Toroa’s Journey by Maria Gill, illus. Gavin Mouldey, Potton & Burton
While researching the background to this stunning book I was amazed to read (from Maria’s website at www.mariagill.co.nz) that it has been many years since Maria visited the Royal Albatross Centre in Dunedin and interviewed a ranger about Toroa, the 500th chick to hatch at Taiaroa Head. She then waited seven years for Toroa to return safely to his hatchery. Only then did she finalise the story and send it to Potton & Burton.
The story is a perfect example of a genre that Maria is passionate about – creative non-fiction. Toroa is a real albatross. Many of the events in his story are true, proven by the transmitter he wore for some time. But Maria has shaped these real events into a cohesive story that will “hook” children into reading it as they would a fictional work.
The structure is simple – it begins with Toroa as a chick, learning to survive and fly in a hostile environment. Once he fledges (his wing-feathers are fully developed and he can fly) he launches himself off the cliff – and soars. After many adventures Toroa returns to his hatchery (probably not touching land for seven years), finds a mate, and raises his own chick. The circle of life is complete.
The illustrations are breath-taking, from the stately, bordered painting on the cover to the inside back cover where Toroa’s offspring flies over the wide, restless sea towards the glow of the sun on the horizon.
I asked Gavin what media he used for the paintings. He replied, “The paintings are a mix of gouache paint, gesso, wood staining gel and pastels on paper, wood and card. The birds were painted after using a stylus and digital paint brushes. The plastic patch spread includes plastic waste washed up on my local beach, glued directly on the painting.”
He added that working on a true life character in a fictionalised setting was new for him. He often had the live royal albatross webcam open while sketching, as well as using screen grabs, books, clippings, online photos and postcards. The research stage doubled his workload but made the process very rewarding.
Mention must be made of the excellent book design which combines Gavin’s expansive double-spreads with simple black pencil sketches and fact boxes. There’s even a spectacular double fold-out indicating the span of full-grown albatross wings.
This book is essential buying for primary and intermediate school libraries, as well as all public libraries. I can also see it in the homes of families who are concerned about the environment and the preservation of our native species.
PS. Teaching notes are available at: http://www.mariagill.co.nz/pdf/Toroa%27s%20Teaching%20Notes.pdf
ISBN 978 0 947503 52 9 $19.99 Pb (also available in hardback)
Buy the book here or at your local bookstore.
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman