I was very excited when I read in The Bookseller that the Bodleian Library has launched a children’s imprint. Penguin’s Way and Whale’s Way will be the first to be released.
There has been a fashion in the children’s book industry to plunder out of print titles for the last few years – and many of them, and indeed I think most of them, deserve this resurrection. These books were heavy on the nostalgia – mainly targeted at grandparents – but that has definitely moved on. Books are being brought back to life because they are still relevant for the current generation – and this is definitely the case with these Johanna Johnston books.
Both of them offer facts about the way of life for the animals, and there were many things in both books that I didn’t know – for example, plankton meaning ‘wandering’. In Penguin’s Way we are taking through a year’s cycle, and it doesn’t focus on a particular penguin. There are no named characters in it, and yet it is most definitely a story – and a compelling one at that. Out of the two, it is definitely my favourite, but that is only because I really love penguins.
In Whale’s Way part of it does focus on a family – but again does so with this balance of neutrality of observation, the same kind of space you get between animal and narrator in a nature documentary, with enough carefully chosen words to get you to care about the animals. And luckily nothing bad happens to this family – though you know that it could have done, and that is enough to get the heart racing. It is extremely clever.
The illustrations, both done with a stripped back palette, are beautiful. I would love to see an exhibition of them some day – they are gorgeous works of art.
My two were transfixed throughout both. They would make perfect presents for any child interested in nature or these animals in particular – or if you want to get them something in between fact and fiction that you know they will read again and again.
These books really are forgotten gems and take the fashion of bring back out of print books to a new level. They both feel modern, they are engaging and fascinating and allow us to discover an author and illustrator team we might never have known about. I certainly didn’t.
I am delighted that with these choices – and look forward to seeing what will be discovered in the Bodleian archive in the future (and my goodness, who has that job? How much fun is that!!??).
Both books sent for review by Bodleian Children’s Books.