Even though the adults try to keep things as normal as possible, Columba can sense that something is awry. Even as they paste black paper over the windows of the front room, her parents reassure her that the war is a long way away. Her teachers also echo this belief, while fostering national pride at every opportunity.
But then things ARE different. There is a sense of foreboding as people listen to news broadcasts, and begin to promote ways to help the ‘war effort’. Even Columba’s young friend, Hilda, is caught up with a desire to raise money after her brother becomes a prisoner of war overseas.
The arrival of Ellery, a refugee from the fighting in Europe adds further to the puzzled life Columba faces, as war impacts more and more in Australia. Why doesn’t he speak English? Where is his family? Should she be friends with him?
‘The Blue Cat’ centres on how children try to make sense of things they aren’t fully aware of, even while life attempts to go on as normal. Throughout the tale, snippets of history are captured, using historical photographs, newspaper clippings and letters:
…the sorts of things that Columba, Hilda and Ellery might have seen and read themselves as they roamed the streets of Neutral Bay in 1942. (Ursula Dubosarsky commenting on the picture sources.)
Told from the perspective of young children, ‘the Blue Cat’ raises questions like:
can children even understand the impact of war at a distance?
what was it like for a child refugee from WWII? (especially a German Jew)what was it like when Australia was under the threat of air raids and bombs?
what was it like when Australia was under the threat of air raids and bombs?
how might we react today?
Dubosarsky chats about what inspired her to write ‘the Blue Cat’ in this guest post on Kids’ Book Review. With an ongoing interest in interpreting and portraying Australia’s past, this follows similar/perhaps stronger tales like ‘the Red Shoe’ and ‘the Golden Day’ which also reflect Australian life in another time. And yet another nomination for the Children’s Book Council of Australia awards for 2017. Will it get your vote?
(Click on titles to see past reviews of these.)