Title: Wild Bush Days

Author: Penny Harrison

Illustrator: Virginia Gray

Publisher: MidnightSun Publishing

Publication date: August 2022

Wild Bush Days by Penny Harrison and illustrated by Virginia Gray is a picture book about the power of story, imagination and possibilities and how these drive two young girls to set out on a quest to explore the rugged bushlands to locate the elusive cave of an infamous bushranger.

Jessie Hickman, known as The Lady Bushranger, a real life Australian historical figure was known for her daring horse-riding skills she employed to escape the authorities and in this book her life story captures the imagination of two girls.

The story begins with the rugged, treacherous, vast setting where Jesse’s cave was in Nullo Mountain which today forms part of the world heritage listed Wollemi National Park, a couple of hours northwest of Sydney. The text on this page, coupled with the double page illustration conveys to the reader that this place has a story and a forgotten past, piquing the reader’s interest and whetting their appetite to learn more.

Two young intrepid girls with a thirst for adventure and a big dose of imagination envision Jessie inhabiting the bush in the early 1900s. They explore and attempt to retrace her adventures in search of the cave where she hid from police. Their journey and exploration parallels Jessie’s life story. The two stories are seamlessly woven together with two different colour palettes used in the illustrations; softer tones to give a dreamier aesthetic reminiscent of the past are used when revealing details about Jessie’s life and a bolder, brighter colour palette reflects the girls carefree, joyful, rewarding modern day adventures.   

This book is engaging and informative. Before the story there is a small paragraph which includes fascinating details about Jessie Hickman including an interesting snippet about her teapot that was recovered from the cave in 1936 and now can be seen in the Kandos Museum.

The story explores Jessie’s early years when she performed in the circus and her fearless, daring approach to horse riding.  After leaving the circus she employed her formidable horse riding skills and became an infamous cattle duffer. She resided in a cave, always on the lookout for the authorities, yet felt a sense of freedom and solace in the bush setting. The children, inspired by Jessie’s wild and daring ways, joyfully explore the bush with a sense of awe and wonder and an adventurous spirit as they take risks, are open to possibilities and are eternally curious.

Like any adventure, this story contains thrills and spills, suspense, the unexpected and narrow escapes.

The lively illustrations bring the bush landscape to life and depict the diversity in the Australian trees, plants, shrubs and animals. The illustrations are teeming with animals that can be seen in the air, nestled in trees, resting on the rocks and swimming in the water. Children and adults alike will delight in the glorious detail in the illustrations which offer something new to discover each time this book is revisited.  Visual elements are used to create a sense of motion in the illustrations which adds another layer to the adventurous storyline.

This book would be perfect to support the 2022 CBCA Book Week theme, Dreaming with eyes open… as the girls in the story are inspired by a historical figure to visualise and dream about past stories from their local history and make connections to their world a century later. This is an inspiring segue into exploring the dreams of adventurers, uncovering stories from a forgotten past and using the local area as a storyteller. 

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