Review Blog

Feb 09 2009

Home and Away by John Marsden and Matt Ottley

cover image

Hachette, 2008. ISBN 978073441056 6
Picture book, unpaged
(Ages: middle school to adult) The irony of the title will have immediate appeal as readers recognize that the TV show of the same name, with its emphasis on dysfunctional families is far removed from the story unfolding before them. This book will shock; it will draw kids in with its take on home and what that means. Not the frippery of the television show of the same name, but a no holds barred look at what it means when you and your home are separated, irretrievably.
Told in diary format, the narrator tells of the days following an invasion and how it affects the family. With little detail, the family is introduced in the first four pages, then the fifth page, April 27, with the deep red colour of blood reflected through the aquarium, war begins. Over the next four pages, the war is described, again sparely, but the childlike illustrations mirror the horror of what is happening. By August 29, rations are being handed out to the homeless, and on September 16, the stark realistic illustration shows the scared and undernourished family sitting by a candle, talking about what to do. All around is black, the features of the family stand out in bleak contrast. The alternate page illustrations depicting a child's drawings underscore the brutality of what is happening, and the diary written on scrap pieces of paper, reiterates the transitory nature of their lives.
What a time could be had in a class when this book is teamed with Shaun Tan's, The Arrival, Mahtab's story by Libby Gleeson, Soraya byRosanne Hawke and Boy overboard by Morris Gleitzman among others. All point to the differences between our students and our safe lives, with kids elsewhere, those who have no home. Tomorrow when the war began and its sequels, all gained credibility because they put Australian kids into the shoes of having to fight for their home, and this carries the same theme. The picture of the bombed Sydney Harbour Bridge, the possum on the road, point to the story being set in Australia, and so engenders empathy from the readers, as the usual story of refugees is turned on its head.
The statistical evidence, that one in 7 of the world's population is homeless is hard to ignore, and Marsden and Ottley have made that statistic as close to home as they possibly can.
Fran Knight

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