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Two Families. Two Cultures. One Very Unique Book.

Read This Terrific Tale of Two Very Different Places

Debbie Glade reviews today’s pick.

Mirror ($18.99, Candlewick, preschool – grade 4) while not brand new, is one of the most unique books I’ve ever seen. Yes, I said, “seen.” Award-winning illustrator and collage artist, Jeannie Baker came up with the idea to compare two very different places in the world – Sydney, Australia and The Valley of the Roses in Southern Morocco – using most extraordinary visual means.

Open up the book and you will discover two books on opposite sides. One book opens to the left, while the other opens to the right. The idea is to turn the pages in each book together to compare what the family is doing in Australia with what the family is doing in Morocco (thus the title of the book, Mirror).

Each side of the book starts with words in the languages appropriate to the places – English for Australia and Arabic for Morocco. But the rest of the learning is all visual, though you will not find the usual illustrations you are used to seeing in most children’s books; rather these are photographs of Jeannie Baker’s impressive collages.

She starts out with illustrations and the builds collages on wooden boards, using materials such as earth, sand, clay, paint, fabric, wool, vegetation, paper and plastic. It is apparent that Ms. Baker spent a great deal of time and effort in making the collages for this very special book.

I like any story that effectively teaches children about cultures and geography, and Mirror does just that in a most original way.

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From the Great Wall to the Land Down Under

dsc_0024-300x217Natasha Lands Down Under by Katherine McCaughan is reviewed by frequent contributor, traveler and author Debbie Glade.  Glade is the author, illustrator and voice talent of the award-winning children’s picture book The Travel Adventures of Lilly P Badilly: Costa Rica, published by Smart Poodle Publishing. She visits South Florida schools with her reading, writing and geography programs. For years, Debbie was a travel writer for luxury cruise lines. She writes parenting articles for various websites and is the Geography Awareness Editor for WanderingEducators.com. She blogs daily at smartpoodlepublishing.com.


377_frontNatasha is a ten-year-old Russian girl who is forced to adjust to abrupt lifestyle changes when her family flees from China to Australia in 1950. The challenges and hardships Natasha’s family faces are beautifully depicted in this young adult novel, Natasha Lands Down Under. Author Katherine McCaughan was inspired to write this fictional book to reflect her own heritage. Katherine was born in China to Russian parents, and her family fled to Australia – just like the family in the book.  She knows firsthand what it feels like to be an outsider in unfamiliar land.

Back to the book…Natasha is an intelligent, curious girl who is headstrong and cannot help but speak her mind – though this often gets her into trouble. Her family has no choice but to escape China during the Communist Revolution and journey to Australia to live with Natasha’s difficult, annoying aunt and her two spoiled sons. No one in the family including Natasha can speak English, yet she must attend school and learn as quickly as possible. She longs to find a true friend and adjust to her new way of life, but she desperately misses her life in Shanghai.

The story takes place during the course of a year, revealing many flashbacks as well as the gamut of emotions Natasha experiences as an immigrant to Australia. She herself discovers something about her baby sister that becomes a difficult reality for her parents to face. And throughout the book, Natasha learns unexpected truths about other family members. All of the characters in Natasha Lands Down Under are well developed, making them easy for readers to conceptualize.

In Natasha Lands Down Under, the words cascade off the page like a gently flowing river, and the engaging dialogue takes the reader right to the heart of each scene. I love the way author Katherine McCaughan exposes young adult readers to different cultures, languages and lifestyles by subtly weaving the information into the story line. A curious reader will not be able to resist researching more about Russia, China and Australia after reading this book.

Like me, readers young and old will finish this book with a new appreciation for modern day comforts and familiar surroundings. They will also think about the struggles their immigrant ancestors faced when coming to America. Natasha Lands Down Under is a pleasure to read, and I would love to find out in another novel what lies ahead for Natasha.

Natasha Lands Down Under won the 2009 Moonbeam Children’s Book Gold Award in the Young Adult Fiction – Historical/Cultural category.

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