Review of ‘Small Town’
Title: ‘Small Town’
Author: Phillip Gywnne
Illustrator: Tony Flowers
Publisher: Penguin Books
Age Range: lower primary, middle primary, upper primary.
Themes: rural life, country towns, community, home, refugees, grandparents, school, activism, initiative, inclusivity, visual literacy.
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Phillip Gywnne’s expertly pared back text and Tony Flower’s detailed illustrations combine beautifully in ‘Small Town’, an uplifting story to be read and explored with young readers and used as a springboard for important discussions about local and world events. So highly recommended.
Milly loves the small town she lives in and she loves playing basketball with her friends. The trouble is, families keep leaving for the city and soon they won’t have enough players for a team. But when Milly learns at school about the refugees who have nowhere to live, she has a great idea – invite them to Gong Gong!
Let me start with this top TL tip – start at the start of this story Dear Readers – read the endpapers! I know I sound like a broken record when talking about my love of endpapers and I will never forget a four year old kindy kid yelling at me one day in an exasperated tone as I opened a picture book, ‘we KNOW Mrs Daley – start reading at the endpaper!’, but so many people miss the start and the end of a story when they skip over the endpapers and this seems such a shame to me.
It would be a terrible shame indeed to miss Tony’s endpapers in ‘Small Town’. The front endpaper (above) is a bird’s eye view of a rural setting dotted with occasional tin roofs and windmills. We talked in library lessons about the colours of the watercolour landscape, why the green is concentrated in patches and the feeling of isolation and how Tony captures this feeling in images alone. The final endpaper (below) is an evening scene with inky blues and purples which add a sense of strength to a busy community celebration and ‘ends’ the story beautifully…so don’t skip the endpapers. Here endeth the endpaper lesson…
It takes a skilled writer to tell a story with complex issues to a young audience and keep it engaging and meaningful without being overly didactic. Gywnne tackles tough issues of refugees, displacement and rural town downturn and yet the story feels like heartfelt applause to those country towns making a comeback though welcoming migrants, rather than a depressing tale of once thriving rural towns being deserted.
I will always get misty-eyed at stories in the the media of towns like Toowoomba and Nhill that welcome migrants into their community to give them new life. We’ve seen it work so well in the past, with towns like Ingham having fabulously strong Italian roots and, in my mind anyway, our cultural diversity is part of who we are as Australians. Though I am firmly a city dweller, I come from farming stock and have a soft spot for rural life and visiting regional Australia. Images of cultural diversity and international festivals in once mono cultural country towns tug at my heartstrings and make me proud of those at the forefront of initiatives to welcome migrants into communities, give them a place to call home and improve population and economic renewal.
Phillip Gywnne visited Pyramid Hill in Central Victoria and in ‘Small Town’ he tells this town’s story of a their revival through immigration.
Tony Flowers adds a layer (or maybe four watercolour layers?) to Gywnne’s text with illustrations which extend the text and fill in the deliberate gaps left by Gwynne where an image will be more powerful than words. Astute educators, parents and adult readers will spend time with young readers pouring over the pages and noting all the details and visual literacy techniques and tricks embedded in each image.
When given the chance to read and re-read a text multiple times, and when encouraged to ‘read the images’, even very young children will amaze their reading companions with what they see that the busy adult eye skips over.
The absolute beauty of ‘Small Town’ lies in the use of perfectly in sync words and images to convey a powerful story. Individually, the text and illustrations are to be admired, but together they are at their most powerful and such is the wonder of picture books.
A Selection of Younger Reader Books by Phillip Gwynne (click here to see all his titles):
‘RUBY LEARNS TO SWIM’
Buy from Apple Books.
‘LORDS OF MELODY’
Buy from Apple Books.
‘BROTHERS FROM A DIFFERENT MOTHER’
A Selection of Younger Reader Books by Tony Flowers (click here to see all his titles):
‘SAMSURA VS NINJA 1: THE BATTLE OF THE GOLDEN EGG’
Buy from Apple Books.