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Saturday, September 03, 2016

Eleanor, Elizabeth by Libby Gleeson. Ill. by Beattie Alvarez. Armidale, NSW, Christmas Press 2016

This was Libby Gleeson's very first book, published in 1984, and won some awards. Awards or not, everything goes out of print sooner or later - well, nearly everything. I've read that the only Australian book to stay in print for 100 years or more is Ethel Turner's Seven Little Australians. And this one was out of print and now it's back! 

You'll find an interview with the author on the Christmas Press website here:

There are also details of how to buy Christmas Press books. If you live outside of Australia and want a copy, you will need to email the publisher, to work out postage; otherwise, it's available in all good bookstores. Remember, this is a small press. This particular imprint is Second Look, which I assume is meant to reprint out-of-print books that are special and deserve a second look. 

So, what's it about? It's not actually a time travel book, not even to the same extent as Jackie French's Daughter Of The Regiment, in which a boy in the more-or-less here and now sees through a hole in time, located in his family's chook shed, to the life of a young orphaned girl in the 1840s, who turns out to be an ancestor. 

But it does have two girls, the Victorian-era Elizabeth, writing in a diary, and her granddaughter Eleanor, who has just moved to her mother's childhood home in the bush. Eleanor is unhappy. She misses her friends and she has been bullied at her new school. She takes refuge in the diary of her maternal grandmother, whom she doesn't remember(she died when Eleanor was a toddler), which she finds in the old schoolhouse in the yard. Elizabeth was rebellious and hated her girly clothes and restrictions. She had found a secret spot in the bush, a cave, which becomes important late in the book, when Eleanor really needs to find it. For Eleanor, the diary is the secret - and there are some parallels in their lives. 

It's set in 1960, for the same reasons why you couldn't remake Back To The Future, ie the girl would have to be a much earlier ancestor than grandmother. The 1960s are just as much another world as the Victorian era. Everyone is talking about getting an aerial set up for TV. There's the "wireless" and the Argonauts Club. Girls asking each other, "Have you got George yet?" I hadn't a clue what that was till "the curse" was mentioned as an alternative name and I bet teenage girls don't know that term either.

It's a short book, surely no more than 20,000 words, but works as a novel. There's something sweet about it, and it is very Australian, considering the author was in Europe when she was working on it. 

Well worth a reprint and it should still appeal to girls in late primary/early secondary school who like their book heroines strong. 

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