Helen Milroy, Willy-Willy Wagtail: Tales from the Bush Mob, Magabala Books, April 2020, 70 pp., RRP $24.95 (hbk), ISBN 9781925936605
Helen Milroy is a descendant of the Palyku people of the Pilbara region, and in her own right a doctor and child psychiatrist. This gorgeously illustrated book is an introduction to Australian fauna and Australian landscapes. It is also a simple and powerful story of the power of communication and cooperation among different groups when a crisis is threatening. Willy-Willy Wagtail, the central character of the book, comes to realise that the animals can’t understand each other because they don’t speak each other’s languages. Even the wind has its own ancient language. Willy-Willy sets herself the task of learning all of these languages so that she can translate for everyone.
This skill becomes the basis for a series of friendship-making experiences, and ultimately ensures that the natural leadership qualities of Dingo and the big heartedness of Crow help to save everyone from a huge bushfire coming down on them. Even Echidna is saved at the last moment, most cleverly.
The richly coloured digital illustrations reveal a strong sense of design, and carry for each animal a wonderful dignity. The text is printed in large white sans serif letters on the darker backgrounds of illustrations. Magabala Books are to be congratulated on another high quality and attractive production.
This is another book that just might be helping to gradually change the face of children’s book publishing in Australia. There is an opportunity for Australian children to be brought to see that our own home-grown stories can be as remarkable and as charming as stories indigenous to other cultures. Perhaps it is this kind of book that offers Australian children’s books a possible distinctive place in international sales.
Reviewed by Kevin Brophy