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

Thursday 30 November 2023

Review: Begin Again

It starts with a question: 

Where did we begin?  

Only 4 words. A simple question, right?

No, not really. 

It's not a simple question at all.

Oliver Jeffers explores fire first, and the early humans who controlled that fire and grew brains and started to do things with them.

But that wasn’t really the beginning.

Jeffers explores human hands next — the things they hammered and made before our brains got bigger.

But that wasn’t the beginning either.

It starts with a question, but then this amazing and unique picture book explodes into a journey of where we came from, what our purpose is, where we’re going and why we aren’t there yet.

In a kid-friendly way, Begin Again talks about how we live now, and how we draw invisible lines on the land to divide us, how we all seek connection (even if we don’t admit it), and how we're all running too fast towards things without any real reason to run there.

It reflects on the sometimes meanness of humans (even if we don’t mean to be mean), and it inspires readers to be kinder and better to both people and the planet — to walk instead of run, to remember the past but not dwell on it, and to build a future all humans can be proud of.

It’s a big book (with many more pages than your average picture book). A special project. A picture book like no other.

Jeffers reflects on it and the journey to its birth at the back, speaking of wanting to make sense of the thoughts in his head as he watched his children grow and the world got faster and faster.

I love it when he says, “over the last few years, I’ve started to wonder if my role in life is to ask the foolish questions loudly and fearlessly enough that we might clarify assumptions for the benefit of everyone."

I love this because the book is filled with the thoughts we think but are maybe to timid to say out loud, or challenge a crowd about, or admit we don’t know the answers to.

I do think this is a book for kids. Even if it is long and they may not understand everything between the covers. I think we need to start these conversations earlier rather than later. Our kids deserve that.

But it is also a book for adults — for everyone. It’s a book to remind us all of the world we’re living in and what it could be if we all (everyone together) paid attention to what we’ve become.

Jeffers’ illustrations are, as always, funky and engaging. He runs rather somber blue and purple hues through this one (which are fitting), but the pops of neon pink help brighten the way — maybe a metaphor for hope and change.

Begin Again is unlike most picture books, but it is truly splendid and a gift to the world.

Title: Begin Again
Author/Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers
Publisher: HarperCollins, $29.99
Publication Date: 1 November 2023
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9780008579593
For ages: 5+
Type: Picture Book, Picture Book for Older Readers