Thursday, 24 May 2012

review: Don't Laugh at Giraffe

by Rebecca Bender
Pajama Press, May 15 2012
picture book anthropomorphism
received from publisher (thank you!)

Giraffe and Bird are always bickering. The bird doesn’t miss out on any chance to laugh at the giraffe—and that’s exactly what he does one day as the giraffe attempts to reach the water hole without getting his hooves wet. By the time all the animals join in laughing, the giraffe is well and truly embarrassed. Can the bird make the giraffe feel better?
The cover:

Eesh. The cover illustration isn’t representative of the level of art on the inside (acrylic paint on texturized board, by the way). That gradient going from purple to yellow makes the sky seem like a random background rather than a setting, and the picture’s composition ends up having the bird, the giraffe head and the title fight for your attention.

The book:

This picture book had tonnes of potential. The bright, vibrant art and varied typography makes Don’t Laugh at Giraffe extremely kid-friendly. However, the problems with the text start almost immediately. The first line is: “No one would argue that Giraffe and Bird are an odd pair.” Right off, the author names the animals as Giraffe and Bird, capitalized. But on the next spread and for the rest of the story, the pair is referred to as “the giraffe” and “the bird”. Why? Using the animals’ names as their actual names would’ve made them far more likeable. It’s an appeal factor, just like humans have names.

Next, the diction. One sentence: “When the giraffe senses the bird swoop after him, he scrambles to go faster than his legs will allow.” This line is extraordinarily verbose by picture book standards. On many occasions a simplification or two would make for a much more succinct and readable sentence. But then, in odd contrast, there’s a clean sentence that is picture-book-perfect: “His ears are droopy, his eyes are misty and his nose is sniffly as he laps at the muddy water.” The repetition of noun-to-adjective is excellent technique, and well-emphasized with typography.

Unfortunately, the loquacious issue sticks its head up again with the spacing of the words on each page. On some pages, the text is boxed into a corner or stretched out along the bottom in a way that will cause readers to wonder at which section of the page they should be looking at next. As well, the beginning spends literally 25% of the 32-page book on developing the animals’ relationship, which left me wondering when the book’s actual story would commence.

The theme of the story is ideal; if properly executed, it would’ve subtly achieved its message, and the art’s excellence is clear—Bender’s animals are simple and realistic, yet cartoonishly fun. Don’t Laugh at Giraffe works as a readaloud, but on their own young children will have trouble. (With words like “phlegmy”. o_O)

Rating: 2.4 out of 5