Where's Jessie? by Janeen Brian

cover image

Ill. by Anne Spudvilas. National Library of Australia, 2015. ISBN 9780642278753
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Historical, Afghan cameleers, Outback, Teddy bears. When Jessie and her family move to the Outback, her teddy, Bertie Bear is packed in a box and lifted onto the back of a camel. The family is going by horse and cart and there is no room for the bear. Bertie Bear eventually sits on the cameleer's lap but during a dust storm, the bear falls and finds himself left behind on the stony desert ground. There he sees many animals coming along to investigate until an eagle tries to take him away. Dropped, Bertie is picked up by a boy who takes him back to Jessie. A repeated refrain, Where's Jessie?, echoes the title, and makes a neat rounding off of the paragraphs detailing Bertie's adventures, encouraging readers to repeat it with the reader and predict what will happen next.
Anne Spudvilas' illustrations are just lovely. Broad sweeps of colour illuminate each double page as the story of Bertie's adventure is revealed. From the first page with its intimate image of the young girl sitting with her teddy bear waiting to go, foreshadowing the last page with the two back together again, the images reveal different aspects of the Australian bush: Afghan travelers, Aboriginal people, early European settlers, animals, storm and dust, while information at the end of the book continues with the story of how Janeen Brian found Bertie and the story of the bear, with the following pages giving the history of the Afghan cameleers in South Australia.
The juxtaposition of image and text adds to the readers' understanding of the lives led by outback people in the late nineteenth century and adds intrigue to her tale of one lost bear. Younger readers will follow Bertie's adventures with intense interest, willing him to be found, wanting Jessie and Bertie to be reunited.
Janeen Brian's stories are always heartfelt and this is no exception. Her spying of a bear in a display at Kapunda led to her asking about the bear's history and in talking to its owner Janeen Brian found a story waiting to be developed. Telling the bear's tale wrapped around both the Aboriginal and Afghan communities sheds light on one part of this state's development and introduces several historical themes for teachers to pursue.
Teacher notes are available.
Fran Knight