With the imminent publication of BfK’s Green Guide to Children’s Books, we’ve selected four of its best and more recent titles from a total of 400+ entries. Not just representative but flavoursome, a taster…
Two picture books to begin with:
Watch Out for the Giant-Killers!
Colin McNaughton, Walker (1991), 0 7445 1542 4, £8.99
This is certainly a green book. The richness of the colour leaps from the depiction of dense foliage on every page. Created from the foliage, but by no means dense when it comes to green matters, is the giant. A small boy meets him in the Amazonian forest and, when they have got over their mutual surprise, the giant tells how he was driven from other parts of the world. He was assisted by the giant of the seas, the whale, to travel to this wonderful forest where he has made his new home. But, he fears that such places are shrinking. They part good friends, leaving the little boy thoughtful.
The book has lush illustrations, lots of jokes and cartoon-style sections. It is, however, a serious book. Not inappropriately, it has roots. The giant is descended from the Green Man who was so much part of our culture. Clever, diagrammatic illustrations show clearly how he faded from our consciousness as land use changed and the population grew. The explanations to the child, though amusingly done, expose the human species’ effect on its habitat and the long-lasting consequences. The book is neither smug nor hectoring. It works by creating imaginative links. It provokes the thought that our concern for the last wild places, although they are far away, is genuine and right, because perhaps all our roots are there, retreating to the final refuge with the giant. There is more to this book than lies on its surface.
The Whales’ Song
Dyan Sheldon and Gary Blythe, Hutchinson (1990), 0 09 174250 1, £6.99
Grandmother remembers the time when ‘the ocean was filled with whales’ and once or twice she heard them sing. Lilly longs for the same experience, despite her uncle’s disapproval. ‘Tell her something useful’ he snaps, meaning that whales are important for their bones and blubber and the rest is nonsense. Nevertheless, the whales take possession of her dreams and she throws a yellow flower into the ocean as a gift. That night, she hears the song of the whales, sees them leap and even hears them call her name.
The quiet elegance of the words weaves a spell which is matched by the exceptional paintings; pictures which do not merely illustrate but deepen the reader’s experience. Perhaps the book may even stand as an example of why fiction may be included in a guide like this. The uncle’s facts are real and necessary but, compared with the way in which Lilly and her grandmother come close to the whales, his experience is only partial. Without imagination, our understanding is impaired and we are incomplete.
and a novel for older readers:
Peter Dickinson, Gollancz (1989), 0 575 04354 7, £8.95
This is an original book, triggering an imaginative response from the reader. The opening pages build to the first climax which should not be prematurely revealed (reviewers who have done so are not easy to forgive). The climax adds immeasurably to convincing us of the hypothesis which Dickinson is about to offer.
For Eva, coming out of the coma is quite unlike anyone else’s experience. She has changed and must learn to adapt to what she has left after the accident. She can only survive if she accepts her new situation, and her adaptation, made successfully, has implications for the future – everyone’s future.
The Earth is in decline. People have lost the will to search for the new home in space. Eva has been brought up with her father’s chimpanzees in his research unit and they, too, live in an artificial environment. There is, however, still a small area of natural forest which would support a colony. Because of her special relationship with the animals, Eva is able to interact with them in a way which sets them on a path towards an evolutionary transformation. The book is fascinating. It raises the question of animal rights as a central theme and, consequently, the question of human values, but not only in relation to animals. Human social structures are exposed. Who deserves to inherit the Earth?
The book is valuable for several reasons: the technical implications, the moral issues, the animal interest. In schools, an absorbed reading can only be the beginning.
All three reviews above are taken from the fiction bibliography, compiled by Pat Thomson.
Finally, we include a review of one of the very best non-fiction titles published last year, taken from the information book bibliography, compiled by Ted Percy.
David Day, Viking Kestrel (1990), 0 670 80669 2, £7.99
David Day’s obvious concern for his subject and his eloquent prose style combine to produce a distinguished collection of stories of animal extinction and survival, giving us the bad news first. So horror stories, like the fates of the passenger pigeon and Steller’s sea cow – memorials to human stupidity, precede the more hopeful histories of ‘Operation Oryx’ and the legislation-assisted revival of the sea-otter. Such is the author’s skill that interwoven with his accounts are many potent lessons for today. Exquisitely written to be as readable as any novel, this highly informative and gently persuasive book will form and change attitudes for the better.
The Green Guide to Children’s Books will be published in April 1991. See the special order form with this issue of BfK, or phone BfK (081-852 4953) to secure a 20% Readers’ Discount in advance of publication.