Ella and the Useless Day by Meg McKinlay and Karen Blair
This book was part of the Notable list for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year Awards – Early Childhood.
Ella’s house is full of things, useless things! At least that’s what she and Dad think. But when they decide to have a clean-up day, something very curious happens. Maybe what is useless to them is treasure to someone else?
We’ve all thought it…
Ella’s house was full of useless things.
We’ve looked around at the stuff we have let fill our houses, sheds, garages, etc. and thought…look at all of this USELESS stuff, why do I still have it, why am I keeping it, why did I think I could/would ever fix it…
Then we’ve had a clean out. My sister is notorious for them.
I did not read the synopsis before reading this book. Therefore, as I was reading this the first time I got to the page where the father and daughter are looking through the house and all of the beautiful pictures of them searching, scrambling, and sorting and thought this book was going to be about them rediscovering all of the amazing things they had in their house…I was wrong. I think tI went down that path is because I recently had a massive reorganisation at my house. I pulled things out of boxes, found so many books I want to read but have been in a box, found all sorts of things I packed away when I moved and then haven’t had but I found them and they made me smile and are now around my house making it feel even more mine that it was before.
Ella and her dad however find lots of things that are USELESS, they have holes, don’t work, are old or broken or simply not something they want anymore and they label everything USELESS. They fill up their trailer and decide to head off to the rubbish tip.
This is where the book hits it’s message because as they drive through town people keep stopping them and saying…is that a such-and-such, it’s PERFECT. It doesn’t matter that it’s broken, holey, a something that we don’t know the name of because it might be useless to us but to someone else it’s perfect.
As anyone who knows about the Henderson Waste Recovery Park Reuse Shop can tell you reusing things is hugely popular. Or perhaps you’re one of those people who trolls the kerbside collections; like my mum who found all of my niece’s bikes on them. If needed, my dad would fix them but often they had simply been outgrown. My dad was a great fan of reusing things: he made a fit pit for camping from an old metal bottle, he made a trolley for their portable generator from stuff he had around the shed, he made all sorts of things.
The message will definitely resonate with children; my niece has told me many times about the perils of fast fashion. We know we cannot continue to make and use things so quickly, that we need to be more mindful not just of what we throw away but what we buy and if there are other options. During the COVID-19 lockdowns many of us picked up new skills (or learned ways of doing things that our grandparents knew about) and found ways we could be craftier. I saw a post about using pattern socks to mend jeans the other day and thought about how cool that would look. I have this really cool bag I use for my laptop that has been made from recycled material (I can’t sew but who knows one day).
This book would be a great opportunity to start a conversation to look around and see what you have in your home that you don’t use and talk about what you could do with it. Here at the library, we know that even though we have books that people might not be borrowing, or are too old for the collection, or are looking very loved, that people want to keep them in their own personal libraries and that’s why we have our Pre-Loved Picks Store and you might catch a bargain at Success Library when we have our Pre-Loved Books trolleys. David is making a cool table from a damaged graphic novel for the library and you may have seen our Library Lovers’ Day decorations made from old books.
As always, Karen Blair’s illustrations are beautiful, and the last full page spread with bubbles of illustrations showing us some of the things people did with the USELESS perfect thing they found was great. The fan blades as part of a trellis and the terrarium are by far my favourites and the ones I thought…hey, I could do that.
I would recommend this book for kids young and old and families to share. As always I love Meg McKinlay’s books and think this one will show up in the Shortlist on 28 March.