Burke and Wills: Expedition off the map by Karen Tayleur
Our Stories series. Black dog books, 2010. ISBN 9781742031392.
(Ages 7+) Recommended. Non fiction. The 150th anniversary of one of the most celebrated failures in Australian history is sure to spawn a collection of books and articles, reprising the expedition and its consequences. How apt then that the highly skilled and awarded specialists of non fiction books for primary students should produce a book in time for the celebrations.
Presented in black dog book's impressive Our Stories series, this book will rarely be seen in the library once students and staff become aware of it.
Each double page spread expounds a different aspect of the expedition: Ships of the Desert, Heading to Cooper's Creek, Dig and What went Wrong, and all presented chronologically with a timeline across the bottom of each page with the camels rather significantly looking back.
One of these spreads which thrilled me was that entitled, Dig, and told the story of that icon of the Australian bush, the dig tree. On this spread is 5-6 paragraphs of information, supplemented with a photo of the tree, a small map to show where it is, a painting of the area around the dig tree, some information about the local Aboriginal people and the time line on the bottom of the page which follows through the whole book, giving the dates for the events surrounding the tree. The double page is enlightening, inviting and easy to access, interesting and colourful to look at, and redolent of the isolation of this expedition.
Some of the explorers who accompanied Burke and Wills take up one double page spread at the start of the book, and at the end is a list of all the expeditioners with a small amount of information about each. The book is rounded off with a list of books and websites which could be used to gain further information. An explicit contents page will make it easy for younger researchers to find what they are looking for, and this is supported with an excellent index and glossary. The overall map of the expedition at the start of the book is supported by smaller maps throughout the text highlighting just where the group had got to. The use of colour adds to the appeal, as does the relevant pictures and newspaper articles used to augment the text.
I listened to the Louis Braille audio version of Sarah Murgatroyd's The Dig Tree several years ago, and was astonished and delighted over again reading this book for younger readers. It is a must for every school library.