I’ve mentioned my love of Graeme Base on my personal blog before – his intricate, mystery masterpiece The Eleventh Hour was a mainstay of my childhood, and brings back fond memories to this day.
The book that launched Base’s career as a much beloved and deeply respected author/illustrator remains one of his most impressive to date – the wondrous animal alphabet book Animalia.
Within the pages of this book
You may discover, if you look
Beyond the spell of written words
A hidden land of beasts and birds….
Words simply cannot do this sumptuous book justice – each page is an experience that should be slowly savoured. The simple phrases on each spread belie the complexity of Base’s illustrations. Children (and adults, who am I kidding) can pour over each page again and again, finding new details with every exploration. Each illustrations is filled to the brim with details beginning with the letter being introduced – in “Crafty Crimson Cats Carefully Catching Crusty Crayfish”, a castle and a church can be seen on the horizon, and the cats themselves are adorned with charms, among other cleverly hidden details. Each page is a mystery and a puzzle, delighting careful readers and rewarding them with new discoveries. Like fellow Australian Shaun Tan, Graeme Base doesn’t target his picture books at a particular audience, but rather creates the stories he is inspired to produce, and lets his audience interpret his works in their own ways.
First published in 1986, over three million copies of Animalia have been sold worldwide, and it has won awards both in Australia and around the world. Born in England, Base emigrated to Australia with his family as a child, and continues to reside in Melbourne with his wife and children.
I love Animalia! It’s such a rich and detailed book. I wrote an essay about it for a children’s literature course back in college and reading about how he created the art and his view about writing for himself rather than an audience made me appreciate the book even more.
Oh wow, that would have been a fascinating essay to research and write! I love the way that books like this smash apart the idea that children need everything to be simplified and watered down – kids are smarter and more complex than we often give them credit for!
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