Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Bear and the Wildcat by Kazumi Yumoto, illus. Komako Sakai, Gecko Press
Gecko Press specialises in “curiously good books from around the world” and this is definitely at the high end of the curiousness scale. It’s a story about death and grieving (for ages 4 to infinity, originally published in Japan). Bear’s best friend, a little bird, dies – and Bear is full of grief. He carries the bird round in a box, much to the dismay of the other animals in the forest. He withdraws into his house and sits in the darkness. But eventually he emerges and meets a wildcat who is also a roving violinist. This strange character enables Bear to grieve properly and find the courage to finally bury his friend.
This is not a book that children will select off the shelf, and I imagine libraries will have problems working out where to shelve it. I heard of one library putting it in a collection called “Complex Picture Books”, which sounds like a good idea. It will be useful as a resource for counsellors, teachers, hospices and grief services.
It’s a gentle, touching story, delicately told. As always with Gecko Press, the presentation is superb – hardback, book jacket, and luxurious heavy-duty paper. The illustrations are totally in tune with the story – done in fuzzy black and white (with pink touches on the “happy” pages) using heavy shading and lots of texture. Whether deliberate or not, the sombre illustrative style will probably deter youngsters from reading the book independently. If libraries and schools wish to add to their collections relating to death and loss, this is definitely one to buy.
ISBN 978 1 877467 70 0 RRP $29.99
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Three Cheers for No-Ears by Kyle Mewburn, illus. Deborah Hinde
Once there was an elephant with very small ears. Kind friends tried to create new ears for him with feathers and leaves and bananas and fur and flowers – but nothing worked. No-Ears was very sad. But then the elephant leader was buried under a rock slide, and No-Ears was the only elephant who could stick his head in far enough to touch trunks with the big guy. Of course, he manages to pull the prisoner out – and something strange happens – but by this time No-Ears has obviously learned to live with his differences...
It’s a very light story, but its theme of accepting physical differences in others is an important one for pre-schoolers. Deborah Hinde’s illustrations are big and bright and colourful, with plenty of action involved, and would be good for reading aloud to a group. Also available in a Maori edition.
ISBN 978 1 86943 978 1 RRP $19.50
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Piggity-Wiggity Jiggity Jig and the Camping Holiday by Diana Neild, illus. Philip Webb
This is the fourth title in the series which began with Piggity-Wiggity Jiggity Jig – a wildly popular book that won awards and plaudits. In this story the Jig family go camping. As you can imagine with 11 family members it’s a logistical nightmare, especially when Piggity-Wiggity’s little tent proves impossible to erect. But clever brother Jim saves the day. Fans of the series will be familiar with the friendly tone and cheeky rhythm of the rhyming text, and Philip Webb’s exuberant cartoon illustrations carry the story along at a great rate. It will be a popular read-aloud for pre-schoolers who already like the series. Just one quibble from this pedantic reviewer – I didn’t understand why the tent couldn’t go up until I read the blurb on the back which referred to a missing tent pole. Then I looked back through the illustrations and saw the pole lying on the ground as the family’s van pulled away. This plot development could have been made clearer, and some smart pre-schoolers may pick up on this...
ISBN 978 1 77543 016 2 RRP $19.50
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

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