Albert Street Books, an imprint of Allen & Unwin, Australia, 2021
Biographies by well-known sporting entities have long been part of the big book industry, particularly making an appearance around Christmas. In recent times quite a number of high profile sports people have published children’s picture books such as this one.
Nic Naitanui plays for AFL club the West Coast Eagles. The bright, cheerful pictures are the work of a graphic designer and children’s book illustrator from El Salvador, Fátima Anaya.
The author’s cultural heritage is Fijian and this book draws on that for part of the story, that of the baking of a traditional cake, the best recipe of his grandma. There’s a strong and warm sense of family and community in this story, which is told to us by ‘Little Nic’.
A fête entitled The World Comes to Us has been planned by the kids to celebrate cultural diversity – or as they put it, ‘things from home and away’. This includes traditions, sports, crafts, games and food.
Just as the fête itself is an expression of unity and diversity, so too the story and the pictures show us a multicultural, accepting and caring community. Things from ‘all round the globe’ are celebrated and enjoyed by everyone. When Nic loses his backpack there are plenty of friends to help search for it.
The day culminates in a feast with delicious offerings from many cultures, including Nic’s cassava cake, which is eventually found along with his missing backpack. The book provides an opportunity for young readers to search for the contents of this backpack, something children like to do, as in the Where’s Wally books and Graeme Base’s intricate illustrations.
Cultural diversity is part of modern Australia and it is important that children of all backgrounds see the celebration of this in their reading material. This book emphasises the bigness of the world but at the same time the close and kindly connections we all have.
Love of family and friends and respect for difference are potent messages in this story. There is also a quiet message here about the nature of family – families come in all sorts of forms and love is expressed in many ways.
Nic and his mum make the cake and head off to the fete together, Grandma in Fiji is remembered with a video call at the end of the day. And as so often, we do have the greatest sense of ‘from the mouths of babes….’
Thank you to Allen & Unwin for my review copy.