Books & Literature

Book Review: Dirt by Sea, by Michael Wagner, illustrated by Tom Jellett

PICTURE BOOK: The hugely popular creators of Why I Love Footy and Why I Love Summer are back together with a moving family story that is also a true celebration of what we love most about the Australian landscape, family holidays and classic Kombi vans.

Destined to become a classic – just like the Kombi van!
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Feature image credit: Penguin Books Australia

Front and centre of this colourful large format picture book is an orange Kombi van with a Queensland number plate. This is the van in which Daisy, known as Daze, and her Dad take on a road trip around Australia’s coast. Five-year-old Daze loves her home in outback Queensland with its vast areas of red dirt but can’t understand why the national anthem speaks of Australia as “our land is dirt by sea.” There is certainly no sea where Daisy lives.

When it is explained that she has misheard and it is actually “girt by sea”, which means Australia is an enormous island surrounded by oceans, Dad realises Daze has never seen the sea. He resolves to take her on a road trip, in their old Kombi van, just as he and her Mum did before Daisy was born. They set out on Boxing Day for a 12-hour drive to their first stop, Airlie Beach, and from there they continue to the Great Barrier Reef and Byron Bay, and celebrate New Year’s Eve in Northern NSW. Next stop is Sydney and Bondi Beach where Dad teaches Daze how to always swim between the flags, signal if she gets into difficulties and float on her back until help comes. This is a joyful trip with lots to see on every colourful, detailed page where the narrative, illustrations and the comics work together seamlessly.

We also learn Mum and Dad had met on a beach when she was a lifeguard. This is the first of many references to Mum, absent but lovingly remembered, perhaps also via the number plate named “SARAH”. The trip, encompassing over 20 coastal locations, has its challenges, such as tasting Coffin Bay oysters, and playing eye spy crossing the Nullarbor, but they experience the wonders of Australia’s coastline and both Dad and Daze grow with the experience. Snorkelling, jetty jumping, making sand mermaids and friends on the beach are all part of Australians’ love of the beach and all are represented here.

Summed up in the endpapers, where Daze’s worksheet naming the states and territories becomes a riot of colour, this is a book that will bear repeated readings, with new details noticed each time.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Distributed by: Penguin Books Australia
Released: September 2022
RRP: $24.99

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