‘Years ago we threw the old didacticism (dowdy morality) out of the window; it has come back in at the door wearing modern dress (smart values) and we do not even recognise it.’ John Rowe Townsend’s words, from more than a quarter of a century ago, retain a fresh ring of truthfulness. I recalled them after reading The Girl with No Name (Puffin, $8.95 pb), Pat Lowe’s first novel for children.
The story, about a white boy’s encounter with an Aboriginal girl, is clad in such confident ‘modern dress’ that its didacticism may well escape the notice of adults whose interest is in keeping pace with fashion. Alert children of independent thought, however, may resent its underlying self-righteousness and be unimpressed by its ‘superior adult’ tone. There is indeed an enormous gulf of understanding between white and black Australians and books can help bridge it. To succeed, however, they need to be sufficiently subtly composed to convey their purpose without sledge-hammered interpolations designed to ensure that readers won’t escape reaching the intended conclusions.