Why this book is not a Useless Object

‘I bought this yesterday and I think it’s totally useless.’

‘Well, you did purchase a Useless Object…’

p 15

Can’t we all relate to Harvey? He has saved and scavenged coins from behind the couch cushions to buy the latest, greatest whatsit — only to find it’s useless.

Consumerism & the environment

The All New Must Have Orange 430 by Michael Speechley is about packaging and consumerism. The illustrations are striking, in a graphic, gothic style reminiscent of Edward Gorey and Chris Riddell.

Cover art by Edward Gorey

Speechley demonstrates his visual imagination through the use of boxes in meaningful ways in some of the spreads. He includes numeracy creatively in the images, for example:

From The All New Must Have Orange 430
by Michael Speechley, 2018, Penguin/Viking, p7

Most of all, I liked the way the text includes word-play on “GOOD BUY” as part of the plot. And how it opens out from the specifics of Harvey’s situation to a wide-angle view of the Earth. This highlights Harvey’s story as an allegory for larger environmental concerns.

Teacher, librarian & student love

When I had the good fortune of meeting author-illustrator Michael Speechley (that’s a whole other story), he commented, “It’s the sort of book that once a teacher or librarian reads the whole thing, they get it — and love it.” 

Similarly, many of the children he meets at school visits are getting it and loving it. He was surprised and delighted to hear many have been doing a unit of study on his book.

I have to confess I voted for The All New Must Have Orange 430 at our 2019 Mock-CBCA Awards at the Last Tuesday Book Club. I loved Cicada too, but Shaun Tan is already an international name in picture books. He even won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2011 for his contribution to international children’s literature. What can I say? Like a typical Australian, I often barrack for the underdog.

The influence of Shaun Tan

For Speechley, he credits Tan as a huge inspiration, saying that he wouldn’t have got into the picture book field if not for him. Speechley originally met him at his graphic design firm in Perth, when Tan came in to print off some proofs of some illustration work he was doing. Speechley remembers hearing the words “picture book” and dismissing the work — that is, until he saw the images slowly loading on the computer. 

Cover of The Rabbits
by John Marsden & Shaun Tan, 1998, Lothian

They were like no picture book he had ever seen. Like nothing he had ever seen.

They were the illustrations for The Rabbits, Tan’s post-colonial masterpiece created with author John Marsden. He has been following Tan’s career with interest ever since.

Awards love

So Speechley was gobsmacked when his debut picture book made the shortlist along with Tan and other heavyweights of the Australian children’s literature scene: Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood (for The Feather); Armin Greder (for The Mediterranean); Lucy Estela and Elise Hurst (for Girl On Wire); and Margaret Wild and Mandy Ord (for Chalk Boy).

Michael Speechley with his CBCA Honour Book,
The All New Must Have Orange 430

In the end, The All New Must Have Orange 430 made Honour Book, along with The Mediterranean. The winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year category in 2019 was Cicada by Shaun Tan.

What an achievement for a debut author-illustrator. Congratulations, Michael!