ALONG THE ROAD TO GUNDAGAI
lyrics to the song by Jack O’Hagan, illustrations by Andrew McLean
ages 8 to teen / diversity, coffee table, s.o.s.e.
For non-Australian readers: Along the Road to Gundagai is much-loved folk song written in 1922 and Gundagai is a small town a couple of hours inland from Canberra (Australia’s capital city). It’s a lovely memorable tune and in this book it’s given a whole new (and solemn) slant.
Here, it’s a young soldier musing on the words to the song and the completely beautiful illustrations show scenes from home and scenes of war. The illustrations will tug at Australian heartstrings, but I think they would resonate with anyone.
Home, family, and good and simple fun are contrasted emotionally with life in the trenches, soldier companions, and awful fighting and mustard gas.
There’s a happy ending – the soldier does eventually return home ‘along the road to Gundagai’ – and that’s pleasing in a picture book.
But for adults who have memories of family who have gone to war, or who have learned through various other means about the impact of war, there’s a tension as the pictures unfold which is delightfully resolved on the last page as the soldier and his parents head home in their horse and buggy.
For children (well, for everyone I suppose), picture books provide a gateway to art – and this book has some of my very favourite pieces. It could be that I had grandparents who lived in ‘an old bush home’, or that I so very strongly believe that past wars matter and have a capacity to teach that very little else can approach.
But whatever the reason, I find that I can look at these paintings over and over and be drawn into them each time.
Very nice for Anzac Day or Remembrance Day, this is also a book for every day as it reminds us that when all is said and done, home really is what matters most. It reminds me that I need to create a home that is worth returning to and that can provide some constancy and comfort in the midst of whatever else is going on in the world. Moments to read this book:
Anniversaries or birthdays of grandparents or great-grandparents who were involved in World War 1
When something beautiful is needed (when is it not?)
When we’re feeling grateful (or sometimes when we should be!)