The Book Bulletin May 25, 2004

children's books Gail MacCallum

"Far away there is a land where the forest grows close to the mountain snow. The rivers flow, rushing down valleys, searching for sea. There in a stair-step village lives a girl called Shazia." This tender story of a Tibetan child's dream of owning her own snow leopard succeeds by dint of the rhythms and language of the text which, in tandem with the illustrations, provide an immediacy and non-didactic sense of other lands and other ways of living. Shazia finds her snow leopard Yardil (friend of my heart) and loses her, but the ending is a happy one nonetheless.

The Wishing Cupboard

Primary Focus Fiction 2003

Curriculum Materials Information Services Department of Education Western Australia

A special cupboard holds many mementos of a family separated by distance and circumstances. Tran's grandmother passes on to her grandson the stories connected with the significant objects hidden within the "treasure chest" (made by his grandfather) as a way of reassuring him that his mother will be returning home soon from a trip to distant Vietnam, where she is visiting her Aunt. She also hopes to bring home Tran's cousin to live in Australia. The poetic text is conveyed mainly in dialogue and supported by the evocative illustrations of Elizabeth Stanley, well known for her earlier picture book The Deliverance of Dancing Bears. By the end of the story Tran will understand more about the significance of the wishing cupboard for his family.

The Wishing Cupboard reaffirms values of family life, love and the importance of passing on family stories to the next generation. It also raises awareness of the struggles and obstacles faced by some families to find a home where peace and freedom are possible. An on-line version of the book is also available on the author's website at:

Reading Time Vol. 46 no.4

What child could resist a cupboard with lots of different doors and drawers? To pass the time whilst Tran's mother is away, his grandmother lets him investigate her heirloom cupboard, which has come with her from Vietnam. Each nook holds a memento and a story, and together they make up the family history. One of the spaces is empty, reserved for Tran to use for his treasures, so that although Tran is missing his mother, and far away from the country of his roots, he is part of the family story. Ultimately his mother returns with his cousin and, unexpectedly, his grandmother's sister.

Elizabeth Stanley captures the mood of solemnity with her dark tones, but they are rich and deep rather than depressing, just as the theme of the story acknowledges the sadness of separation but imbues it with the happiness of precious memories and strong family ties.

The treasures stored so carefully in the cupboard are inherently worthless - a feather, a seashell, photographs, some firecrackers, a finely carved box - but beyond price to Tran's grandmother, especially a glass eye given to her by her sister who had only one real eye. It is the unmatched eyes of the older woman his mother brings home which gives away her identity and brings the story to a satisfying conclusion.

Libby Hathorn's choice of subject matter is very topical. If we can show our children that immigrants have the same feelings and family relationships as they do then perhaps there will be no need for debate when they grow up. The writing is subtle enough not to fall into didacticism and the two main characters are beautifully realised. This is a quality publication where author and illustrator have been perfectly matched and together have created a memorable book.

Australian Bookseller & Publisher - July 2002

Tran and his grandmother, like many newcomers to Australia, long to be reunited with their family. While they wait, Tran's grandmother reveals the secrets of the wishing cupboard, one by one. This ornate Oriental chest of many compartments contains family treasures. Tran is allowed to place his own treasure in the final compartment and to make a wish—for his mother to return home from Vietnam. This timely story tells of Tran's grandmother's life in Vietnam, but also touches on the loneliness of families separated from loved ones. Libby Hathorn writes with her characteristic empathy, and the characters are nicely portrayed. Although the illustrations lack the vitality of her Deliverance of Dancing Bears, Elizabeth Stanley's strong and richly coloured pastels reflect the warmth of the story. Through artefacts depicted, there is a glimpse of the culture left behind, and also, especially from the view of a red roof through the window, the culture which the family now embraces. The double-page spreads of solid colour could overpower if not for the relief of touches of white, such as the little white dog, who is a spectator throughout. This book will provoke discussion about other lifestyles and cultures, and is recommended for primary levels.

Curriculum Corporation magazine 2003

Discover wonderful folk tales from Vietnam and snippets about Vietnamese culture in this richly illustrated picture story book.

When Tran's mother goes far away over the seas to Vietnam to bring home his little cousin, Lan, his grandmother shares her wondrous experiences and secret wishes from the past. She even lets Tran make his very own wish.

Night Without Darkness

ViewPoint on books for young adults - Vol. 11 No. 1 Autumn 2003

In Deliverance Of Dancing Bears (1995) Elizabeth Stanley dealt with the inhumane treatment of animals by those who regard them as integral to their own existence. In Night Without Darkness, Phoebe grieves quietly as her practical parents go about the annual slaughter of muttonbirds for their valuable oil and flesh, a way of life for nearly 200 years for the communities of the Furneaux Islands of Bass Strait. There is no sentiment allowed, but neither is there the deliberate or prolonged cruelty of the earlier story, and Phoebe's father bands a chick for her so she can recognise it when it too makes its fateful return journey the following season, a rather poignant pleasure I would imagine.

