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Book review: Meet … Douglas Mawson, by Mike Dumbleton, illustrated by Snip Green

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 24, 2014


Meet Douglas MawsonI was delighted to receive an advance copy of Meet … Douglas Mawson this week, because Mawson has been a hero of mine since I first read about him in primary school.  His story was featured in the old Victorian Readers and I still remember it vividly.  I have since read Mawson’s story in his own words and found it even more compelling  – see my review of The Home of the Blizzard republished by Wakefield Press; it’s essential reading for teachers of history, IMO, especially since the Australian Curriculum includes the topic of Explorers for year 4.

This edition is shorter than the version in the Victorian Readers and somewhat sanitised of the grisly bits.  There’s nothing about eating the Huskies out of desperation, nor of the manner of Mertz’s brave exit.  Nothing about the gruesome state of Mawson’s feet, and his plunge into a crevasse is pruned so that readers don’t realise that he fell into it twice but overcame despair.  Are todays’ readers such sensitive souls that they must be spared these truths?   It seems a pity to me to short-change children in this way.  So many of them think that playing sport at elite level is heroic, and don’t know what heroism really is.

The story, however, is  salvaged by Dumbleton’s crisp prose, focussing on the courage of the adventurers and the expedition’s achievements:

It was a world of extreme cold, but also extreme beauty.

The men discovered breathtaking glaciers, drew maps and collected rock samples.   They were uncovering secrets that would help people understand how this mysterious land was formed.

Snip Green’s illustrations make this book the highlight of this series.  They are so perfectly realised that I am sorely tempted to breach copyright and share some of the images.  (But no, visit the Random House website instead where you can see some of them if you click on the Free Sample icon).  Green has captured the bleak climate of Antarctica in pale geometric shards of green and white with the human intruders in dark grey and black, often dwarfed by the immensity of the landscape.  Most poignant of all is the double page spread depicting Mawson trudging on alone, watched over by Mawson’s burial cross: it symbolises so vividly the integrity of a man in extremis, who pushed himself to the limit to erect a memorial to his companion, in a place where no one else could see it.  The clean edginess of Green’s images must surely make this book a candidate for an award; they are stunning.  You can find out more about Snip Green at Random House.

This series from Random House is turning out to be excellent.  Here’s my wishlist for future titles:

  • Faith Bandler
  • Nancy Wake
  • Edith Cowan
  • Eddie Mabo
  • Germaine Greer
  • John Curtin
  • Nancy Bird Walton
  • Sister Vivian Bullwinkle
  • Emily Kngwarreye
  • Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker)
  • Patrick White
  • Percy Grainger
  • Peggy Granville-Hicks
  • Eileen Joyce

Author: Mike Dumbleton
Title: Meet… Douglas Mawson
Illustrator: Snip Green
Publisher: Random House, 2014
ISBN: 9780857981950
Source: Review copy courtesy of Random House

Availability

Fishpond: Meet Douglas Mawson (due for release on June 2, 2014)

Posted in Australian History, Authors & Illustrators, Book Reviews, Recommended books, School Library stuff | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »