I’ve recently bought two books to share with my grandchildren that evoke the real spirit of the iconic animals they portray.
‘The Polar Bear’ and ‘The Blue Whale’ are two wonderful and informative books by Jenni Desmond published by Enchanted Lion Books. The style of Jenni’s beautiful artwork is well suited to these greats of the animal kingdom and the vast, wild spaces they inhabit, and unlike many other ‘information books’ about animals, they give the child a real sense of the creatures in their native habitat that photographs just couldn’t achieve.
Like many of the illustrations in these books, this endpaper from ‘The Polar Bear’ places the human child in the image in a way that allows children to feel the emptiness of the landscape; to feel the thrill of spotting the polar bear in the distance across the deep blue of the ocean.
The books use the child characters and the normal familiar things from a child’s life (such as bottles of milk), in a way that helps young readers associate with these creatures that they may never actually see in their lifetime. And what I really like is that the books don’t push the ‘conservation message’. Although the author’s note at the front of the books gives a bit of a background to the political and environmental challenges they face, the main text and images focus on encouraging children to first become enchanted by these creatures. There will be plenty of time for young readers to learn about the risks the animals face and the dangers of habitat loss and pollution that they might need to address as adults. First, allow them to be children discovering the magic of the world, as these books do.
The illustrations don’t shy away from depicting the wild nature of the bear, showing it ‘red in tooth and claw’, but in a way that won’t risk traumatizing young children.
And there is humour – such as this illustration showing a small boat with “nine seven-year-old boys” standing on each others shoulders to demonstrate the height of the air exhaled through the whale’s blowholes.
These books are a joy and I look forward to sharing them with my grandchildren. We need more books like them, but about some of the less iconic but just as important, animals that share our world.