The rhythm of migration, with death from the hardships of their flight north or from the inevitable birding when they return is also a metaphor for the fate of Phoebe's friend Harry, a young Aboriginal boy who periodically helps with the birding. Harry is drawn by the promise of adventure as Australia enters the war, and nothing can stop him enlisting, least of all the angry sadness of Phoebe's father. Harry's death from another, distant, slaughter seems as inevitable as that of the muttonbirds; when Phoebe's banded chick, now adult, returns to the island she greets him joyfully as the returning spirit of her dead friend.

Night Without Darkness is illustrated by the author in softly glowing colours on a grainy background. There is something Millet-like in the portrayal of the men and women who go about their business of slaughtering and preparing the muttonbirds with practised calm. Phoebe's ambivalence makes her an onlooker but the beauty of the islands holds her.' She knew she belonged here. Her flesh was rock, her blood ran like the sea. The pulse of the island beat within her.' lt is that pulse that Elizabeth Stanley has captured both in text and illustrations, a sense of the island being at the heart of life (and death) as birds and people are inexorably drawn to return.

The Deliverance of Dancing Bears

The Canberra Times, Sunday, March 19, 1995

The marriage of drawings and fine text

Coincidence may pursue Elizabeth Stanley, but her success is based on talent writes Stephen Matthews

The peculiarly sparse ranks of children's authors resident in Canberra have happily been augmented by the arrival from Perth of Elizabeth Stanley, writer and illustrator of The Deliverance of Dancing Bears (University of Western Australia Press. $19.95).

Eyes sparkling, she explains how she was seduced by that exciting marriage you find between the picture and the word.

"I don't think I ever thought, I really want to be a writer or an illustrator, a bit like coming through a number of back doors," she said.

"I've been a teacher and  a psychologist, so I had an interest in children all along and I certainly had an interest in writing. I have always been interested in working as an artist."

"I've always been writing and drawing. At school, since I was a small child, I was absolutely, mad about both things; they were always my best subjects."

There were obstacles, however. "We lived in the country, in Mildura, and I never had any kind of career guidance at school. I've regretted frequently that I didn't ever train as an artist."

"When I proposed the idea of going to art school in Melbourne at the end of Year 12 my parents were horrified and advised me strongly that a more traditional course, at Melbourne' University, doing English, and going into teaching, might be more acceptable."

The Deliverance of Dancing Bears, a book for "young philosophers whose emerging awareness of the complexity, of life is leading them to consider some of its great universals", had its origins, Stanley explained "witnessing a dancing bear in Athens in 1979."

"I didn't come away from that experience thinking, I've got to write about this or do something about it,' it's just something that remained in a repository somewhere. It was only when I sat down. to write that it just welled up."

Stanley wrote the story in 1990 and began researching the pictures in 1993.

"I discovered," she said, "that the practice of bear, dancing certainly hadn't ever died out in a lot of countries in Europe."

She decided to set the book in Turkey after an article on the country captured her imagination.

"It has that exotic feeling to it," she says. "It's a society totally different 'to our own. It had the potential for reaching a broader spectrum of people."

When she went to Turkey there was a happy coincidence which Stanley describes in a postscript to the book. "On the day in Istanbul I discovered bears I had come to witness as captives had in fact been liberated the very night before! They are to be released into a 10 hectare sanctuary of forest where they will be fed and cared for by rangers for the rest of their life."

Another happy coincidence led to Stanley's choice of medium the illustrations.

"I was really uncertain about what I was going to use. I'd almost decided that I was going to paint large oil landscapes but I happened to be in an art shop browsing one, day and saw this wonderful set of pastels, on special, and that clinched it, because the colours were so beautiful."

There was a hitch, though. "I had to go out and buy a book on pastel drawing I'd never done pastel drawing before, so I had to do a bit of teaching myself!"

Coincidences seem to pursue Stanley, for her next book has coincidental links with Canberra.

"When I was at Melbourne University studying English," she said, "we had A.D. Hope come. down to give a series of lectures. I've always remembered what a tremendous impact he made on me, particularly in relation to one of his poems, 'Death of a Bird'."

Having concluded that the bird in the poem is the muttonbird, which migrates from Bass Strait to Siberia, Stanley began visualising a Flinders Island setting for her book, and decided "to write a story of my own based on that island, because I love the concept of its isolation and the intensification of all the issues that i can bring out in the story, but using the migratory aspect of more as a metaphor."

