The ANZAC billy by Claire Saxby
Illus. by Mark Jackson and Heather Potter. Black Dog Books, 2019.
(Age: 6+) Highly recommended. Themes: Anzac, Christmas, Home, War. A little known event during World War One was the sending of billy cans from Australia to Gallipoli for the Anzacs during their first Christmas overseas. Families filled the billy cans with gifts, some practical, some edible, some from wives and mothers and some from the children, but all designed to bring comfort and a whiff of home to those soldiers sent so far away.
The soft edged pencil and watercolour illustrations suit the ambience of the story, of children and families finding just the right thing to pack in the can for their father, husband and son overseas. Without being overly sentimental, sentiment is there, and readers will respond with a sigh at seeing the contrast between home and the men on the ships as they set sail. Home is the focus of most of the book, showing the family getting on with their daily tasks, waiting for news from the war. Filling the billy shows each of them has a role to play as they chose what to put in the tin.
The home images are fabulous, showing a world more than one hundred years ago, a vastly different wold from the one our readers inhabit, and classes will have a great deal to discuss, looking at the pictures and working out what everything is for, contrasting the clothes that they wear, the things put into the tin, a world away from the things our readers give and receive for Christmas.
Another chapter of the story of Australia's involvement in World War One has been revealed for younger readers enabling them to see how far war reaches, and the attempts by many to send comfort to those fighting on a foreign field.
There are websites, particularly that of the Australian War Memorial, and VeteransSA, that give more information about this event as well as resources on the net to use with the book. There are teacher notes.