Review Blog

Jul 17 2015

Lara of Newtown by Chris McKimmie

cover image

Allen & Unwin, 2015. ISBN 9781760112324
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Animals, Survival, Naive art. With an eclectic mixture of ephemera as well as illustrative materials including pastels, coloured pencils, masking tape and newspaper, along with a jacaranda flower and a paper bag, McKimmie creates a charming story of finding a home. Kids will melt as they read of the cat, Misty, being left at the Care4Cats centre at Newtown by an elderly owner who can no longer look after her. She sits in the window waiting for a carer when a family takes her home for Christmas.
They name her Nigella after she eats their crackling and custard. But things become very quiet when the family sees that their budgie has also gone, so they dump the cat in a street where she takes cover in a cardboard box, and eats scraps.
But one day she meets the Kafoopses trawling through the second hand shop. They take her home and call her Lara and here she stays, eating her bowl of crumbly biscuits, putting up with the sound of a bagpipe, staying on the roof to escape the noise, having friends over when the family goes out shopping, and roaming the nights, but always coming back to her own home where she is safe and loved.
Readers will love looking at Mckimmie's particular style of illustration, joining in with the fun on each page as Lara's life is outlined from being Misty, to Nigella to Lara.
Each page holds a fascination as people look at the details and work out how McKimmie produced that image. I loved reading the list on the publications page of the materials he used and readers will be able to look more closely to find where he has used each of them.
The background on each page, so redolent of city life, particularly Sydney adds another level of discussion for children reading the story. They will be heartened that Lara's early sad life ends happily with the Kafoopses and be satisfied that the cat's needs are now all met, reflecting perhaps on the plight of others, animals and people, discarded by society.
For older students a picture book like this will provide a platform for looking at incisive writing and illustration. Each time I read this book, I see another level of meaning, another small picture that I missed before, another piece of writing that makes my mind whirr. Teacher notes are available from the Allen & Unwin website.
Fran Knight

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