Alan Durant, illus. Dale Blankenaar. London: Tiny Owl, hb, 9 781 9103 2840 8, 2019, £12.99, 32pp.
Picture book, 5+ years
Noko the Porcupine is tired and hungry. Surely, he will find a welcome from the other animals. Sadly, not. One by one, they turn him away making excuses. Something has to be done. How can Noko show them how selfish they are being? He comes up with a very cunning plan….
This is a familiar tale across many cultures, here in its African character. Bold vibrant colours combine stylised figures and background to create an exciting, challenging but engaging visual experience. The artist draws on the traditions of African textiles and imagery in a unique dramatic style that demands the attention of the reader. The square format of the picture book provides the frame within which the storyteller can set the words, creating the boundaries for the illustrations containing them while allowing the illustrator a free space within which to play. The result is a dynamic variety of pace and direction from the opening end paper through each spread to the final cover. A clear uncluttered font offsets the dramatic energy of the illustrations where the story unfolds visually – not repeating the words slavishly, but bringing images to life through expression, detail and movement. And not just the onward thrust of the story, but the themes and ideas contained within the tale where subtle moments in each page underline and finally illustrate the message of welcome, inclusion and sharing.
This is a rich, immersive, visual experience that takes the reader out of the comfortable clichés of many picture books aimed at young readers. Taking a traditional tale the illustrator not only brings this world to a new audience, but also gives life and vitality to a familiar story ensuring its message (here given a contemporary tweak by the author) will remain in the mind’s eye long after the covers close.
Review by FMH