Review Blog

Apr 08 2013

The lost tail by Patricia Bernard

cover image

Ill. by Tricia Oktober. Ford Street Publishing, 2013.hbk., RRP $A22.95.
Today is the day! It has arrived! The day the Bundi Boys go to the Goroka Show where they will perform their snake dance, along with thousands of other participants wearing their traditional costumes and sharing their dances and rituals at this annual gathering. But there is no hopping in a car for them - it's a long and arduous five day trek through jungles and rivers and over mountains, while watching out for angry cassowaries and wild pigs, and a host of other hazards, particularly the red-skinned poroi hana spirits, because Goroka is in the remote Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea.
Nura's job is to carry the snake's tail in this traditional warriors' dance, but when they finally arrive at Goroka, he is so exhausted he falls asleep, waking much later than he wanted and finding his friends gone. How will he find them amongst this large, colourful festival which attracts tribespeople from all over the region, all decked in their most garish feathered finery? Nobody he asks has seen them ... where is that elusive snake's tail? Will the Bundi Boys be able to dance for the judges if he is not there?
This is the most beautiful book which works on so many levels. Patricia Bernard always writes an engaging tale (if you're not familiar with Duffy, Everyone's Dog, seek it out), against an authentic backdrop of a country which is Australia's nearest neighbour yet so little is known. You feel Nura's concern as he goes from group to group, reminding himself of his mother's words that Bundi warriors never give up. And then there is the lusciousness of Tricia Oktober's illustrations - so bright and colourful and so realistic that they just leap out of the page. (She is among a tiny group of my favourite illustrators.) She was an inspired choice and just exactly what this text needed.
Whether read aloud or read alone this is a book of such richness, there is something new to be discovered and explored from Kindergarten to Year 6. You can't ask for much more than that.
Barbara Braxton

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