Each day a little boy puts into a billy something special for his Dad, fighting in a war on the other side of the world. Some of the things he includes are walnuts, butterscotch, and a pair of socks. After his Mum and Nana put their share in, the billy is sent off with many others, from other families. This is the story of the Christmas billy, sent to soldiers during World War 1.
Claire Saxby’s soft, poetic prose is beautiful. This works so well with the softly coloured illustrations, in pencil and watercolour, by Mark Jackson and Heather Potter. The sepia tones with blue hues throughout give the feeling of a time past, and are quite beautiful. The verbal and visual texts work together to evoke emotion throughout, with the final, wordless page the perfect ending. This is an exquisite picture book. The verbal text caters for a younger audience while the topic, that of the Christmas billy, and historically accurate pictures cater for an older audience.
This will be well used in classrooms of all ages, and is a must for all public libraries.
Classroom Activity Ideas
- Research Christmas billies. When were they sent, and what was in them? Some online resources that will help are:
- This photo from The Australian War Memorial, showing Christmas billies, Egypt.
- Search The Australian War Memorial website further for more pictures of Christmas billies. Use these images for creative writing.
- Search Trove from the National Library Archives and read newspaper articles published from the time about Christmas billies. There are photos on Trove also.
- Look at the endpapers, at the items put into the billy. What would you send to your father in a billy? Bring some items to school, or list and draw on an outline of a billy.
- Discuss: Does it matter if the boy’s billy does not reach his father, but another solider?
- Look closely at the illustrations, at the houses and shops. How are our houses, shops and transport different?
- Write a story of the billy being received by a soldier.
- Look at and discuss the illustrators’ choice of colours. Why have these colours and tones been chosen? How do they add to the setting of the story?
Many thanks to Walker Books for supplying this book for review.