About national identity

Mem Fox, Possum Magic. Illustrated by Julie Vivas

An Omnibus book from Scholastic Australia, 32p

Mem Fox is one of the most well-known Australian writers of children’s books and a former university teacher. I haven’t heard about her when living in Romania but I liked her instantly after reading an interview where she said that if you cannot read to your kid for ten minutes every day it would have been better to get a goldfish.

The first book on the list was Possum Magic. The plot is not very complicated, it is about two possums, little Hush and her Grandma Poss. Grandma can do magic so she made Hush invisible to protect her. First the little possum really enjoys it then she realizes she cannot be part of her community unless she is visible. The two begin a journey around Australia to find the people food that will make Hush visible again. The illustrations are really good; we can actually see how Hush is getting her visibility gradually after eating Australian food. The book is practically a geographical and gastronomical presentation of the country.

I think the book would have been useful for us to read when we arrived to Australia, this way we would have had the list with the food to try. I don’t like Pavlova but I really love Sticky Date Pudding, it is one of the best cakes I have ever had (it is not on the list in the book but I really recommend it). Sydney is great and Hobart reminded me of Transilvania.

Going back to our story, what I liked most is how nicely the author manages to induce the idea of nationality and how simply but beautifully the country is described. Hush gets his visibility back but only after understanding some values of her country – cities, food, animals. Mem Fox was born in Australia but grew up in Africa so when she came back here in the ‘70s she was surprised to see how her country seemed to lose the cultural feeling. Although you cannot feel it in the story she said she wrote it in anger.

I think Australia has a very strong national identity and it is a pleasure to see how they try to respect their values and transform food or places into cultural markers. As children need to feel integrated and protected in their families, they also need to be part of a community and be taught great values and healthy life principles.

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