Graeme Base's Animalia
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Have you ever watched your young child being read to?
It's an experience not to be missed. Watch your child's eyes flit about the page, searching out visual information.
It's gratifying. It's encouraging. You can see for yourself how much your child has bought into these things we call "books." I consider hungry eyes the sign of a future reader!
And that's why Graeme Base is one of my favorite children's book author/illustrators. His books are a feast - and a challenge - for eyes both young and old.
Base's 1986 alphabet book, Animalia, is still in print and likely always will be. It's an alphabet book like no other.
An Armoured Armadillo Avoiding An Angry Alligator
I'm guessing you can guess which letter Base addresses on this page, but if you expect to see only an alligator and an armadillo, well, you have another think coming. I spot an
...and of course, an alphabet. And, if I were to keep looking, I'm quite confident I would find much more.
Animalia, like all Graeme Base books, operates on a number of visual levels. In addition to the detailed foreground pictures, there's a Where's Waldo-like child to be spotted on every page, and much evanescently alphabetic content, e.g. a bull, bicycle and backgammon board hidden in a blue butterfly's wings.
Base promises "a thousand things, or maybe more" to find in this alphabet book, and I promise he's not exaggerating. That's a thousand triumphs for your child to experience, making the book a bargain at any price.
In addition to Animalia, Base has done a good number of books in the same style, and even this adult never grows tired of them. Take Jungle Drums, the story of Ngiri Mdogo, the smallest warthog in Africa. This Base book is another visual feast, this time with a wildly engaging narrative. Again, there are hidden images to ferret out, and subtle visual changes in the various characters for your child to spot. Base takes "One of these things is not like the others" to a whole new level.
Down the road, teachers will be asking our children not just to read words on the page but to interpret and evaluate them, to try to appreciate not just what's said but what's unsaid. I don't know how you could beat a Graeme Base book for establishing a book's potential, the belief that there can be more there than immediately meets the eye.
Parent and child can always close one of Base's books knowing that there will be more to discover the next time.
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