Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Book Review

Occasionally I get sent books for review. I've been reading most of my life and a significant proportion of the books I have read are books for young people. I have completed an English Lit degree and a diploma in Children's Literature and I also write, as you know. I think a lot about what makes a good book. I know my taste in books is different to other people's tastes, and I know readers have a range of needs and desires they want satisfied when they pick up a book. But ultimately I am always striving, as a writer and a reader, to make/find books that are, and do, more. The ones that surprise my tired brain in a good way.

The most successful picture books might appear simple but they contain multiple layers of meaning and avenues for exploration that can be peeled back and examined with successive readings. They prompt discussion with peers and parents, teachers, grandparents and others. A good picture book will say different things to readers at different ages, while connecting, entertaining and challenging them all. They leave the reader richer for having read them. The best ones linger long in the mind after you have closed the book. I know there are many fine picture books out there that don't achieve these things, but these are the things I am looking for when I pick one up. I want to fall in love and I am always ready to do so.

Review – A Kaleidoscope of Butterflies by Kate Hursthouse (Little Love, an imprint of Mary Egan Publishing, 2018)

I was sent a review copy of A Kaleidoscope of Butterflies and I was excited at the idea of this book. Collective nouns are a real pleasure trove for the creative mind. A sleuth of bears, a murder of crows, a gang of buffalo, a cauldron of bats and a pounce of cats. The list is thrilling and long. I couldn’t wait to see what Kate Hursthouse had done with this.

The quality of the book production is lovely and the pictures bold and vivid (the tiger illustration is great), with some cute characterisations and interesting application of geometric shapes.  Yet I desperately wanted the illustrations to riff more on the collective noun itself or for there to be some additional subtext or story telling in the pictures. One of the most effective in terms of the collective name is the kaleidoscope of butterflies, but many of the others felt rather inert and aimless. And while ‘herd’ appeared twice, it felt like some of the most fun collective nouns were missing. I also found a number of the pictures cluttered and the fonts very hard to read, especially where the text was in close proximity to, or tangled with, the illustrations and this will make things difficult for emerging readers. There was so much promise in the idea, but in the end this book hasn't quite got there.

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