and yet, someone that Columba sees is in need of a friend. Though they do not talk, they become friends, something Ellery’s father finds pleasing for his son, lost in a new world without a mother. The story culminates in a search for the mysterious blue cat, and events that bring the war and the realities of what that means closer to home for Columba.

The Blue Cat is dreamy, and has a fairy tale feeling about it – as though the blue cat is not quite real. This fits with the dreamy sense I got from Columba, and also the childlike ways of understanding the war – You-Rope for Europe, said phonetically perhaps, as a child might say it. I found there was a sense of magic about it – the threat is real, especially during the air raid siren practice when Columba and Ellery are out walking, and yet, it retains some of the innocence of childhood, though it is scarred by a war that is so far away yet in other ways, so close to the characters.

The Blue Cat combines history with a sense of dreaming, placing the characters in a world where sometimes their imaginations help to get them through the day, but at the same time, the reality of war will always be there. Prisoners of war, bombs and people like Ellery, hiding away, hoping for safety away from the dangers of a nation far away. Throughout the book, Ursula Dubosarsky incorporated primary sources from the time period, which added to the reading experience and gave Columba’s story an authentic feel, and added to the gravity of the situation and reality that the characters were living. An enjoyable novel showing war through the eyes of a child, and a good read for children aged ten and over.

Booktopia

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle by Jackie French (Matilda Saga #6)

If Blood should Stain the Wattle.pngTitle: If Blood Should Stain the Wattle

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 1st December 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 544

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: It’s 1972 in Gibber’s Creek, and across the nation, the catchcry is, ‘It’s time’.

In 1972, and the catchcry is ‘It’s time’.

As political ideals drift from disaster to the dismissal, it’s also time for Jed Kelly to choose between past love, Nicholas, the local Labor member, and Sam from the Halfway to Eternity commune. It’s time too for Matilda Thompson to face her ghosts and the life that took a young girl from the slums of Grinder’s Alley to being the formidable matriarch of Gibber’s Creek.

During this period of extraordinary social change and idealism, modern Australia would be born. And although the nation would dream of a better world, it would continue to struggle with opposing ideas of exactly what that better world might be.

Jackie French, author of the bestselling To Love a Sunburnt Country, has woven her own experience of that time into an unforgettable story of a small rural community and a nation swept into the social and political tumult of the early 1970s. A time that would bear witness to some of the most controversial events in Australian history; and for Matilda, a time that would see her vision made real, without blood spilled upon the wattle.

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aww2017-badgeBook six in The Matilda Saga picks up three years after the end of The Ghost by the Billabong. Jed Kelly has been accepted into the Thompson and McAlpine families, has been at university, and is living in Dribble at Gibber’s Creek with Scarlett, the young girl who chose Jed as her sister when they met. Matilda is still going – at age ninety-three, she is still as formidable as in the previous books, still caring, and still determined to see her father’s dream of fair work, fair wages and the dream of equality for all, regardless of skin colour, gender and ability become a reality under a Whitlam government, promising fair work hours, and an act that ends discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or ability – it is a dream that began in 1894 in a Grinder’s Alley jam factory, a dream that took a young girl from the slums of the city to owning one of the largest farms in the Gibber’s Creek district. By this time, Matilda’s voice – and the voices of her family – are heard loud and clear. This time, it is Scarlett who is finding her independence, and the mute girl, Leafsong, from the hippie commune Halfway to Eternity, who is invisible to begin with, but through Scarlett’s friendship, is shown how to become part of society – noticed, but accepted by those who matter the most – her friends and Jed, and Matilda.

Politics has always played a role in the Matilda saga – union rights, suffragettes, war, Depression, Indigenous rights, and many more. Where each previous book has dealt with a separate issue affecting society at the time, and the voices at the time, this one ties them all together and unites almost a century of working towards equal rights.

Jackie French’s story has incorporated many silenced voices throughout the six books, all of whom have proven to be interesting and strong characters in their own right. She has told the history of a young nation from 1894 to 1975, incorporating the history of the unions, suffrage, Federation, racism, Depression and issues of class, gender, disability and race – and constantly questions the status quo through her characters and why things were the way they were, why a character link Old Mr Drinkwater in A Waltz for Matilda was the way he was with Matilda and her father, or what it mean to have Indigenous heritage, what it meant for may during times of war, during the Great Depression.

Most of the history is easily read about in history books – what Jackie French does is give the women of Gibber’s Creek a voice – sometimes arguing with the male characters, sometimes standing with them united in a common cause – but ultimately, it is characters like Matilda, Flinty, Blue, Nancy and Jed who drive the story lines and the outcomes, at least for their families.

