When Lisa Simpson tells Homer that the Chinese have the same word for ‘crisis’ as they do for ‘opportunity’ she is half right – according to the people at the internet, they do share a character. Whether that is like saying that we have the same words for ‘Bruce Whatley’ as we do for ‘what a painter!’ is one for the linguists but this book is certainly about crisitunity.
The BotY is always good for a bit of disaster porn and this year is no different. We have drought with the fun Bungawitta and we have downpour with the sodden, Flood. The book is a narrative without a protagonist. And, while we have a narrator telling the story, it is the pictures that do all the work.
Every page is an artwork in this visceral piece on the recent floods in Queensland. The images tell the story of the downpour, the devastation and the aftermath. Their articulate composition explains the magnitude of the event and the individual’s responses to it. We are Hansel and Gretled through the tale by the mute presence of the dog silently observing the work of the locals as they stoically deal with the sudden downpour. He (or she) is a great symbol of the passive observer, nature, as it watches us go about our toils at once in need of protection and totally in control.
There is a political message to this story too – why build things on an area that is known to be a flood plain? But it is hidden in the information for the adults. Kids, on the other hand, get a patriotic chest beating story about how heroic people were chipping in. There is certainly bravery in the story of the tug boat going out to guide the dislodged bridge and protect the town. The rest of the story though is related adequately through the pictures making the text jingoistic and unnecessary.
Whatley, we are told, normally does funny stuff and works with his left hand when he wants to engage his emotional cortex. It works terrifically. The pages are so waterlogged that you feel you could ring this book out. The writing is soggy too but in a different way. Reading this book with your hand over the text is one of the best picture story book experiences that you can have – just be careful not to drip on the carpet.