Written by Mike Dumbleton
Review by Jane Burke

This beautifully-produced picture book tells its story in single sentences and subtle watercolour illustrations. The brief texts are interspersed with one line of dialogue and two pages of facsimile letter, which serve to add immediacy and vulnerability.

In Australia during the First World War, a young girl, Annie, stitches the name “Digger” on her soft toy kangaroo and gives him to her brother, James, to take to war. It is clear that Digger becomes a lucky mascot to James, just as the albatross following the soldiers’ ship from southern to northern waters is seen by him to represent good luck. Digger survives the first accidents of war, as does her brother, but then in the most poignant of images is returned to the soldiers’ French billet by a corporal who passes on James’ last request to the French girl living there to ‘patch him up….and send him home’. Digger’s homecoming is the one James can never make.

A coda relating this touching story to the real-life inhabitants of the French town of Villers-Bretonneux, who continue to this day to take care of the graves in the adjoining Australian war cemetery, closes the book.

This book stands out for its images, roughly sketched but with outlines emphasised in black ink, and then saturated with lovely watercolour washes – primarily yellows and browns for Annie and the soldiers in their khaki uniforms, and blues and greys for the overseas journey and the skies of France. Most notably, a gorgeous double-page spread of James leaning over the boat-rail as the ship steams on through day and night, from a pale blue morning sky over a cobalt sea, to the inkiest deep blue of night, sprinkled with stars.

Recommended for junior school age children to read as part of their First World War studies.