Thursday 3 November 2016

AusRead Month 2016: Magpie Island by Colin Thiele; Illustrated by Roger Haldane

This is the third year that I've particiapted in Brona's Books November AusRead Month link-up - it's not too late to join in. This year I'll be focussing mostly on children's books.

November is our month long celebration of all things Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!
Join us as we read, review and blog about Australian books - classics, contemporary, children's, poetry, non-fiction, short stories, popular, literary, award-winning - whatever tickles your fancy.

The only stipulation is that it has to be written by an Australian based author or predominantly set in Australia.

Magpie lived in the open countryside of the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. He would fly high into the early morning air and swoop down the sky like a jet plane and then invigorated by his downward rush, he would stand upon a high branch and pour out his joy in song. Looking to the south west, Magpie could see where the trees dwindled away and the Nullarbor Plain began.
One day Magpie and his fellow magpies saw a giant bird come sailing out of the Nullarbor, and as it cast its dark shadow over the land, Magpie joined his companions as they gave chase to the proud wedge-tailed eagle who just kept flying higher and higher.

One by one the other birds gave up the pursuit - all except Magpie, who continued squawking and snapping and following the great bird, the north wind speeding him along. When at last he stopped chasing the eagle and looked below to the earth, he found the wind had carried him to the coastline and soon he would be out over the sea. He began to panic and tried to turn back into the wind but before long he was exhausted. As he began to lose ground, the wind took him and carried him far out to sea.

Magpies are land birds and are not built for roaming across the sea, but the Magpie in this story reaches an island and finds himself marooned with penguins, bull seals and ferocious terns - a Robinson Crusoe Magpie.
Sad and lonely, Magpie didn't have it in him to sing his lovely songs. The island was no place for a land bird. But one day a young boy on a fishing trip with his father saw Magpie, and a year later the fishing vessel returned bringing a mate for the lonely bird.

Colin Thiele (1921-2006) was a wonderful Aussie author who wrote mostly for children. If I were to ask any of my children to name the book that they liked best out of the hundreds we've read to them over the course of twenty plus years, they would all agree it would be Thiele's book, Sun on the Stubble. His books are realistic and unsentimental, but he had an ability to inspire sympathy for the people and the animals he wrote about. After reading Magpie Island you come away with a love and appreciation for these garrulous, dive-bombing birds that can be so aggressive during their breeding season.

Magpie Island was written for a younger audience than Storm Boy, but like Storm Boy, it is sad in places (Magpie's mate is killed when she flies into a plane). The book fits well into a term of Year 1 or 2 of AmblesideOnline (my daughter was 7 when we did Year 1) and it offers an opportunity to learn not only about the South Australian Magpie, but also the geography of the region.

'He lived high and free in the open countryside in South Australia where a big triangle of land called Eyre Peninsula pushes out into the sea. He was young and happy. He had been hatched in a wide scraggy nest made of sticks that were as hard and knotty as knuckles. His mother had laid two eggs in it; beautiful eggs they were, with spots on them, and touches of lovely colour - blue and grey and lilac. Magpie hatched out in three weeks.'

58 pages, including illustrations in colour and black and white.

Points of interest:

*  Magpie Island could have been one of the many islands off the South Australian coast.

*  The Australian Magpie has one of the world's most complex bird songs and a lifespan of about 20 years.

*  The white-backed magpie (Gymnorhina tibien hypoleuca) is on the official emblem of the State of South Australia. It is a close relative of the black-backed magpie found mostly in eastern Australia.

*  Over 15 whaling sites have been identified in coastal South Australia. The author briefly mentions previous whaling activities in the book.

*  The book's illustrator, Roger Haldane, had a background in commercial fishing and his family pioneered the tuna fishing industry at Port Lincoln. He drew on his broad knowledge of the flora and fauna of the Eyre Peninsula's for his illustrations.

 The Eyre Peninsula is the triangle of land on whose point Port Lincoln is found:


Brona said...

I would also have to say that one of my all time favourite children's books is a Thiele too. Pinquo broke my heart & put it back together again!
I'm also rather fond of Farmer Shultz's Ducks.

Thanks for highlighting such a wonderful Australian author 🇦🇺

Anonymous said...

Lovely review and sounds like a good read!
I had to laugh during my reading of the review: magpie
I had to see which bird it was in Dutch then I recognized it! I've lived in this country too long! Colin Thiele is in our libraries....somehow the writers surname sounds like he had Dutch ancestors. Is that true? Any backround info on him? Map: Cape Leeuwin (dutch word for lioness) and now I know where Kangaroo Island is!

Louise said...

Oh I'll certainly have to keep an eye out for this book Carol! I love magpies (they're one of my very favourite Aussie birds, and of course one that I see every day, I have a few favourites locally) and I love kids books. I've read Storm Boy (a couple of times) and maybe a few lesser known Thiele titles, but have never seen this one before- it looks to be out of print, but then I do haunt used book sales whenever I can. I've also never read Sun on the Stubble, but I know I've got a copy in the house.

Anonymous said...

I love Colin Thiele books. My boys enjoyed Pinta and Pannikin and of course Farmers Shultz's Ducks. I have found an enormous list of all Colin Thiele's books and if I find one I am unfamiliar with I try to acquire them. We have a small collection. He was very interested in environmental issues and this is reflected in his writing.
I have enjoyed some of your other blogs Carol but not had time to say so...I wish I could push a like button:)

Carol said...

Hi Nancy, his ancestry was German. Some info here:

Cape Leeuwenhoek was named by Matthew Flinders, after the name of the first ship to visit - a Dutch vessel.

Carol said...

They are both lovely books. His books have a wide age appeal.

Carol said...

Hi Louise, I've seen this book in various places - libraries and Abebooks for a decent price. I have another of his out of print picture books and was shocked to see it for sale for as high as $100!

Carol said...

Margaret, I always enjoy reading your comments! From what I've read about Thiele, he sounds like he was a very likeable character. I love reading books by authors who've struggled with adverse circumstances and developed some real character in the process - rheumatoid arthritis in his case. X

Erika said...

I love reading your blog. You have so many wonderful book reviews and you are always thoughtful, insightful. Do you have any compilations of book reviews? For example, if you had a page with a listing of links to your posts on Australian literature, perhaps with a suggested age or grade level next to it, I would refer to that over and over as my kids are getting older. They are five and under now and I don't have access to a library at this point, but we'll be starting AO in the next year or two and I would love to incorporate books from other regions of the world that are endorsed by those in the know! My own scant reading of books primarily based in Australia as a youth was rather accidental and based on an American perspective. Whenever you post a review of an "Australian" book, I think, I should read that! But, realistically, my current stage of life is not conducive to much personal reading, and certainly not to regular library visits....

Carol said...

Thanks for your kind words, Erika. I've been thinking about doing a separate list of Australian books we've used for some time so it is something I plan to tackle. I do have Aussie subs for each of the AO years we've done, although I haven't included all of them, under the Home Ed & Curriculum page at the top of the blog. I did this post on the read alouds we've done with a wide age range. I've always tended to pitch the read alouds to the eldest & edit where necessary as we go & most of them were enjoyed by everyone:
I agree, it is so handy to have a guide to age suitability. Saves so much time!

Gently Mad said...

That's a beautiful book! When my son was little I used to read him the books by Graeme Base. I loved his art and stories were so clever.

Carol said...

You know I've seen his books so many times at the library and they looked intriguing but I don't remember ever opening one! Might be because I was always rushing to get what we needed when we ever visited a library back in the day when I had toddlers etc in tow.