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Bertie the teddy bear sets off with his family to head out into the Outback.
When Bertie is packed into a box to travel with the cameleers, he doesn't understand where his owner Jessie has gone. 'Whereâs Jessie?' is the refrain that runs through the book, as Bertie bumps along on a camel, then falls off unnoticed. Bertie meets desert animals, is swept along in a flash flood, gets taken high in an eagle's talons, and finally falls to the ground, left all alone. Luckily, a young Indigenous boy finds him and returns him to Jessie: a happy ending!
And Bertie is a real bear! Meeting Bertie in 2011, Janeen said 'I liked him straightaway'. Janeen found out he'd travelled into the Outback a long time ago, first on a train and then a camel. She 'daydreamed about a new story for Bertie'. Here she has created a beautiful story for him, a mix of truth and her own imagination.
Bertie is a bear who has been there and done that...at least in the Australian outback. Janeen Brian's fictional reminiscing of a real life character, Bertie, in Where's Jessie? is a tale of separation, courage, fear, loss and reunion, rendered in the most spellbinding way by illustrator Anne Spudvilas. As Bertie's family move townships across the desert, the outback cameleers or removalists of the day are enlisted to transport their belongings including their daughter, Jessie's teddy bear. He is dislodged from the trek along the way, lost and abandoned in a desert that is less desolate than it first appears until by kind chance and good fortune he is finally reunited with his Jessie. Brian's practical use of evocative and lively vocabulary paint as strong a narrative picture as Spudvilas's breathtaking outback spreads. Possessing more than a fair share of animals and absorbing historical drama, Where's Jessie? is a happy-ending adventure worth experiencing.
On an autumn day in May, 2011, I attended the Kernewek Lowender, a Cornish festival held in the old copper-mining region of Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. In one historical display, I spied a large teddy-bear seated on an old-style chair, gazing into the distance through dark, button eyes. His name was Albert, or Bertie, and in 1907 he'd travelled into the outback to his new baby owner on a camel.
The moment I saw Bertie, I knew I had a story. Bertie had been passed down the family and was now owned by Josephine Daniels, a resident in Yorke Peninsula. From Josephine I learned more of Bertie's history. But my Bertie's story would be different; it would be a picture-book story of separation and reunion, told from Bertie's viewpoint.
Over time, my agent pitched the story to several publishers, but was unsuccessful. In August 2013, however, she sent it to the National Library of Australia. The publisher there picked it up, and three months later her publishing team voted Where's Jessie? in! Earlier, I'd worked with Anne Spudvilas on our picture-poetry book, Our Village in the Sky, and the publisher and I agreed that Anne was perfect for this book! Anne loved using mono-print, adding watercolour to evoke the colours of the outback.
Information and photographs at the back of the book reveal the history of camel transport and cameleers in early, outback Australia. But Bertie's story in 2015 is one of separation, courage and a special friendship.
Strange things are happening to Bertie, Jessie's beloved teddy bear. One minute he is in Jessie's arms as she sits on her trunk at the start of the family's move into the unknown territory of the Outback and the next he is bundled into a squishy, smelly box! There is no room for him in the family's cart and poor Bertie is bewildered. Even moreso when he is bumped along - badoumph, badoumph, badoumph - as part of the cargo on the camel train.
Night brings starlit skies and cold air rather than the warmth of Jessie's arms as the cameleers shelter around their desert fire.
One of the camel drivers takes him up onto the camel but in a fierce sandstorm which whistles and screams and stings, Bertie topples off unnoticed - and then his real adventures begin. Will he ever find his beloved Jessie again?
Author Janeen Brian first met Bertie in an exhibition of toys, books and games in Kapunda, South Australia. Being rather old, he was a bit battered and bruised and looked like he had a story to tell - which he did. The information on the accompanying card said that he'd been sent as a gift to little Jessie May Allchurch who lived at the Telegraph Station in Alice Springs and after a lot of research, Brian discovered Bertie's real story was full of riches and she needed to let him have one more adventure.
Told through Bertie's voice and feelings it is both a heart-wrenching and heart-warming story that evokes all the emotions of being separated from a loved one. Bertie is frightened and bewildered at being alone, scared by the unknown noises and strange creatures as Brian openly acknowledges those feelings that readers have, almost giving them permission to experience and express them. They are real and natural and nothing to be ashamed of. Accompanied by illustrations that are full of the colour of the outback and rich in detail in a landscape often viewed as a vast nothingness, Bertie's aloneness and apprehension become palpable and the reader is willing for a happy ending.
I adore these stories from NLA Publishing which combine the great imaginations of our foremost authors and illustrators with real-life objects and pictures of the NLA's collection to tell the stories of our past and our heritage. They bring the past to life suggesting that everything in a library, a gallery or a museum has its story to tell and it is just up to us to take the time for our imaginations to roam and to gather the information to discover that story and add a little more to our own. As always, there are pages of background information showing that this, like others I've reviewed recently, are very much part of Australia: Story Country.