By Howard Manns

    As Westies we appreciate that Melbourne’s west isn’t held together by just timber and nails, or even our gardens and barbecues; it’s held together by our diverse community, our local shopkeepers and our many languages. In The Little Hardware Shop writer Hazel Lekkas and illustrator Dasha Riley show young readers how all these things are interconnected. 

    Lekkas says she wanted to convey how ‘The simple things in life are shared with those around us, regardless of our linguistic or cultural background. Life’s simplicities are universal.’

    The Little Hardware Shop is a celebration of Lekkas’ parents’ own shop – D & H Hardware in Sunshine West – and the community it has served for nearly 43 years. 

    It follows the lives of customers from baby crib to walking cane, and draws our attention to the often overlooked details of our lives. Tiny objects bought from the hardware shop seem like simple things, but Lekkas invites young readers to reflect on how they bond us. 

    The book opens by celebrating paint bought from the hardware shop and how it is being used to paint a nursery. ‘A little piece of my parents lives in all those homes is a testament to their weaving into the fabric of their community,’ she says. 

    This sentiment persists throughout the book. Whether it is the bucket used to wash our first car, or the hooks to hang our family photos, the little hardware shop plays an important role in our lives. Lekkas and illustrator Riley – through selective use of colour – draw attention to the joy of tiny things and the understated ways these things unite us.

    In its celebration of community, readers are reminded that Melbourne’s west is a multilingual place. Lekkas worked in her parents’ shop and fondly remembers how her ‘time in the shop was spent listening to greetings in 10 different languages.’ 

    The book encourages young readers to reflect on local linguistic diversity. Each page celebrates objects from the shop and features their names in a new language – 18 different languages across the book.

    In this way, the book emerges as another object that seeks to unite us. Lekkas wants multilingual children to feel connected to the book, and monolingual children to be more aware of multilingualism. 

    Reading this as a linguist and advocate of multilingualism, I certainly applaud the project. Research shows multilingualism has robust benefits for cognition and social inclusion. Moreover, mere exposure to linguistic diversity has positive benefits for multilingual and monolingual kids – and the community.

    Reading this as a parent, I loved that it stimulated exactly the sorts of conversations I want to have with my kids – about linguistic diversity and the power of community. 

    But it’s the young readers that matter most. I read this with my children aged eight and ten. Ten-year-old Oisín had this to say: ‘I enjoyed that The Little Hardware Shop was such an important part of the kid’s life – from birth, to school to marriage, and until he was an old man. I also loved learning other countries’ words.’ Of course, these are Australia’s words, too, and that’s the beauty of this book.

    The Little Hardware Shop is a great conversation starter about our diverse community and its languages. 

    It’s also a nostalgic celebration of the important but sometimes forgotten role local shops and shopkeepers play in our communities. 

    Howard Manns is a Senior Lecturer in Linguistics at Monash University

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