Children’s Book Review – Room on our Rock

Cover Image for Room on our Rock

Room on our Rock by Kate & Jol Temple and Terri Rose Baynton

This book was Notable for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year Awards – Picture Book of the Year.

Two seals are perched on a rock. When others need shelter, do they share it? Room on Our Rock celebrates the truth that there are two sides to every story. This clever picture book has one story that can be read two different ways. When read from front to back, the seals believe there is definitely no room on their rock for others. But when the book is read from back to front, the seals welcome others to shelter on their rock. A heartwarming story about sharing and compassion.

The first time I read this book it made me sad.
The second time I read this book I loved it.
I was technically reading two different stories in one book because the first time I read the book using the Western standards of book knowledge. Then the last page asks the reader to read the book again but to do it ‘back to front’ this time for a new point of view.

Let’s start with my first reading. This story is about two seals perched on a rock. Another seal tries to make their home on this rock as well and is told that there is no space. Even though we can see that there is plenty of space (and anyone who has seen the seal piles in nature programs knows how little these animals are concerned with personal space). The first two seals are emphatic in their refusal to let this newcomer onto their rock. Which is obviously quite distressing to the newcomer, and their child – who we meet later.

The second story is one about a seal, and their child, who know they have to leave their home – they have no choice. They cannot go back to their home but it’s okay because they find a new home, a new rock, where they are welcomed.

This book reminded me of Green Eggs and Ham in that is told a big story with very few words. And it is telling a big story, from two points of view, and asking us to see that every story has two sides. Books always ask us to see situations from someone else’s perspective, whether that be an eleven-year-old wizard from an abusive home or a girl detective from the Victorian era. The characters in a book are not us and will make choices that we may agree with or may disagree with. As books get more complicated the relationships we have with the characters in books evolve and become more complicated but books always ask us to look at situations from another perspective. In this way, reading with children helps to make them empathetic.

Helping children to develop empathy is important and Beth wrote about it a few weeks ago. This book is a great addition to the list she wrote about.

It is very easy to look at this book and see the refugee crisis. It is easy to look at the forward reading as being from the perspective of people who are opposed to refugees coming to Australia from across the sea and the second reading as being from the perspective of the people fleeing homes that are no longer safe. This story is about those things. But it doesn’t stop there, it can be about more than that – it could be about a child being bullied through exclusion. Anytime a person, or group, is being told there is not enough space for them they are represented in this book. Whether that be space to live in Australia, space to be in a group, space to play a game, and space to be who they truly are. And in each of these cases there are two sides to the story. This book can give all of these people, and the people not experiencing these things, a chance to start a conversation about the way both sides feel, the consequences of their actions, and the way we can make changes to our way of thinking to take other people’s stories into account.

I can see why this book was notable for Picture Book of the Year. The criteria for this award states:

Entries in this category should be books of the genre in which the text and illustrations achieve artistic and literary unity and the story, theme or concept is enhanced and unified through the illustrations. A picture book can be written and illustrated by a sole creator or a collaborative effort between two or more creators. The text and illustrations work cohesively. The illustrations are an integral part of, or extend the meaning on the page. The age range for this category is 0 to 18 years.

The parts about unity between the story and the pictures and that they work cohesively is clear in this book.

However, the really spectacular thing about the illustrations is that they have to work on two levels, for two stories. And they do. The animals’ expressions, they way they are positioned within the frame of the page, and the use of watercolours all add to the story and enhance our emotional connection to the characters and the story – no matter which story it is. This would have been no easy feat, but Baynton did a wonderful job.

The artwork is beautiful with a palette in blues, blacks, greys, and purples with the occasional splash of other colours. It certainly makes the feeling of being out at sea on an island stand out. The colours represent the sea and ocean but they also remind us of the emotional feeling of exclusion that is felt by the characters in this book – they are far from the home they know and are in a place that is either welcoming or shunning them.

I thought this book was intelligent and well put together. The words and the illustrations work really well together and the message is a positive one whether it is a reminder that there are two sides to a person’s story or it is a way of talking to children about bullying, exclusion, and foreign policy.

I think this book can be shared at any age but I would recommend it for sharing with children 4+ as a way to start conversations especially as children enter school. I think it is an excellent addition to the selection of books for this year’s Picture Book of the Year and I am sure we will see it in the shortlist come March 26 and perhaps even a winner in August.