Book Reviews

The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler front cover

The Snail and the Whale Festive Edition by Julia Donaldson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like what Julia Donaldson does. Her partnership with Axel Scheffler has clearly been fulfilling for the two of them, though I wonder sometimes whether their other work has been consumed by The Monster We Must Not Name That Begins With G. This does happen a lot with popular authors and artists – they gain a sort of shorthand that, for many people, becomes the way to understand who they are and what they do. For Donaldson and Scheffler, that shorthand is so often the Gruffalo (especially in the libraries that I’ve worked in and the readers that I’ve worked with!) that other titles, I wonder, become a little lost in the shadows. It’s been something I’ve been thinkin about – how to embrace that popularity but also how to work to destabilise and challenge them. And so when I received a copy of The Snail and The Whale, and realised that it’s actually been a while since I’ve read a Donaldson / Scheffler offering, I wanted to use it as an opportunity – hence this review.

(Hence! oh dear! do forgive me for that!).

The Snail And The Whale was first published in 2003. It’s an old book in this shifting, quick world of children’s literature today, and has been republished due to a new adaptation of it coming out Christmas 2019. It’s also got an increasing relevance, touching as it does upon matters of ecology and global awareness, so I can see why it’s been republished. It’s a powerful story that reminds children of their agency (even the smallest voices matters!) and I very much enjoyed it. Donaldson’s text is powerful, yearning always to move on and find that next rhythm, that next beat, whilst Scheffler’s art is beautiful. It’s rich, warm and gorgeous stuff though I did have mild concerns about the physics of the whale swimming everywhere with its tail sticking out the water. (I know, I know, fun times at my house.) But! Let’s focus on what this is. It’s an environmental fable, fun and heart-warming, and rather lovely done.

But if I get another picture book come through with rubbish or non-existent endpapers, I will write a strongly worded letter to whoever’s in charge. Picture books deserve good endpapers. They are some of the richest literary earth to plough, and they shouldn’t be neglected or worse, forgotten. Sort it out, publishing.

My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.

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Book Reviews

The Paper Dolls – Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb

The Paper DollsThe Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Julia Donaldson’s one of the big names of picture books, and I was excited to see The Paper Dolls where she teams up with the estimable Rebecca Cobb. If you don’t know Cobb’s work, it’s lovely. I’m a big fan of her style and I’m a bit of a Cobb kick at the moment following the perfect pain of Missing Mummy.

It’s a simple, rhythmic book with a beautiful aural texture to it. This is a book that demands to be read out loud, to be heard and savoured. Stylistically it reminded me a lot of John Burningham’s Cloudland; there’s that similar cut out and textural feel to the pictures that feels very human. And as I write that, I’m intrigued that my first thoughts around this book centre around thoughts of texture and of tangibility, and I think that’s something The Paper Dolls plays with quite intriguingly. The titular paper dolls (“Ticky and Tacky / and Jackie the Backie / and Jim with two noses / and Jo with the Bow”) subtly change and shift over each page, interacting and reacting to their landscapes. This is beautifully done and so quietly done – it’s almost Toy Story-esque in how the toys come alive when they’re not being watched. Cobb’s paper dolls do the exact same thing, and they don’t do too much of it either. There’s a restraint in her artwork that’s beautiful to see. Like I’ve said before, I’m a fan of Cobb’s work and the glorious subtlety of it.

The story itself is lovely and actually features an intensely moving moment where the Paper Dolls are cut up but this doesn’t stop them from existing. There’s still “Ticky and Tacky / and Jackie the Backie / and Jim with two noses / and Jo with the Bow” and they don’t stop from being, even though one of them is nothing but paper snow: “We’re not gone, Oh no no no! / We’re holding hands and we don’t let go. We’re Ticky and Tacky and Jackie the Backie / And Jim with two noses and Jo with the bow!”. I love that and I’m intrigued at how it’s very quietly teaching notions of longevity and of memory.

Talking of memory, this is the big shift at the end of the book because this is where the paper dolls end up existing after the whole Cutting Up Incident. It’s lovely, though I wonder if conceptually it’s a big leap to make for a juvenile audience. I think this is something which may become clearer after rereadings and through sharing discussions about the book. What I do love, however, is how this comes across to the adult and more older reader – there’s an ache of longing in reading the spread, and I do think that The Paper Dolls may have some really interesting applications in therapeutic contexts. This is a picture book to dwell on and to savour.

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