Reviewed by Gerard Healy
The very talented illustrator and author Graeme Base has given us another agreeable tale, this time featuring three long-eared, white-furred, unassuming heroes.
The story, when read to younger preschool children, should appeal because of its gentle charm, familiar settings and quirky characters. The vocabulary used (e.g. racquets, usual, disappeared and mysterious) would be too difficult for the vast majority of this cohort to read independently. However, the well-drawn illustrations greatly assist in making the tale understandable for younger readers.
Base’s earlier work, such as ‘Animalia’ (1986) and ‘The Eleventh Hour’ (1988) was notable for his intricate, detailed pictures which hid multiple clues for eagle-eyed readers to spot. The ‘BumbleBunnies’ series is a departure from this type of book. Here, in book 4 of the series, Base offers up only a few visual sleight-of-hand mis-directions. Spotting the identity of the three female heroes is one of the implied goals of the book.
Possible reasons for this change, from complexity towards a simpler format, may have been that the page sizes are smaller and the target audience younger. Smaller pages allow for less intricate pictures. A more straight-forward story, with only a few clues to pick up, better suits this group of children. There is also a downward shift in the level of tension generated by the storyline, compared to earlier works.
All six characters in the story are animals, with any humans safely out-of-sight behind the neighbours’ fences. These creatures are cute, friendly and non-threatening to children and divide neatly into two groups. Three friendly pets (a duck, a dog and a cat) make up the first set. They react to a stray balloon in humorous ways, thus inviting a cohort of air-borne rescuers to appear.
Like the characters, the settings can be split into two as well. First, a lush garden in a suburban backyard and, second, the wide-open skies and vast fields beside this home. The backyard is the pets’ home, while our heroes are free to soar to great heights.
I would recommend this book (and the series) to adults looking for a gentle, low-key story for the pre-schooler in their life. It is well illustrated by a veteran of the genre.
Graeme Base was born in the United Kingdom in 1958 and now lives in Australia. He has over 40 books to his name. His second title ‘Animalia’ has world-wide sales approaching 3 million. He won the Domkeen Medal in 1998 for his outstanding achievement in Australian children’s literature.
BumbleBunnies: Book 4 The Balloon
by Graeme Base
pp 24; $16.99 [HB]