Book Review: Bindi

Author: Kirli Saunders
Illustrated by: Dub Leffler
Publisher: Magabala Books (2020)
Genre: Contemporary verse novel (for a middle grade readership)

Meet 11-year-old Bindi. She’s not really into maths but LOVES art class and playing hockey. Her absolute FAVOURITE thing is adventuring outside with friends or her horse, Nell.

A new year starts like normal-school, family, hockey, dancing. But this year hasn’t gone to plan! There’s a big art assignment, a drought, a broken wrist AND the biggest bushfires her town has ever seen!

I loved Kirli Saunders’ interview on The Garret podcast and sought out a copy of Bindi after I listened. It is a beautiful story – both aesthetically, with its black and white cover and illustrations, and in the writing. Saunders explored the devastating impact of bushfires and the process of healing in a way that was suitable for a young audience.

The first thing that struck me about Bindi was the economy of the language. Saunders could convey a heavy, significant idea with the lightest of words, the shortest of lines. For instance, when Bindi was thinking of her mother’s childhood stories, she reflected, “for a moment/ I forget/ that Mum was taken.” The use of line breaks and white space compound the gravity of the words. For adult readers, who understand their meaning, it is a powerful reminder of so-called Australia’s racist history. For younger readers, it might prompt a conversation, a means of introducing them to that history so that they can fight for a better future. There were other lines with similar economy and less emotional weight, such as Mum’s creamy chicken pasta, which Bindi called “vegetable hide and seek.”  The English was interspersed with Indigenous words in a way that allowed readers to glean their meaning from context. In this way, Bindi was also a reclamation of language and culture, which persists and flourishes despite racist attempts to destroy it. The delicate language introduced other challenging ideas to young readers.

Saunders depicted Bindi’s community before, during and after a bushfire. The scenes of people panic buying would be all too familiar for local readers from bushfires and the pandemic. Saunders captured the impact of such behaviour simply and succinctly: “it welcomes worry.” However, in the aftermath of the fires, Bindi saw the non-Indigenous community begin to listen to her people and appreciate how they cared for Country, with the intention of employing more mob to learn from them. We can only hope that non-Indigenous leaders will do the same – Bindi gave me that hope.

My only complaint about this novel was that I wish it was longer because I wanted to spend more time with Bindi and her friends! A gentle, accessible story that should be shared in schools across so-called Australia.

You can buy a copy of Bindi from Readings independent booksellers.

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