Wednesday, 23 October 2013


Flotsam is a wordless picture book that tells the story of a boy who found an old camera washed up on the beach. He develops the pictures which show wonderful and almost unbelievable scenes of life under the sea.

This book is a great of example of the often-heard saying, "a picture is worth a thousand words". It's no wonder that this book won David Wiesner his third Caldecott Medal in 2007. Even though there are no words, the illustrations keep the story flowing very smoothly. The illustrations of the facial expressions of the protagonist do very well in capturing and communicating his emotions. There are also strange and beautiful full-page scenes of life under the sea that capture the imagination.

As one with a strong interest in marine life, I found this book very enjoyable. It was also interesting "watching" the story unfold rather than reading and imagining the scenes in my head. The accessibility and clarity of the illustrations make this book easy for children of all ages to understand. Adults can also get children to participate by pointing out details in the illustrations that they find interesting or by describing the scene and what they think is happening. This is a good introduction to marine animals in spite of the elements of fantasy.

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. (Disclaimer: Reader beware! I am being very biased.)

Author and illustrator: David Wiesner
First published in 2006 by Clarion Books

Age range: 3 to 8 years old (and older!)

NA's rating: 5/5

Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are tells of a boy, Max,  who runs away to the place where the wild things are after being sent to bed without his supper. There, he commandeers the wild things and enjoys a wild rumpus. But he soon tires of the place and longs for home where someone loved him best of all.

The book won the Caldecott Medal in 1964 and was adapted into a film directed by Spike Jonze in 2009. In the early days of its release, it was deemed unsuitable for children due to its fearsome characters. The author, Maurice Sendak, once related in an interview that a librarian had told him "This is not a book you leave in the presence of sensitive children to find in the twilight." I would beg to differ; I believe children are tougher than the librarian gives them credit for. In spite of the opinions of various adults, the book became, and remains, a favourite with children.

The language used is relatively simple to understand. There is also an economy of words which ensures that the illustrations remain the main focus of the book. The illustrations are also used to elaborate on what the text describes. I especially loved the illustrations depicting the wild rumpus that Max had with the wild things. The heavy reliance on illustrations to tell the story makes it easier for younger children (from 3 years of age) to understand and enjoy the book.

My favourite part of the book, though, is its ending and the lesson we can all learn from the book: though we may long for the freedom to do whatever we want, this freedom cannot replace our family and friends.

I enjoyed this book as a child and still enjoy it as an adult. I highly recommend this children's classic to all! I give it 5 out of 5 stars.

Author and illustrator: Maurice Sendak
First published in 1963 by Harper & Row

Age range: 3 to 8 years old (and older!)

NA's rating: 5/5

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Gruffalo

The Gruffalo tells the story of a mouse and its walk through the deep, dark wood. There, it uses its cleverness to escape from being eaten by a fox, an owl, a snake and... The Gruffalo!

The book is a bestseller and has won numerous prizes such as the gold award in the 1999 Nestlé Smarties Book Prize. It was adapted into a short animated film by the BBC in 2009. Julia Donaldson has since collaborated with illustrator Axel Scheffler to produce other books such as The Gruffalo's Child and The Snail and the Whale. An activity book, audiobook and music CD have also been produced for The Gruffalo.

The story is written in rhyming couplets and the dialogue between the mouse and the other characters is repetitive. The language used is simple and easy to understand. Understanding of more difficult words is aided by the illustrations, allowing the reader to visualise things such as "knobbly knees" and "poisonous wart". The repetitiveness and simple language make it suitable for younger children (3 to 6 years old). Older children may get bored. It would be fun for adults to read this aloud to children and have them role play as the characters. For a more engaging experience, different voices can be used for the different characters.

The illustrations are vibrant and at first glance appear to be simple. However, take a closer look and you may spot other small woodland creatures like a woodpecker and a dragonfly going about their day. These and the main characters of the story can be used to teach children about the animals that can be found in the woods. This is of course only applicable to children who live in temperate climes. Those living in the tropics would encounter different animals!

Overall, The Gruffalo is a charming and enjoyable story to read with younger children. It also has a nice lesson for children: might is not the only way to get ahead in life; quick wits can help too. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Author: Julia Donaldson
Illustrator: Axel Scheffler
First published in 1999 by Macmillan Children's Books


Age range: 3 to 6 years old

NA's rating: 4/5