Thursday, August 2, 2012

Three new picture books

The Best Singer in the World by Ulf Nilsson, illus. Eva Eriksson, Gecko Press
This is another title from the Swedish pair who produced All The Dear Little Animals (Gecko Press, 2006). It’s timely to remember the statement from Gecko Press that they specialize in English versions of curiously good books from around the world. I tend to use words like offbeat and quirky when I’m talking about their books, and this story is no different. It’s written from the point of view of a six-year-old boy who is stricken with stage fright when he plays a part in the class performance. He’s only saved by the appearance of his little brother who comes on stage and encourages him to sing their favourite song which goes, “My little brother’s a wriggly piglet, kiss ‘em, tickle ‘em ... FART!” Many children will identify with the excruciating symptoms of fear – and most will no doubt go into fits of laughter whenever the offending word is repeated. Teachers beware. The illustrations are appealing and have an interesting fuzzy texture – they’re done mainly in pencil, crayon and watercolour, I think. It’s definitely not a story for a preschooler, so I was glad to see Gecko recommending it for 5+. Note that it’s available in hardback ($34.99) and paperback.
ISBN  978 1 877579 13 4 $19.99 Pb 

That Dog at the Beach! by Janine Cooper, illus. Evie Kemp, Duck Creek Press
This is advertised as a sequel to the first picture book by this pair, called A Dog Like That! The latter title was a finalist in the 2011 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards, and also won a Storylines Notable Book Award. It’s an attractive book, well presented in hardback with semi-glossy paper, and the design is excellent. As far as the story goes, it’s somewhat more of the same: the narrator (a young girl) takes her disreputable dog to the beach. The other dogs there behave themselves and gain the constant praise, “Dogs should be like that.” But “my dog” keeps on getting into mischief. Till the end, of course... The illustrator is primarily a textile artist - this is evident in the style of the pictures, which look three-dimensional. The colours and textures invite the reader to touch. I read the book to a four-year-old. I felt compelled to change “they said” to “people said” because I didn’t think my listener would understand the use of a disconnected “they”. But we had fun with every other part of the text. This book would work well as a class read-aloud for four to six-year-olds.

ISBN 978 1 877378 55 3 $29.99 Hb
Lillibutt’s Big Adventure by Maris O’Rourke, illus. Claudia Pond Eyeley, Duck Creek Press
This story has to work on two levels – the one understood by the adult reader, and the one understood by the child. It was written after the author walked El Camino Santiago (The Way of St James) in France and Spain. Lillibut is a little pig living near the pilgrim path. She longs to go with the people she sees walking past. One day a girl stops and Lillibut begs to go with her. The two of them walk the Camino together, across mountain and plain, and reach their destination after 40 days, arriving with much acclaim. Whereupon Lillibut says she’s ready for another adventure. The adult reader will understand the significance of their journey, but young listeners probably won’t until it’s explained to them. There’s a preface at the beginning which would need to be shared by the adult reader before starting the story. 
I enjoyed the quality of the book’s presentation and the strong, bold illustrations with their slightly retro look. Heavy black lines and swathes of muted colour emphasise the spiritual importance of the theme. Now, who would really appreciate this story? Probably teachers who are specifically looking for picture books with a religious theme to read in junior classes. I don’t see it as being suitable for preschoolers because they would miss so much of the story’s heart.

ISBN978 1 877378 58 4 $29.99 Hb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

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