Writing, words and written work

Pekanbaru Library on the island of Sumatra is one of the most impressive library buildings I have ever seen but the empty book shelves and the sight of out-dated books published in the 1970s and 80s saddened me.  When I visited the library on a trip to Indonesia a couple of years ago the head librarian, a tall man dressed in a uniform reminiscent of army fatigues, graciously met with me to discuss the library system in Indonesia. I had several picture books with me that I had brought over from Australia. When I showed him a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, his eyes widened and his mouth dropped. His look of astonished enchantment increased with each page. At the end of the book, he asked in an awed tone, “Where can I get such a book?”

The reaction of Indonesian teachers to Eric Carle’s masterpiece was similar. One teacher, who  immediately grasped the beauty of the book’s simplicity and its educational value, highlighted the lessons embedded in the story as she turned the pages: “Colours, numbers, days of the week, food, biology…” Millions of children have enjoyed the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar without even noticing that it was teaching them so many things. What a gift Eric Carle has given to generations of wide-eyed children.

Like many children in Indonesia I had little access to books as a kid growing up in the Australian bush. However, I was lucky enough to be given the gift of story by an aunt who sent books each Christmas, knowing that my parents could not afford such luxuries. Those beautifully bound books of literature classics gave me hours of reading pleasure, escape from my real world, a love of stories and probably extensive education that I was not aware of at the time.

That love of stories stayed with me and led me to oral storytelling and writing. I feel privileged to be able to use my skills to give the gift of story. Although I would not attempt to emulate Eric Carle’s magnificent picture book I hope that children reading my chapter book, Trapped in Gondwana, will benefit from the pleasure of reading a good story and escaping from their real world while being unaware of the lessons they are learning about the evolution of the earth, the environment, threatened species, personal growth and more.

I wonder if Trapped in Gondwana is the book that I boasted about to my mother when I was still a scrawny bush kid in the early 1960s.

“One day,” I said to her, “I’m going to write a best-selling book.”

My mother replied, “One day I might give you something to write about.”

It wasn’t until after her death almost forty years later that she gifted me her story by leaving papers, previously hidden, for her children to find, which revealed her secret. When I put together the pieces of the puzzle presented by the paperwork, I remembered the promise she had made to me. At the same time I recalled one of her favourite sayings: “You can say anything you like about me when I am dead.” That was how I knew she had given me permission to write her story and the licence to write it as I saw fit.  Her legacy to me was the gift of story. Perhaps it is her story Whisper My Secret and not Trapped in Gondwana about which I heralded great success with my grandiloquent boast. (Fingers crossed for both!)

Whatever the fate of my books in terms of sales, I do believe that the gift of story is one of the most precious gifts we can give, not only to children, but to each other. Apart from bestowing books whether print, electronic or audio, we can also give the gift of story in other ways. Sharing our stories, whether by telling and listening or by writing and reading, is a profound gift which binds families, communities, friends and nations through the creation of understanding, empathy and a sense of connection.

Until next time…JB :-)

Whisper My Secret

Trapped in Gondwana

About Whisper My Secret

Why I Envy Librarians

Books for Indonesian kids

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

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Comments on: "The most precious gift of all?" (15)

  1. john olsen said:

    a wonderfull story well writen with lots of fealing
    thank you

    • Thank you, John. It means a lot to me that you have taken the time to offer your comments. All the best.
      JB :-)

  2. I just read your story “Whisper My Secret” and wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed it. I look forward to the next one. It was very well written, and heart felt.

  3. narelle said:

    its hard to believe that a book can change the you look at something or someone so differently it wasn’t until this book whisper my secret was written and i finished reading it that i realized my nan was not at fault for many years i wondered how a woman could just leave her kids I now respect my Nan and what she went through although my father allan was brought up in an orphanage i am sure his mother would be very proud of how her son has turned out i know i am knowing more about his past has helped me many of my friends have read the book and have shed a few tears along the way knowing its a true story really hit home for them so thanks aunt JB :) AND LOOKING FORWARD TO THE 2ND BOOK
    so thanks again on a great book from narelle

    • Yes, Narelle, I agree. Myrtle would be very proud of her son, Allan, and just as proud of Kenny and Valerie.

      I know, if things had been different, she would have heaped love and attention on you and all of the other grandchildren she did not have the opportunity to get to know.

      Auntie JB :-)

  4. Anonymous said:

    you make an excellent point JB, stories truly are a great gift

  5. Hey JB — These two stories are available only in Kindle editions? I’m looking forward to reading them regardless of format. Thanks!

    • Hi Megan, Thanks for dropping by.

      Yes, both books are currently available only as ebooks via Amazon.com. (‘Whisper My Secret’ was originally published as a print edition and there might still be some of those available through Amazon.com.) I hope to make ‘Trapped in Gondwana’ available as a print edition at some stage in the future. Thank you so much for your interest. JB :-)

  6. G’day, JB!
    I sometimes say I became a storyteller because I grew up in a very “ethnic” neighborhood where all the different groups told stories, but my family didn’t. I later learned this was typical of the German/Eastern European (if not Jewish) family. Whatever! I grew up story-deprived and delight in sharing stories. As always you said it so well both as a writer and a storyteller. Thanks for your blog’s encouragement of literacy, both the value of the oral and the written. I enjoyed looking at several of your other posts here…but I’m not surprised as I’ve always enjoyed reading you.
    LoiS (a.k.a. http://www.LoiS-sez.com and my personal blog at http://StorytellingResearchLoiS.com — had to log in with the WordPress blog I do for our church’s library!)

    • G’day right back to you, Lois. Thanks for dropping in. Sorry I wasn’t here to offer you a cuppa but thanks so much for leaving a message.

      Your comment about being ‘story-deprived’ gave me a pang and reinforced my feeling that growing up amid many stories was a privilege and an advantage. Apart from the exposure to stories I mentioned in my post I had other story experiences such as listening to radio serials on my mother’s knee and listening to my grandmother’s yarns and songs. So what is we didn’t have money! I had other treasures.

      I have not been to your blog for a while but I know it is a rich resource so will pop over now.

      JB :-)

  7. Brenda said:

    Excellent post JB! And I have to say to everyone out there…read Whisper My Secret…it’s a wonderful story. JB has enormous talent, and has brought the characters to life, and with it being about her Mum, Dad and siblings, I now feel I know her and her family!

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