Thursday 9 January 2020

Author/Illustrator spotlight: Rachel Bright and Jim Field

An animal lover and lover of rhyme?...Then you'll find these four books by Rachel Bright, illustrated by Jim Field, an absolute delight.
Featuring animals and landscapes from across the globe, Bright has managed to make her books all beautifully similar yet dynamically different. Her cheerful, bouncy rhyme feels fresh and edgy and her spot-on choice of descriptive words vividly brings her landscapes to life.
Quite often I find picture books about animals rather tired - perfectly pleasant but indistinguishable from others we have read. Not these! These four stories have woken me up (in the same way a douse of refreshing iced water would) and brought animal antics back into firm focus.

The Lion Inside
Published: 2015, Orchard Books

Not exactly an original plot, but the way it is told alongside the rich illustrations makes it feel like it is.
A tiny mouse is nothing but an insignificant and ignored creature amongst the larger creatures of the African plain. And whilst the huge, majestic king of the rock has the presence and roar of a God nothing is set to change.
Unless, of course, the mouse can learn to roar as well.
Problem is, the one animal who can teach him is the one who might just turn him into a meal. But, if you don't ask, you don't get...
Whilst mouse summons up courage, it seems he might not need it after all...
But a lion could never be scared of him...could he?
The character of mouse is a delight. He sweeps you up and takes you on the journey with him, making you feel more mouse than man (or woman) and about five inches tall.
Knees a-knocking, will you have the courage to face lion with him?

The Squirrels who Squabbled

Published: 2017, Orchard Books

Meet Spontaneous Cyril and Plan Ahead Bruce, two very different squirrels after the exact same thing - the last nuts of the season.
Problem is, Cyril and Bruce know not how to share and so begins a race to the almost bitter end.
Again, the plot is not the most original but the illustrations, full of autumnal, woodland richness and the fast-paced, zip-zap rhyme makes this my favourite of the four. The characterisation of Cyril and Bruce is delightfully funny and their inability to spot what is swooping ahead makes for a super surprise.
The story has charm and the ending, although a rather quick turn-around, is full of warmth. After all, what is better than a laugh with a friend?
A nutty treat for all the family.

The Koala who Could

Published: 2016, Orchard Books

After the speedy sprint of the squirrels, this story of Kevin the Koala feels much more chilled. In fact, where the squirrels are frantic, Kevin is most definitely not. He spends his days clinging to his eucalyptus tree and saying a resounding 'No!' to anything new.
As much as the other animals of the bush try to entice him down, Kevin his having none of it, until his tree is collapses and he hits the ground with an almighty thump.
Being forced out your comfort zone is a frightening thing but it could just be the making of Kevin. In fact, his life may never be the same again.
'The Koala who Could' sends the reassuring message to all of us, young and old, that although the world can seem a scarily daunting place, if you don't get out there and try new things you'll never know quite what you can achieve. And, when you're surrounded by friends who'll catch you when you fall, it makes life a lovelier place to be.

A Way Home for Wolf

Published: 2018, Orchard Books


Across the icy tundra, a pack of wolves are moving home. But the littlest cub, Wilf, not only refuses to accept any kind of help, he wants to be leader of the pack! That is until he gets lost in the dark, snowy night. Unable to find his elders, Wilf is offered help from an unexpected source. But will he accept it?
This story feels like the inverse of the other three. Whereas the mouse, Kevin the Koala and Bruce and Cyril are all learning they can do something (be bold, try new things and share), Wilf is about to learn that there are some things he can't do on his own and that it's okay to accept help from others.
Once again, Bright's lyrical language and captivating rhyme doesn't disappoint. Her voice and style, now firmly established, still leaves me wanting more. After following her character's adventures through the sparse Australian bush, the freshness of the forest, the wintry Arctic and the baking African plains, I think I rather fancy a trip down the Amazon or a trek into the mountains. Who knows who we might meet?...

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