May 27, 2008

Book Review: Klassic Koalas - Ancient Aborginal Tales in New Retellings by Lee Barwood

* Genre: Children's Literature, Folklore, Myth, Conservation
* ISBN: 0976469812
* ISBN-13: 9780976469810
* Format: Paperback, 64pp
* Publisher: Koala Jo Publishing
* Pub. Date: May 2007

Probably the very first fact about my wife I ever was surprised to learn was when she told me that she had held a koala. Yes, one of those bear-like Australian animals noted for their tree climbing ability and love of eucalyptus leaves. What’s more she did it in Australia, when she had a short layover before heading to Papua New Guinea to teach.

So when Lee Barwood contacted me about doing an interview and/or review of her for this blog and mentioned that she had retold several aboriginal tales about koalas in the anthology Klassic Koalas: Ancient Aboriginal Tales in New Retellings, I leapt at the chance to hear the mythological origins of this odd marsupial my wife so loves.

Barwood, a science fiction and mystery author (her environmental novel A Dream of Drowned Hollow won Andre Norton’s Gryphon Award for best unpublished novel), applies her storytelling skill to the oral tales of the aborigines’ of Australia.

This collection of eight tales covers everything from the common myth among cultures of the great flood, to a Rudyard Kipling style tale of the origins of the koala’s strong arms. Like most oral traditions, a lesson is taught through the story as it is related, and Barwood has worked to preserve the essence of that. Her versions of the stories teach environmental lessons about preserving the earth as well as Aesopian morality about friendship and cooperation. But the tales are not pedagogical (although Barwood’s bias about environmentalism comes through, she is not preachy) and are enjoyable as wonderful folklore.

I think that Barwood tries a little too hard to make sure her tales connect internally. Most folklore can rather wander as each new teller added some flourish of his own as he or she related the story, and this can cause those stories preserved from an oral tradition be disjointed and disconnected. This is something to be expected by anyone choosing to read folklore and myth, and while Barwood does a good job preserving continuity, it is obvious she had to take a little license to make sure it did so.

I also disliked the fact that I had to keep moving into the glossary to understand terms, terms that could have been explained in the narrative with the addition of a word or two. But to give Barwood the benefit of the doubt, it is likely she was trying to stick as close as possible to the way a storyteller would related the story to an audience who already had the religious and cultural knowledge to understand the tales.

This is a short book, and would be enjoyable to read to children. Since they have few preconceived notions about plot and will love the animal personification that drives these tales, it is a great work for sharing with them. The artwork that is included is quite nice, and in particular I was drawn to the cloud koala on the cover. The art is illustrative of the action and will draw the eye of children. (Adults too, to be honest!)

If you love koalas, this is an excellent addition to your books. And when you buy it, you can feel good too. The publisher, Koala Jo Publishing, donates a portion of the proceeds to Wildlife Warriors, the wildlife conservation charity of Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” and Terri Irwin. Lee Barwood’s storytelling in Klassic Koalas: Ancient Aboriginal Tales in New Retellings is a fine book and a good addition to your animal loving child’s collection.

Posted by John on May 27, 2008 04:13 PM | Posted to Young Adult/Children's Literature
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