Rocky and Louie by Phil Walleystack and Raewyn Paisley

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Illus. by Dub Leffler. Penguin Random House Australia, 2020. ISBN: 9780143786528.
(Ages: 5-10) Highly Recommended. This is a superb collaboration between three accomplished Australian storytellers. It tells the tale of two Indigenous brothers, their special bond and their connection to country. Younger brother Louie simply adores his big brother Rocky, who teaches him to play footy as well as about their country. Thanks to Rocky, Louie knows not to step on the new shoots coming up through the dirt, how to take care of the land through lighting little, cool fires and how to respect the country's animals. But one day, Rocky tells Louie he is leaving; he has big dreams and wants to pursue them. It's difficult for Louie to say goodbye to his brother, so he crafts a boomerang for Rocky, to remind him that he will always return to the place where he belongs.
The illustrations are soft, sparse and dreamlike, perfectly capturing the immenseness of remote communities. However, they also capture the joy and love of the people living there and their respect for their place in space. There is a beautiful message here about belonging and living with traditions co-existing with dreaming big. This is reinforced with a heartening show of community and family support for Rocky and his decision to leave for the city and a final page showing Rocky returning to his country and his little brother. It also seems fitting that specifics about Rocky's dreams are omitted, leaving it open for the reader to put themselves in Rocky's shoes (although the final page gives some clues with school certificates and sports medals). This will be a meaningful book for young Indigenous children but also important for all Australian children as they develop an understanding of Indigenous connection to country. Themes: Australian rules football, ATSI perspectives, Connection to country, Family.
Nicole Nelson