Ecological thoughts at bedtime
The Story of Rosy Dock
By Jeannie Baker
A Mark Macleod Book, Random House. $19.95
Reviewed by Dave Riley
Reading rewards us all. And reading to others — especially if they're little — cuts both ways. It's a skill that is honed each night at bedside before the tuck-in and lights out.
After being employed so often by children this way, you can become a bit of a snob. You soon realise that a good book is worth many happy returns.
As soon as I got The Story of Rosy Dock through my front door, it was eagerly seized by little hands — then displayed at "show and tell" the next day. A day later it went before the art teacher for appraisal.
The excitement that greeted it was generated by the colours and rich textures of the illustrations. Jeannie Baker works in collage, and the landscapes in her most recent children's book seem not merely evocative of the Australian desert, but an assemblage of selected parts of it, reconstructed on the pages.
Indeed, the sensual depth of most of these collages exceeds Baker's three-dimensional achievements in her earlier work, Where The Forest Meets The Sea, which was a celebration of verdant greenery along a liquid shoreline.
This time, instead of Queensland rainforest, we explore the dry Finke River country in central Australia. Through a spartan text of less than 300 words, the story follows the cycle of drought, rain, flood and growth until the seeds of a beautiful — but foreign — plant called rosy dock cover the desert.
But rather than being merely a tale of seasonal change, this story has a conservationist message. When newcomers from Europe settled this land, they brought their animals — horses and camels, cats, foxes and rabbits — with them. They also introduced rosy dock (Rumex vesicarius) which has colonised south, central and western areas of Australia.
This book, despite its visual delight in the rich crimson of the introduced seed pods, is sure to promote a green edge to story time. Baker doesn't sermonise and lead her young readers/listeners into indignation. Instead, we adults are put on the spot to offer, perhaps, our opinions on the subject and maybe encourage some ecological thoughts at bedtime.
In the interaction, the tale should serve as a case study for children to stretch their awareness of the environment they have so recently joined. If you think that's worthwhile, then The Story of Rosy Dock should be bought for and read to a youngster in your acquaintance.