Three by Stephen Michael King

Inside the CBCA Shortlist

“One … two … three. One … two … three. Every day was a skip and a hop for Three.”

Three by Stephen Michael King (Scholastic Australia) is a beautifully moving, heart-warming story about gratitude. It is perfectly told for young children – and those who share books with them.

It is shortlisted for the 2020 CBCA Picture Book of the Year Award and is equal to Stephen Michael King’s best work.

Three is the name of an endearing dog. His name is pertinent and its meaning may be understood quickly – or it may take a little longer. Understanding brings a sigh of realisation. His name, and the concept of this book, is inspired.

Three enjoys the sun, the rain and the food he is given. Well-composed full-page spreads show where he roams, sometimes looking for a home or someone to love. He comes across “a six legs” (ant), “an eight legs” (spider) and some four legs (mostly farm animals).

After wandering “far away to a place where the green rolled slowly …”, Three meets a girl who pretends to be like him. Fern’s garden is beautiful, with many creatures Three has never seen before. It is a refuge for everyone and Fern’s home becomes a home for Three.

Fern is grateful for Three and Three is thankful for everything.

The illustrations are executed in pencil, watercolour and ink. Pictures of Three are sometimes placed on the periphery of the page, particularly at the start, perhaps to show his potentially precarious state. By the end of the book, Three and Fern are positioned firmly in the centre of the page.

The endpapers are covered in flowers, in diagonal rows, interspersed with leaves joined to Stephen Michael King’s signature spirals, which also appear in other illustrations. Young readers could find the spirals here and in his other books and then draw their own.

Readers could also count the number of legs of animals and other creatures here and elsewhere, and copy Three’s skip and hop.

Many of SMK’s picture books feature dogs. Children could read others and act out their actions and postures.

With sensitive perception and gentle humour, Stephen Michael King has shared a lovely tale that could be read simply, or further interpreted as being about a stray who is different and has a disability. Ultimately though, the reader will leave with a sense of overflowing thanks and gratitude.

I have followed Stephen Michael King’s career since his first book and have collected most of his published works. He is an Australian treasure, a modest maestro. His work is perennially shortlisted for the CBCA awards and others. Pea Pod Lullaby (written by Glenda Millard) won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award.

Last year, Stephen Michael King was recognised in the 2019 CBCA shortlist for Rainbow Bear. I have written about it on the blog.

Stephen Michael King (website)

Three at Stephen Michael King’s website

2020 CBCA Shortlist

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