Pakistan for Children – Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll

 

9780702253317It is rare to find an exceptional novel for children with the current emphasis on YA literature rather than on children’s books. Kelsey and the Porcelain Doll by Rosanne Hawke (UQP) is an exceptional Australian book for younger readers. With her background of living in Pakistan as an aid worker, Hawke has incorporated cultural and lifestyle details authentically into a perfectly formed story.

8-year-old Kelsey moves temporarily to Pakistan with her father who will help the people rebuild after a flood and with her mother who is a nurse. Pakistan seems like an alien place to Kelsey with its Bollywood music, mudbrick houses and ‘charpai’ woven beds. She particularly misses her afternoon teas with Nanna Rose. During their Skype sessions Nanna Rose, with additions by Kelsey, tells the story of a porcelain doll which is bought by an elderly lady and sent a long way by airmail. She is checked for bombs by customs, grabbed by a dog, dropped into a flooded river, stolen by a monkey and cared for by a couple of children.

The chapters about the doll, Amy Jo, alternate with chapters about Kelsey who has made a friend, Shakila, and is becoming part of life in her remote village school. She is able to demonstrate spoken English to help the students and asks her class in Australia to help raise money for pencils, exercise books and medicine. Even though Kelsey is comparatively rich materially, Shakila is rich in family, with multiple relatives. Rosanne Hawke doesn’t shy away from the gritty reality of life in Pakistan. One of the school girl’s sister drowned in the flood and the water shouldn’t be drunk – a problem for Kelsey when she saves Shakila’s little brother from the river. Urdu words are used thoughtfully throughout the book, and are also explained in a glossary. And Kelsey reads an ebook about a ‘girl who disappeared into paintings on the wall to save her family in the past’. (This book is outed in the ‘Acknowledgements’ as The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie by Kirsty Murray – an outstanding book published in 2013 which won the Children’s category of the Aurealis awards). In creating this tale, Hawke has also been inspired by The Tin Soldier, The Lost Coin and The Velveteen Rabbit and the illustrations have been thoughtfully drawn by award-winning Briony Stewart.

Review – Perfectly Poignant Picture Books Part One – Here in the Garden

Grief by any measure can be overwhelming. The grief one experiences after the loss of a family member never more so, even if that member happens to have whiskers and furry ears.Here in the Garden

Who knew I’d still be grieving the loss of my dog so intensely four months on? That the thinnest memory of him could unveil a mountain of yearning and loss and cause small avalanches of tears – again and again.

Then one of those inexplicably perfectly timed encounters in life happens; I read Briony Stewart’s picture book, Here in the Garden.

Briony with WinstonPenned after the loss of her beloved pet rabbit, Winston, Here in the Garden is more than an inspired cathartic exercise. It is an exquisitely crafted passage-of-time tale that allows ‘anyone who reads it (a) way back to a loved one through (their) heart and (their) memories’.

A young boy loses his special friend, a pet rabbit and wishes fervently that they were still together in his garden. Seasons slide by with the passing of time yet his yearning never diminishes. The boy’s present day feelings are sensitively juxtaposed with each new season and the past memories they reawaken of his days shared in the garden with bunny.

Briony Stewart Stewart’s heart-felt narrative is poetic and poignant and at times a little tear-inducing. The evolution of the seasons is beautifully measured by her splendid illustrations; most notably, the stirring string of pencilled line drawings at the end leading us and the boy beautifully from grief to resignation to jubilation of better days. By the end of story and the passing of a year, the boy comes to realise that whilst not everything we hold precious and dear in life can remain with us physically, memories are forever.

Here in the Garden is ultimately a moving yet magnificent and uplifting testimony to life and that wondrous salve of all hurts, time. Older readers will need tissues. Younger ones will cherish the joy and hope hidden within just as easily as they will locate the leaf-shaped bunnies drifting throughout this book.

Highly recommended for healing and hope-seeking.

UQP April 2014 Available here, now.

Don’t put those tissues away yet! Stick around for Part Two of Poignant Picture books when we cast a look at The Stone Lion.