Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
Graeme Base’s children’s books are special. They are the sort you read and re-read and save for your grandchildren. Artist and author Base’s vivid and highly detailed drawings are so sumptuous, so full of fun and whimsy, without compromising on realism that you can look at his work long after you’ve finished reading the text. Recently released in paperback, The Waterhole was inspired by a visit to Kenya and Tanzania. The gently rhyming and alliterative prose follows a shrinking waterhole as animals from all over the world gather at it to drink. The waterhole itself is cleverly cut into the pages of the book, which gives it a 3-D effect as it shrinks into nothing.
The book operates on many levels. It is a counting book, with each number corresponding to a page, animals, and a particular area of the world. It is also a book of discovery, where you can learn about the areas it covers in the animal frieze around the edge of each page. Your children can also find the hidden animals on each page, the crayfish, storks, foxes, peacocks, bears and so on, formed out of the fauna. On each page is also a series of funny, dressed frogs, which leave “town” when the water runs out. Finally, this is an ecological book, encouraging children (and adults) to think about our most importance resource, our vulnerability without it, and the cycle of dry and wet.
This beautiful book is rich, powerful, and lots of fun. The watercolour, pencil and gouache illustrations are stunning, and although the text is relatively simple, it is humorous. There are real animal sounds and their English “translations” – now I know the sound a ladybird makes (Bzui)! There is so much for children to learn from this wonderful book – from the diversity of our natural world, problem solving skills, the flora and fauna of the world, ecology, and of course, the joy of reading.
The Waterhole by Graeme Base
Puffin, March 2003, pb, RRP $A19.95
Magdalena Ball is Editor of The Compulsive Reader, Preschool Entertainment, and is the author The Art of Assessment: How to Review Anything. Her fiction, poetry, reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in a wide range of on-line and print publications.