Anybody out there speak insect? No; well you may well find yourself and your audience so doing after a sharing of this deliciously outside the box picturebook.
The cast of characters, with two notable exceptions, consists entirely of insects and begins with two damselflies discovering a tiny shoot unfurling. “Du is tak?’ says one. “Ma nazoot” comes the response. Thanks to the visual context, we can already begin to decode this exchange in a manner similar to someone learning English as an additional language.
The plant grows more leaves; three small beetles arrive to ponder and discuss the strange object. There’s further growth and the insects decide something is needed. “Ru badda unk ribble” one announces and they go and call on Icky who conveniently resides in a large log nearby.
Icky duly supplies the desired object – a ladder – and sits back to watch the action. Night comes and there’s some moonlight serenading by a nocturnal insect, and next morning work begins in earnest. The insects construct a splendid tree house in the plant but then disaster strikes in the form of a spider that encases the whole thing in a web. Timely intervention by a bird puts paid to this and a whole host of insects congregate to watch and celebrate the spectacular flower as it bursts into bloom.
Eventually the inevitable happens; this is nature after all; and in essence the whole story is one encouraging curiosity, a celebration of the natural world, of its seasons and cycles, and of life itself.
In many ways this is a ground-breaking book and a somewhat risky publishing venture but it’s one that surely has paid off. It has something to offer all ages from the very young to adults, teachers in particular. Every time I revisit it, I discover something I’d missed on previous readings. Carson Ellis’ creatures have a deliciously quirky, slightly Baroque look to them, in stark contrast to the modern feel of each enchanting composition in its entirety.