The Big Field: A Child's Year Under the Southern Cross by Anne Morddel

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The Big Field: A Child's Year Under the Southern Cross by Anne Morddel

Category: Children's Non-Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A look at the changing seasons - and natural habitat - from the point of view of a child in the southern hemishpere. It's beautifully illustrated and backed by good research. Recommended
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 36 Date: July 2008
Publisher: MorddelEditions
ISBN: 978-2953186406

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My Mama and Papa work hard in the city and they're always busy. That's why we live on Granny's farm, Chloe and Baby and me.

We never know the name, or gender of the narrator, but it's a gentle, sensitive voice which guides us through the seasons. The farm – Southern Cross - has been in the family for at least three generations, as Granny's grandfather burned all the trees in the big field and planted coffee and soybeans. Her father did the same but Granny says that she keeps forgetting to plough – but she says it with a smile. She has something else in mind for the field.

So begins Anne Morddel's story of a year on Granny's farm on the edge of the South American Atlantic Rainforest. For children living in the northern hemisphere it will seem quite strange because in January the butterflies are flying and the nights are so warm that the family eats dinner outdoors. It's still early summer and by February it will be necessary to do most things early in the day before the heat becomes too oppressive or in the evening as it becomes a little cooler.

Each month has a double-page spread with a short, deceptively simple text to one side and an illustration to the other. Our narrator tells us of the children's activities and of Granny's attempts to reforest the big field – seeds are brought in from the forest and spread across the ground. In places the text is lyrical and very descriptive – Grand butterflies, bluer than the sky, dance in the air like falling hankies. Can't you just picture it?

The illustrations put me in mind of a medieval illustrated manuscript but brought into the twenty first century. With an intertwining background of leaves and flowers we see the trees, bugs, seeds, birds and butterflies of the Paranã region of Brazil. Each is in just sufficient detail to be interesting in itself. Birds, plants and insects mentioned in the text are shown in the illustration opposite. It's a luscious book and one that you'll want to keep.

There's so much to talk about on every page of this book. Most children will be fascinated by the way that the seasons mirror our own, with February being oppressively hot and August is dark and it's cold and the wind blows from the south so icy that it goes through your clothes. But it's not just about a reversal of the seasons. It's about weather systems, flora and fauna, the effects of farming on the forests, about playing in the natural habitat.

Granny is obviously keen that the big field should revert to forest and there's an important message about deforestation and the effect that it has. It's delivered with a light touch and even a little humour. Granny's excuse is always that she forgets to plough the field – but we never think that it's forgetfulness that leads her to scatter over the field the seeds she collects from the forest. It's a gentle hint that even in big problems there are small things which we can do to help.

When I first saw this book I wondered if it might be of limited interest, perhaps important for children in the southern hemisphere who needed a starting point for lessons on seasons and the natural habitat. But the more I read the more I realised that it's of equal importance for children in the northern hemisphere who need a picture of a larger world. It's backed by extensive research on the part of the author, but is written in such a way that it makes a good story with plenty of points for further exploration and discussion. It's primarily designed for use in a classroom (along with the accompanying teacher's guide but would be equally good as a book to be shared by parents and children. I'd hesitate to give this first to a child to read on their own as I think that there's so much more to be gained if the child can discuss what they see and read.

I'd like to thank the author for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

The book is designed for Key Stage One and Two children – broadly the five to eleven year age groups. Children at the younger end of the range might also enjoy Mia's Story by Michael Foreman.

Buy The Big Field: A Child's Year Under the Southern Cross by Anne Morddel at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Big Field: A Child's Year Under the Southern Cross by Anne Morddel at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Big Field: A Child's Year Under the Southern Cross by Anne Morddel at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Big Field: A Child's Year Under the Southern Cross by Anne Morddel at Amazon.com.


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