'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 14 October 2010

Review: The Legend of the Golden Snail

An old-fashioned tale of enchantment, adventure and pure imagination, The Legend of the Golden Snail tells of a young boy, Wilbur, who wants to chant the verse in his favourite story to take command of the ship, the Golden Snail.

So he does what any child would: he uses his imagination to take this adventure, sailing to the Ends of the Earth (with his mother calling out, “Be sure to wear your hat!”).

Wilbur encounters several difficulties on his search, feeling that as a Grand Enchanter on the seas he should ignore the pleas of the wilting butterflies, fight the sea-creatures and join the pirates… but his kind heart takes over and he helps each of them instead.

And so, when it comes his turn to need help, his newly found friends return the favour.

As with any Graeme Base book, there’s more. Look for the “snail ‘n’ crossbones” mark in each picture and then, thanks to the wonders of technology, head to graemebase.com to complete the challenge. Prove you know where all the snail ‘n’ crossbones are and you’ll see the Golden Snail come to life before your eyes.

I was so thrilled to be able to attend the launch of this beautiful book and an exhibition of the original artwork.

And what a thrill to meet this author/illustrator, whose books I grew up with. As a child, I spent hours poring over The Eleventh Hour, trying to solve all the little clues. My Grandma Lived in Gooligulch and Animalia were other favourites, with their humour, Australianness and amazing artwork.

Base was just lovely. He spoke about the inspiration behind this new book, The Legend of the Golden Snail – a combination of memories of his five-week trip from England to Australia as an eight-year-old boy, and a shape that made him think of a cross between a snail and a sail (“snailing” he said, laughing that his children were rolling their eyes at this dad joke).

When asked, in a Q&A with Penguin’s General Manager of Education, Sales and Children's Marketing, Kristin Gill, about the meaning behind the book, Base’s message was clear. There are two ways to success, he said; one can choose to be ruthless and cut everyone else down along the way, or we can make friends along the path to our dreams, friends who will then lift us.

He read the book aloud to an audience oozing awe and admiration, explaining the tiny storybook placed at the beginning of the book. This book sets the scene, containing the story that the main character, Wilbur, so adores. This tiny book within a book, Base explained, contains real Latin and fake Hieroglyphics and was put there predominantly to reduce the weight of a text-heavy book. And it works, adding a sense of this tale having been told for thousands of years all over the world.

Base had us all nodding as he talked of his favourite book, the first to really touch him: Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. When children now ask him why they should read it when they can just watch the movies, Base asks them a question: what size screen do you watch the movies on? And no matter the response, even if that child is to respond that they watch it on the biggest screen in the world, Base has one thing to say – your mind has an even bigger screen. Read books and your imagination will take you there.

Quite simply, Base delighted his audience at this small gathering with his funny stories (like the time his son told a teacher that his dad “stays home all day and colours in”), lovely manner and willingness to sign book after book after book and answer what must have been hundreds of questions.

And seeing that amazing artwork – page after page from this beautiful book – lined up along the walls was such a treat.

Want a special book with a classic feel that a child in your life will read time and again and treasure forever? You can never go past a Graeme Base book and, with The Legend of the Golden Snail, he has shown that he still has that same passion and knack for creating something wonderful.

What’s next for Base? He revealed that he is now working on a book set in Ancient Egypt – sure to be an extraordinary addition to his already fabulous bibliography.

Title: The Legend of the Golden Snail
Author/Illustrator: Graeme Base
Publisher: Penguin, $29.95 RRP
Publication Date: 27 September 2010
Format: Hardcover with dust jacket
ISBN: 9780670073498
For ages: 4+
Type: Picture book

This book is available online

Watch the book trailer (with music composed by Graeme Base):