It’s that time of year when you friendly, neighbourhood Children’s Librarians start to review some of the books that were in this year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year Notable and Short Lists. Keep an eye out on our blog, or subscribe at the top of the page now, to see what we think of a number of this year’s books.
This time around I am reviewing Mr Huff by Anna Walker. Anna Walker is an author/illustrator living in Melbourne and this year she had three books in the Notable lists – Alfie’s Lost Sharkie in the Book of the Year – Early Childhood category. What Do You Wish For? which was written by Jane Godwin with illustrations by Anna Walker. Mr Huff was also Notable in the Picture Book of the Year category.
You know those days, those terrible days, when you wake up and things are just wrong or bad or off in some way. In this quite delightful picture book Anna Walker gives that feeling a name – Mr Huff. Quite appropriate as I think we all huff a lot when we’re having one of those days.
Bill, our main character, wakes up with the cloud already over his head. But we can see what type of day it is going to be from the end papers. End papers are the double page spread on the inside of the cover (back and front) and often one of the most beautiful parts of a picture book to look at – there are often hidden delights on these pages when done well. On the first end paper the day is dreary and we can already see Mr Huff and Bill in the window.
As Bill’s day progresses it gets worse, nothing goes right and the more frustrated Bill becomes the larger Mr Huff grows until he is a giant cloud of bad feelings with a face and arms and legs that Bill is trying so hard to ignore. He doesn’t want to talk about Mr Huff, and he was scared even when he was trying to be brave, but in the end Bill finally realises that he can see himself in Mr Huff. Then he starts to deal with Mr Huff, and slowly as his frustration ebbs he starts to feel better…
On the back end pages we see a lovely view on that same street from the front of the book but the day is brighter and a little sunny and Bill isn’t inside but outside enjoying the day. Visual literacy plays such a large part of this book, the text is light, but completely perfect for telling the story, and children can practise the skills of ‘reading’ a picture with this book easily.
I really like this book. I went to see the new City of Perth Library the other week with my sister and niece and we sat in their children’s area (next to that tree) and read this book. She enjoyed the book just as much as I did I think.
I love how Anna Walker illustrates. And the way she has captured the wet, washed out look of the streets and settings with her painting makes me feel like it is a wet and miserable day…oh way, it is. Luckily for me, I quite love a wet and rainy day (and walking in the rain).
I also love how she writes, with a little bit of humour, the use of different fonts styles for different modes of text and the symbiosis of her illustrations and text to tell the story together to make it richer and in this case make the emotion that is so hard to describe so easy to understand.
This is a great book for talking to children about emotions – especially the ones that aren’t as easy to define as happy, sad, shy, angry, etc. And that is one of the best things about picture books they can make it easy to talk about those ephemeral things that sometimes feel too hard to explain.
I’m giving this book a 5 out of 5 because I just think it’s a great book for snuggling up with on any day but especially a rainy, wet one.
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