She looks forward to meeting Hope and plans to use his poem at the beginning of the book.

Followers of picture books will watch her progress with great interest.

March 11, 1995 Weekend

Dreams Can Come True

Visiting Greece in 1979, Elizabeth Stanley was disturbed by the captive dancing bears that have been a common sight in Europe for centuries. Her dream was what these sad creatures be liberated, and this picture book exposes the cruelties long suffered by the dancing bears of Europe.

The jacket illustration lets us know from the start that this is NOT another cute teddy-bear book for littlies. The bear depicted here is held captive by a halter around her head, a metal ring through her nose and an attached chain. She is a prisoner behind bars. This is a book for fairly mature readers, encouraging discussion about the inhumane treatment of dancing bears and, possibly, a general discussion about the incarceration of any living creature, including people.

The Deliverance of Dancing Bears is set in Turkey and the rich tapestries that are Elizabeth Stanley's exotic crayon illustrations fill the pages with a feeling of romance and excitement, starkly contrasting with the. suffering of Haluk's dancing bear.

Like the author, this bear has dreams. She dreams of freedom: of forests, mountain streams, fishing with her partner, of having cubs to rear.

But here reality is a small cage with bars and a cruel master who abuses her daily, forcing her to dance in the marketplace to amuse shoppers.

Thanks to one old man's feelings of community guilt, she is bought and released to enjoy a quiet life of freedom. But, of course, the cycle is not broken. Haluk just replaces her with a young cub which he forces to dance on the end of a heavy metal chain.

Attempting to buy the cub, the old man arouses such shame in his fellow villagers that they set upon Haluk, who must face his disgrace and – one hopes – find a dream of his own.

This book believes that dreams do come true. When the author travelled to Istanbul in 1983 for further research, she discovered that dancing bears had been outlawed in Turkey the day before she arrived, with the bears removed from their gypsy owners and transported to a "retirement village".

The powerful and lyrical text of The Deliverance of Dancing Bears, coupled with the intensity of Elizabeth Stanley's illustrations, will ensure that young readers give thoughtful consideration to the opposing realities of captivity and liberty.

Reading Time - August 1995

Picture Book of the Year - Honour Books

The Deliverance of Dancing Bears operates on two levels. Superficially, it is the story of the liberation of a dancing bear in a nondescript Turkish village but it is also a fable that addresses universal truths of humanity. It is a story that had its genesis in the author-illustrator's witness of dancing bears many years ago in Athens, a scene that cut to the heart. This could have been almost a story of propaganda in less skilled hands, but Elizabeth Stanley rightly has kept her own emotional response out of the narrative and, commendably, considered the whole issue of captive bears in a postscript.

However, in its simplicity there rings a grandeur of spirit and emotion that clearly evokes the larger issues of freedom and dignity beyond the primary story. The text is long by usual picture book standards but is not excessive in its delivery of the story; every word counts in its steady progress to the reflective ending.

It is a realistic story of course but Stanley has endowed the bear with an anthropomorphic quality - the bear dreams and hopes for a life of freedom. But such is the finesse of her art that this unnatural juxtaposition comes across  seamlessly in  a most natural way.

The book is of a very broad landscape format with the pictures occupying one and two thirds of each spread, a broad scan for any eye. But Stanley, while using this space to render in distinctly Turkish ambience the bear's world in all its detail, has very skilfully composed her pictures to always lead the viewer firstly to the bear and the men who would fight for her possession and liberation.

Every aspect of the book - the story, the writing style, the illustration, the various details of design - displays great care in purpose on the part of its creators and a respect for its readership.

The West magazine - February 11 1995

The sight of a bear performing to tambourine music played by a gypsy struck a sour note with children's book illustrator Elizabeth Stanley, reports Irene Wringe.

Writer and illustrator Elizabeth Stanley was holidaying in Greece in 1979 when she first saw a dancing bear perform.

She still remembers feeling tortured by the ugly sight.

A heavy iron ring through its nose and mouth, the great beast was surrounded by a big crowd in a busy marketplace in Athens. Its gypsy handler jangled a tambourine, prodding the bear with a stick to make it dance a rhythmic sway from side to side.

Seeing such a magnificent animal so violently coerced into doing pathetic tricks on a city sidewalk was a disturbing experience for Stanley.

"I suppose I was also struck by a sense of impotence in that situation – that you immediately want to cry out, or stamp your feet or have a tantrum about such a terrible thing happening, but you realise that you're not going to make any impression."

Stanley, though, decided she would make an impression when the image remained stubbornly in her mind years later

Today, her children's picture book, The Deliverance of Dancing Bears, marks the decision to translate the memory of that moment in Athens into a modern fable with rich, evocative illustrations.

