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

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Review: Animal Tales

This gorgeous new series from the National Library of Australia is a welcome hark back to more traditional days - with a classic storyline, the sweetest of soft illustrations and a format that echoes the books of Beatrix Potter - hardcover small format books with dustjacket.

Written by Susan Hall, this series was inspired by the National Library's collection of paintings showcasing animals as seen by Australia's first white settlers. Marvelling at these oddly curious hopping, paddling, burrowing and duck-billed furballs, early artists created fascinating renditions of Australia's unique wildlife.

In Animal Tales, children are taken back to early settler times - to the imagined moments our wildlife were first encountered, and tells of the often hair-raising experiences these animals had with white man.

In The Tale of Peek Platypus, we meet the adorable little Peek who, whilst going for a swim, is suddenly seized in a net by the 'Uprights'. His captors have never seen a platypus before and are intrigued by this oddity - is it a duck? a furry fish? a beaver?

Settling on a furry fish, the men throw Peek into a bucket of water and place stones on top to stop him from leaping out. I honestly held my breath in horror, waiting to see if Peek would escape. Thankfully, he has another curious friend arrive to help him out.

In The Tale of Kyla Koala, our little fuzzy friend finds herself in the thick of a raging bushfire, with no way to escape. Her paws and fur are starting to sear when suddenly the wind changes direction and Kyla is rescued by a young girl.

Not knowing what to feed the koala, the little girl's family tries milk and berries before finally working out it's gumleaves Kyla craves. Nursing her gently back to health, the kind family don't realise Kyla really needs to return to the wild, so Kyla plans an escape, much to the devastation and subsequent acceptance of the little girl.

In The Tale of Wil the Wombat, naughty Wil decides to go too close to the Upright camp, despite hearing tales these tall and fearsome creatures make a fine feast of young wombats.

Sure enough, he gets captured - a large wooden box is plonked on top of him and poor Wil is terrified. But this resourceful little wombat simply does what he knows best - he digs to freedom.

In The Tale of Kaz the Kangaroo, our little joey is feeling adventurous. When she spots a strange shape out on the ocean, she takes off towards the beach where a camp of Uprights shout and marvel at the way the young roo hops and zig zags around about.

Curious, the Uprights encircle Kaz. One of them even takes out a notebook and begins to draw her. They think she's a dog. A deer. A gigantic rat! Poor Kaz is terrified by the circle of people but her concerned mother soon comes to the rescue and Kaz leaps into her hopping mother's pouch and is once again free.

Each of these adorable books is packed with gorgeous, softly-coloured images kids will love, opposite a short page of text, making a book that's ideal for younger kids - both to read themselves and be read to. In fact, these books are a perfect transition from picture book to junior fiction.

The authentic Australian content is historical, warm, relatable and more than a little fascinating - but there's also a surprising 'edge' to the stories in terms of their suspense and adventure.

Rounding out each book is a wonderful addendum of factual content on each animal, as well as notes and pictures from the very first images of Australian animals drawn and painted by settlers and visitors. It's fascinating to see how these artists' take on our furry friends.

Written in conjunction with the RSPCA and officially launching on 28 May (see Events), the series is available in bookstores now and will be sold as an adorable boxed set in time for Christmas. A must-own for any Australian child - not to mention family and friends overseas.

Title: Animal Tales: Peek, Kyla, Wil and Kaz
Author: Susan Hall
Illustrator: Ben Guy
Publisher: National Library of Australia, $14.95
Publication Date: 1 May 2010
ISBN: 9780143504122
Format: Hard cover with dust jacket
For ages: 5 – 10
Type: High Text Picture Book, Junior Fiction

These books can be bought online:
The Tale of Peek Platypus
The Tale of Kyla Koala
The Tale of Wil Wombat
The Tale of Kaz Kangaroo