by Tania Atkinson
illustrated by Viv Walker
My first thought was ‘what an intriguing title for a child’s picture book’. With my interest piqued I was ready to find out what was in Old Russian Jack’s mysterious gigantic sack.
The cover art is rustic, and bold, and the ‘sack,’ or swag as some know it, is clearly what the story is going to be about.
The book is beautifully presented, the layout commendable, the artwork superb with no unnecessary background intrusion; whatever is there is rural New Zealand. And there is such a genuine gentleness about Old Russian Jack’s face that he can only draw children to him in a kindly grandfatherly way.
Inside, the illustrations are larger than life – vivid and vital – as is the story line.
There are animals around Old Russian Jack that we come to realise are his devoted companions as he traipses from farm to farm looking for work, food and a warm place to sleep: Doggie Dan, Kitty Cat, Mattie Mouse and Maggie Pie.
There are plenty of lines for the children to join in too.
So the story progresses and we have the various animals’ ideas about just what might be in that mysterious gigantic swag sack, and each individual animal’s idea is depicted in the artwork. Expectation and then disappointment for each.
So just what is in Russian Jack’s mysterious gigantic swag sack? Read this entertaining book with your youngsters and find out.
This story is based on the true character of the famous swagman, Russian Jack from Latvia, who spent 56 years in New Zealand trudging across and around the North Island in search of farm work to provide him with food and accommodation. He died in Greytown at the age of 90.
Author: Tania Atkinson, illustrator: Viv Walker
Publisher: Swirld Books
Available: Wheelers Books Online. Aratoi Museum of Art and History, Paper Plus and Hedleys bookshop, Masterton. Cobblestones Museum and Kotare Gallery, Greytown. Waiart Gallery 23, Heart of Arts Gallery, Take Note Bookshop, Almos Bookshop, Carterton. Te Kairanga Wines Vineyard, Pain and Kershaws, Martinborough. LOCO Bookshop & Cafe, Featherston. Bruce McKenzie Books, Palmerston North. Whanganui Museum retail store, Paige’s Bookshop, Whanganui. Paper Plus in Feilding, Levin, Paraparaumu, Upper Hutt. The Bookshelf, Waikanae. The Children’s Bookshop Kilbirnie, Unity Bookshop, Victoria University Bookshop, Wellington.