The journey in between took her to Turkey last year to research for the book, her second following China's Plum Tree.

"I wouldn't have gone," Stanley explains, "except that I had written this story and written it with no particular country in mind, except I knew it was somewhere in Europe."

"And then, when I started to think about the story a little more closely with a view to illustrating it, I came across a number of articles in magazines that talked about dancing bears still in considerable numbers in Turkey."

Stanley's voice take on a sharper edge as she describes how the bears, taken as cubs, fare under their keepers.

"The way they're taught – it's awful – they put a ring, not just through that part of the nose like a bull, but through the palate and through the roof of their mouth and out through their nose.

"They're taught to dance by standing them on a hotplate, with embers under it, so they have to move their little feet to bear it."

The Deliverance of Dancing Bears tells the tale of an old man named Yusef who, though poor, devotes what little he has to rescuing dancing bears as he finds them and releasing them in his garden, gradually calming their fear.

"To that extent, it's a fable – in that there's not a real feeling to the story, if you translate it into realistic terms," Stanley says.

"But the point is that this old has the opportunity to make clear to the crowd watching the bean that this is costing him, personally, a lot, but it's worthwhile in terms of his own principle."

Incredibly, Stanley's visit to Turkey, in October 1993, coincided with a momentous occasion for the Muslim country's population of dancing bears.

Though illegal, the practice of training bears to perform had thrived in Turkey for many years. Libearty, part of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, had worked since 92, with the Turkish government, raising funds so new laws protecting bears from such treatment could be put into practice and maintained.

Stanley says the Turkish government, despite outlawing the practice three years earlier, wasn't able to implement the ban, lacking money and resources for rehabilitating the animals.

"These are bears that have been m captivity for years — you couldn't put them back in the wild and they didn't have zoos or anything to put them in or look after them. They needed this financial help from this society."

Though Stanley had no knowledge of this action when she left Australia she learned that the day before her arrival in Istanbul a dramatic rescue operation had taken place

Twelve bears were freed from their gypsy keepers and taken, anaesthetised, to the Uludag University in Bursa for treament. Most were blind, with rotting teeth and hair falling out. By the end of October, 25 were free. However, there are still bears chained and abused in Turkey, as there are in many eastern European countries.

"I'd written the story as a sort of fable, talking about the way one person has the power to make some kind of a difference to a situation — where a lot of us will say to ourselves, well, (as I did in Greece that time) this is tragic, but what can I do about it?

"This society has shown that if you get enough people feeling the way I did — and they have really campaigned hard to get people involved — something can be done.

"For this all to have happened, after writing that story, was fantastic because in reality, this actually happened — they were captured and they were released.

"I turned my trip into a bit of a pilgrimage in a way ... the whole, long period of first seeing those bears, going to explore the place for the purposes of my book and then discovering that this wonderful thing had happened and these bears no longer dance.

"The society, I discovered, had spent 1992 doing exactly the same thing in Greece, where Id first seen the bear.

"I think there are a lot of issues that come out of the book - that's why I think it's a book that intended as much for older children as for younger children. It's not really a book that's suitable for very young children."

Stanley, 46, was accompanied on her mouth-long visit to Turkey by her 75-year-old mother and five-year-old daughter, Rebecca.

Her travelling companions established a credibility that, lacking, would have made life difficult for Stanley.

"If I had been travelling on my own, there were times when I think it would have been assumed — because the country is Muslim — that I was, sort of, fair play. Because I've travelled in Muslim countries before and it can be very unpleasant when you're on your own."

Little blonde Becky was a major attraction for the Turkish people — which made getting photographs, especially of modest Turkish women, much easier, Stanley says.

Stanley, who was born in Mildura, Victoria, trained in psychology and English at the University of Melbourne before going on to work as an educational psychologist at secondary level schooling.

She came to Perth with her husband, Gordon, in 1990, and quickly became involved it children's literature — teaching courses on the writing and illustrating of books — drawing from her experience at the Dromkeen Children's Literature Centre in Victoria, where she was a director.

Dromkeen, Stanley says, was the model for the Fremantle Children's Literature Centre, where Stanley's original work has been on display and she has been working with children on her new book for the latter part of 1994.

Stanley's first book, China's Plum Tree, published in 1992, dealt with a child's concept of death. She has some ideas for more children's picture books, but would also like to do some adult writing at some stage.

One of Stanley's primary motivations though, is the whole idea of visual literacy for young people. "There's a huge emphasis on literacy — reading and writing — and I think that's very important, obviously.

"But we are living in a very visual age, where kids are bombarded by television and media hype — and are very much manipulated by it too — but we don't spend much of our time emphasising the importance of analysing those kinds of images."