Once by Kate Forsyth

cover image

Illus. by Krista Brennan. Wombat Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781925563566.
(Age: 5+) Recommended. Themes: Australia - History, Storytelling, Women. On the cover are the words 'A long time ago, Our ancestors shaped our stories . . . ' and in this evocative picture book, Kate Forsyth traces the impact that her ancestors' storytelling has had on her and the influence that stories can have on everyone. Starting with her great-great-great grandmother who 'grew up in the shadow of a cursed castle' she writes of the stories that were told at the knees of successive women. Her great-great grandmother 'Travelled far, far across the seas', with 'a head full of stories' and settled in Australia. Her great grandmother listened to those stories and in turn passed them on, culminating in Kate
Holding high a flaming torch
Lit long, long ago
When words were first shaped.

This is an inspiring book that will be a joy for children to read and think about. The power of story comes across vividly as the journeys of Kate's ancestors are depicted across the ages. We see the immigrant sailing in a ship, the pioneer searching for gold and fighting fires, the young woman living through war, another young woman marching for peace and equal rights, and finally a young child growing up in the space age and collecting stories to pass on too. It is not difficult to see how important stories have been to Kate's family and to realise how important they are in all families.
The illustrations convey an authentic feeling to each key historical period, each picture showing the dress and living conditions of the times. The young woman fighting a fire in a tent during the gold rush was particularly evocative as she tried to put it out with a baby's blanket. These images could lead to discussion about how people lived in different eras and a class could make a time line of Australian history by following the text and pictures.
This is a lovely tribute to the women who have been so influential in the author's writing life and could encourage children and adults to find out stories of their own ancestors. Teacher's notes are available.
Pat Pledger