Review – Shy The Platypus

It’s so lovely to see a classic Australian story brought to life for a new generation of children – and even more lovely to see it done using the exquisite collection of images from the National Library image collection.

First published in 1944, this hard cover, dust-jacketed version with its aqua cover is beautifully-designed, with an introduction by Leslie Rees’ daughter Dymphna Rees Peterson. This introduction takes us back to a time where few ‘local’ books, particularly those featuring iconic local animals, were available to Australian children. Yes, there were badgers and squirrels and other British critters, but few books harnessing the character and charm of our native fauna.

After the success of his first book in 1943 – Digit Dick on the Great Barrier Reef (oh my goodness, I’m having a flashback!) – Rees wrote a new series of books entitled The Australian Nature Series. Essentially a series of bios on indigenous animals and birds, these books have become true Australian classics.

This posthumous re-issue (Rees died in 2000, at 95 years old) celebrates a warm and detailed story that beautifully encapsulates the precious biodiversity our country enjoys.

The first thing Shy remembers is the nest in which she was born. She remembers the darkness, the soft needle leaves of river oaks, and playing with her sibling, Spur. Then one day, her mother says she’s leaving the nest. “You stay here,” she says, before pushing her bill through the earth into a long black tunnel. And off she goes to find them some food.

Very soon, Shy and Spur are allowed out of the nest to take their first swim. The description of these babies leaving the burrow and entering the outside world for the first time is mesmerising. From the steepish earth banks to the flowing water, burnished with copper and pearly grey colours reflected from the sunset – the language Rees uses is not only evocative but delicious to read – and surprisingly ‘modern’ in tone.

As the book unfolds, we follow young Shy as she learns to dive, as the dangers of the river are revealed and as her mother becomes desperately ill. There’s other platypuses and rapids to navigate and even encounters with humans – will Shy escape the clutches of this most dangerous threat of all? Along the way, we also learn more about this most elusive animal and her natural surrounds – making this much more than just a storybook – but rather an enriching journey to another world.

This is an engagingly-written story, beautifully-laid out and designed with striking images from the National Library Collection. Naomi Zouwer’s truly gorgeous pencil illustrations head each chapter, and photographs and original typescripts make this book a precious addition to any Australian library.

Shy The Platypus is published by the National Library of Australia.

Published by

Tania McCartney

Tania McCartney is an author of children's books and adult non-fiction. Recent books include Riley and the Grumpy Wombat: A journey around Melbourne, and Australian Story: An Illustrated Timeline. She's also an editor, publisher and founder of Kids Book Review.