Henry's Stars by David Elliot (Random House)
Stories where animals walk around on two legs, wear an item of clothing, and talk like humans - can often be read on two levels. Young readers can engage with the farm animals they recognise. Parents can encourage children to understand the underlying messages in the story. Some of the most powerful stories have used this device; I'm thinking of 'Animal House' and some of David Elliot's other stories such as 'Henry's Map' and 'The Moon & Farmer McPhee' (the latter written by Margaret Mahy and illustrated by David Elliot). In 'Henry's Map' parents can help young readers understand that just because they cannot see something does not mean it has gone (object permanence) - a concept toddlers learn around 2-3 years old. In 'The Moon & Farmer McPhee' the underlying message is about enjoying life; looking at the beauty in the world, and dancing with joy.
In 'Henry's Stars' David Elliot encourages the young readers to understand differing perception. When Henry (the pig) looks up at the sky he sees stars aligned in the shape of a Great Pig in the sky. He runs over to the sheep at the woolshed and describes what he has seen. However, much to Henry's disappointment they see a Great Sheep in the sky. When they show the other animals they only see representations of themselves in the stars. By the time the hens thinks they've seen the Great Hens in the sky Henry is quite fed up. Who's right and who's misguided? Read it and find out.
New Zealanders and Australians (in the southern hemisphere) see the stars upside down according to people in the northern hemisphere. This possibly inspired David Elliot's idea for the story. With children's avid imagination they can probably see all sorts of things in the sky. Teachers in the Junior Primary could use this delightful book as an introduction to a science unit on Astronomy. Parents can encourage an interest in the stars and point out the constellations.
David's illustrations of the animals are loaded with expression. Henry's disgruntled expressions are hilarious; his shoulders droop and his hooves clench. The palette of mostly water colour blues and greens are offset with the pink pig and orange hens and occasional white space. The book begins with starry sky endpapers, and ends with constellations of all the animals in the sky. A must-have book for school and home libraries.
David Elliot has illustrated many international books, as well as writing and illustrating award-winning books of his own. 'Henry's Map' was named one of the US School Library Journal's Best Books of 2013.