Dear Baobab – Cheryl Foggo (author), Qin Leng (illustrator)

Dear Baobab CoverFirst Published: 1st September, 2011
Genre: Children’s Contemporary Fiction / Picture Book
Available: Amazon.com | Amazon UK

Maiko moves from Africa to North America to live with his aunt and uncle. He has trouble fitting in, and befriends a spruce tree which is seven years old (like him). It’s not as old as the giant baobab back home, but it still helps remind him of home. Then he finds out the tree might be cut down.

Maiko is going through a lot. His parents died, he has to move country, and he’s being bullied at school. Everything is different, from the kind of house he lives in, to the climate. It’s unusual to see all these themes in the same picture book, as such books are more likely to focus on one issue. But in real life, it’s not that uncommon to have everything go wrong at once. I liked that focus, as it shows children in similar situations that it can happen, and you can get through it. And for those who are luckier, the story makes it easy to empathise with the things Maiko is going through.

With everything going on, Maiko’s friendship with the tree gives him a point of security. He can tell the tree about his troubles, at a time when he’s not ready to tell his aunt and uncle. It’s no wonder that he’s upset at the idea of the tree being cut down. It’s good that once it does come out, his feelings are taken seriously by the adults around him.

The pictures are paintings with loose line work, capturing scenes from Maiko’s everyday life. There’s quite a bit of text on the pages. This would suit older picture book readers the best, as they’re moving on to books with short paragraphs, but will still appreciate pictures to help explain the story.

Some of the associated material says Maiko is from Tanzania and moves to Canada. The text hints at this (the landscape and eating ugali), but is not that specific. I’d have liked to see this somewhere in the book, even if it was a map showing where he’s moved from/to at the end. Given how many people think Africa is a country, I think it’s particularly important to be specific.

[A copy of this book was received from the publisher for review purposes]

If I Had a Gryphon – Vikki VanSickle (author), Cale Atkinson (illustrator)

 If I Had a Gryphon CoverFirst Published: 9th February, 2016
Genre: Children’s Fantasy / Picture Book
Available: Amazon.com | Amazon UK

When a girl gets a new pet hamster, she finds him boring. Instead, she wishes for various mythical creatures as pets… but all pets come with downsides.

This is a cute story told in rhymes. The pets considered include a dragon, gryphon, kirin and kraken. Their downsides are shown in a real world context, like the hippogriff scaring everyone at the dog park, and the unicorn hiding under the bed. The artwork is colourful and funny, helping to bring to life the problems with each pet. The story is bound to appeal to young fantasy lovers (and people with pet hamsters).

Also notable is the protagonist is a non-white girl who wears glasses. It’s nice to see a wider range of children getting to have adventures.

[A copy of this book was received from the publisher for review purposes]