Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Irena Kobald

My Two Blankets might be my favorite picture book of the year. In this heart-warming tale, Irena Kobald has taken the tried and true story of a new kid on the block and created a fresh and original multicultural story of Cartwheel who moves from Sudan to Australia. In addition, the combination of warm watercolors and oils provides an inviting atmosphere.

An immigrant herself to Australia, author Irena Kobald is not a stranger to how lost and lonely one feels in a new land. In addition, being a teacher of aboriginal children in the Australian outback communities, most of whom use English as a fifth language, Kobald is also well-acquainted with how freakish one feels when surrounded by those speaking unfamiliar languages. No doubt drawing on those feelings, as well as being inspired by a friendship that developed between her daughter and a Sudanese girl, Kobald has written an endearing story that has been enriched by the use of a metaphor. When Cartwheel arrives in her strange new country, she finds security in a metaphorical blanket made up of her own words and the memories of her old world. Later, after a girl in a park smiles and waves at her, Cartwheel weaves the new words given to her into a second blanket of origami shapes. This is the perfect format for turning a tried and true story into a fresh and original one that will encourage young and old alike to think about immigrants and friendship.


Just as arresting is the artwork, which successfully depicts the essence of Cartwheel’s emotions. Illustrations of Cartwheel and her blanket are always the colors of brown and orange and gold, as well as being in oil. The girl in the park and her origami words are always blue and green and pink and yellow, as well as being in watercolor. In addition, the illustrator Freya Blackwood notes that that when Cartwheel explored her new home, the experience of no one speaking like her felt like a cold waterfall of strange sounds, and Blackwood originally intended this ‘waterfall’ to be thick with symbols that represented words. However, in her drafts, she just showed this as a messy scrawl, and the scrawl seemed to work better than lots of symbols. Another reviewer also observed that the use of pigeons in the park and origami-shaped birds reminded her of freedom. As you can see, the artwork itself provides a rich experience too.

Given that diversity is at the heart of this sweet tale, I initially felt taken back by the fact that the poetic text never directly states which country Cartweel came from or moved to. The attire of both Cartwheel and her mom might suggest Africa as their homeland, as might the images in Cartwheel’s metaphorical blanket. We’re also told that war came to Cartwheel’s country. Beyond these clues, however, the only reason I know the story takes place in Sudan is that this country is specified in the reviews. As for where Cartwheel moved to, the buildings and mode of transportation suggest a city. No location is given, however, not even of a region or country. Critics aren’t of any help here either. While I presumed Australia, given that this is where both author and illustrator live, the reality is we’re never told. At first, I thought this omission a mistake, because I would have enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about these landscapes. Upon further reflection, I decided that the omission is genius. As a universal story of refugees and friendship, My Two Blankets is all the more accessible to everyone.

Besides being a simply beautiful story, My Two Blankets also lends itself to educational opportunities. Teachers might talk about the use of metaphor. Furthermore, for those classrooms with the time, students could create their own metaphorical blankets of a time when they moved from one place to another. My Two Blankets is a delightful import from Australia that should find a treasured spot on your shelves.

My rating? Read it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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:

Allisons' Book Bag Logo

Thank You!

Allison’s Book Bag will no longer be updated. Thank you for eight years!

You can continue to follow me at:



Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 125 other followers