What makes a classic? A book that manages to connect with thousands, perhaps millions of readers? A book that lodges itself into our psyche, that has the power to shape us or to jolt us into a new way of thinking? Penguin Books have released the first four titles in a new series called Australian Children’s Classics ($12.99) and each of them have a place in my early reading life: I Can Jump Puddles by Alan Marshall, Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park, Picnic At Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay and Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner.
It’s an intriguing mix; the covers are as sweet as lollies, but inside are the stories of a group of school girls who go missing at Hanging Rock, and of Abigail Kirk, the accidental time traveller who finds herself in Sydney in 1873, and of Ethel Turner’s international hit about a raucous family.
I remember finding a paperback copy of Alan Marshall’s I Can Jump Puddles (first published in 1955) on a cold, rainy day when I was at secondary school. It’s been a couple of decades since but turning the pages of this gorgeous rebound Australian Children’s Classic, it took only a handful of lines by this natural storyteller to send me back to that winter’s day.
Born in Noorat (near Camperdown in Victoria) in 1904, Marshall contracted polio when he was six years-old. His struggle with adversity, his indomitable spirit and his gift for evoking a certain period of Australian life makes I Can Jump Puddles a true classic; it’s moving, sincere and funny, and it’s great to see it back on book shelves.
Collectively, each of these beautifully bound books cover a huge range of experiences, and while they don’t have a lot in common, they represent a different take on Australian life from the perspective of young protagonists. No doubt reading them consecutively would offer up some interesting comparisons.
More importantly, these new editions will attract new readers who will open the covers and find themselves wondering if Miranda will ever be found, or if Judy will be sent back to boarding school, if Abigail will find her way home and if Alan really can jump puddles.