Finding Home by Gary Crew

cover image Susy Boyer. Ford St Publishing, 2009. ISBN 9781876462871.
(Ages 6-10) A family arrives from England and taking up land in the bush, the father clears the trees and plants a crop. He is proud of what he has achieved, but when his son, a reader, tells him that the lone tree in his field is home to many cockatoos, the father cuts down the tree, making the birds find another place to roost or die. Paralleling this act of destruction, the boy, too, must leave or die in the barren place his father has created.
The sparsely written text builds quickly to a crescendo of emotional pull as the reader is drawn to the boy and his love of his environment, taking in the chasm between the view taken by the parents and the boy. The savagery of cutting down the tree, the only one left in the field, is underscored by the emotions felt by each of the participants. The boy can only watch as the birds fly around looking for their home, bewildered, confused, and angry, while the parents are oblivious to the damage they have done. The gulf between the members of the family is quietly resolved as the boy leaves the farm with the bookseller.
The brutishness of the parents is contrasted with the soft, sometimes dreamlike, drawings by Susy Boyer. Her illustrations give quietness to the pace of the book which is suddenly erupted by the close up pencil drawings of the parents as they take in what the boy has said about borrowing a book. And this abrupt change is reiterated when the tree is felled. Her use of coloured pencils and water colour give an unusual texture to the page.
But there is an oddity about the book which I found fascinating. Why did the boy leave? Why did the parents hate that he is a reader? Why did the illustrator encircle the boy and the hawker as they left the farm, with a halo of white? These and other questions will be eagerly discussed, along with other more obvious ideas. The thought of 'home' in the title is beguiling, as it covers so many different views of home in this book. And just who is 'finding home'? Conservation, environmental concerns, land clearing, settlement and colonization are just some of the topics of conversation I predict children will discuss in a classroom where this book is made available. And the idea of parents being cross with the child for reading a book! Well, I could go on and on.
Fran Knight