REVIEW: Something Wonderful by Raewyn Caisley & Karen Blair

Published: 29th February 2016

Publisher: Viking, imprint of Penguin Books

Pages: 32

Format: Hardback Picture Book

RRP: $24.99

3.5/5 Stars 

Sam likes to pull things apart and put them back together, and think about how things work. But he is sometimes so busy doing this, he forgets his chores on the family farm.

Then one day he creates something truly wonderful . . .

An inspirational story about discovery, invention and the importance of dreams.

 

Every now and then you stumble across a book that is like nothing else on the market, and in many ways that’s what Something Wonderful is.

Something Wonderful is a celebration of being different and thinking outside the box, about being imaginative and being yourself. It’s a story of frustration and acceptance. It’s uniquely rural Australian and just a little bit perfect within it’s imperfections.

The first thing that stood out for me with this book was Raewyn Caisley’s dedication:

Sam is real person. He grew up in a small country town in Western Australia. He works at a famous University in Europe, where he is trying to figure out what is in-between the smallest things. This book is dedicated to Sam, and to all the creative thinkers.

Firstly this dedication tells me two things about the book before I’ve even started reading it. The first being that the book is inspired by true events and that Sam is very much loved. Secondly, that Raewyn values creative thinking, especially in children where it is often valued only for a short period of time until it gets in the way of ‘real-life’ and is pushed to the side and beaten down by many, especially those living in remote areas where it is all hands on deck to keep the farm running. This is a generalisation of course, but it happens to many children in both the country and the city.

Sam is a country kid living on his family farm in Western Australia. Like most kids, his parent’s expect him to do chores, but unlike city kids, his chores MUST be done otherwise the chickens don’t get fed and goats can prove problematic for the clothesline. Sam’s father grows continually frustrated with Sam’s lack of focus with his farm chores, until one day when Sam shelters from the rain in the shed and begins to tinker with the tools. What he creates, quickly changes his father’s mind.

Something Wonderful features beautiful full double page spread illustrations that depict the most seductive images of rural Australian living through it’s high skies and vast paddocks. The Australian landscape with its drought stricken hues really shines through in this book, and it’s quite a relief to see it reflected. Although I know we have a vast array of picture books set in Australia out there, I can’t think of a single title off that top of my head that represents an honest depiction of rural life both through the text and accompanying illustration. Especially once that’s not drowned in Australiana references and flashy animalia images such as Kangaroos, Emus and Koalas. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with books that have these animals featured in them, as they are uniquely Australian icons, and all of them can be found in the wild of the outback, especially on remote farms. But a story doesn’t always need the in-your-face-Aussie references to say, ‘hey, look this is Australian living.’ Actually, the only animals pictured and referenced in the text are found globally such a the chicken on the front cover. Which makes this book appeal to a larger audience then just Aussie kids, as even if the Australian experience is not something easily recognised, these animals are at least.

Sam was so busy he sometimes forgot to feed the chickens, move the goat, and collect the eggs.

Tension grows slightly between Sam and his father as Sam appears to routinely forget about his chores, leaving his father to pick up his slack.

‘Make yourself useful, Sam’ Dad would say. ‘There’s work to be done.’

Sam would help but then something would catch his eye.

Although I’m sure this isn’t a uniquely country feeling, I feel that this message conveys a lot more about Sam’s character and his relationship with his Dad in this instance, then say the same book set in the city would have. I read his father’s frustrations into the text, his growing annoyance that his son is consistently unreliable with the farm work which wouldn’t be ideal for a remote farm when everything is done by those on the property. I also felt that Sam’s father was struggling to connect perhaps with his son, who appeared to day dream more than he felt he should. That although he clearly loves his son very much, that there was undercurrent of tension present as there often is in small communities when someone doesn’t act the same way as the majority.

Sam’s ability to day dream, and imagine things beyond what his eyes could see before them, turns out to be his blessing. For when he is stuck in the shed sheltering from the rain storm one afternoon, he begins to tinker and invent things.

He played and fiddled, tweaked and turned. If something didn’t work, he tried another way until at least the rain’s music stopped.

It’s not until the rain stops and Sam emerges with a new machine to help with the chores, that his father recognises his differences for what they are. Sam simply sees the world a different way, and that’s perfectly fine. Now not only is Sam a day dreamer and feather chasing child, but he is also an innovative and creative child who has an eye for detail and the way things work.

I really love the idea that the Sam in this book was a child who just wanted to play and was smart enough to invent a way in which we could do more of just that. No matter which way you read this book, I don’t think you can discount the theory that because Sam spent so much time outside playing allowed his imagination to run more freely, and thus his creative side was more energetic. He wasn’t stuck inside surrounded by mountains of technology thinking for him, solving his problems for him even. Instead he did that himself, and the rest as they say is history.

Something Wonderful is a really sweet, contemporary and rural picture book that celebrates day dreaming, creative thinking and tinkering to explore what we can find and what we do. It’s a special little book that highlights the differences between people, while reassuring us that we are okay just the way we are. There is all a little bit of something wonderful inside of us all.

To learn more about Raewyn Caisley, visit the following social media sites:

WebsiteViking/Penguin Books Australia

 

To learn more about Karen Blair, visit the following social media sites:

Website | Facebook | Penguin Books Australia

 

To purchase a copy of the book, visit the following online retailers:

Booktopia | Book Depository | QBD | The Nile |

2016aww

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