Illustrated by Saara Söderlund
For ages 9+
I love to travel in the books I read (as you know)… and I have never read a book before filled with narrative from the perspective of the First Country people of Australia. The landscape, wildlife and plants of the bush, almost feel alien to my own lived experience of the European countryside. It is totally fascinating. A special welcome to those who have found my review today through the Usborne Books/Kaleidoscope Blog Tour - so happy to see you here!
This aside, Bethell has, after the success of the award-winning ‘The Shark Caller’, once again written the most incredible story, surprising me actually as I hadn’t expected a plot like this to come along. Nothing about it at all is either predictable, or done before. So satisfying. The ending is jaw-droppingly clever.
About the book
A city girl wakes up lying under the scorching sun in the red dusty outback. She’s injured, wearing a black silky dress and it becomes clear that she cannot remember who she is or how she got there. Survival skills = 0.
Tarni is a First Country Australian from the Alyawarre community of the Northern Territory. She happens upon a strange looking girl sleeping in the middle of nowhere and saves her just in time from a snake attack! Tip: snakes like to find nice warm spots to sleep at night, but when they wake up in the morning they're ready to sink their teeth into some breakfast.
The girl from the city and the girl from the outback... together they walk through the unknown, some of Australia's most hostile wilderness. Both girls are on a mission...Tarni is desperately trying to find her much adored older sister, whilst the city girl is trying to find out who she is (HUGE).
All measurement of time disappears. There are no phones, running water, shops, doctors, police. Life is incredibly raw. Tarni is relied upon for everything: hunting food, finding water, making clothing, healing, using her ancestral songs to travel the land, stories of the spirits. Occasionally the girls encounter others in the outback, from dangerous poachers to the spectacular Debonaire - all exciting and adrenaline fuelled interludes.
The city girl’s memories tumble into her consciousness gradually, she is a mystery unto herself the more she remembers, as the girl she is becoming with Tarni is less the stranger than her true self.
A spiritual story filled with secrets of the heart, and an ingenious musical mystery to solve. An unbreakable bond between two new friends from such different walks of life.I feel like I've rather short changed you regarding the depth of my review, however, I simply can't go into any more detail, as with every bit of progress the girls make with their journey, more and more clues reveal themselves and their individual mysteries unravel. With many an "OMG", "no way" and "I wonder if..." moment, as the reader, I was extremely grateful to have read this not knowing any of the subject matter before hand.
The way Bethell 'phases' new characters in and out of the story is eerie and feels almost other worldly. Characters are as different as they are extreme or familiar. 'The Song Walker' exposes the reader to the plight of Aboriginal communities in Australia, how they blend their ancient beliefs and traditions with the knowledge they have gained from the colonists. I feel very much that this is a story that is aiming to inspire young readers to want to know more about Australia and its history, wildlife and culture. The plentiful variety of fascinating Australian wildlife and bush plants/trees featured is a delight - I regularly searched online for images of birds and animals I'd never heard of, mainly because they only live in that part of the world.
This is top notch storytelling from someone who has an incredible imagination, foresight and attention to detail. This book is so ‘deadly’!! I loved it!!
Here's a super incredible map of Australia I found on 'The Linguistics Roadshow' website. Click the map to expand it so it's nice and large, then look closer at the Northern Territory (mid-northern part of Australia) and you'll see there Alyawarre Aboriginal region in purple.
Have a watch of this short video on YouTube where school children share how they feel it is so incredibly important for them to learn their Arrernte language (a dialect of some Alyawarre branches)...
I also found this video on YouTube made with some Alyawarr kids which is so much fun...
I'm also a complete sucker for hiphop and found this on YouTube too!! Rapping about the importance of going to school and learning is a the global power of hiphop culture in full effect...
About the creators
Zillah Bethell (author)
Zillah Bethell was born in the shadow of the volcano Mount Lamington in Papua New Guinea. She grew up without shoes, toys or technology. Consequently she spent a lot of time in the sea swimming and in canoes. Zillah's family returned to the UK when she was ten, and she now lives and walks in the hills of South Wales. A few of her favourite things include swimming in the rain, cheesy fridge magnets, Chopin, dancing and diphthongs.
Saara Söderlund (illustrator)
Illustrator, graphic designer and bird lady from Finland.
Grab a copy
Buy here through my affiliate link at Bookshop.org or purchase from your local independent bookshop...
Publication date: 2 February 2023
Also by Zillah Bethell for ages 9+:
WINNER OF THE EDWARD STANFORD CHILDREN'S TRAVEL BOOK OF THE YEAR 2022
A SUNDAY TIMES CHILDREN'S BOOK OF THE WEEK
...also available in Audio-CD format
*reviewed from proof via advance reading copy provided by the publisher
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