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: