Review Blog

Jun 05 2015

My name is Lizzie Flynn, a story of the Rajah Quilt by Claire Saxby

cover image

Ill. by Lizzy Newcomb. Black Dog Books, 2015. ISBN 9781922179913
(Age: 8 to adult) Highly recommended. Australian history. Convicts. Needlework. My brain went into overdrive reading this fabulous book about a quilt made by women aboard a convict ship headed for Van Diemen's Land. As an ex history teacher and teacher librarian, my mind skipped from convict ships to the loathsome voyage to Australia, the reasons so many were sent out, the role of women, what they would have found when they got here, and so on, a whole unit of work about Australia's early history set around one beautiful book. And then if visiting Canberra, it can actually be seen. It's on my list.
Leaving Woolwich in 1841, the 180 women aboard the Rajah were given cloth, scraps of material, scissors, thread and needles, along with Bibles, to keep themselves occupied on the horrendous voyage across the world, by reformer, Elizabeth Fry and her committee.
In this picture book, a taste of life aboard the ship is given, with accounts of bullying, industry by some, death and storms being shown in the compact and precise writing. Lizzie is unable to sew and watches the other women, all the while moving the fabric around to make patterns. Eventually she does learn to sew and this becomes her refuge, especially after her friend, Molly dies. Once landed, the future looks hopeful as Lizzie is taken to the laundries to work, clutching the quilt.
This is a wonderful book showing hope in the future despite an appalling start in life.
Several websites offer more information about this episode in Australia's history; The National Gallery which now owns the quilt has an outline of the work and its history, while there is a passenger list of those aboard the ship, Rajah. This wonderfully illustrated book gives readers an insight into the perils of being sent to Australia, and the industry of some in making the best of it, as well as a taste of what some of our forebears endured in making the forced trip.
This is an outstanding example of the ability of Black Dog Books to produce high quality informative nonfiction picture books, with its story and illustrations taking us with Lizze as she comes to Australia, while two pages at the end show the real quilt along with an explanation of the finished product.
Fran Knight

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