Mamie by Tania McCartney
ABC Books, 2018. ISBN 9781460755860
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Themes: May Gibbs. Art, Drawing. Imagination. Australian bush. Fairies. Celebrating one hundred years since the publication of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, this charming, warm-hearted look at May Gibbs and how she developed her ideas of the gumnut babies will endear itself to younger readers. Those who do not know the stories of the gumnut babies will be intrigued to look further, those who know the tales, will get their copies out to reread, while others will find the back story of May Gibbs an absolute treat, describing an artist who made a name for herself when women were not expected to make their own way in the art world.
A brief outline of her life is given on the last page, giving just enough detail for a child reader, but for an older reader, whetting their appetite to search out more.
In this picture book, we see the young May, called Mamie by her family, enchanted with the fairies, elves and pixies that lived in her garden in England. Brought up in a house where imagination was actively supported, Mamie sang and danced, painted and put on shows. But as quick as a wink, everything changed when her family moved to Australia. In this new place she found it hard to find the pixies, elves and fairies of the past. She loved the blossoms and gumnuts of the new trees, learning to draw them with ease, winning prizes at art shows, while one of her paintings was given to Queen Victoria. She made dolls of the pixies and fairies, dressing them up like the Australian blossoms until one night her ideas coalesced and the gumnut babies were born.
This beautifully illustrated book gives readers a version of May's life which is at once full of historical detail, sticking to the chronological timeline of her life, while at the same time giving it a modern twist which will endear her story to younger readers, making it possible for them to more readily empathise with May's life and work.
The illustrations give an impression of May's artwork, and the detail ensures further scrutiny by the readers. Some may find it unusual that Mamie is dressed in modern clothes, but this will ensure some research is done by classes looking for the reality of the Victorian setting.