The Book that Made Me

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Judith Ridge (ed),  The Book that Made Me, Walker Books Australia,  1 Sept 2016,  256pp.,  $19.99 (pbk),  ISBN: 9781922244888

This wonderful book, which can be enjoyed by adults as well as confident young readers, tells 32 personal stories about a significant children’s book or books in the life of a selection of Australian and New Zealand authors.

It varies greatly in tone, voice, length of each contribution and interpretation of the brief, but the work as a whole is a success. It is always thought-provoking, stimulating, entertaining and informative. It is rewarding to savour, to read slowly, a chapter at a time and to think about the book discussed, its writer and the work of the commentator. It’s a great book to read out of order as there isn’t one really. Just pick your favourite author and go from there.

Dubosarsky writes a poem, Zusak gives a list of twelve brief reasons explaining his choice, others write with heartfelt feeling of the remembered pangs of childhood and how reading a particular book empowered them.  If the book has a theme this could be it – being empowered by recognizing oneself in another work, by realising that you are not alone, by realising that the world out there is big and full of possibilities. Each writer is convinced of the power of reading to change lives, though they all say this in many different ways.

It is a valuable resource for those working in the children’s book area as well as an enjoyable experience for the casual reader because it gives many insights into childhood through the reminiscences of the writers. It also reveals much about their views on the craft of writing through their comments on their chosen work, and its relationship to their own writing. Each chapter, through its insights into a particular work, encourages reading or re-reading of the selected title. Teachers in particular can find here useful material when introducing a book or writer to a group.

It has a wide sweep of subject matter – indigenous, Muslim, political, social, – always with that personal biographical element that is so engaging. There is a preponderance of women writers but a fair representation from both Australia and New Zealand. It is, in its own humble way, a microcosm of the history and development of Australasian children’s literature in the last thirty years. Many contributors mention the influence of British writers Arthur Ransome, Enid Blyton, George Orwell and J. R. R. Tolkien and American writers Dr Seuss and L. M. Montgomery.

Shaun Tan as well as contributing a chapter has done amusing illustrations for the end and beginnings of each chapter. There are brief biographies of each contributor which lists their published works as well as a list of books and a list of writers mentioned in the collection. There is also a brief page about the Indigenous Literacy Foundation which is the beneficiary of all proceeds from the sale of this book. The only minor criticism in an otherwise marvellous book is that the black-and-white photographs of the contributors as children, while charming and fascinating, are of rather poor quality, but this does not impact significantly on a work of impressive quality. Recommended.

Reviewed by Mia Macrossan

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