Our Village in the Sky by Janeen Brian
Ill. by Anne Spudvilas. Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743318140
(Age: Yr 2 - Yr 6) 'Our village sits above the great river, nestled in the Himalayan mountains. This is what we do on summer days when school is closed for holiday time, in our village in the sky.'
Written as a series of narrative poems which merge seamlessly together, this is the story of a day in the life of the children in a remote Buddhist village showing how ordinary, everyday chores are turned into games and fun. There is Drummer Boy who makes music on the container that he has to take to the village water pipe. There is Washer Girl whose job is to launder her brother's trousers, dreaming as she soaps, squeezes, rubs and rinses. Washer Boy ensures that the lamas have clean bed linen and robes while Herd Boy tends the goats and chases after runaways. Each child has work to do and each does it as part of the family and the community, without the distractions of modern technology or even toys. But, nevertheless there is plenty of joy and fun . "A ladder lying down makes no sense. But a seesaw does." Five stones make the traditional game of knucklebones.
With beautiful imagery and evocative language, Janeen Brian has captured the joy of life in summer in the high alps, so different from the white, cold and frozen of winter. Anne Spudvilas's soft water-colour images are the perfect accompaniment as they complement the gentle, uncomplicated, peace-loving life that we associate with these people. Simply drawn, they capture the friendliness and happiness of the children, and coupled with the colour choice they evoke a feeling of warmth and contentment.
This is a life very different to that lived by most Australian children where for most, getting water is as simple as turning on a tap, so it is a perfect introduction to a compare and contrast investigation as students examine their lives, their roles and responsibilities in their families, the way they entertain themselves and then relate it to that of the children in the story. It would also be a wonderful introduction to narrative poetry and free verse and the use of imagery to convey a message and an atmosphere. "Sometimes my fingers flutter like small, brown butterflies and the sound is their heartbeat." The best picture books are more than just a story - they are a symbiosis of text and illustration that offers many layers of meaning and response. This is one such book.
To explore if further, teachers' notes are available and there is a QR link to listen to poems read aloud.