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Room on Our Rock (Kate and Jol Temple, illus by Terri Rose Baynton, Scholastic)

It’s never too early to instil empathy and compassion in the formative minds of the young, and Room on Our Rock does an admirable job in cultivating such qualities in pre-school and early primary readers. The book’s concept is deceptively simple: the text, while minimal, is playfully arranged so that reading it front to back offers one interpretation but reading it back to front conveys an entirely opposite meaning. As the subtitle states, ‘there are two sides to every story’. Kate and Jol Temple’s story focuses on a group of seals guarding their rock, while two other seals—a  parent and child—swim through the surrounding waters, looking for somewhere to rest. Reading it the conventional way offers an uncharitable ‘no strangers allowed here’ interpretation, but when the reader is encouraged to flip over and read the story backwards, the beauty of the book is revealed, as the rearranged text delivers a more welcoming message to new arrivals. The moral is subtle but pointed; parents and caregivers can start by talking to children about sharing simple items such as toys and food, and progress the conversation to more adult topics such as sharing the country with refugees. In keeping with this theme, the publisher has also pledged $1 from each purchase of the book will go to the Refugee Action Support Program. Illustration-wise, Terri Rose Baynton’s watercolours feel a bit wishy-washy; the blends of grey, pink, purple and blue are calming but not particularly striking.

Thuy On is a freelance arts journalist and reviewer and the books editor of the Big Issue


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