Calm Beasts

by | Jun 30, 2020 | Book Review, Picture Book, Poetry, Translation

Calm Beasts - Cover

Book Details

Calm Beasts
Herberts Dorbe, illus. Gita Treice, trans. Žanete Vēv ere Pasqualini and Kate Wakeling, Birmingham: The Emma Press, pb. 978 1 9101 3993 6, 2019, £4.00, 32pp.

[First published as Rāmi-svēri by Lies un Maz, Riga, Latvia in 2013. © Herberts Dorbe (text) 1930; Žanete Vēv ere Pasqualini and Kate Wakeling (English translation) 2018; Gita Treice (illus.) 2013]

Picture book, translation, 3+ years

Herberts Dorbe paints a curious world where wolves fall silent and lions lie down to be stroked. The warm, muted palette of Gita Treice’s painterly illustrations bring these beasts to life. Together, they tell a beguiling story about the power of the reader’s imagination.

Bicki Books have been published in the UK in two sets of six each by The Emma Press. Calm Beasts is Bicki Books #002. A hundred such books were published originally in Latvian. Each Bicki book is postcard size and contains just a single poem. The idea is that the book is easy for a child to hold and for an adult to read to a child without their attention span wandering. The child is likely to be able to ‘read’ the poem with repeated listening and eventually to actually read it. I remember such books that I used with my older daughter that were labelled ‘Look and Say’ and she loved them and learned to read early.

Calm Beasts surprisingly starts with the picture of a wolf and the words ‘Three wolves’ – not exactly a calm beast! And the next words are ‘two tigers!’ Now lions! But we now reach the important lines: ‘No bars, no ropes,/ no lock on the doors.’ A child in the next picture is lying hugging a wolf, who also looks very contented. The poem continues and is certainly one that any child would love to repeat, particularly the last unexpected punch line.

The illustrations are muted brown, greys and yellows and very calming and attractive. They are as important to the story as the words. I recommend this book to anyone with a pre-school or nursery-age child.

For those interested in the rationale behind the Biki Books, see IBBYLink 50 Autumn 2017 Baltic States, ‘Poems with Crumpled Corners’ by Santa Remere.


Review by JJH