the beauties and agonies of separation and connection, hope and fear, home and war

by Phil Cummings and Owen Swan - Scholastic Australia 2015
ages 5 to grown-up / diversityAustralia, food, s.o.s.e.

There’s something special about Anzac Day—the cool early morning spent standing with a crowd at the Dawn Service, family breakfasts, and of course Anzac Biscuits to nibble on all day.

And the sense of privilege and peace that comes with living in a free and protected country.

As is true of all war stories, Anzac Biscuits is pretty horrific, but a story that must be told: to remember history, to notice everyday blessings and to understand sacrifice. It does a particularly lovely job of the noticing everyday blessings and understanding sacrifice parts. 

Its light-on history makes it ideal to read to young children who aren’t quite ready to deal with the history parts or to children or adults who already grasp the history parts and instead want (or need) an insight into the people who made the history.

This is the story of Rachel and her mother, who decide to make Anzac Biscuits to send to Dad—and the story of Dad who is away in the war. 

Both sides of the story are wonderfully told. Rachel and Mum are at home living a simple and good life. They’re happy but have quiet, worried moments when they think about Dad who is shown on the battlefield. 

There’s a lovely symmetry between the things going on in the kitchen and on the battlefield—moments where both hear loud crashing and banging, sticky moments, sweet smells and angry smells and so on.

The pictures are beautiful to look at: Rachel and her Mum are bathed in pale and dusty yellows and blues, Dad is awash in greys, adding to the feeling on each page.

While I’d definitely read this story to a youngish child—maybe 5 or 6 and up—it takes my breath away each time. The separation and connection of the family, the obvious hardships that everyone is working through, and the combination of hope and fear make it one of my favourites.

Anzac Biscuits absolutely speaks to war and to family, but it is also a good reminder that:

Hope leads to actions (such as making Anzac Biscuits and sending them far away).

We don’t have to be in someone else’s circumstances to empathise and act (human experiences tend to rely on the same senses regardless of the circumstances).

Bravery comes in many forms (from being happy at home to facing death on battle fields).

Small comforts make a big difference (sending the biscuits and receiving them were both comforting).

And in case you don’t have a family favourite Anzac biscuit recipe, here’s mine:

Mix together:
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup plain flour
1 cup sugar
¾ cup desiccated coconut

Melt together:
125 g butter (about half a cup)
2 tablespoons Golden Syrup (that’s an Australian tablespoon which is 4 teaspoons)

1 ½  teaspoons bicarb soda
tablespoons of boiling water
Quickly add to melted butter and stir then add to flour etc

Use a slow oven (that’s the best I’ve got temperature wise – the recipe came from my grandmother who used a wood stove!). Either drop balls of mixture onto a baking tray (I use baking paper on the tray) or press the whole of the mixture into a baking tray like a slice and cut it into squares as soon as you take it out of the oven. Bake for as long as you needed to get it to the right consistency—I like them soft but of course the biscuits in the book would have been quite hard and crispy to cope with the long trip. Enjoy!