Allison's Book Bag

A Move from Sudan to Australia

Posted on: November 17, 2015

Cartwheel moves to a new country with her auntie, and everything is strange: the animals, the plants—even the wind. An old blanket gives Cartwheel comfort when she’s sad—and a new blanket just might change her world.

The above description comes from inside jacket flap of My Two Blankets, CBCA Picture Book of the Year 2015. Set in Australia, this multicultural story is written by Irena Kobald, an immigrant to Australia. It’s illustrated by Kate Greenaway medalist Freya Blackwood, a native to Australia. Tomorrow I’ll review My Two Blankets. Save the date: November 18!


Biographical information that I could find online about author Irena Kobald was limited. She teaches aboriginal children in Australian outback communities. The children she teaches use English as a fifth language. Besides being a teacher and a writer, Kobald has a Masters in Russian.

As the daughter of a painter and an architect, Illustrator Freya Blackwood was encouraged to draw from a young age. She earned a degree in Visual Communications and then worked for several years in the film industry in Australia and in New Zealand. She now lives back in Orange, New South Wales, Australia with her daughter Ivy, their rather naughty whippet Pivot, and four noisy chickens.

You can find her blog online and it contains a post about My Two Blankets. Blackwood writes about how the metaphorical blanket was a difficult concept to illustrate and took her a long time to solve. However, she attracted to the idea of a visual interpretation of feelings, sounds and words. “As with any concept requiring interpretation, there are endless different visual solutions and everyone has a different idea of what works the best. This would have been a great book to give to several illustrators to see what each came up with. I’d love to see other peoples’ takes on the concept.”


Set in Australia, My Two Blankets is narrated from the perspective of Cartwheel who is from Sudan but moves to Australia. As such, everything feels strange: the people, the food, the animals, the plants, and even the wind. Nobody spoke like Cartwheel. She felt as if standing under a waterfall of strange sounds. The waterfall made her feel cold.

One day while Cartwheel is at the park, a girl smiles and waves at her. Cartwheel wants to be friends, but doesn’t know how. An illustration depicts Cartwheel as wrapping herself into a blanket. This blanket contains symbols based on African weavings, fabrics, and sculptures. The next day, the girl taught Cartwheel some words. An illustration shows Cartwheel embracing a new blanket. This blanket contains origami images, mostly of items that are common to the average American but also to the water and to pastures.


In educating myself about Sudan, I learned that the area was known as ‘Nubia’ to the ancient Egyptians, whose powerful rulers often raided the region. Throughout history, Sudan and Egypt have often been one territory. In 1956, Sudan became an independent country, the largest in Africa. However, religious and cultural differences have led to years of conflict. During almost 40 years of war, 2.5 million people died from drought and starvation. Today Sudan is still a dangerous and unstable country.

Many of Sudan’s people consider themselves as ‘Arabs’ rather than ‘Africans’. Arabic is the official national language. However, Sudanese people often have both Arab and African ancestry. Around the edges of the country, there are groups of people who speak an African tongue as their first language.

Much of Sudan is flat, except for the Nuba Uplands in the centre and two main highland areas along the edges. The main feature of Sudan is the Nile, which is actually two rivers in one! Large areas of Sudan’s natural plants have disappeared following hundreds of years of grazing livestock. Hunting also threatens the country’s wildlife. Over 20 mammal and nine bird species are endangered.

More facts can be found at the below sites.

In educating myself about Australia, I learned that with nearly a quarter of the people who live in Australia being born in other countries, Australia is one of the world’s most ethnically diverse nations. Its inhabitants come from the United Kingdom and other European countries, but also from China, Vietnam, North Africa, and the Middle East.

Aboriginal people arrived in Australia about 50,000 years ago. They may have traveled from Asia across land bridges that were exposed when sea levels were lower. In 1788, the British began to settle in Australia. Many of those settlers were criminals sent to live in Australia as punishment. Initially, newcomers lived peacefully with the Aboriginal people, but soon fighting broke out over who owned the land. Today, Aborigines make up 2% of Australia’s population.

Besides being one of the world’s most ethnically diverse nation, it’s also one of the largest countries on earth. It’s the only country to cover an entire continent. Most Australian cities and farms are located in the southwest and southeast, where the climate is more comfortable. The dense tropical rain forests in the northeast are rich in plant and animal species. The famous outback (or remote rural areas) contains the country’s largest deserts, where there are scorching temperatures, little water, and almost no vegetation. Although it is rich in natural resources and has a lot of fertile land, more than one-third of Australia is desert.

Australia’s ecosystem is an unusual one because of its remote location. As a result, there are many animal species that occur here and nowhere else in the world, such as the platypus, kangaroo, echidna, and koala. Australia has 516 national parks to protect its unique plants and animals.

More facts can be found at the below sites:


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I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.



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