Like the rest of this series, If Blood Should Stain the Wattle tugs at the heartstrings. It has a bittersweet ending that many of Jackie’s books have, and whilst it is aimed at teenagers, adults can read it too. I would recommend reading the first five books first, as by the time I came to this book, the characters were formed and all their relationships made sense. A wonderful book to read, it wraps up most of what has happened in the previous books nicely.

Booktopia

The Road to Gundagai by Jackie French (Matilda Saga #3)

road-to-gundagaiTitle: The Road to Gundagai (Matilda Saga #3)

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 1st December 2013

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: Blue Laurence has escaped the prison of her aunt’s mansion to join the Magnifico Family Circus, a travelling troupe that brings glamour and laughter to country towns gripped by the Depression. Blue hides her crippled legs and scars behind the sparkle of a mermaid’s costume; but she’s not the only member of the circus hiding a dark secret. the unquenchable Madame Zlosky creates as well as foresees futures. the bearded lady is a young man with laughing eyes. A headless skeleton dangles in the House of Horrors. And somewhere a murderer is waiting … to strike again. this third book in the Waltz for Matilda saga is set in 1932, at the height of the Depression. Miss Matilda is still running Drinkwater Station, but has put aside her own tragedy to help those suffering in tough economic times and Joey, from the Girl from Snowy River, uses his new medical skills to solve a mystery.

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aww2017-badgeThe third book in Jackie French’s ongoing Matilda Saga, about the women and characters of other classes and races behind the history of Australia. In The Road to Gundagai, Bluebell “Blue” Laurence is living with her aunts after the death of the rest of her family at sea, a fire that has left her crippled, and months of feeling ill and not getting any better. Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression of the 1930s in Australia, Blue attends a circus, where she meets the people who will whisk her away from a life of closed rooms and illness, beds and dependency on others. Hiding the scars of the fire beneath a sparkling mermaid, costume, Blue becomes part of the circus, a member of the family, yet she is worried about the young Chinese girl, Mah, who used to serve her, and help her. Blue’s disappearance leads to a series of events involving her aunts and her Uncle Herbert, that come to a head when the circus arrives at Gibber’s Creek, and one member takes ill. It is at this point that Miss Matilda, owner of Drinkwater, takes them in and the mysteries and secrets that everyone has been hiding for months and years, are revealed, and a murderer caught as they attempt to strike again.

The third book in the Matilda Saga brings together Miss Matilda, the titular character of the saga and A Waltz for Matilda, and Joey McAlpine from The Girl From Snowy River, Flinty’s brother. As each book has progressed, the characters have become linked in some way, and they all end up in Gibber’s Creek, at Drinkwater with Miss Matilda, whose constant presence links everyone together as a family, all with secrets and pasts to deal with, but they do so together.

 

Like A Waltz for Matilda and The Girl From Snowy River, The Road to Gundagai tells the story of the ignored or silenced. It gives women a voice, it gives a young Chinese girl a voice, and shows that racism in Australia was just as dangerous as classism. It juxtaposes the poor circus against wealthy Blue at the start – and yet, as someone who lived with help her whole life, even before the accident, I felt Blue slipped easily into circus life, and then just as easily into life back at Drinkwater with Mah, Miss Matilda and Tommy Thompson – she was a character of both worlds, and one who has the ability to make her own life.

I am only half way through the Matilda Saga, and I hope to keep encountering these characters in many ways. Matilda only comes into The Road to Gundagai about half way through, but her role is just as important as Mrs. Olsen or Madame Zlosky in the circus. Matilda and her husband are healing too – and Blue, Mah and Sheba’s (the circus elephant) presence will help everyone at Drinkwater for the better.

Jackie French’s endings are uplifting, yet realistic. The characters get to where they need to be in time, and when they need to. Things work out for men and women to achieve their goals, their dreams, and still be themselves and fit into society, even if some societal expectations are ignored or flouted – something Miss Matilda is a fan of, and probably why I was first drawn to this series, because it was about ordinary women doing things beyond what was expected or assumed of them in early Australian history. In giving these girls a voice, Jackie French is giving all Australian women a voice, and saying do what you want. A great message for young girls, and great characters to look up to.

In giving these people a voice – the women, the poor, the downtrodden – whether based on class, gender, race, or any combination of these, Jackie French is using The Matilda Saga to challenge preconceptions and assumptions of history, and to show the often ignored people and stories. Doing so through fiction is powerful, and allows for the reader of any age to question what they know. A series like this can open one’s mind to the possibility of stories and accounts in history beyond those printed in history books, and in writing this saga, Jackie French is keeping the voices of these people – fictional characters inspired by real people, events and the actions of real people – and the hidden history of Australia a voice, and ensures that the complexities of the history of Australia, and the words of women and their voices, are not forgotten.