Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Children's Book Review, Figaro and Rumba and the Crocodile Cafe

Children's Book Review by Susan Stephenson,

Children's Book Review
Sometimes, when kids take off with reading, when all that decoding and picking up contextual cues clicks into place (Yay!), we can mistakenly believe they shouldn't be reading books with pictures any more. Why? Do illustrations become less attractive and enjoyable? You can bet an art gallery they don't. Kudos to Australian publishers Allen and Unwin for publishing Figaro and Rumba and the Crocodile Cafe. It was written by Anna Fienberg, illustrated by Stephen Michael King and published by Allen and Unwin. It's a children's picture book in six chapters, perfect for reading aloud, perhaps as a serial, AND also perfect for reading independently.

Figaro and Rumba are best friends. Figaro is a dog who loves to run like the wind. And Rumba is a cat who once sang and danced in Cuba.

When they catch the Very Fast Train that goes all the way to the beach, they meet a cunning crocodile with conga drums and an elegant satin waistcoat. Surely such a musical creature couldn't be a villain?

Anna Fienberg is the author of the Tashi series, and Stephen Michael King has created many wonderful picture books. This is the first storybook they have made together.

This is such an unusual story. The characters are delightfully quirky, and we get to know them over several diversions before they finally catch the Very Fast Train. Kids will chortle over Figaro and Rumba's personality differences, yet understand the ties of friendship that bind them. They will enjoy the imaginative twists and turns of Fienberg's narrative, and the gentle fun of dialogue such as:

"We are arresting you in the name of the law," a police dog told the crocodile. "For catnapping and dog stupefying."

"He's stupid all by himself," muttered the crocodile.

King's illustrations pick up the quirkiness of the story and run with it. He captures the flavour of the conga-playing crocodile with his sugary voice and wide smile in a few deft strokes and some watercolour. Figaro's enthusiasm and energy beam from his smile and Rumba's cool Cuban urbanity is a sight to behold. The illustrations are generous. There are pictures on each page, whether a small sketch or a full page. I especially liked the double page spread before the title page - it introduces the characters and themes, giving kids lots to think about and discuss.

Do consider Figaro and Rumba and the Crocodile Cafe for your libraries and kids. It's the sort of book that will stand re-reading often, with more to discover each time. My edition is a beautifully produced hardback, and the covers have central vignettes, surrounded by tiny,  almost transparent sketches. Kids are truly going to want to pick this one up and look inside! You can check out a Google Preview of the book by clicking here.

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