Thursday, July 6, 2017

The blue cat by Ursula Dubosarsky

There is so much to enjoy about this intriguing historical novel set in Sydney.  I read it all in one sitting which is one way I measure my reading enjoyment.  Adding to this I have a family connection with Neutral Bay Public School where Ursula's father went to school and my grandmother lived at Kurraba Point - part of the setting for this story.

When I talked about Vinnie's war I made the comment that I enjoyed the inclusion of war time memorabilia but I wanted a list of credits.  Ursula Dubosarsky provides all the details for her authentic documents and I found I really enjoyed reading about the photos, posters, newspaper articles and letters which appear throughout the book.  This is a story which has obviously been very carefully researched.

The next aspect of this story that I really enjoyed was the recognizable setting of Sydney.  References to Taronga Zoo, Luna Park, Cremorne Baths and ferries on the harbour.  The block of flats where 'Ellery' lives with his dad sounded just like the block in Neutral Bay where my grandmother lived :

"a block of flats of mulberry-coloured brick, with stone balconies that faced the water across a stretch of rough, sloping bush. There was a double glass door at the entrance of the building and on either side of the door were stone flowers, built into the walls. ... There were tiles on the floor too, laid out to make patterns of squares and triangles, like Roman mosaics."

Told through the eyes of a child, Columbia experiences night time blackouts, air raid sirens, the fear of invasion by Japan and the bombing of Darwin but the most personal and puzzling thing is the arrival of a little boy from Europe.  He has no English and does not seem able to speak and while the school and children call him Ellery - this is not really his name.  Ellery fascinates Columbia.  She wonders about his mother.  Has she been taken by Hitler?  She wonders about the book he carries everywhere. She wonders about his perfect appearance and his very white skin.  While all of this is going on a blue cat arrives - a stray. It is taken in by one of the eccentric sisters who live next door. But like Ellery, the cat is also a figure of mystery.  Where did he come from?  What has he seen?

You will learn some fascinating things in this book such the use of daylight saving between 1942 and 1944. It was actually first introduced here in 1916.

"What are you doing?' I asked, leaning over, elbows on the table.  'Changing the time,' my father replied. 'Putting the clock forward.'  I was startled. Changing the time? You were not allowed to do that. It was like moving the stars in heaven or changing the days of the week."

Why did the time change? To save electricity according to the government but Columbia's father is a doubter - he does not change his own wristwatch - he just gives a sly smile.

Here is a review in the Sydney Morning Herald.  Ursula talks about her book to Kids Book Review and her own web site offers more insights into the inspiration and creation of this book.  If this book is short listed for our 2018 CBCA award (and it should be) then you will certainly want to explore this rich resource.  Here is the trailer narrated by Ursula herself.  I just read this interview with Ursula and have discovered her PhD thesis was about small people in children's book and she used Rumer Godden's doll books which are childhood favorites of mine.  Here are teachers notes for The blue cat.

No comments: