This is the first picture book I've come across which is set firmly in the Torres Strait Islands, and boy is it a good one!
Bakir and Bi is an intriguing story from publishers Magabala Books. Immersed in the Torres Strait Islands, it has much to offer its older readers in terms of language, knowledge, culture and a fascinating story.
Inspired by a drawing of Mabiuag Island, Jillian Boyd has set her story on the fictional islands of Egur and Ekiam, influenced by the language (Meriam Mir), protocols and traditional lores of the Eastern Islanders.
Boyd's writing imparts a gentle, hypnotic charm as the story of Bakir and his family, set 'long before the tall ship brought strangers' unfolds.
The island of Egur provides an abundance of food for the Kedawer tribe. The hills are filled with pigs and pigeons, the sea with trout and snapper, whilst the trees 'boasted the juiciest mangos'. The people are richly skilled as craftsman, attracting trade from other islands.
When famine strikes the island this idealistic life begins to change, the easy going nature of many of the members is tested to the limit as starvation takes over.
Bakir's family are forced to flee the island ... and set out on their own adventure.
Bakir and Bi fits into the category of a picture book aimed firmly at older readers. Its compact (think just less than A5) size gives it a suitably 'grown up' air, whilst paragraphs from the story are seamlessly integrated with Tori-Jay Mordey's illustrations.
Mordey's illustrations are heavily influenced by the vibrant teal echoed on the front cover, an oceanic influence perhaps. Her use of black and white images to focus the reader's attention on key characters and crucial moments in the story, adds a wonderful element of movement and pace.
Urm, Tori-Jay Mordey is just 17!
Both the illustrator and writer grew up on Thursday Island, and currently live in Queensland.
Bakir and Bir won the black&write! competition for 2012, following in the highly successful footsteps of the 2011 winners - Ali Cobby Eckermann's Ruby Moonlight (also Winner of the 2012 Deadly Award for Outstanding Achievement in Literature), and Sue McPherson's Grace Beside Me.
With an endorsement on the front cover from Boori Monty Pryor, Bakir and Bir is definitely one to watch out for!