Trace Balla, The Heart of the Bubble, Self-published, July 2020, 72 pp., RRP $24.99 (pbk), ISBN 9780648904304
As our country (Australia) headed toward isolation earlier this year, as we saw our supermarket shelves empty in way they never had before, as we saw people acting in ways that we couldn’t quite believe, I was reminded of my Grandma Bell and her passing. Following her funeral, I helped my mother and uncle clean out her two-bedroom unit and in her linen cupboard we found eight sets of single bed sheets. She had one single bed and it rarely saw any use as a bed, rather it was a dumping ground for junk. We laughed about those eight sets of sheets until we realised what they represented. You see my grandmother had lived through the Great Depression and World War II. For her generation you never took material possessions for granted because you never knew when something disastrous might happen. And I wondered, would the COVID-19 pandemic result in a similar shift in thinking for my generation or my children’s generation? Would it radically alter thought, behaviour, actions, reactions, and emotions beyond the here and now?
It seems I’m not alone in these thoughts and wonderings. Trace Balla has written and illustrated a beautiful story in response to the experience of COVID-19 isolation, The Heart of the Bubble: a story with 2020 vision set in the time of corona. The book is dedicated in honour of all the lives lost due to COVID-19.
The Heart of the Bubble tells the story of Bimbi, a primary school aged girl who lives in a big busy city with her mother and father. Both Bimbi’s parents are very busy with work and as a result Bimbi leads a very independent life. And then a teeny tiny bug, so small you couldn’t even see it, came along and changed everything… Life seems to stop, everyone retreats into their “bubble”. As they adapt to the experience of living in isolation, Bimbi and her family slowly rediscover what is important when the distractions of the world fall away. Not surprisingly they reconnect as a family. Surprisingly, they discover talents long buried, they get to know their neighbours, and learn the impact of simple acts of kindness.
In The Heart of the Bubble there are gentle reminders to care for the environment, to enjoy nature, and nourish relationships, common themes in Trace’s work. Her illustrative style is distinctive; her naïve illustrations and comic book style of writing make this book very easy to read and enjoy.
Whilst Trace’s account of COVID-19 isolation is somewhat idealised, the book provides an excellent talking point or conversation starter. I would highly recommend the book for readers of all ages – for parents/carers, young children, older children, grandparents, educators, mental health workers and so on. We have all been impacted and continue to be impacted by experiences associated with COVID-19, talking about these experiences, or writing your own story and sharing with safe and trusted people is a way to process the experiences.
Reviewed by Anne Varnes