Review – Mermaid Queen

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Subtitle: “The Spectacular True Story of Annette Kellerman, who swam her way to Fame, Fortune and Swimsuit History”

Mermaid Queen. Written by Shana Corey, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham.

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“Annette Kellerman loved to make waves.” Most pages have more text than this.

About: Annette Kellerman lived in Australia in the late 19th and early 20th century. She learnt to swim when sports were unseemly for women, invented water ballet, and eventually became an international swimming star of sea, stage, pool and, as time went on, movies. In the process she designed her own swimming suits, challenged US law and became part of fashion history as well. She’s one of those once-household-names that’s been forgotten this many decades on. She’s great to read about. Her story is told simply, it’s easy to follow, and there are solid author’s notes at the back of the book that you can use to look up or go into more detail on some of the events in her story.

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“But swimming had made Annette’s legs strong. And in the water, she didn’t feel plain or clumsy or weak. She felt beautiful and graceful and fancy-free.” There are many obstacles for Annette to overcome. A mysterious non-permanent disability is hand-waved away in the book but discussed more in the author’s notes.

Good things:

  • Female athlete
  • Bravery, courage and persistence
  • Success story
  • Vividly and rhythmically illustrated with hints of Art Nouveau styling
  • Advocate for women’s health and dress reform
  • Shows cultural change
  • Great author’s notes
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The final page, showing changes in women’s swimwear design from Annette’s time onwards.

Review – Sam, Grace and the Shipwreck

 

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Sam, Grace and the Shipwreck. Written by Michelle Gillespie, illustrated by Sonia Martinez.

About: This is a true story of rescue and adventure, retold for a picture book. In December 1876 the steamer Georgette came aground at Calgardup Bay in the south west of Western Australia. Many of the passengers were rescued from the waves by stockman Sam Isaacs and sixteen-year-old Grace Bussell, both from a nearby homestead. The two received medals of bravery for their actions.

Good things:

  • Strong artwork close to graphic-novel style
  • Local history
  • Western Australian setting
  • Young woman acting independently and collaboratively to rescue others
  • Bravery
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“Grace reaches Smiler’s leg with her hand and feels for the rope. The horse stumbles sideways, kicking to keep his balance. The child sobs in fear.”

Review – The Old Frangipani Tree at Flying Fish Point

 

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written/told by Trina Saffioti, illustrated by Maggie Prewett

About: Saffioti retells one of her family’s stories, of her mother-as-a-young-girl entering the school’s fancy dress parade. This is one of those books that reminds you that history isn’t just about the big things, but also about the little things, the things that make us family and town and nation. The illustrations are warm and in an Australian palette, easily bringing the emotions of each page to life.

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Long after the prize money had been spent on sweets, people would still talk about the time Faithy-girl won the fancy dress parade at Flying Fish Point.

Good things:

  • True story and historical event, retold by someone with a direct connection to the event
  • Aboriginal author and illustrator
  • A small event with a big impact, easy to empathise with
  • Lead character is female, Aboriginal, POC
  • Strong and present family supporting the lead girl
  • Setting is Australian, non-Eurocentric
  • Artwork is warm, Australian colours, shows a range of emotions clearly