Leave Taking by Lorraine Marwood

Inside the CBCA Shortlist

Author-poet Lorraine Marwood won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Children’s Fiction in 2010 for Star Jumps. Her new verse novel Leave Taking (University of Queensland Press) is of similar quality and has already shared the winning prize in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards (Patricia Wrightson Prize). Both books are set on a farm and are for primary-aged readers.

Leave Taking refers to both the title and Toby’s experience as he and his parents pack up their dairy farm and the belongings of Toby’s younger sister, Leah, who recently died from cancer. Of course, such weighty themes are sobering but grief is recognised and faced through the natural rhythms of Australian rural life, Toby’s steps around the property and loving memories of Leah’s tangible and intangible footprints.

The map of the farm on the front endpaper has changed by the end of the book as Toby revisits and labels special places: the machinery shed where both children scratched their initials in the concrete; the old red truck where Leah wrote pretend bus tickets during their last game there; and Memorial Hill where they buried pets and other animals and birds.

Toby camps at significant places on the property but is always close enough to the farmhouse to help with the cows or have a quick check in with his mother. He is also comforted by the company of his dog Trigger.

Leah was a gentle girl who loved stories and taking photos, shared jobs, delighted in April Fools’ jokes and left so many drawings some will be taken to the new farm and the rest placed in the heart of the bonfire – which would have made her happy.

The writing is often sensory and poetic, beginning with a contrast between the light of the “faint silver of dawn” and the dark shadows outside Toby’s tent. The author sketches the natural world of magpies and native trees and gumnuts with evocative strokes. She uses figurative language to describe the huge milk vat purring “like a big-stomached cat” and personifies the bonfire as a dragon.

There is a supportive, although laid-back, sense of community and hope of new life with the imminent birth of a new baby as Toby maps his goodbye to his home and much-loved sister.

The line drawings are by Peter Carnavas, who won the Griffith University Children’s Book Award in the Queensland Literary Awards for his first novel, The Elephant, a brilliantly executed study of a family’s grief and path to healing.

Thoughtfulness and consideration are needed for children experiencing serious illness and death in their family.

Lorraine Marwood’s website is https://www.lorrainemarwood.com/

Using the book with students:

Map Toby maps and labels places of significance on his farm (see the endpapers). Students map a place that is important to them, perhaps because of good memories or because it reminds them of someone who has died or moved away. Draw and label memorable spots. Interactive maps such as Scribble Maps could be used http://edtechreview.in/news/1516-tools-for-teachers-to-create-and-manage-interactive-maps

Making a New Beginning Book Toby’s Uncle Samuel gives him a notebook to use as a ‘Making a New Beginning Book’, page 120. Students start their own ‘Making a New Beginning Book’ and write about changes and new beginnings in their lives. They could use their maps to start ideas flowing.

Read other books by Lorraine Marwood such as Star Jumps, Guinea Pig Town and Note on the Door. Read other verse novels about grief, such as Toppling and Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphy.

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