Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Light - Jo Oliver

The Light is the story of a lighthouse keeper’s family living on Montague Island off the coast of NSW early last century. Narrated by the youngest child, Louisa, it documents a day in their life: tending the animals, fetching firewood, milking the cow and collecting eggs, baking bread, churning the butter and cleaning the lighthouse. Even though the chores must be done, there is always time afterwards for Louisa to take her tin whistle down to where the seals bask in the sun. As she plays for them, her music carries over the wind and waves and across the island. Music weaves a vital thread through the narrative: Louisa hears her father playing his fiddle alone in the night as he tends the light, and in the evening the family gather around the piano as her mother plays and the others join in. And it is the sound of their music in the midst of a raging storm that welcomes the four shipwrecked men and ‘wraps around them like a blessing’.

This is a beautiful picture book, the third by Jo Oliver. The text has a straight-forward old-world feel to it, uncomplicated, in keeping with the theme. Its simplicity is reflective of the times: ‘Mother and Father play some jigs and then the soft songs of Ireland and Scotland, of wind and moor and sea. The boys whittle and Johanna stitches clothes’. The illustrations, too, work well with the theme, the colours subdued and derived from the original plans for the lighthouse and keepers quarters. This excerpt from the New Frontier Teachers Notes describes the technique used by Oliver: ‘…solar plate etchings, a medium in which drawings are transferred to a metal plate using light exposure. The plate is then inked and rubbed back before printing. Ink left on the surface of the plate, or print tone, gives gradations of light and dark in addition to the etched lines. The prints are then hand coloured in watercolour.’

To highlight the importance of music both to the story and as a comfort and connection to the families who lived on the island, a watermarked music stave has been used as a backdrop to the illustrations on relevant pages.

Readers will find The Light both engaging and educational. It is a gentle book that holds great appeal.

New Frontier 2013

(A version of this review appears in Magpies Vol 28, Issue 2, May 2013)

No comments:

Post a Comment