We've just finished reading a wonderful array of classic children's literature.
Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll; The Water-Babies, A Fairy Tale for a Land Baby by the Reverend Charles Kingsley; A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett; The Bears of Blue River by Charles Major; The Children of the New Forest by Frederick Marryat; At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald; The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge . All these - and more - have found a home in our book bag in recent weeks. And in each case it has been easy to discern why the book has become a 'classic'.
When you read literature of this calibre, it is sometimes easy to become scornful of our own home grown Aussie offerings. The books listed on Australian Living Book Lists just don't measure up. In fact, too many of the books that we Charlotte Mason aficionados call Living Australian books are not Living at all. They're simply books written in story form that people have used to teach their kids geography or history or something. To be honest, I wonder what child in her right mind would pick up some of the books on our Aussie Living Book Lists to read in her own time and of her own free will. Somehow I feel that it would not be very many.
And yet, Australia has some truly wonderful authors. Particularly today, I think our modern writers are up there with the best anywhere. Some of our Aussie books rightfully deserve to be called 'classics' too. Ah, yes, you say putting up one hand, The Magic Pudding; The Getting of Wisdom; Seven Little Australians... and then you'd falter somewhat. And you'd be right. There are few books truly deserving of the tag 'classic', but these three are amongst the best children's literature in the world. There are not many classic Australian books because there are not many classic books full stop. They are a rare breed, exceptional authors. Funny that.
But then one day you remember Colin Thiele's Storm Boy, and pulling it off your shelf you are reminded of just what classic children's literature is all about. Skilled prose, evocative descriptions of our beautiful windswept beaches, a deeply moving love story between a boy and a bird, Storm Boy reminds us of what is important. It reminds us of what it is like to be truly happy.
Storm Boy is one of Australia's best. If your copy is the one illustrated by Robert Ingpen, then you will also have an exceptional illustrator to go with your exceptional author. Storm Boy is classic children's literature that fits in seamlessly with the list of books I mentioned earlier. It is a truly classic children's book.
Storm-Boy lives on the long, long snout of sandhill and scrub that curves away south-eastwards from the Murray Mouth, between the Coorong and the sea. They call it Ninety Mile Beach.
He lives with his dad, Hide-Away Tom. Hide-Away is a hermit. The only man who lives anywhere near Storm Boy and Hide-Away is Fingerbone Bill, an Aborigine, who knows more about things that anyone Storm-Boy has even known. And Fingerbone teaches Storm-Boy.
Then one day, Storm-Boy finds three baby pelicans in a ruined nest, left to die by men with rifles who call themselves sportsmen. One of the birds is desperately ill.
"I don't think he'll live," said Hide-Away. "He's too small and sick."The love between Storm-Boy and this bird, whom he names Mr Percival is the story of this beautiful book.
Even old Fingerbone shook his head. "Dem bad fellows kill big pelican. Don't think little fellow stay alive now."
"He mustn't die," Storm-Boy said desperately, "He mustn't! He mustn't!"
Storm-Boy is a book that can be read by an eight or nine year old. It is one of those 'emerging reader' books, and yet it is one of those rare books that can be loved and enjoyed by all ages and at many different levels. I defy anyone, child or adult, who says that they were able to read the book aloud without shedding a tear. It is incredibly tragic, and yet it is wonderfully inspiring, as Storm-Boy comes to terms with what happens with an admirable sense of strength and dignity. Storm-Boy becomes a man.
Sadly, because of the long drought and the drying up of the Murray River, the Coorong is now in a critical condition. The region was awarded status as a Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention in 1975, and over 30 of the 85 birds of the Coorong have been listed under national treaties for protection.
Somehow, when you read a book like Storm Boy, these things matter more than ever. In Storm Boy, Colin Thiele brings the Coorong alive. He makes you care. He truly is a powerful and gripping author, and a truly remarkable Australian storyteller. And Storm Boy is a classic book.
For once, Storm Boy is in print. In fact it has not been out of print since it was first published in 1963. It is also available from Amazon in the US. Hurrah! We read it as part of our Aussie adapted AO3.
You can read more about Colin Thiele in my post here. You can also see a YouTube clip of the 1976 film.