Author: Graeme Base
Other works by Graeme Base: The Eleventh Hour, Enigma, The Jewel Fish of Karnak, Legend of the Golden Snail, Uno's Garden, Jungle Drums, The Waterhole, Truck Dogs, The Worst Band in the Universe, Discovery of Dragons, Sign of the Seahorse
Categories: picture books, alphabet, art, illustrated, animals, alliterative, seek-and-find
Graeme Base has become one of the best-known creators of children's books, and Animalia is his first (and possibly most beloved) book. If you aren't familiar with it, or haven't read it, you may be rolling your eyes at the idea of an ABC book being phenomenal. If that's the case, it is only because you are not familiar with it.
Animalia is a book close to my heart, one I remember looking at again and again as a child. It was how I learned my alphabet, and looking back I think it was one of the books that made me fall in love with reading. This is because each of Base's illustrations (which take anywhere from two to six weeks to complete) is a world unto itself. A person can stare into a single illustration for hours and come back the next day and get lost in it all over again. Base took the picture book and the alphabet book to new heights.
There are twenty-six illustrations, one for each letter of the alphabet. Some of them are spread over two pages, others occupy only one. Each illustration is populated with animals, objects, and colors beginning with the relevant letter, and includes an alliterative phrase or poem. For example, one of my favorites is "L": "Lazy lions lounging in the local library." The lions on the page sprawl in the library, surrounded by open books. Base's rich style captures not just the image of the lions, but the feeling of sprawling lions. Although their poses suggest such elemental lion-ness, they somehow look perfectly comfortable in the library, surrounded by books. These lions appreciate literature.
Not only are readers drawn into the pages by the illustrations and by searching out all the different objects, they can also search each page for Graeme himself. He is extremely difficult to spot sometimes, only a tuft of hair or a hand, but the search is fun and pulls readers even more deeply into the incredible art. And when you've reached the end, having found all the little hidden Graemes and having thoroughly explored each page, well...I, at least, feel full of all the good feelings that I identify with reading. The exhilaration of discovery, the energy produced as my imagination is inspired by everything I have read and seen, the satisfaction that this time has been well-spent and that I am richer for having read it. Animalia came out the year after I was born, and I have been reading it for as long as I can remember. I never get tired of it. Each time I open it, or even look at the cover, it is like seeing it for the first time. I am awed by it, thrilled by it.
If there is a young child in your life--or even an old one--you should make sure this book is part of their library.