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

Tuesday 19 October 2021

Review: Night Lights

It may seem extraordinary to our Gen Alpha readers of today that not so very long ago, our nights were not so bright, meaning, the world was a place of less light pollution, certainly it was not illuminated by the blue light of so many devices as it is now. 

It is this sentiment that author, Inda Ahmad Zahri and illustrator, Lesley McGee impart in their new picture book, Night Lights.

Night Lights is more than an evocative plea to value nature and honour the night. It is an impassioned return to the author’s childhood home in Malaysia and a spellbinding invitation to experience her memories of growing up in a verdant tropical paradise, focusing on the various forms of light that illuminated her world.

The transition from modern day norms to the radiance of the steamy jungles of Asia is made swiftly, transporting readers into a playground of twisting vines and tumbling cousins as cheeky as monkeys. Song and laughter fill their days. By night the deep shadows of the tropics take over yet there is little to fear of the darkness as bare light bulbs cast comfort and Inda’s Tok-Bah’s (grandfather) stories of his days as a policeman enthral the children while grandmother, Tok-Mak prepares their meals in the half light. The nights are thus filled with joyous contentment.

Like the gardens that surround their home, the nights teem with life and light: the symphonies of insects, the richly decorated canvas of a star-flecked sky, the oil lanterns Tok-Bah swings to illuminate new discoveries and the magical fireflies that twinkle and bewitch. Everything is alight with love. Everything shines, just like Tok-Bah’s little ones.

These beautiful recollections form a lyrical narrative that is not just a step back to a place and time were simplicity snuggled in bed to the glow of hurricane lanterns. It is a tender and touching tribute to family and the reverent relationship between child and grandparent.

Sumptuously illustrated in colours resplendent of a tropical garden, each page is aglow with eye-catching detail. McGee leaves little space unused creating a landscape of enthralling reality that translates to the most magnificent, magical botanical playground for those uninitiated in parrots beak heliconias, frangipanis, fan palms, crotons, taro elephant ears, bougainvillea, monstera, even bat flowers, and my ultimate favourite, orchids.  Despite much of this story taking place under the cloak of darkness, bold colour choices reflect tropical blooms as well as Malaysia’s vibrant cultural charms making this book a beautiful stepping stone into discussions of cultural diversity.

Rich and real, pulsing with life and energy, Night Lights, truly is a celebration of nature, small moments of brilliance and enduring memories.

Title: Night Lights
Author: Inda Ahmad Zahri
Illustrator: Lesley McGee
Publisher: Little Pink Dog Books, $24.99
Publication Date: September 2021
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9780648652847   
For ages: 4 – 10
Type: Picture Book