Review Blog

Mar 08 2013

ANZAC biscuits by Phil Cummings

cover image

Ill. by Owen Swan. Scholastic, 2013. ISBN 9781742833460.
(Ages: 4+) Highly recommended. Picture book. ANZAC. Home front. Cooking. Phil Cummings has the knack of combining stories of the past with the warmth of his mother's kitchen, penning a tale so simple, we feel we could all have written it, yet so complex and multi-layered, that only someone of his talent could have imagined it and put it together with such success.
A mother and her daughter are making ANZAC biscuits in their kitchen to send to Rachel's father, serving overseas. Turning the page we see him moving carefully across a battlefield with its lights and sounds. Over the page, we see Rachel paralleling the sounds of war as she pulls pans from the cupboard, while Mum dons an apron resplendent with wildflowers. On the next page we see the soldier, ducking his head from the noise in a field of wildflowers. Then again, Rachel drops the flour from on high, and over the page her father is beset by a snow storm.
Each page following the work in the kitchen by Mum and Rachel, is replicated on the following page by Dad on the battlefield. On and on until the biscuits are received by Rachel's father, we see the horror that he is involved in contrasted with the peace at home, where a woman and her daughter go about their task. Themes of love and family come tumbling through as they do in all of Phil's books.
Complementing the text the understated illustrations glow as Owen Swan visualises the household in shades of muted pastels of yellow, blue and grey with touches of brown, the black cat giving a neat contrast. The pencil outlines filled with washes of colour are simply breathtaking, stressing the place of the kitchen in a loving family home. Each of the other pages is rendered in soft variations of grey and white, giving an impression of the man at war in a colourless background. The design, layout and font size, placement of the text, use of different styles of placing the illustrations on the pages all add to the overall effect, making this a book to savour, to read again and again in classrooms where war is to be touched upon, biscuits made and families of the past discussed.
Fran Knight

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