Turtledad brought home a pile of new books for Wren the other day – very exciting for us, as we rarely buy anything new.  One of these books was ‘Where’s Stripey?’ by Wendy Binks. I had high hopes. Not only was it a winner in the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards, but it is a story about emus.

A little background for those who don’t know much about emus: Emu chicks are raised by their fathers. The mother lays the eggs, the father sits on them and raises the chicks. Great! What a fantastic opportunity to portray a father as primary carer. (Okay, so I’m told that emu fathers actually ‘collect’ chicks by taking them from other families, which might be a little inappropriate if transferred to the human world, but that’s a detail which can easily be left out of a kids’ book). What I was hoping for was a positive, involved, nurturing father figure.

But no. Crikey, the emu dad, is “forgetful” and can’t count to 30 (that’s how many emu chicks there are). He loses one (Stripey) and his first thought is how “cross” Sheila (the emu mum) will be. So, not exactly a positive portrayal of the mother emu either. She is not looking after her chicks, but is a harsh judge of his parenting.

Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh. Crikey is caring and involved, just not terribly competent. And 30 is a lot of chicks for anyone of any gender or species. The story ends with Crikey and Sheila deciding to look after the chicks together. I’m all for shared parenting.

A little mind game I play with myself to check to gender portrayals, is to mentally swap the mother and father figures in the story. And I just can’t imagine a book being published with them the other way around. It just wouldn’t happen.

Add to that, it’s not really a terribly good story anyway. It’s repetitive and formulaic, nothing too creative, no quirky twists. The only ‘jokes’ are the place names (such as ‘Windy Bottom Gorge’ and ‘Snottygobble Spa’) and one about the questionable paternity of the emu chick, who doesn’t look like his dad, but neither do the tadpoles. Yeah ha ha ha.

I really like the picture of all the Australian animals.

On the whole, however, it gets the thumbs down from me. It’s really a wasted opportunity to provide kids with an image of a positive father figure in the animal world.