Summer Time (Hilary Bell, illus by Antonia Pesenti, NewSouth)
Summer Time, Hilary Bell and Antonia Pesenti’s third picture book collaboration, explores ideas of time within the grand nostalgic mythology of Australian summer. On each double-page spread, a chapter-like stanza examines a measure of time. An ‘instant’ is how long it takes a wet body to dry on the hot concrete beside the swimming pool; a ‘weekend’ the duration of a bushfire; sausages cooking take ‘ten minutes’. An ‘eternity’ beautifully bookends the story: the time between eating lunch and being allowed to swim, and also how long the Indigenous constellation of the emu will fly the night skies. The rhyming verse is rich and evocative, making good use of both rhythm and imagery—it is particularly effective at conjuring familiar summer sense-memories: ‘coconut oil and chlorine’, ‘cicada-song, piercing and high’. Pesenti’s pleasing collage-style illustrations complement Bell’s linguistic portraits; a colour palette both bright and gentle evokes the harsh Australian light and the haze of memory. Although it’s not obvious at first that each page’s four-line stanza stands alone narratively (of course, they are thematically linked), the connecting motif of time descriptors ties the story together.
Anica Boulanger-Mashberg is an editor, writer and bookseller at The Hobart Bookshop