The coat stood in a paddock at the end of a row of strawberries. It was buttoned up tight and stuffed full of straw and it was angry.
‘What a waste of me!’ it yelled to the sun and the sky and the crows and the paddock.
‘What an unbelievable waste!’
A coat abandoned to life as a scarecrow on a strawberry farm sees an opportunity for change when a down and out man passes by. The coat beckons the stranger over and soon the man, recognising the beauty and potential of the coat, is swooping and soaring on an adventure. Together they travel to Big Smoke where, in a cafe, the man discovers the amazing talents of the coat, and of himself, as they play and perform for an adoring audience.
The Coat is a treasure of a picture book, with the delightful quirkiness of a talking, talented coat and an exciting adventure and transformation for both man and coat. There are messages and subtexts aplenty – the value of friendship, finding hidden talents, belief of self and in others, and more, making this a text which could be used in the classroom across the year levels, but it also just a book to be treasured.
The text is presented as a script font, initially against sepia-hued backgrounds. there is no colour in the illustrations as both coat and man are dejected and see little purpose in their lives. Colour starts to seep in as man and coat soar towards Big Smoke with the performance scenes featuring rich washes of colour. The book as a whole has a big rich feel with the burgundy hues of the cover making it a volume you want to hug.
This is an adorable book.
The Coat, by Julie Hunt and Rob Brooks
Allen & Unwin, 2012
Available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond.
If you are a parent, teacher or librarian with a love of children’s books, chances are that you are well familiar with the illustrative brilliance of Ron Brooks. As the illustrator of some of Australia’s (and the world’s) best loved picture books, including John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat , Old Pig and Fox , Brooks has captured the hearts of readers for 40 years. In Drawn from the Heart, however, Brooks shares far more than his illustration work with readers.
Reading this memoir is an intense experience. On the face of it, this is a book which traces Brooks’ life through childhood, study, marriage and raising a family, whilst also detailing the process of illustrating his various works. However, it quickly becomes clear to the reader that this is much more. This is a story into which the reader is drawn. Brooks is honest and intimate, creating a sense that he is telling the tale just over a cup of tea across a well-worn kitchen table. The reader is invited to cheer, to smile, to weep and mourn with Brooks. This is definitely not a dry-eye book.
There is lots of factual information imparted – the detail of the creation and publication process of each of Brooks’ picture books is fascinating – but at the same time you are left a real sense of Ron Brooks as a person of great intensity.
A must read for anyone with a passion for children’s books and illustration, this is also simply a wonderful read for any human being.
Drawn from the Heart: A Memoir, by Ron Brooks
Allen & Unwin, 2010
This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews
Some books are so exquisitely perfect that it seems almost impossible to review them. The Dream of the Thylacineis one such book – sending shivers of delight up this reviewer’s spine.
With minimal text and a combination of photographic stills and full spread acrylic art, the tale of the last thylacine – and the tragedy of its caged existence – is brought to life in a dramatic blend of beauty and pathos.
Text spreads combine still shots of the last known thylacine trapped in a cage in the Hobart Zoo in 1937 with poetic text in the thylacine’s voice telling of his feelings of being trapped and his memories or dreams of his previous life. The three spreads which follow each of these bear no text, instead showing the thylacine in its natural environment living those dreams – running through forests, standing on cliff tops and more. The final spreads show the thylacine finally sleeping, curled up as part of the landscape. A back of book note tells readers that the thylacine is now extinct, in spite of a slim hope that there are surviving creatures somewhere in the Tasmanian wilderness.
Truly a thing of beauty, The Dream of the Thylacine is a book to be savoured, examined, shared and treasured both at home and in the classroom. What more can I say?
The Dream of the Thylacine, by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks
Allen & Unwin, 2011
This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.
‘Keep it safe,’ Old Pig said, ‘and use it wisely.’
‘I will,’ said Granddaughter. She tried to smile but her mouth wobbled, and Old Pig said, ‘There, there, no tears.’
‘I promise,’ said Granddaughter, but it was the hardest promise she’d ever had to make.
In this classic picture book, Old Pig knows she is going to die, and sets about putting her affairs in order and saying goodbye to her much loved Granddaughter.
Old Pig was first published in 1995 and has been loved by parents, teachers and children since then. It is wonderful to see it rereleased in hardcover format so that it remains available to new readers.
With gentle text by Margaret Wild and rich illustrations by Ron Brooks, the mixture of sadness and love, and the sense of closure, makes this a perfect delivery on a difficult topic.
Old Pig, by Margaret Wild & Ron Brooks
Allen & Unwin, 2009
This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.
This picture book combines two of Australia’s best-known names in picture books – author Maragret Wild and illustrator Ron Brooks. In the four years since it was first published it has assumed classic status as a truly memorable and great example of the picture book form.
The fable like story tells of an unusual friendship between a dog and a magpie. Magpie’s wing is injured in a fire and she can no longer fly. She is looked after by Dog, who wills her to get better. He is blind in one eye. He puts Magpie on his back and runs with her. Magpie tells Dog that he can be her wings and she will be his missing eye. The friendship continues until a Fox arrives. Seeing the pair cosily together, he conspires to part them. He cajoles Magpie to come with him. He can run faster than Dog and Magpie will love the feeling of really flying on Fox’s back. When Magpie finally agrees, Fox abandons her in the desert, telling her that now she and Dog will learn what it is like to be truly alone. The story ends with Magpie, regretting her abandonment of Dog, beginning the slow journey back to her friend.
This is a story which grips the reader. The temptation of the fox and his leading Magpie into the desert has a biblical quality, and the seemingly sad ending still rings with the courage of the flightless Magpie hopping towards home across the desert.
Brooks’ illustrations and hand-lettering add to the myth-like feel of the story. This print, the use of collage and the reds and ochres prevalent in the book all combine to create an illusion of age, as if this a story created long ago and perhaps drawn on ancient parchment or etched on a cave wall. The dark colours of the illustrations also reflect the serious tone of the tale.
With this tone, Fox may not make for fun bedtime reading, but it is an outstanding book which kids will be drawn to and which will encourage discussion about friendship, loyalty and betrayal. It would also make an excellent classroom text for literature study and visual literacy lessons.
Fox, by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks
Allen & Unwin, First Published 2000, new edition 2004