A Readabout Before Our Walkabout in Australia
Now that Simon’s nine and a good swimmer, it was time to go check out the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. When I think of Oz, I think of animals first, so that’s where we started our reading. I had read Bill Bryson’s “In a Sunburned Country” travelogue years ago. This time, I checked out the Book CD (part 1) and (part2) to hear Bill read his own funny stories and droll musings about the land down under. I did wish he hadn’t kept going on about all the poisonous animals that could get you!
Illustrators Ted and Betsy Lewin also travelled to Australia, and painted watercolours of the animals they found. The result is “Top to Bottom Down Under.” The text in their picture book was interesting and amusing, such as noting that the water in the toilet swirls in the opposite direction when you flush it! They also write, “Early explorers asked the aborigines the name of the “jumping animal”. They answered “kangaroo” which means “I don’t understand your question.”
Another picture book we enjoyed was Alison Lester’s “Are We There Yet? : a Journey Around Australia”. It’s the true story of a six month trip her family took all around the country. The comic strip story of their trip helped us pick where we wanted to travel.
The library has many good information books about the animals you will find both on the land and in the water (but save the shark books until AFTER you return!) I’m going to go with a book about wombats for my next recommended read, both because wombats surprised me by being much bigger than I expected, and because the drawings are so charming in “Wombat Walkabout”. Carol Diggory Shields writes a counting book about a dingo stalking some resourceful wombats. It’s illustrator Sophie Blackall’s cute wombats that stick in my mind. However, it was too babyish for my 9 year old son, so read it to a younger audience.
Simon preferred “Toad Rage” by Morris Gleitzman, a goofy novel about a cane toad who wants to be a mascot in the Olympics. This Division 2 appropriate novel has a helpful glossary in the back with Australian lingo explained like “Stack me.” Learning all the shortcut lingo was part of the fun of travelling. As was trying out Australian “lollies” (candy).
Our family highlights? It was snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef from the smaller town of Port Douglas in the northeast of the country. It takes an hour to get to the reef by boat, but the sheer size and complexity of the reef is astounding. Searching out animals was our other focus and joy. Seeing a four foot tall cassowary bird and chick in the wild (Dad raises the young) , wild budgies and parakeets zooming around in groups, patting a kangaroo, and seeing our first platypus in a zoo after a fruitless search along a stream all made me stop and think Wow- we’re so lucky. Even that poisonous red bellied black snake doesn’t seem so bad now that we’re back home reminiscing. We were scarier to him than he to us, as were the sharks that zipped away on the reef.