Bindi by Kirli Saunders
Illus. by Dub Leffler. Magabala Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781925936667.
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Seedlings. Cinders. Sprouts. These are the three sections of this beautifully written heartwarming story of Bindi, a young girl living on Gundungurra country, learning from her Elders, enjoying the freedom of life outdoors with her family, dogs and horses, and then facing a 'canbe', or fire, like none their community has ever experienced before. From planting the gum seedlings, to escaping the fire, to rebuilding afterwards, Bindi's own life goes through a similar cycle. She is tossed from a horse, and has to nurse a broken arm, just like her totem, the garrall, or black cockatoo, with a broken wing. She and her bird friend have to heal, gain strength and then venture out again. Bindi learns from the Elders about cool burns that regenerate plants, new sprouts that will grow. She is on the path to becoming a leader, chosen to give expression to her talents in the design of an art mural for the school.
The story is written in verse that flows easily, interspersed with words from the Gundungurra language. It's not hard to work out their meaning, but there is a glossary to refer to at the end if needed. Black and white illustrations by Leffler give the impression of fire-burnt charcoal drawings, with fascinating detail of insects, feathers and plants, and the soaring of the black cockatoo on the endpapers.
I love the humour and intimacy of the descriptions of family life over the curried sausage dinner and rock melon dessert (soft fruit because of Dad's teeth), potato bake made with French onion soup mix, and other comforting food. I love how Bindi takes her paintbrush 'for a walk' on her bedroom wall and her Dad acts surprised or mad until he actually looks at the outcome. And I haven't even mentioned the whole exciting world of school hockey. But within this happy environment there are also small reminders of more serious issues - Bindi's mother was a 'taken' child.
Saunders' story of Bindi and her loving family, good friends and strong community is a positive affirmation of caring for others, learning from Elders and taking care of Country; a junior fiction novel clearly well deserving of the Daisy Utemorrah Award, and hopefully the beginning of a series to be published by Magabala.
Themes: Fire, Caring for Country, Leadership, Respect, Aboriginal culture, Aboriginal language.