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Leave Taking

2019 - Winner


Judges' comments

Toby, the narrator, and his parents are preparing to leave Deep Well Farm, which has been in the family for generations. Toby’s dad had drawn a map of the farm when he was a boy; now Toby camps out in places such as the machinery shed, and Memorial Hill where pets are buried, and makes his own map of goodbye. Gradually the reader learns that Toby’s younger sister, Leah, has recently died from cancer. As he farewells each place and helps decide which of Leah’s possessions to keep, Toby experiences a range of emotions, and grows in understanding. 

This verse novel looks — and is — accessible to young readers, with its short lines and simple language. But it is richly evocative of both the natural world (blue wrens darting, gumnuts plinking on the tent roof), and the rhythms of farm life (helping with the milking, cooking breakfast outdoors with grandfather and dog). There is humour amid the seriousness, in the clearing auction with CWA catering, and snake stories told at the farewell bonfire.

This layered and yet accessible story describes so well the pain of farewell to a beloved family member, as well as the difficult leave-taking of a childhood home on a farm. Its artfulness is in allowing the dawning of understanding and hope to be part of a child’s view of the future.