I’ve been missing picture books lately. That’s sort of an odd statement coming from someone with… a lot… of picture books in her house, and who reads said picture books rather a lot. But I haven’t talked about them with anyone for a while. And then it occurred to me that I have a blog for just this reason, and while I love the MG fiction I’ve been writing about, well, I miss writing about picture books! (I am a simple, not-too-bright creature, and this took a while to register.) I happen to have a crack of time available to me right now, so we’re going to talk about a picture book now. And not just any picture book– one which was recently released by Tundra.
I don’t know that I’ve talked about my patriotic pride on here often before: my pure, unadulterated joy whenever I find a new good book from a Canadian publisher. And I do love browsing new books from Canadian publishers: Tundra, Kids Can Press, Nimbus– they hold a special place in my heart. We’ve seen a lot of Canadian books here before (This Is Sadie remains a favourite in my house, also from Tundra), but I never get tired of the kick of joy when I find a really good new book that’s produced by a Canadian publisher.
Well, in this case I owe my finding to my mother, who is one of the world’s great book sleuths. Whenever she or Terri at the Children’s Book Shop recommends a book, I know it will be good. And so we come to today’s finding: The Golden Glow, by Benjamin Flouw.
See that cover image? That’s Tundra’s excellent taste at work there. The art is exquisite, of course, but it’s the design that grabs me. The golden title sparkles against the glowing colours, the sans serif font (and I’m not generally a fan of sans serif) mirrors the angularity of the art (and I’m not generally a fan of angularity in art), and what you don’t get from an online picture is the sophistication of a matte jacketless book. I love everything about the art and presentation. That’s all Tundra for you.
But then there’s the book itself, and this is a debut picture book originally published in France by La Pastèque (and let’s give a shout-out to the smooth translation by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou). I am going to freely admit that I’m petty, and burn with jealousy over really good first picture books like this one. The art is lush and grabs the eye, the story is substantive without being overwhelming, and the message is gentle and non-didactic. No one should have the right to produce a book like this one right out of the gate! And as author and illustrator? Not fair, Benjamin Flouw, not fair.
The story is simple enough: Fox is a botanist, and he discovers in one of his books mention of a rare and wondrous flower, the golden glow. He goes off in search of it, but when he finally finds it, he has a decision to make (spoiler alert!): bring it back home, or leave the plant in its natural habitat and bring back memories (and drawings) of the original?
My Changeling and I have already enjoyed reading this together several times, and I’ve caught her reading it on her own another few times. She loves the illustrations and the gentleness of the story. She’s going through a stage where she’s scared easily and doesn’t like stories which are too sad or poignant (that’s probably genetics at play; I’m a total wimp myself), so a story like this one, marked by muted character development and a very soft touch on the educational bent, is right up her alley.
As her mother, I liked two elements of the story: One, I love the sort of “beginner’s guide to hiking and botany” side of the book. There are pages of common flower identification, of camping equipment, and a lovely diagram of a flower at the end. Without in any fashion disrupting the story, they give a nice introduction to how hiking and flower-hunting work. Two, I love that there’s an undercurrent of love of the outdoors and, by extension, of protectiveness of the outdoors at work, but without ever breaking the integrity of the book as a whole. In other words, there are two streams of educational elements here, but they’re remarkably unobtrusive and they really allow Fox and the hunt for the golden flower to dominate.
If you’ve read here before, then you know what makes me jump from “liking” to “loving” this book: it’s not just the art, or the educational elements, or the font on the cover. No, it’s the cohesiveness of it all. Kirkus says, “The story is solid enough, but it’s the illustrations that steal the show.” I disagree. The story is solid, yes– I’d argue more than solid. But it’s the integration of art and story and quiet lessons in botany and conservation and, above all, Fox’s heart and soul and passion for beauty, that steal the show. (Sorry, give me a moment to recover: I don’t casually disagree with Kirkus on a daily basis!)
Tundra recommends this for ages 4-8 years, and I think that’s about right. This hits the spot for my five-year-old, with simple enough text for her to read it herself, and art which engrosses her on each page.
So grab a copy, and while you’re at it look out for a map and a good pair of hiking boots, and take your kid for a walk in nature!