The Voyage of the Poppykettle by Robert Ingpen

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Ingpen, Robert.  2005.  THE VOYAGE OF THE POPPYKETTLE.  New York:  Penguin Young Readers Group.  ISBN: 0-698-40025-9.

Robert Ingpen's The Voyage of the Poppykettle tells the story of seven tiny people who sail from Peru to Australia.  The Hairy Peruvians are tiny fishermen/women who live in coastal Peru.  When the "Noble Incas" who live in the Andes are conquered by the "Shining Spaniards," the Hairy Peruvians decide they should find a new home so they will not meet a similar fate.

The Hairy Peruvians' canoes are not fit to make a long ocean voyage, so their friend the Brown Pelican takes them to the Silverado Bird for advice.  The Silverado Bird takes them to Machu Picchu, the great city of the Incas, but they find that the Spaniards have already been there and the city is deserted and in ruins.  Among the ruins they find a Poppykettle, a clay pot used by the Incas to make poppy tea, and the Hairy Peruvians decide that this would be a good vessel for their journey. 

With help from the Silverado Bird, the Hairy Peruvians take the Poppykettle to their beach, make sails for it, and begin to load it with supplies, but it is still too light and they fear it will tip over on the voyage.  For added weight, they steal brass keys from the Spaniards, who stole so much gold from the Incas.  With the keys in the Poppykettle, they set sail, keeping a watchful eye out for the Sea God El Niņo in his serpent boat. 

The journey is not a short or an easy one.  Winds blow them toward and away from a rocky island full of Spiky Iguanas.  After many months without seeing land, they spot a reef.  An old woman who is catching food for her family save them from hitting the reef and allow them to look at a map her people made from palm strips and cowrie shells showing the ocean currents, winds and islands.  When they are back at sea, they encounter a violent thunderstorm.  The Poppykettle cracks, letting in water and one of the Hairy Peruvians is lost at sea.  They are saved by a curious dolphin who allows them to tie the Poppykettle to his head and he takes them to a sheltered bay.  The kettle is too badly damaged to sail again, so they decide that after four years at sea, they will live in this "Unchosen Land."      

In 1847, 263 years after the Poppykettle lands, two men find brass keys at Limeburner's Point at Corio Bay near Geelong, Victoria.  The keys date to a time long before White settlers have come to the area and the indigenous people did not use metal to make objects.  In honor of the voyage of the Hairy Peruvians, Poppykettle Day is celebrated each October in Geelong.

Ingpen's myth of the Hairy Peruvians journey to Australia is enhanced by his illustrations.  "As a storyteller and illustrator, Ingpen always makes sure his artwork supports a text, rather than dominates it."  (Atkinson)  It would be hard to imagine the tiny people traveling in a Poppykettle without Ingpen's detailed illustrations.  These include one that shows the inside of the kettle complete with bunks, a kitchen, and a telescope and other instruments to aid in navigation, as well as several brass keys in the bottom.  The blues and browns he favors for most of the illustrations give the work an air of realism despite its fantasy elements.  Of note is the fact that Ingpen is the only Australian to win the Hans Christian Anderson Medal for illustration. (Illustration Cupboard)  Although The Voyage of the Poppykettle focuses much more on Peru than on Australia, the book obviously struck a chord with the people of Geelong since the journey of the Hairy Peruvians is celebrated with an annual Poppykettle Day.

Works cited:
Atkinson, Frances.  "Ingpen and Paper."  The Age.  October 9, 2005.  Accessed February 12, 2006.

The Illustration Cupboard.  Accessed February 12, 2006.

by Monica Wood