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The Apprentice Witnesser

By Bren MacDibble

Reviewed by Mia Macrossan

Bren MacDibble burst onto the children’s literature world with How to Bee, a post apocalyptic story that won many awards including 2018 CBCA Book of the Year, Younger Readers. That was followed by The Dog Runner, Across the Risen Sea (2020) and The Raven’s Song (2022), co-written with Zana Fraillon.
All her stories are exhortations to be kinder to the planet, to value friends and familiy more. She says that ‘ I have spent the last few years putting my thoughts and stories into action. I’m trying to live a kinder and gentler life’.
The Apprentice Witnesser is the story of orphan Bastienne who is apprentice to the local Witnesser of Miracles, Lodyma. This means weaving into story powerful and remarkable events of the small community where they live. Basti’s world has been devastated by disease, men live separate from women, there are few children born, and technology is a haphazard collection of things from the time before the epidemic.
Who manufactures and sources material for these things is not explained. Where does Bast find the paper and batteries for her instax camera which she uses to record her miracles? ‘Used to be everyone knew tech, but now, without factories to make batteries, run the power or make new tech, it’s more like magic’ p 9.
Family is always important in a Bren MacDibble story. She creates vivid and memorable characters who work out their tensions and conflicts with humour, love and a generous humanity. Basti is a passionate undemanding girl much tried by Raveena, the wild girl who may be related to Lodmya, since they both have the same one purple eye. Will Basti lose the little family she has so arduously created or perhaps will courage and wider connections create a happier and more positive future for her?
Children will enjoy delving into this alternate world with its strong women, different economics and challenging thinking. Themes of climate change, pandemic, survival, sustainability, community and family provide plenty of material for teachers and students to discuss although it is, first and foremost, a heart-warming read to enjoy for its own sake.
Allen & Unwin Children 2024 (provides Teacher’s Notes)
1942 Amsterdam Ave NY (212) 862-3680

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