Ruby Reads (8): Possum Magic

Julie Vivas and Mem Fox, Possum Magic (Omnibus Boks 1983)

Possum Magic is one of the children’s books I have been most looking forward to revisiting. It was published the year Ruby’s father was born and we enjoyed it together many times over.

Julie Vivas’s images – the tiny possum Hush and elderly grandmother, the miscellaneous Australian native birds and animals who follow their adventures, and the round-bottomed children whose discarded Vegemite sandwiches are crucial to the plot – are as freshly witty and whimsical as ever. And if my experience is anything to go by they still play well with the target audience of 2019.

Early in the book, illustrating Grandma Poss’s magic, there’s a cluster of pink kookaburras. On our second read, try as I might, I couldn’t persuade my reading companion to move on, even though she had clearly enjoyed the whole book on the first pass. This time we’d turn the page, but then turn it right back, over and over. Entering into the spirit of things, I did a version of a kookaburra’s laugh. This was such a great success that I was required to repeat it for what may have been half an hour. I laughed myself hoarse, and every time I tried to change the subject, Ruby would make her wishes known, either by saying ‘Ha ha ha’ or by pointing to the pink kookaburras again.

So yes, the images are magic!

But the story is another thing. Grandma Poss has made Hush invisible, and the pair of them travel all over Australia looking for the way to reverse the magic and make the little possum visible. They discover that Vegemite, pavlova and lamingtons do the trick.

Reading it this time, it struck me that in the hands of a lesser illustrator it would have become a travelogue draped over an implausible narrative, with panoramas of the cities visited, close-ups of the ‘iconic’ white-Australian foods, and so on. Julie Vivas has lifted it to a whole other level, made the magic alive and central, and ensured the book’s longevity.

Possum Magic is the fifteenth book I’ve read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019.

12 responses to “Ruby Reads (8): Possum Magic

  1. kathyprokhovnik

    I’m taking my 3 grandchildren (ages 3, 2 and 10 months) to Possum Magic at the Opera House tomorrow so we’ll see if the magic translates onto the stage! I’m sure there will be kookaburras laughing, but will they laugh as long or as loud as you Jonathan?

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  2. Charlie Aarons

    ah take her along anyway – i could never work out what any of the kids I took to the theatre or cinema made of it. sometimes going back and forth to the toilet seemed to entertain them as much as whatever we had gone to see!

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  3. kathyprokhovnik

    Well we’re back from the theatre … the 3 year old and the 10 monther were spellbound, and the 2 year old wriggled and asked questions throughout, was scared by the scary scene and a bit bored in the travelling scenes and possibly liked the train trip there and back the best … but still well worth doing!

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  4. I want to start writing about adventures with my grandson and books, but I’m not sure I could do it as well as you. However, I did have fun sharing some books with him (10 mths) last weekend, including Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle’s Brown bear, brown bear, what did you see, which I bought in board book form to share with him. It was quite a hit though he’s not old enough to articulate much yet. However, he loved turning the pages, and responded to the animal noises (such as I could do!). Choosing books for him has reminded me of that challenge of matching books to the age, and this one is great for this age – simple images, simple rhyme and rhythm, but it will last for a while I think because added to those things late will be the fun of the colours (Purple cat, purple cat) etc. I also read a flap book with him – from his own collection – and he seemed to like that. All augurs well for fun reading in the future.

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  5. BTW, I reckon you should have a Ruby Reads tag.

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