Animalia, by Graeme Base

Reviewed by Tash Hughes

One of Graeme Base’s earlier and best known books, Animaliais a treat.

Base himself didn’t think another alphabet book was needed in the world, so didn’t expect much of this book; how wrong he was! Animalia is an alphabet book, with most letters being allocated a single or double page. T and U, N and O share two pages between them.

Each letter has a poem that conjures up bizarre and interesting animal images, yet seems almost insignificant in the face of the illustrations.

Each page of the book is packed with pictures within pictures. The overall page scene relates to the letter’s verse; for instance, “Eight Enormous Elephants Expertly eating Easter Eggs” has a picture of eight elephants with Easter eggs!

Beyond that, the page contains many other items beginning with the letter for the page. In fact, there at least a thousand different alphabetised things in the book to find! Some are subtle, some are well hidden and some may take time to identify (such as the philosopher and politician, or the hamster, Humpty and hook). All are detailed and linked to the letter – even the can is a coke can and the wolf is white!

Like other books by Base, the book can appeal to many age groups, each group looking at the levels that are appropriate and being unaware of shared levels within.

As a final challenge, Base warns, “In Animalia, you see, It’s possible you might find me.” With care and effort, the boy Graeme can be found on each page in the book.

Some of the Animalia pages have also been made into jigsaw puzzles that are both fascinating and challenging because of the depths to each letter’s picture.

Animalia, by Graeme Base
Viking Kestrel, 1986