The Old Frangipani Tree at Flying Fish Point
written by Trina Saffioti, illustrated by Maggie Prewett
(Magabala Books, 2008)
The scent of the flowers from a special frangipani tree wafts its way through this delightful story, in which one particular annual fancy dress carnival goes down in the annals of the author’s family history. Set in Northern Queensland, Australia, in the 1950s, The Old Frangipani Tree at Flying Fish Point exuberantly and sensitively tells the story of how family and neighbours rally round to help Faith, author Trina Saffioti’s mother, to become an island princess: an old sheet becomes her sarong, and she borrows a ukulele (what does it matter that it hasn’t got any strings?) – but the crowning glory, both literally and figuratively, are the lei and headdress made from threaded white flowers from the gnarled old frangipani tree.
Faith suffers a slight confidence crisis when she arrives at the party and sees some of the other costumes – but her cousin Noelie, who has drawn on her cultural roots and dressed as an Aboriginal warrior, says to her:
‘Faithy-girl, you look like an island princess… Some boys laughed at me but I don’t care. If I win, I’ll share my prize with you. If you win, you can share with me.’
And then the frangipani flowers work their magic on the judges and she wins!
There are lovely nuances that come through both in the narrative and in the illustrations, like the fact that second-prize also goes to a costume that has required imagination and effort; and that Carmen is ‘one of the more popular girls’ for a reason – although she is wearing a beautiful ballerina dress and clearly believes herself to be in the running for first prize, she applauds Faith generously…
The Old Frangipani Tree at Flying Fish Point is a great readaloud: it buzzes with zingy dialogue and I especially love the strong sense of oral history being handed down by the way the author refers to family members in relation to herself – so, for example, Faith is Mum. What’s really great is that it wouldn’t actually have mattered if Faith hadn’t won – it’s just fantastic that she did!