Small town by Phillip Gwynne
Illus. by Tony Flowers. Puffin, 2020. ISBN: 9781760893484.
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Irresistibly charming, this tale applauds the work done by small communities which have welcomed refugees into their midst, offering accommodation, work and support in their new country. Small cities such as Toowoomba, Bendigo and Newcastle and even smaller communities such as Nhill, have given these new arrivals a place of safety.
Gwynne tells of a small community losing its population to the city, putting their economy and school in peril of shutting down. This is not a new occurrence, but how some communities respond is wonderfully new. Milly is aware that some of her friends have left and her class is smaller, but when the loss of girls imperils the future of her basketball team, she decides to act. Her teacher has told them of war, famine and privation overseas and the class has discussed refugees, so Milly writes and asks that some come to her town where there are jobs and housing to accommodate them.
The mayor questions what she is doing, but she has an answer for every negative point he brings up. The children make a video of their community and send it to the refugees.
They wait and wait and another family leaves, but then a convoy of cars comes with refugees. The whole town pitches in and welcomes them, repairing the empty houses, helping them unpack their belongings, finding them work, happy to have a doctor in the town at last.
The contrast between the town as it was and the town as it is now is subtly shown with the naming of Millie's basketball team. Initially it was made up with four girls called Chloe, and Millie. Now it is two Chloes, Farhia, Hanan, Amina, Sharifa and Millie.
Wonderful in its seeming simplicity, Gwynne uses powerfully spare prose to get his message across.
Flowers' watercolour illustrations reveal small town life in Australia with dots of houses spread over vast areas, windmills, a runway and tin roofs with a soft pallet of colours, reminiscent of long sunny days in the country.
The town's unusual name is used as a refrain, 'my town is so nice, they named it twice' repeated through the story encouraging children to join in as it is read to them and forming a link between the old and new generations.
Themes: Small towns, Refugees, Inclusivity.