Review Blog

Feb 13 2013

Sand swimmers by Narelle Oliver

cover image

Walker Books, 2013. ISBN 9781822077288.
(Age: All) Highly recommended. Picture book. Australian environment. Desert. Animal life. Subtitled The secret life of Australia's dead heart, this visually stunning non-fiction picture book was unsurprisingly lauded when it first appeared in 1999. Shortlisted for the Eve Pownall Award as well as the Queensland Premier's Award for Children's Literature in 2000, this book set a high water mark in presenting information to young readers. The fascinating facts are given in a variety of images and shapes, and each page holds a treat for its readers.
From the earliest beginnings through to Aboriginal occupancy of this land, the story follows Sturt's expedition across the centre in 1845. Pages have a sketch map of his journey, while others have a picture of the things he would or should have seen, underscored with excerpts from his diary showing his disappointments. Each page shows another part of his trek, as he came across landscape he had never seen before, all the time searching for an inland sea.
But the barren sand does hold life, and it is this life which Oliver reveals in her sparse, carefully selected words and imaginative lino prints. Sweeps of sandy hills hide small animals, and an explanation is given about each. Small lino prints dot the pages, along with majestic pages of colour and movement as the animals and their environment are shown. Along the bottom of the page, Sturt's journey is rendered in red smudged pencil, showing the work he did on his expedition. The last few pages include an extensive bibliography, an index to the array of animals represented in the book, as well as an introduction by Robyn Williams, and a page of information about and by Narelle Oliver, giving her reasons behind the making of the book.
As an introduction to a part of Australia rarely seen by our coastal populations, a reference book for younger students, a beautiful book to look at and admire, or a book to keep in the home, this book is extraordinary, and we all benefit from Walker Books Australia and their handsome republication of Australian classics, many of which are pictured on the last page.
Fran Knight

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