Review Blog

Mar 06 2018

Bird to bird by Claire Saxby

cover image

Ill. by Wayne Harris. Black Dog Books, 2018. ISBN 9781925381122
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Themes: Birds, Trees, Convicts. In following the life of just one tree, Saxby and Harris reveal the European settlement of Australia, as the wood from the tree is used to build ships that are used to bring the convicts to Sydney, then reused to make a loom, reused again as part of a settler's hut, and then a part of the now derelict hut is fashioned by a wood turner.
In the beginning the tree grows from a seedling born out of a seed dropped by a bird flying overhead. The wood turner at the end fashions his piece of wood into a bird, completing the circle of life for the tree, bringing the story back to its roots.
Readers will eagerly follow the story of the tree from the seedling to the bird being used by children at the end. The bold illustrations show the tree as a seedling, growing to an enormous tree in the forest, used by birds until it is felled by woodsmen. They take the tree to the hungry city where ships are built and beds made in the ships for the convicts on their journey across the seas to Australia. Here the wood becomes a loom to fashion the wool, and when this is no longer used, it makes the roof of a settlers hut, until it is used by the wood turner to fashion a bird.
The sparse text reminds the readers of the uses to which just one tree can be put, and reflect the cyclic nature of life. The wonderful illustrations reference early Australian paintings, particularly of Sydney Harbour, and the style Harris uses recalls for me the techniques of impressionist painters such as van Gogh and Georges Seurat.
The book extols the virtue of recycling, of reusing resources, showing a perspective of Australia's history through the wood used to bring people here, but then reused many times to get the most from it. A gentle story of Australia's beginnings is given a broader scope through the illustrations showing Australia through time; beginning with the convict ships arriving on Sydney's shore to the building of looms to prepare cloth, the settlers' huts miles from the city, then back to the place it started, the harbour where children play with the last product of the original tree.
Fran Knight

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