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By Trace Balla
Reviewed by Mia Macrossan
Trace creates graphic novels and children’s books about connecting with country and community. A self-described ‘story catcher’ she finds inspiration in nature and incorporates local plant and animal species into her detailed, cartoon-style drawings. She has won many awards including winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Children’s Book of the Year: Younger Readers award for Rockhoppers. 
Leaf-light is a detailed layered exposition of what it means to live in a tight-knit loving community that consciously cares for the land and its inhabitants in an always joyous and thoughtful way.
The story of Miri and Wingo and the young emu chick they adopt starts with the opening endpapers which introduces the land, the people and the animals in careful detail. Miri lives alone with her single mum while Wingo has a large family and lots of pets and she is sometimes envious of all his riches. Looking after Barramal, (the chick’s name) connects Miri even more with the land and the people she shares it with.
Miri uses a broken fence plank to build a viewing platform in a tree from which she watches everything happening around her. She calls this platform ‘leaf-light’. As the emu chick grows there are concerns that maybe he thinks Miri is his parent. Trace gently makes the point that animals need to be with their own kind to know who they are.
Her trademark hand drawn illustrations are liberally sprinkled with labels so each page is a deep dive into a world where there is much to learn. Just one example, Trace names about fifteen local bird species just in the illustrations – an invitation to check them out in real life.
Each page illustrates and advocates for an alternative lifestyle in sharp contrast to that experienced by most Australian city dwellers – something that will give thoughtful readers much to think about.
An inspiring book for young nature lovers everywhere.
Allen and Unwin Children 2023
1942 Amsterdam Ave NY (212) 862-3680

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