Review Blog

Apr 04 2018

Digger by Mike Dumbleton

cover image

Ill. by Robin Cowther. Allen and Unwin, 2018. ISBN 9781760296735
(Age: 5+) Highly recommended. Themes: World War One, Kangaroos, Children in war, Villers-Bretonneux. A link between Australia and France is created in Dumbleton's stunning picture book concentrating on the battle around the village of Villers-Bretonneaux in 1918. It is a reminder of the people behind the armies, the child back home, wondering about her older brother, the young girl in France, doing something for one of the soldiers who saved her village.
When James leaves Australia to fight in France, his sister, Annie makes him a present of her scrap material kangaroo, which she renames Digger. The little kangaroo is tucked into James' pocket and letters home to his sister tell of their time getting to France, then being in the trenches. When he is wounded he recuperates with a French family and their little girl, Colette, mends Digger for him. Again the little mascot is tucked into James' pocket and goes back to war, but this time, the kangaroo is returned to Colette alone, hardly recognisable in James' slouch hat.
Again Colette repairs the little animal, and the mascot is sent back to Annie with a name tag and slouch hat added, along with a letter from James' friend.
It is at the village that Colette leaves flowers on James' grave, and in Australia, Digger takes pride of place in the family's remembering James and the little girl in France who cared for the animal just as she cared for her brother.
This is a fresh look at the links between war sites and the people who fought and died there. As 2018 commemorates the battle of Villers-Bretonneaux, this picture book serves to give younger children a feel for the links that bind Australia and France through this battle and many like it. The book depicts a small moment but one that exemplifies the strong attachment many Australians felt for those they fought for, and for those back home.
The soft water colour illustrations draw the eyes to the images on each page, faithfully recreating James' involvement in war. We feel his expectation as he looks out to sea over the side of the ship on the way to France, the uniformed men trying to survive as the night sky lights up with gunfire and they hunker down into trenches and dugouts. Happy times recuperating at the French house are replaced by the sadder moments articulated simply by a much damaged Digger lying in his owner's slouch hat, being given to the girl, and the last four double page spreads shows each girl caring for the kangaroo in Australia and the grave site in France. The paralleling of each child strongly reinforces the sacrifices each country made for the other, as each girl goes about her life with the memories of James not far from their thoughts.
A memorable picture book with which to acquaint readers with the sacrifices of those behind the scenes, and the battle at Villers-Bretonneaux. Scroll down for Teacher's tips on the publisher's website.
Fran Knight

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