Reviews of Natural History Picture Books from Walker Books Australia
Kookaburra by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Tannya Harricks
Inside the CBCA Shortlist Dry to Dry: The Seasons of Kakadu by Pamela Freeman, illustrated by Liz Anelli
Two new outstanding picture books in Walker Books (Australia) Nature Storybooks series are Kookaburra and Dry to Dry. Like other books in this series, they have a distinct Australian aesthetic and are of excellent quality.
Kookaburra by Claire Saxby & Tannya Harricks
Claire Saxby and Tannya Harricks have previously collaborated on the multi-award-winning Dingo, which jointly won the Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature in the 2019 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards – amongst other awards.
Kookaburra is all about the kookaburra and its habitat. The book looks at distinguishing features, food, breeding and home. Their territorial nature and behaviours inject narrative energy. The text is beautifully framed by the song of the kookaburra at sunrise and twilight.
As is the format in this series, there are two types of written text: literary and factual (the latter in italics). Claire Saxby excels within the brief with her fine, expressive writing – “In a line, on a limb with her family, her mate, Kookaburra laughs. Kook-kook-kook. Kak-kak-kak”; and well distilled facts. Children will enjoy reading the two styles of text and will gain something from each. I learned several things, including Each year, pairs will look for a new nesting hollow, but fifty per cent of the time they use the nest from the previous year.
Tannya Harricks uses thickly laid oil paints on what seems to be primed canvas without a ‘toned ground’ to expose some of the canvas texture. A close look at her work suggests use of the palette knife and application of further texture and patterning into the paint while both wet and dry. She may also use sticks or equivalent as etching tools. As in Dingo, her illustrations are highly impressive and a number could be hanged as artworks in their own right.
Saxby and Harricks are an inspired author/illustrator pairing.
Dry to Dry: The Seasons of Kakadu by Pamela Freeman, illustrated by Liz Anelli
Pamela Freeman and Liz Anelli have also previously collaborated on another standout work, Desert Lake: the Story of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre. (I wrote the Teacher Notes on this book for Reading Australia Desert Lake Reading Australia)
Dry to Dry: The Seasons of Kakadu explores the dry to wet to dry cycle in Kakadu national park in northern Australia.
In her written text, Pamela Freeman skilfully distils the information from her, no-doubt, detailed research that is most useful and interesting to children. Different text types are shown in different fonts. These are well-positioned on the page.
Children are invited into the book with an early mention of sunbaking crocodiles, and these reptiles remain a source of dramatic tension throughout. Readers have to look more closely to find the “northern long-necked turtle that has buried itself safely in the cool mud waiting until the Wet comes.” Key words such as ‘wet’ are bolded for emphasis and interest.
As the seasons change we meet many fascinating creatures: migrating curlews, snipes, godwits and sharp-tailed sandpipers as well as the rare Leichhardt’s grasshoppers. There is much to pour over and enjoy in the words and illustrations.
The illustrations are richly composed and detailed with well-chosen angles and perspective. Children who delve into the pages will be rewarded. Mixed media, including some collage, create texture and, along with the changing colours, craft the contrasting atmospheres of parched heat, afternoon storm, flooding water, mists and windstorms. The composition elegantly features the different creatures and seasons.
Sightings of humans show the interconnectedness of life in Kakadu. Acknowledgment of the Bininj and Mungguy people who lease their land to the director of National Parks and an explanation of the actual six seasons in Kakadu are clarified at the end of the book.
In their final pages Dry to Dry and Kookaburra are supplemented with some additional conventions of non-fiction, specifically indexes and ‘further information’.
I would love to walk inside these books and experience the Australian landscape shown with its unique fauna and flora. Both books are superb additions to the Nature Storybooks series.