Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Children’s Book Reviews: Introducing Book Island

Children's Book Reviews by Susan Stephenson,

Recently I was given three books from Book Island to read. Book Island is a New Zealand-based publisher with a bold mission: of enriching children's and adults' lives in the English- and Dutch-language market. We do this by bringing unique stories from Europe to our shores, then using only the best talent to translate, design and print beautiful high-quality books. Thanks to our focus on quality, perfection, sustainability and collaboration we manage to publish titles that can be treasured and read time and time again by children and adults alike.

Book Island was new to me, (although there has previously been a guest review by Vicki Stanton of Maia and What Matters, a Book Island book, at The Book Chook) and as it may be new to many of my readers too, I wanted to give you my impressions of three of their books: The Big Question, Follow the Firefly/Run, Rabbit, Run! and The Rabbit and the Shadow.

The Big Question was written by Leen Van Den Berg, illustrated by Kaatje Vermeire and translated by David Colmer.

From the publisher: Elephant has something on her mind. It’s a difficult question and she can’t stop thinking about it. Fortunately the annual meeting has been called, and the others will help her find the answer. The book's topic will appeal to adults and children alike, and with each reading you will discover new details in the multi-layered illustrations.

I would suggest this is a children’s picture book for older kids. Mostly that’s because of the theme: what is love? or in the words of Elephant: “How do you know you love someone?” It’s not the regular sort of narrative I would share with young children, rather it’s the story of a meeting run by a very busy Ant where participants attempt to answer Elephant’s question. The answers are lovely, from the way a stone interprets love, to Grandma, to an acrobat. Meanwhile, Ant just wants to get on with the meeting, with wry comments like ”If you want people to listen to you, try wearing glasses.” The illustrations are most unusual, with layers built up from collage, pencil rubbings, and textures.

Follow the Firefly/Run, Rabbit, Run! was created by Bernardo Carvalho. It is actually two picture books in one because it can be read in both directions. Kids can read it front to back, following the firefly, then find a second storyline by reading it from back to front, following rabbit as he makes his escape. The illustrations are quite dark (as in not light, rather than atmosphere), textural and naive in style. This is a wordless children’s picture book, perfect for those occasions when you need a book that encourages kids to create stories and interpret illustrations for themselves.

The Rabbit and the Shadow was created by Mélanie Rutten and translated by Sarah Ardizzone.

From the publisher: Enter the wonderful world of the following curious cast: the Rabbit who wants to grow up, the anxious Stag, the Soldier at war, the Cat and his recurring dream, the Book that wants to know everything, and the Shadow. Over the course of ten short chapters they grow up, learn how to live together and to deal with their fears.

This is another non-traditional children’s picture book. It’s in the form of short chapters, and often the chapters are made up of many cameo illustrations, accompanied by one, or several sentences. It reads a little like a folk or fairy tale. It’s enigmatic in parts, but most of the language is pitched at a reading age of (my best guess) around 8. I would love to share it with Grade 3/4 kids, perhaps a chapter at a time, and discuss it with them, soliciting their interpretations. The Rabbit and the Shadow would be perfect as a stimulus for some kind of creativity - perhaps drama or art or dance. The art work is appealing, again a little dark, but this time both in atmosphere and absence of light. The illustrations don't really tell their own part of the story as subtext, so much as amplify the existing story.

If I had to give a one word reaction to these three Book Island books, it would be ‘unusual’. I’ve read thousands of picture books, but mostly their country of origin would be Australia, USA, and the UK, rather than Europe. I think young readers who value something different would appreciate those I've reviewed here. I recommend them particularly to teacher librarians looking to expand students’ horizons in a literary way, and to teachers looking for books that nudge kids out of their comfort zones. The printing, paper and binding are definitely high quality too.

Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar, or check out my reviews on Pinterest.

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