Thursday, October 15, 2009

Book Review, Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate

What is it that makes us happy? Charming picture books make me happy, but for some, happiness is elusive. In Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate, Sheep really really wishes she had a Jellagong tree in her paddock, just like the one in Goat’s paddock. Whereas Goat really really wishes he had a cool stream in his paddock, just like the one Sheep has. Will Sheep ever find a way to taste those Jellagong leaves, despite the creaking of the gate? And if she does, will it make her happy?

Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate is the second of Claire Saxby’s picture books I’ve read, and has confirmed this Australian writer as one of my favourites. Published by Windy Hollow Books, it is illustrated by Judith Rossell, whose charming artwork has a textured quality, and includes intriguing collaged details. I love the tiny hole-punched newsprint pieces in the pasture.

There are many things to love about this picture book: the gentle humour, the quirky characters, the simplicity of pictures and text all make it an ideal choice for the under sevens. I think most kids will relate to a character wanting something so much that it almost becomes an obsession. In fact, the torment of never having tasted the leaves on the Jellagong tree in Goat’s paddock lies like a burr under Sheep’s fleece:

Sheep was so tired she could hardly walk. She kicked at clumps of grass and scowled at the sun. Oats tasted like chalk and clover tasted like soggy cardboard. Sheep wished she’d never seen the Jellagong tree.

The trials of two animals who don’t want to share will make kids giggle, but also make them think about how unsettling it is to always want something you can’t have. Picture books can be powerful teachers in this way - not by preaching, but by allowing children to share characters’ problems and work out conclusions for themselves. Because Claire Saxby encourages us to think about the nature of happiness and whether grass is actually greener on the other side of the fence, it is an ideal book to use as a spark for discussion. We learn, almost unconsciously, how silly it is not to share when we have plenty, and understand at last that some sheep will never be truly satisfied with what they have.

Sheep, Goat and the Creaking Gate makes a great choice for any home, school or public library’s picture book collection. After all, you can NEVER have too many wonderful picture books!

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