By Claire Saxby

Illustrated by Graham Byrne

Walker Books, 2014

Reviewed by Janine Kitson

This intimate and beautifully-written insight into the life of a magnificent Australian bird focuses on the male emu which keeps the female’s eggs warm and rears her chicks — “Once the eggs are laid, female emus have nothing further to do with the hatching or rearing of their young”.

For a year-and-a-half the male emu does its best to protect the chicks from predators such as goannas, dingoes and eagles.

Rich, descriptive language is used throughout the picture book such as when it describes the open forest “where eucalypts fringe tufty grasslands, honey-pale sunshine seeps to where the Emu sits on a nest”. Or when the chicks hatch — “Over the next week, the first eggs wobble, and blink-eyed chicks crack their way into their new world. Gangly, with stippled heads and ribbon stripes, the chicks survey the forest.”

The shadow of an eagle flying above the emu chicks is particularly powerful: “Eagle wheels overhead, casting his dreadful shadow. Emu leads his chicks in a zigzag sprint across the grassland to the safety of the trees. Behind him, the chicks caravan closely.”

The poetic text is juxtaposed with factual text that is distinguished by a different font style and makes the book suitable for middle to upper primary school students.

This book is available for borrowing from the Federation's library.

Small group/pair discussion

1. What do you know about emus?
2. Talk about when you saw an emu.
3. What do you find the most interesting fact about an emu?
4. Describe how the male does such a good job at caring for the eggs and chicks.

Suggestions for learning activities

1. Draw or paint a picture of camouflaged emu chicks.
2. Draw up two columns, one headed “Descriptive/Poetic Language” and the other headed “Factual Language”. Go through the book and record examples of such words and phrases.
3. Do more research about Australian emus — inland and coastal — and the threats they face.
4. Make up a quiz about emus.
5. Use the book to springboard into drama and dance.

Janine Kitson is a relieving Country Organiser.