The blue cat by Ursula Dubosarsky
Allen and Unwin, 2017. ISBN 9781760292294
(Age: 9+) Highly recommended. World War Two, Refugees, School, Family. This beautifully written story of the dislocation of children through war reveals a young girl, Columba, intrigued by the new boy in her school, Ellery, a refugee from Europe who cannot speak. She and her friend, Hilda befriend the lonely boy and the three search Sydney's Luna Park for a lost cat. It is 1942, the Japanese are to the north and rumours about what is going on and what will happen frighten them. First Singapore falls, then Darwin is bombed, each adding a new level of fear within the families and with their teachers. Hilda is a master at passing on the most amazing of stories, insisting they are true. Small things occur in the background, blacking out windows, cars driving without their lights on, water rationing, while pages in the book are devoted to advertisements and government orders and instructions, offering the reader a taste of what life was like during war in Australia.
But the blue cat is like a shadow behind them all, first coming ashore and following the neighbour home, disappearing during the air raid drill and seen by the American soldiers near the shore. The cat parallels the story of Ellery the refugee. Fear stalks them all, and losing Ellery at Luna Park is a trigger for Columba's imagination to soar. She experiences what has happened to Ellery and his family and she when taken home remains in bed for some days. Then the boy, like the cat disappears.
Dubosarsky's silken prose wraps itself around the reader, touching them with the haunted innocence of children, hearing adult concerns but not understanding the adult words. The fear of encroaching war touches them all. And the readers, like the children, see things in episodes, episodes that touch their lives, then move on, people that are there and then not, incidents that loom large, but then fade away.
As with all Dubosarsky's books the background is impeccably portrayed and on her website are links and images of the research behind her book.