I love the way Jackie weaves historical fact into her stories. It doesn’t bog them down or dry them out but gives them great bones.

The cover of the book hooks us with the question …

    What does it mean to own the land? A story of friendship, adventure and the past.

Instead of a hard hitting first line Jackie draws us into the setting and makes you feel a part of the landscape which is so connected to the story you can’t stop reading.

I’ve read a few of her books recently and I’m beginning to think she doesn’t subscribe to the ‘make or break first line’ rule. I haven’t yet found a punchy, grab ’em and hook ’em first line from her yet.

On either side of the road the paddocks rolled like bright carpets, covered in a fuzz of phalaris grass, it’s yellow seeds ripening in the summer heat, broken only by the slash of erosion gullies, orange in a golden land, the taut brown lines of barbed-wire fences, dams like giant puddles and the verges of the road.

What a description! I would have broken that first sentence into several sentences but perhaps that would then have destroyed the imagery of the spread of the land.

Not only is the setting drawing us in but the characters are so rich. Actually you might say that the setting is a character in this story.

Here, young Martin from the city, meet’s his Grandfather for the first time in many years.

Old Ted looked like he’d dropped out of a TV documentary about somewhere dry and old and boring, the sort you’d never bother to watch. But on TV at least you wouldn’t be able to smell him – Old Ted smelt of sweat and musty clothes and the sweet papery scent of age.

I see Martin as a shadow of himself in the beginning. He seems dry and worn out himself. In this paragraph I began to understand Martin and see why a young boy seems to be like an old man.

He never thought he’d even met Old Ted. He couldn’t believe it when Dad had rung from Adelaide, where he lived now with his new family, to tell him about Old Ted’s offer. It was a weird offer, but no weirder than Old Ted, Dad had said. It was an incredible offer. It could mean money. Real money. For once Mum had agreed with Dad. She’d let him come.

As Martin spends time on the land the dust begins to fall off him.

Martin nodded without speaking. The trees seemed taller here, like a giants thighs, too tall to see the tops. The air was sweet with rotting leaves and bark. Somewhere a bird sang, clearer than he’d ever heard.

A great book for Australian children to read. A story about a short adventure in the outdoors. A story about friendships formed with people you might not see every day but who are just a important in your life. A story to help us understand the connection to the land some people instinctively feel and others learn to feel.

What does it mean to own the land?

None of us do. We are just caretakers. Some better than others.

It is worth reading Jackie’s notes on the book jackiefrench.com

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