The blurb on this book says, “The text plays with words: their sounds, rhythms, and meanings, combining into sentences that are syntactically precise, yet managing to conjure up the kind of absurd goings-on guaranteed to tickle every child’s imagination”. Yes there is absurdity and nonsense. And then, well, there is nonsense.
I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it is alliterative and artistic, bright and beautiful, comical and colourful. On the other hand, it is nonsensical. But not in the way that Dr. Seuss’s books are nonsensical.
What bothers me about this book is that unlike say, Dr. Seuss’s books, which make up nonsensical characters and non-existent creatures that behave in completely absurd ways, and yet retain a method to the madness, this one sounds like it is stating untrue facts about animals that actually exist. Not about a particular animal (I mean, a character that can be imbued with any amount of zaniness with impunity), but the entire species. And young kids are notoriously literal. And no, anteaters do NOT as a rule adore arithmetic. And lions, however lazy, do NOT generally lick lollipops. I am supposed to suspend disbelief, I know. And I do. When I read it as an adult. But will the young reader do that quite so easily?
That is my main issue with this book. Otherwise it is a rollicking and fun read. One of those books that allows a parent to get crazy along with a child as they imagine animals doing crazy things.
The illustrations are what make this book what it is. They are understated, mostly black-and-white with one bright colour on each page. The animals are by and large all black. And yet, the whole effect works, and works extremely well. I can easily imagine a young child flipping through the pages gleefully, looking at the twenty-six animals introduced, rolling the words around on his or her little tongue, and delighting in the illustrations alongside. The book also introduces some rather obscure animals, and I learnt the existence of a couple of them myself – Uakari and Xeme, for instance.
While the illustrations are no doubt brilliant, bright, beautiful – it is difficult to write a review of this book that is not alliterative! – there are a few inconsistencies. The macaroni that the messy mice make looks more like spaghetti. And the X-ray machine that the xemes use to x-ray themselves, is that a Xerox machine?
In short, what is right now a sweetly crazy book could have been even better. To put it in the author’s own alliterative way, responsible writing requires rigour!
By Anandam Ravi
ALPHABETS ARE AMAZING ANIMALS
Author: Anushka Ravishankar
Illustrator: Christiane Pieper
Tara Publishing, 2015
Subject Category: Contemporary/Picture Book