Review Blog

Feb 08 2019

Black cockatoo by Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler

cover image

Magabala Books, 2018. ISBN 9781925360707.
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Themes: Aboriginal themes, Kimberley, Cockatoos, Rite of passage, Growing up. When thirteen year old Mia rescues a black cockatoo injured by her brother's slingshot, she is at a loss to stand up to him. But determined to help the wounded bird, her totem, a dirrarn, she hides it in her room and goes to a neighbour's house to borrow a birdcage. She puts this in a safe place in her back yard and feeds and waters it. But she must still protect it from her brother and his friends, a group of young teens distancing themselves from the family.
But as the story unfolds Mia develops some strength of purpose, wanting to protect the bird and see it fly, and aware all the time that she must defend it against her brother which goes against the customs of her community where she must defer to him.
She develops skills through the stories told by her family, her mother, grandmother and aunts who come to the house, and one night dreams of flying. She realises that she must let the bird free to live again, just as she must learn to be strong.
I loved this little book, redolent of customs and way of life of people living in the Kimberley. In the background we see the way the family helps all of its members, and when the teenage boys are becoming too cheeky, they are taken off by the older men to become men in the bush. Incidental stories around the kitchen table tell of the stolen generations, of land taken away, of families disjointed, but overwhelmingly the spirit is of the future, of strength of purpose, of families being together and of finding your voice.
The illustrations by David Leffler add a wonderful layer of interest and appeal, and the glossary at the end of the book is most useful. Teacher's notes are available.
Fran Knight

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