Milly saves the town! Read our review of Small Town by Phillip Gwynne and Tony Flowers

Milly saves the town! Read our review of Small Town by Phillip Gwynne and Tony Flowers

This story tugs at my heartstrings. I travel extensively with my husband, a wildlife photographer, throughout regional Australia and it breaks my heart to see the downturn in once-prosperous rural towns: the dusty shopfronts of abandoned bakeries and butcheries, the empty family-owned department stores, a lone hairdresser opening for a few hours each day, grand old pubs without beer and the paucity of services such as doctors, vets, banks, functioning churches and schools. 

I am a country girl familiar with the domestic and international economic imperatives that have led us to this position but the communities that have been lost in the process can never be rebuilt. Yet some small towns still prevail, and it is certainly within our power to retain the surviving bush towns and ensure their future prosperity. Not everyone wants to live in a big, sprawling metropolis and these small towns offer an alternative, with more affordable housing for families and many other benefits. 

Having witnessed desperate and dispossessed refugees first-hand on the Nepalese borders, I have my radar tuned in to the programs and projects which support refugees settling in Australia, and for several years I have been following the amazing stories of successful initiatives of several country towns in Victoria. Towns such as Nhill, Pyramid Hill and Strathbogie have shown us a model for the settlement of refugees in regional Australia that is successful and long-lasting. It is wonderful to see this story being told for a new audience in a different way, spreading the message and hopefully garnering support for more programs of rejuvenation through immigration. 

The narrator of this picture book is Milly, a primary-aged country girl who is proud of her town. Milly loves netball but her team loses players every time a family moves away seeking opportunity elsewhere. Soon there are not enough girls to fill the team. Will they have to ask the boys to play? Through Milly’s initiative, a group of refugee families arrive seeking jobs, homes and friendship. Will they be welcomed and given the opportunity to prosper in this small community? 

Author Phillip Gwynne visited a school in Pyramid Hill a couple of years ago and felt the story of rejuvenation by immigration would make an excellent picture book for young readers. Phillip is no stranger to big issues in his books: his best-selling YA novel Deadly Unna? won many esteemed awards and has become a firm favourite with teachers and students exploring racism and injustice. 

Award-winning illustrator Tony Flowers was very keen to work with Phillip’s story and told us:

“I really enjoyed the process of creating the town of Gong Gong for this book. I spent a lot of time on my drives around Tasmanian pulling into small towns and exploring their back streets to help find buildings and scenes to put into the illustration. When I create illustrations, I like to fill them with the things that are personal to me. The dog is based on a friend’s dog (I always like to put dogs into my books), my motorcycles and VW Beetle make an appearance, even some of the people are based on people I know.

The dog is based on a dog I know called Phoenix; he is a grey whippet. I changed his colour to the warmer brown tones, I really just like the way he moves. Stephen Michael King once said to me that if you give a character a dog they never seem to be as alone. As a dog lover (and a proud father of a German and Belgian Shepherd) I have to agree with him, and I always try to find a way to add a dog into my books.

Some people have asked about the ‘Flowers Bakery’ image in the story. 

This is for 2 reasons, firstly I love to bake and I bake a lot and secondly in the late 1800s to early 1920 my Family had a bakery in Victoria called ‘Flowers Bakery’, just a fun personal reference.“

This book is perfect for kids 5+. There is a lot to explore in Tony’s finely detailed illustrations which give the story a quirky warmth and humour.  I particularly loved Milly’s faithful hound who appears on almost every page. Phillip’s inclusion of Milly’s Granny is a clever device and integral to the story as well, demonstrating the value that grandparents add to the lives of many young children. 

This book would be a very useful classroom tool for teachers and librarians, neatly bringing together complex concepts into an accessible story that is uplifting and heart-warming. With so much bad news in the news cycle every night it is a palpable relief to read a true story that ends joyously for everyone. It also taps into the idea that kids can make a difference, through activism as simple as letter-writing. 

This is a durable hardcover edition with detailed endpapers so make sure to start right at the very front and read all the way to the very back to enjoy Tony’s celebratory end to the story


Join Milly’s basketball team in Gong Gong with an awesome activity pack from Small Town by Phillip Gwynne and Tony Flowers

Review | Extract

18 August 2020

Join Milly’s basketball team in Gong Gong with an awesome activity pack from Small Town by Phillip Gwynne and Tony Flowers

Publisher details

Small Town
Phillip Gwynne, Tony Flowers
Puffin Books
Children’s Picture Book
04 August, 2020


A delightful and heart-felt picture book based on a true story of a how a dying town found a unique way to bring their community back to life.Milly loves the small town she lives in and she loves playing basketball with her friends. The trouble is, families keep leaving, and soon they won’t have enough players for a team. But when Milly learns at school about the refugees who have nowhere to live, she has a great idea – invite them to Gong Gong!
Phillip Gwynne
About the author

Phillip Gwynne

Phillip Gwynne's first novel Deadly Unna? was a literary hit and was made into the feature film Australian Rules for which Phillip won an AFI awardThe sequel, Nukkin Ya, was also published to great acclaim. He writes for a wide range of age groups from picture books such as Brothers From a Different Mother and junior fiction such as Jetty Rats and Michael in the Stuff Happens series, to the young adult novel Swerve, shortlisted for many awards amongst them the 2010 Prime Minister's Award and the Golden Inky.

Books by Phillip Gwynne

Tony Flowers
About the author

Tony Flowers

Tony Flowers loves to draw and is an internationally acclaimed illustrator and artist. His drawings are loved in Japan for their detail and humour and he has won an award in the USA for his street chalk art.Tony has a Masters degree in Visual Communication.He has illustrated six books in the popular Saurus Street series and his most highly valued prize to date has been from the Oshima Picture Book Museum in Toyama, Japan, for his hand made pop-up book Gaijin Holiday.

Books by Tony Flowers


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