Florette – Children’s Book Week Review

Cover Image for Florette

Florette by Anna Walker

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

When Mae has to move house from the country to the city, she feels lonely and sad – until she discovers a beautiful place full of green in the centre of Paris. What she finds there sparks something special and beautiful that will make her feel much more at home.

This is a book about Mae, who moves to the city (Paris) and away from her garden. She tries imaginative play and drawing to create her own garden but it’s just not the same. She hunts through the city to find a garden but the one she finds is closed. However, she manages to find a plant growing out from the forest and takes it back to her house where it grows and she can add to it until she has a new garden to play in with all of her friends.

A little while ago (actually it was a few years ago but it doesn’t feel that long) I moved from an established house with a very established garden full of tall trees and plants that was always full of birds and bees to a brand new house that I painted seven colours but was surrounded by yellow sand. I really understand how Mae feels.

On the weekend I took the very first lemon off my lemon tree…and avoided pulling out all of the weeds I’m currently cultivated through inaction. I noticed that my grevillea is flowering for the first time. And the not-daisy (I’m not actually very good with/enjoy gardening – I managed to kill TWO lavender plants before my dad gave me a shoot from their mammoth one and I finally made it take along with two others I bought and was fairly certain I killed). Back to the not-daisy that almost died but is now thriving. When I re-read this book today I connected with it even more than I did the last time I read it as a result of my forays into the garden over the weekend.

The book has a wonderful message about how important nature is but the most important message I took away from it was that if there is something you want like Mae wants a garden; an obstacle, or five, should not be enough to stop us in chasing after that dream, over bridges – through parks – between buildings – and under lamp posts. Because, in the end, even if we don’t get it we have tried. But, since this is a children’s book with a great message, Mae does get what she wants desperately and I would love to visit the garden she creates.

She also gets something else very important as she goes through this journey – the friends she left behind are briefly mentioned, but through the pictures we see a group of children. First, as outsiders looking in on Mae with some confusion and then as close watchers of her work, then participants, and finally as involved in the process as they can be.

With picture books, there needs to be a connection between the text and the pictures – they both need to enhance the other. I did a post about visual literacy which goes into a lot more detail, but the way that this information is presented is very important. We are told that Mae misses playing with her friends but we are not told she hasn’t made any new friends yet – what we do see is her alone or with her family. We are not told that she has made friends but we see the journey that she takes in this regard. The book isn’t about her making friends but it’s something so important to anyone who moves – to make connections and it’s given the treatment it deserves as a visual subplot.

This book was Shortlisted as a picture book and the Children’s Book Council’s information regarding book submissions for this category are:

CBCA Picture Book of the Year

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 illustrations are an integral part of, or extend the meaning on the page. In my opinion this is exactly what Anna Walker does with this book – from the information about making friends to what Mae does to try and make a garden (the ones that don’t work) because in both cases we don’t have all of the information without the illustrations. It is a testament to Anna Walker’s skills as both an author and illustrator that she can create such a complete story by blending these two elements so completely. It’s also, in my opinion, one of the strengths of an author/illustrator – because they are creating both halves of the whole they know exactly what’s going on in all aspects of the book.

I really love books like this one with so much depth and complexity – they make me miss being a classroom teacher because in a classroom I could take this book apart and we could delve deeply into all of the meanings within the pictures. They are still so much fun to share, especially with a small group or one-on-one where there can be lots of talk and questions generated by reading the book.

To sum up, I really enjoy this book on several levels and would encourage anyone who has enjoyed any of Anna Walker’s books or who likes nature to reserve it today.

Anna Walker does the most beautiful illustrations, her work and that of Freya Blackwood are my current favourite picture book illustrators.

Anna Walker lives here in WA and I’ve had the opportunity to see her draw and give quick talks on how she illustrates and it’s fascinating.

She also made this year’s beautiful artwork for Children’s Book Week.